How to Make Money Online With Affiliate Marketing

The basics of getting started with affiliate marketing.

Calendar, pen, and $100 bills, representing money earned over time with affiliate marketing.

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Most people's understanding of "affiliate marketing" starts and ends with the Amazon Associates program, one of the biggest affiliate networks in the world.

For the entrepreneur, the challenge with Amazon Associates is building enough traffic to generate substantial revenue from this channel alone. For the newbie, the traffic hurdle is almost unsurmountable. But don't despair! You can create a successful affiliate marketing business if you do so strategically.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is when a publisher or company gives you a cut of each sale they make when you promote them on their site. There are lots of different affiliate opportunities, from courses to web hosting to books, tapes, and DVDs.

Let the Affiliate Marketer Beware

Affiliate marketing is often touted as a "get rich quick scheme" by shady sites offering pyramid schemes that promise quick cash for little effort. Make no mistake—successful affiliate marketers like Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income put in a lot of effort toward building an audience and creating quality content that will bring in sustainable passive income. Expect to do a lot of legwork upfront—but if you play your cards right, you can build a solid source of revenue over time.

The Key to Successful Affiliate Marketing

So you've committed to building an affiliate business.

Your success as an affiliate marketer is tied to how you answer these questions:

  • Can you find products or services to offer that offer you a great commission rate?
  • Can you find a niche market that is likely to buy what you are offering?
  • Are you able to build content and traffic around these products?

If the answer to each of these questions is a resounding yes, rather than jumping to conclusions immediately, take time to research whether or not others are out there making a sustainable affiliate income from products and content in this niche. In a sense, competition is a good thing here—it'll help you validate your idea and prove that it's worth building a business around.

How to Find a Favorable Commission Rate

Amazon's commission rate is pennies from each dollar of merchandise that you sell. What many people don't know is that there are affiliate opportunities out there that pay commission rates that are much more favorable, from $20-$100 (and even more). Browse affiliate networks like Commission Junction, Share-a-Sale, Rakuten, and Ejunkie for opportunities and their general commission rate.

Target a Niche

If you're just starting out, a niche market is the obvious way to go. Look for a market that has a clearly defined need and willing audience. Then, find affiliate opportunities that dovetail with that niche market.

Create an Effective Website

Once you have a great product you believe in and a target market, you'll need to stock a site with quality content that will help drive traffic and affiliate sales. Once you have your website set up, you'll want to optimize it for conversions and sales. 

Build an Audience Through Trust

The most successful affiliate marketers build compelling content first, and affiliate revenue later. Chris Brogan has said: "when there’s an opportunity to bring something of value to your community and make some money for your efforts, then you’re looking at what I think of as a great opportunity."

To build a successful affiliate program, it helps to care about the products you are selling and to offer legitimate value beyond just a quick sale. While you can build an affiliate business around any type of product, it helps if you actually use the product and endorse it personally.

Make Sure You Understand Disclosure

The FTC enforces a set of rules that cover the increasingly professionalizing world of bloggers and online influencers. Now you must disclose when you have a financial interest in a product or service you feature on your blog. This goes for sponsored posts, but more importantly, affiliate links.

Many affiliate marketers, including Copyblogger Media and Chris Brogan, attempt to use this to their advantage. How? They use the disclosure as an opportunity to talk about how much they personally love the product they are selling.