Knowing how to do affiliate marketing is essential to your success as an affiliate marketer. But even if you’ve got your website, ad, or social media platform set up perfectly, you still need a merchant to partner with. That’s where affiliate programs bridge the gap.
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about affiliate marketing programs. You’ll see why they’re needed and learn more about some of the best programs available to you as a newcomer.
But first, you need to know what they are and how they work.
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Understanding Affiliate Programs
In concept, affiliate programs, which are also called affiliate networks, are pretty simple. All they do is provide a third party platform that allows merchants and affiliates to find and work with each other.
Merchants and affiliates can then sign up for the platform, find each other, and start to work together.
But behind the scenes, these affiliate networks are complex behemoths that do much more than help merchants and affiliate networks. They also provide some very essential services to both parties.
Just think about how much data gets exchanged between one affiliate and one merchant. Someone needs to track each and every action taken by the potentially thousands of customers that a single affiliate can bring in.
And when you multiply that by the thousands of affiliate marketers who are working with the merchants on the platform, you begin to see how vital these affiliate marketing programs really are.
For example, affiliate programs might help track:
- How many people see a banner ad
- How many people end up completing a purchase
- How many clicks a link on an ad or site gets
- Revenue generated by an affiliate for multiple merchants and offers
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Think about what would happen if no one tracked these data points. Affiliates would have a hard time getting paid, and merchants could potentially be ripped off by affiliates that present false results.
So between building relationships and tracking the entire affiliate marketing process, affiliate programs have their work cut out for them. When a program does a good job though, it makes all the difference in the world.
And in exchange for their services, most affiliate networks charge a commission for each action completed. It keeps their platforms free to use and gives you a better way to earn a living as an affiliate marketer.
Flavia Caroppo of AdEspresso says this about finding merchant partners and affiliate programs:
As rule of thumb, always remember to select a merchant with an offering relevant to your audience.
Each merchant that’s worthwhile in pursuing often is part of a more extensive network of companies that extend their offers on an affiliate marketing platform. There are loads of affiliate marketing systems out there, but this doesn’t mean the product they offer are always Top.
You can’t blindly trust what you read. Once you find something that potentially could work for you, get in touch with the producer and ask as many questions as you can, and ask for samples or to have a trial period. If you must, invest some money to buy the good/service you wish to market as an affiliate and try it first.
There are many ways to discover what offers and traffic sources are working and where.
First: do your research.
Second: talk to as many affiliate managers and experienced affiliates as you can. Join Facebook Groups, hang out in forums (there are many free and a few paid forums that give out some real info), and look at follow-along campaigns for ideas.
Third, and most important: Survey your audience. Ask your followers what they’re most interested in and laser-focus your affiliate offers in the right direction. Don’t forget to offer something in return. Be clear on what they need to do and what you’ll give them in exchange.
As you’ll see in this article, affiliate networks offer an excellent solution to these problems. I want to walk you through some of the best affiliate programs on the web and show you how to get started with each.
By the time you finish reading, you’ll have everything you need to get started with your own affiliate marketing efforts.
Best Affiliate Programs: Amazon Associates
First on the list of programs is Amazon Associates.
Amazon Associates has set the bar for affiliate programs since 1996. In fact, it was the first online affiliate marketing program in the world.
Since its inception, it’s been helping affiliate marketers make money by advertising to the millions of customers that shop on Amazon each year. When an Amazon affiliate shares a link that leads to a sale, they earn referral fees from the transaction.
And since thousands of businesses are learning how to sell on Amazon each year, the potential for affiliates to grow is seemingly infinite.
To get started as an Amazon affiliate, all you have to do is click the Join Now for Free button on the Amazon Associates page.
If you already have an Amazon account, you’ll be asked to log into it to get started. If you’re not already on Amazon, you’ll need to create an account with some basic info first.
Once you see the classic Amazon progress bar, you’ll know you’re in the right place:
From here, you’ll be walked through a fairly extensive process that creates your Associates account.
First, you’ll be asked to tell Amazon which apps or websites you plan to promote on. If you have your own blog or website, this is where you’ll enter it. You’ll also be asked to divulge what your niche is, what you plan to sell, and how you intend to drive traffic and monetization.
Once you’ve completed the application process, the last step is just a quick security verification. Amazon prefers to give you a call, so make sure your phone number is correct in order to proceed.
And last but not least, you’ll also need to set up your payment and tax info with them at some point so you can get paid. You don’t want to work for free after all, and you should always pay your taxes.
At this point, you’re ready to start finding products to promote as an affiliate. And thankfully, that process is incredibly simple.
Start by finding the product search bar in your dashboard. It will look like this:
Here, you can insert terms and look for items that are in your niche. Or, you can click the top right tab and browse for items manually.
Once you’ve started your search, you’ll get redirected to a simple results page. Scroll through the items and find one you like, or keep searching until you’ve found what you’re looking for.
Once you’ve found the item you want to promote, the last step you need to take is to click the yellow down arrow on the appropriate product. This brings up the text link for your chosen product, which you can use to share in your promotions.
You can also shorten this link with amzn.to, which may be a good idea if you intend to share the full link. Shorter links look better and will be less confusing depending on the platform you use.
Or, if you want to add a more in-depth view of the product to your site, you can click the Get Link button to generate some HTML code that you can copy and paste as needed.
When all is said and done, Amazon Associates is a tried and true program that has created thousands of successful affiliate marketers. As an Amazon affiliate, you’ll be an essential part of the largest online retailer in the world.
Here’s a final look at the pros and cons you should consider when deciding if you want to be an Amazon affiliate:
- Approximately 1.6 million products to choose from
- Free to sign up
- Trust in Amazon means it’s that much easier to sell
- Easy to customize for links or ads
- Low payout thresholds
- Cookies only last for 24 hours. Purchases made after are not attributed to you
- By some standards, commissions are low
- International payouts are difficult
- Doesn’t work with PayPal
In the end, Amazon Associates is a tried and true affiliate marketing program that’s friendly to both beginners and veterans. You have more than a million products to promote, which means there’s something for every niche. It’s a great place to get started while you explore some of the other options in this chapter.
Best Affiliate Programs: ClickBank Affiliate
ClickBank is one of the most helpful tools for affiliates who are starting to research which products they want to sell in their niche. As their information is completely open to anyone without an account, it’s a valuable tool.
But ClickBank is more than just a research tool. It’s also a fully functional affiliate program that can help you jump head-first into affiliate marketing.
ClickBank started out of a garage in 1998 but quickly grew to become one of the top retailing sites in the world. They currently boast more than $3 billion in sales each year.
Because of their success and 20-year history, they’re an excellent option for affiliates no matter what your expertise. With tons of products to promote and a wide variety of merchants to partner with, they’re hard to pass up.
To become a ClickBank affiliate, you’ll need to start an account if you want to start earning revenue. Input your personal and payment info, and then finalize your account to get started.
You’ll also be asked to complete a quick survey that helps ClickBank give you a better experience once you’ve finished the process.
Once you get through the setup, the rest is relatively simple. As a freshly minted ClickBank affiliate, you’ll have a huge database of resources at your disposal. This can help you learn more about what ClickBank has to offer and answer any lingering questions you might have.
And to find the products you want to promote, you can head over to the marketplace. Here, you can search for specific items, or browse the sidebar for a wider look at what ClickBank has to offer.
Once you input a search term and get your results, here’s what the product page will look like:
As you can see, there are usually quite a few options to choose from. You’ll have the product’s title, a short description, and then some additional information that helps inform your decision.
Here’s a closer view of one such breakdown:
In this case, you’re given the average commission per sale, a breakdown of the niche the product is in, and a few different links to the merchant’s website. Use these to conduct further research and see if you want to promote the product.
Once you find the offer you want to promote, the rest of the process is simple. Just click the Promote button on the page, and then copy and paste the URL from the screen.
You can now add this link to your promotional efforts. When a user clicks through and makes a purchase, you’ll receive your commission.
It’s that easy.
Being a ClickBank affiliate is one of the easiest ways to get started with an affiliate program that offers high commissions with a simple structure.
Here’s a last look at some of the pros and cons you can expect as a ClickBank affiliate:
- Huge selection of products that fits a wide variety of niches.
- Many products have very high commission rates.
- Promotes recurring commissions.
- Easy to use and simple link generation procedure.
- Abundance of resources to help you learn the ropes.
- Large selection of ‘spammy’ products that waste time and undermine credibility.
- A lot of competition for high-value products.
If you’re ever nervous about partnering with an affiliate program, ClickBank could be your best option. Their reputation precedes them, and they can help you grow at your own pace.
In the end, there’s no denying that ClickBank is one of the best affiliate programs for newcomers to affiliate marketing. The entry requirements are low, and it’s a relatively safe way to get your feet wet with an affiliate program.
Best Affiliate Programs: eBay Affiliate
The eBay Partner Network is eBay’s interpretation of an affiliate program. They give affiliates the tools they need to promote eBay’s products with as little fuss as possible. No matter how you choose to market products, eBay’s affiliate program can be put to good use.
Unlike some of the other affiliate marketing programs in this chapter, as an eBay affiliate, you’ll be working directly with eBay and their products. While you’ll be working to a small degree to help sellers, the primary relationship is between you and eBay.
And just like Amazon, you’ll be working with a platform that businesses want to sell on. Growth is virtually assured.
As a bonus, eBay doesn’t require you to work with them exclusively. You can be an eBay affiliate and still work with other merchants and programs to make additional income.
To get started, you’ll need to apply to join their affiliate program, which takes about five minutes. It’s by far one of the easier application processes.
All you need to do is sign in to an existing account, or register a new account with eBay to get started.
Once you sign in with your account, you’ll be prompted to verify a few pieces of information, select your country of residence, and then you’ll be done. Now all you have to do is find products, generate your affiliate link, and start promoting.
And thankfully, eBay makes that easy for you. You have two main options to create your affiliate links, and both take hardly any time at all.
First, you can browse eBay for a product that’s in your niche, copy the URL, and paste it into your eBay affiliate dashboard.
You’ll then be given your affiliate link, which you can use in your own content.
The second way is even faster, but it requires you to install a Bookmarklet icon in your Bookmarks Bar. That may sound confusing, but it’s pretty simple.
All you have to do is find the icon in your eBay dashboard and then drag it to your Bookmarks bar.
Once you’ve added it to your bookmarks bar, all you have to do is click that bookmark when you’ve found an item on eBay that you want to promote.
It will generate a URL for you, which you can then add to your blog, ads, or social media.
And once you’ve generated your affiliate link, you can start using it with the content you’re sharing on your chosen platform. If everything is working as it should, you’ll begin generating revenue from audience members that buy the products you promote.
To wrap things up, here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of being an eBay affiliate:
- Large range of products to choose from with no limits.
- Commissions range from 40% to 80%.
- Fast payment system that works with PayPal.
- Incredibly easy to generate links.
- Buy it Now buttons can shorten purchase times.
- Some consumers prefer to buy new, not used or through auctions.
- Auctions often last longer than affiliate cookies, which means you don’t get paid.
- eBay’s selling platform can be confusing and turn away buyers.
eBay is one of the most trusted buying and selling sites in the world, which makes it the perfect place for newcomers to affiliate marketing to get their feet wet. With how easy it is to sign up and generate links, there’s almost no reason to not be an eBay affiliate.
Plus, with how flexible your affiliate links are, you can generate any type of content to drive traffic and revenue. It’s the best type of low-risk, high-reward affiliate marketing you could ask for.
Best Affiliate Programs: Commission Junction
Commission Junction, which has been rebranded as CJ Affiliate by Conversant, is a 20-year-old affiliate marketing program that has been helping affiliates and merchants since day one.
According to their website, they work with twice as many Internet Retailer 500 companies than any other affiliate program. They also boast that merchants favor their site twice as much as other affiliate marketing programs.
And when you take a closer look at everything they have to offer, that claim seems to hold up quite nicely. Here’s the vast list of niches that you can find on their site, not to mention the all-inclusive ‘other’ category:
So with a reputation like that, it’s not hard to see why it should be high on your list when considering which affiliate program to choose.
But to truly know if it will work for you, you’ll have to sign up first. And just like our other programs, that’s a relatively simple process that can start on the homepage.
Start the process by inputting your basic information to become a CJ Publisher.
And don’t worry, Publisher is just their word for affiliate. You won’t be getting into anything you’re not prepared for.
Next, you’ll be asked to verify your email, and then redirected to a page where you’ll fill out your information in greater detail. Much like other affiliate programs, you may need to already have a website that you can associate with your account.
Once completed, you’ll be able to sign in to your dashboard, which will look like this:
And the final step that will get you set up completely is to complete your Network Profile.
Think of this like a short resume that helps match you with potential merchant partners. You’ll need to write a short bio for yourself and indicate how you intend to push traffic to your merchant.
This will ultimately determine if merchants want to partner with you, so fill out as much as you can.
Once you’ve set everything up, you’ll need to navigate to the ‘Advertisers’ tab.
Here, you’ll see an extensive list of potential merchant partners already waiting for you.
You can also browse how much potential there is to earn with them, along with a breakdown of what your task will be.
In the image above, all of the options shown say EPC, which is short for earnings per click. Or, more specifically, Earnings Per One Hundred Clicks. All of Commission Junction’s affiliate earnings are based on EPC, so you’ll need to be able to drive traffic to succeed on this platform.
That means mostly bloggers or social media based affiliates tend to use the CJ affiliate program. Since ads require money to generate clicks, it’s all too easy to lose money running an ad that exceeds your revenue.
To find merchants more suitable to your needs, you’ll want to use the left sidebar’s options menu to fine-tune your results. Insert your niche and any other specifics that will help you find your perfect fit.
Once a merchant has caught your eye, you can click on their icon to get a more in-depth view of their operation. This includes the terms of their program and a short bio.
If everything is to your liking and you feel you have something to offer the merchant, you’ll want to click the Join Program button on their profile. Depending on the merchant, your approval times may vary. Many applications are instantaneous though, so you won’t have to wait long.
Once your chosen merchant has approved your application, you need to find the links that you’ll use to drive traffic. To do that, navigate to the Links tab on the header menu. You’ll see a page that looks very similar to the Advertisers page, like this:
Except now, all of the options you see are different links that you can add to your marketing efforts. Find one that fits your content, ad, or social post, and then add it as needed.
At this point, you’re now signed up and using Commission Junction to generate affiliate income. All you have to do is continue finding new merchants and offers that match your niche and audience.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the pros and cons of using the CJ Affiliate Network:
- They’ve been around for years, and their reputation is solid as one of the best affiliate programs in the world.
- Tons of well-known merchants use the platform.
- Merchants can seek you out, which improves your ability to grow and network.
- Flexible for bloggers and social media marketers.
- Better advertisers also mean more competition amongst affiliates.
- Hard for newcomers. Success depends on the status of your application and credentials.
- Variety between payment terms can be confusing.
- Not always the best for advertising.
Becoming a CJ affiliate can be a smart move if you’ve got the experience to go out and impress the merchants on the platform. It’s still possible to succeed as a newcomer on CJ Affiliate, but you’ll have your work cut out for you.
Best Affiliate Programs: Rakuten Affiliate
Last but not least is the Rakuten Affiliate Network.
With that kind of reputation, it’s tempting to want to jump straight into being a Rakuten affiliate. But the reality is that Rakuten is very selective, and isn’t afraid to suspend your account if you don’t meet their standards.
Nonetheless, I want to show you how easy it is to get started selling with them. Just like the other affiliate programs, all you need to do is get started on their homepage.
Just like the other affiliate programs, you’ll need to go through a rather extensive registration to get started. In this case, you’ll input everything from your online brand’s info to where you want to set your earning payout thresholds.
Once you’ve signed up and signed in, you’ll be at the Rakuten affiliate dashboard. To start finding merchants and affiliate links, you’ll need to select the Programs tab, which will redirect you to a page that shows off just how vast Rakuten’s offerings are:
Find your niche, or search for it in the search bar located in the top right corner.
Once you’ve found your niche, you’ll see a menu much like the other affiliate programs we’ve been looking at. You can browse through, click on each company’s profile, and even dig deeper into what offers they’re promoting.
Find the offer and merchant that suits you best, and then click on the Apply button to proceed.
One of the more unique elements of the Rakuten affiliate program is that most of the merchants are heavily involved in the affiliate screening process. If you’re not a good fit, don’t be surprised if the answer comes back no.
But once you’ve gotten approval, the rest of the process is simple. Find the offer that fits your content or ad, generate your link, and then start earning money as an affiliate. Since there are quite a few larger brand names using the Rakuten affiliate network, you’ll stand an excellent chance to start earning quickly.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the pros and cons of using the Rakuten Affiliate Network:
- Free to use.
- Thousands of merchants to choose from, many of which are household names.
- Fairly intuitive to use for affiliates.
- Contains good resources to learn more.
- Payouts can be unpredictable with no definite schedule.
- They don’t work with PayPal like other affiliate networks.
- Rakuten is very selective and often denies smaller affiliates.
In the end, Rakuten may be best left until you’ve established yourself as a proven affiliate marketer. It’s one of the best affiliate programs in the world, and they work hard to keep it that way.
Over to You
Now that you know a bit more about some of the affiliate programs that are out there, take some time to explore them for yourself. Discovering the best affiliate program and merchant for your niche may take time, but it will be worth it.
Don’t just stop with the affiliate programs in this chapter. There are tons of smaller options that can still be quite lucrative. Just be sure to do your homework and avoid any potential scams.
Once you’ve picked an affiliate marketing program, you’ll have completed your journey into affiliate marketing. You’ll officially have your dream side hustle, which may one day take you to new heights.
Were you aware of these affiliate marketing programs? What does your approach look like? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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