If you're going to spend money on promoting your products, you want to make sure you're utilizing the best strategies. And one winning way to boost sales and drive traffic is through affiliate marketing.
Research shows that nearly $7 billion will be spent by 2020 on branded content.
And 81 percent of brands and 84 percent of publishers use affiliate marketing in their online strategy.
Affiliate marketing takes a lot of dedication, just like any other online business. But on the bright side, you can earn a lot of money with affiliate marketing.
On the not-so-bright side, you'll have to work for that and there’s still a chance you may or may not succeed.
Luckily, this guide can help shed some light on the business benefits offered by affiliate marketing. It's a blossoming niche in the marketing industry, and one your brand should be poised to capitalize on.
What Is Affiliate Marketing?
So, let’s start with the basics — what is affiliate marketing anyway?
Affiliate marketing is essentially the promotion of products, companies or services online that earns you a commission for every customer who clicks the links you provide in the text and completes the desired action. That goal might be a sale, a sign-up for the newsletter or anything else in between.
There are several different key players in the affiliate business model — we'll segment them as advertisers, affiliates, and affiliate networks.
If you have a product to sell, you can find affiliate marketers online, or you can use the affiliate network that acts as a matchmaker between affiliate marketers and the people with products or services they wish to promote, creating a win-win situation for both parties.
As a marketer, you'll promote the product relevant to your business and refer people. When they spend money on the said website, you'll collect the commission. If you're the one with the product that needs to be promoted, you only pay affiliate marketers if there's a sale, so you can’t lose money.
It's one of the most symbiotic relationships in the marketing world, and one that is driven by cold, hard results.
How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
Affiliate marketing can be a tricky concept to grasp, but once you understand it, the rest is a piece of cake.
First, we need a business owner, a merchant, vendor or just a person with a product or service that needs to be promoted. Then, let’s look at a random social media tool for example.
The merchant can join an affiliate network, which aggregates all offers on that website, and offers his product or service to affiliate marketers in exchange for a commission. Or, a merchant can go to marketers directly and offer them a separate deal.
Affiliate marketers can do exactly the same — they can contact manufacturers and merchants directly, or choose the products from aggregate sites and affiliate marketplaces like ClickBank or CJ Affiliate.
The social media platform comes into play when determining how the product will be advertised to the affiliate's followers. The merchant can approach affiliate marketers directly by identifying people in the relevant niche — like bloggers who have a blog about social media and marketing.
It makes sense for them to do a review of a social media tool, present it to their masses, and make a little money in the process. The affiliate marketers can also be the ones who approach the merchant to offer to set-up an affiliate link.
What Is An Affiliate Link?
An affiliate link is a URL that is specific and different for each affiliate marketer. You can even recognize it — after the regular URL, you'll have a tail that starts with ref=. Like this example from marketing expert Neil Patel.
Affiliate links track the traffic from a campaign to the responding website. They're used in affiliate marketing programs and show brans the results being driven by a given campaign.
The Relationship Between Affiliate Marketing Links And Cookies
A buyer’s journey relies on many things — maybe the person is just browsing and contemplating a purchase for a later date, or maybe they're waiting for their paycheck to complete the purchase. They could even still be in the consideration phase.
So what happens when people click the affiliate marketer’s link, land on the website, and don’t complete the purchase?
First, don’t worry — not all is lost! Even after those people exit the website, if they return to the site in the next 30 days and actually complete the purchase, the marketer will still get paid — all thanks to the cookies that track when the initial website visit occurred and whose affiliate link is it.
So what are these exactly?
Well, cookies are small snippets saved on your computer browser that store information about the user. They are the main culprits behind those pesky commercials that follow you around whenever you search for something online.
Affiliate networks like CJ can track those users, their cookies and the affiliate marketers associated with the link. A professional website builder will be able to develop the relationship between your links and cookies.
The Difference Between Affiliate Marketing And Influencer Marketing
Affiliate marketing is quite similar to influencer marketing, but it's still not entirely the same. In fact, there are some key differences and similarities between influencer marketing and affiliate marketing.
Firstly, in a way, affiliate marketing is very similar to influencer marketing in that marketers also usually choose products they like and believe in, and promote them on their channels.
Mostly, those channels are blogs and vlogs — which oftentimes leads to the same kind of social media promotion as affiliate marketing. This keeps the promotion natural, organic and authentic for consumers.
However, affiliate marketers only get paid when other people use their link, go to the product or a service page they are promoting and complete a goal or a purchase.
In influencer marketing, marketers have a set price for their promotion, and generally, don’t need to worry about actually selling the product. Their fee is usually fixed per promotion — this might be a social media post or mentioning the product in a vlog or doing a review.
However, it's in their best interest to inspire as many sales as possible to improve their portfolio and land additional partnerships down the road.
Finally, influencer marketing is slightly harder to track as opposed to affiliate marketing, which has a built-in success tracker.
Another difference between affiliate marketing and influencer marketing lies in the fact that affiliate marketers — if they do their job properly — can really make money in their sleep.
Affiliate marketing is essentially getting paid for word-of-mouth marketing. So it's a great option for marketers and marketing agencies — and equally impactful for brands and businesses.
Affiliate Marketing Programs: What Are They And How Do They Work?
An affiliate marketing program is ultimately the process in which affiliate networks identify and recruit individuals to promote a product or service.
One of the largest affiliate networks is Amazon, with more than 900,000 worldwide members.
In fact, Amazon has many affiliate programs, offering up to 10 percent of the product’s fee. The percentage of product sales you can earn depends on the product in question — promoting a luxury item can get you around 10 percent, while promoting a video game, gets you approximately one percent.
To join Amazon's affiliate program, just choose an Amazon product, sign up to become an Amazon associate, and receive a link that you can place anywhere on the web.
It’s that simple. Amazon’s affiliate marketing system has several programs and various commissions that go to the marketer for every product.
In 2015, Amazon alone amassed more than $100 billion worth of revenue, and of that, Amazon affiliates generated around $10 billion.
This means that 40 percent of Amazon’s revenue came from affiliate marketing.
There are numerous affiliate programs around the web that offer different commissions, but each one operates in the same manner, generally. The programs act as aggregators with offers from various merchants and ease the process of documentation, reporting and administration.
The Best Affiliate Marketing Networks
Choosing the right affiliate marketing network can be tricky, but all you need to do is actually do the research and choose the one best for your business with the help of the questions below:
- How many merchants does this affiliate network have?
- How many of them are exclusive to that platform?
- Is their reporting tool simple?
- Is the dashboard easy to navigate?
- How steep is the learning curve?
The ShareASale affiliate network alone has more than a million registered affiliate accounts.
One of the best ways to choose the right network is observing what their CPAs are for the products and services they list on their website.
A CPA, or cost-per-action and cost per acquisition, is a simple metric that lets affiliate marketers know how much they'll get whenever a user clicks their affiliate link and completes a purchase.
How To Use Affiliate Marketing To Promote Your Products
Here’s some hands-on advice on promoting affiliate marketing products. Usually, for SEO purposes, those promotions revolve around blogs and written reviews.
Due to Amazon’s affiliate program, many new websites think that plastering a couple of links on their page will instantly get them cash from affiliate marketing.
Because hey, there are so many products on Amazon! But you need a healthy website with a theme and affiliate links to products that fit that brand.
For example, it doesn't make sense to promote dog food on an e-commerce website for roller skates. Such blog posts aren’t authentic or believable, and therefore are bad for SEO rankings — search engines also analyze content on websites, and just like humans, notice the disparity between the subjects.
The ranking for that blog, product, and therefore, affiliate link, will simply be unfavorable.
You can also promote affiliate marketing through email and marketing automation campaigns.
For instance, senior affiliate marketers often pay a lot of attention to setting up newsletter campaigns and then promote the product through a strategic email list, outside from just their blog and social media platforms.
Does Affiliate Marketing Really Work?
Affiliate marketing is a successful tactic for brands and people alike — and the numbers prove it.
More than 38 percent of chief marketing officers claim that affiliate marketing is their best customer acquisition model.
When talking about the success of affiliate marketers, around 10 percent of affiliates drive 90 percent of traffic to the website and achieve conversions.
In terms of different industries where affiliate marketing works best, studies show that 50 percent of the best affiliate programs are those belonging to the fashion, travel, sports and health and beauty categories.
Plus, according to a PwC study, affiliate programs provide a 15 times better return on investment for every dollar spent. These facts attest that, if done right, affiliate marketing is indeed working.
How To Make Sure Your Affiliate Marketing Campaigns Are Successful
Although affiliate marketing can be quite successful, there is certainly room for improvement in this industry.
That showcases a major opportunity for affiliate marketers and merchants – nearly 80 percent of marketing decision-makers state that affiliate marketing is an area they fall short on knowledge and would like to improve it.
But in just one year, search results show a 30 percent increase in confidence.
So, how can you leverage affiliate marketing? First, you need a well-developed medium through which you can promote affiliate links and earn a commission.
Affiliate marketing efforts are closely tied to metrics like website visitor count, traffic, time spent on the site, successful blog and email marketing engines and a well-developed niche.
Whether you choose to blog about something you love and stick to one niche, or you find a way to incorporate many niches into just one blog — like This Is Why I’m Broke, one of the most popular affiliate network sites around — you have to understand that it will take a lot of work to set-up shop.
Find the industry or topic that you're really passionate about, and then see what products or services can be marketed there. Plus, discover the various types of affiliate marketing promotion you can do.
For example, there are tones of successful comparison and review sites that work just as well for affiliate marketing.
Essentially, you take two or more products, honestly compare them to one another, point out the pros and cons of each, and then simply leave an affiliate link for every product, allowing consumers to choose their product themselves.
In order for people to click on affiliate links throughout your website, you first have to draw the crowd to you.
The more relevant people are visiting your website, the higher the chances are that they will be interested in what you have to promote, so long as it aligns with the content. Therefore, you should take time to identify and target your ideal demographic to reach a sweet spot of enough website visits from valuable consumers.
What The Best Marketing Agencies Do When Crafting An Affiliate Marketing Strategy
Logically, it will take time to develop a sales medium like a well-performing website. But that's ok. Because the best digital marketing and affiliate marketing agencies already know the best tips and tricks to create results-driven strategies.
Invest In A Strong Social Media Game
Think of social media as yet another tool where you can build up your audience and then serve them with affiliate links. Now, oversharing those links and pumping them out to your accounts won't work (in fact, it will seem more like spam...). Instead, you have to build a following organically. These agencies understand this innately.
Top marketing agencies use paid promotions, share useful blog posts, curate content and develop branded social media profiles for the affiliates they work with. They also reconcile growth plans and expectations with your budget and create a solid strategy.
Facilitate Impeccable Search Engine Optimization
In order for people to click on your affiliate links, first, those people have to find you, typically by searching keywords from your industry and discovering your website in search results.
The better the SEO rankings, the better website traffic. And this team of experts can save time and increase your return on investment by integrating SEO best practices into their programs.
SEO is extremely valuable in this day in age. In fact, it's so important that there are a number of dedicated SEO agencies out there driving success for their clients! But the best affiliate marketing agencies already have this knowledge in hand and can build you the program that is sure to make Google happy.
Build An Effective Email Marketing Strategy
Email marketing is imperative for a successful affiliate marketing company. First, let’s take a look at the numbers.
Email marketing has an ROI of 4,300 percent.
When you take into account that 91 percent of the people check their emails at least once a day, you quickly realize that it's worthwhile to find a place in customers' inboxes.
Just like website traffic, an email marketing strategy also has to be developed and for that, you'll need a substantial email list. Queue these agencies.
They have an extensive list of business relationships and email lists that they can call upon to roll out your next affiliate marketing campaign.
Ensure Familiarity With Basic User Interface And User Experience
A website represents you and your brand, and people who aren’t satisfied with a website’s look or functionality won’t stick around.
These professionals understand the importance of a buyer's journey. They can guide your users through a web page step-by-step, incorporate intuitive navigation that provides a clear goal for every page. For example, they can use the homepage to get email signups and grow your list and use blogs to promote affiliate links and earn a commission.
Your website needs to look the part, and these agencies know how to get you there.
Write & Publish Well-Developed Content
In order to get visitors to a website, you have to pull them in with good, valuable content.
After all, content marketing adds value to products, optimizes pages for search engines and keywords, and facilitates a strong brand identity that consumers can connect with, making them more likely to purchase a product.
Even better, a combination of text and video further increases engagement, retention and search engine rankings. If it’s applicable for your demographic, review products or compare them with one another directly and record yourself, providing the information and a summary in the text.
Pro Tip: If you want to promote physical products, the overall manufacturing and delivery process costs money and that is why you, as an affiliate marketer, can earn a lot less for your referral.
That is why affiliates marketers and agencies are often capped at a 10 percent commision for physical products. However, for online products and services, the sky is the limit!
Without high operating and manufacturing costs (e-books just take your time but are delivered digitally, for example), you can hammer out additional details directly with the merchants.
Key Benefits Of Affiliate Marketing Promotion
If you're looking at affiliate marketing from a vendor’s point of view and are searching for affiliate marketers to promote your product or service, then you should consider approaching them on your own or through affiliate networks. Here are some of the many benefits of using affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketers, like influencers, will use their platforms to promote a product to their audience.
Even if there isn’t a conversion, you will still be left with that website traffic and increased time spent on site, both of which are positive SEO signals.
Plus, the affiliate link acts as a "link-building" tool, which further boosts your rankings. With this new infusion of website traffic, search engines will likely rank you higher because they will view your site as more relevant to Internet users.
Lead Generation Boost
Affiliate marketing can help capture useful leads, especially when conversions take place. You'll be left with a lead, allowing you to remarket to this consumer and increase your sales even further.
You also get an opportunity to upsell or sell more products when visitors look at your website.
Cost-Effective Marketing Tactics
Or arguably no-cost marketing? If an affiliate marketer successfully sells your products, sure, he gets the commission, but you still sell a product, which may not have happened otherwise, so... it's worth it!
This is especially true for online products and services. In fact, there are many affiliate marketers out there, but if you have a good online product and offer marketers huge commissions, they will be eager to promote you through every media platform they can think of.
More Beneficial Business Relationships
There doesn’t have to be loyalty between affiliate marketers and merchants. But building these relationships certainly doesn't hurt.
The more people promote your product, the better for you, and for them. It’s a win-win.
Increased Brand Exposure
Affiliate marketing programs and campaigns increase brand awareness because they get your content out right in front of the audiences that will interact with it.
Your identity, products and services reach a wider audience, which is, statistically speaking, guaranteed to help you solidify your place in the market. Brand awareness and a positive brand identity are vital for success, and affiliate marketing can get you one step closer to creating a seamless consumer experience.
The Brand Boosting Benefits Of Affiliate Marketing
If you take the time to find valuable partners and agencies, affiliate marketing can be an excellent strategy to create high conversions and grow your e-commerce sales.
If you're a merchant hoping to expand, find a valuable website or influencer to promote your product, perhaps with the help of an affiliate program, network or agency.
But if you want to become a successful affiliate marketing agency and earn commissions, you'll have to create content, whether text-based, social media-centric or video. Promote affiliate links on every channel you can — website, social media, email marketing, live presentations webinars. Then, when things get off the ground, invest in paid media and PPC.
Generally, when it comes to both parties, affiliate marketing is a safe bet. No real harm can be done and no budgets can be depleted if one decides to try out affiliate marketing.
It’s one of the rare low-risk marketing options that can either bring in revenue or not cost you a thing. The worst case scenario is not making a sale. So, what's stopping your brand?
Drive your marketing efforts with the help of these full-service digital marketing agencies!