How to Start Affiliate Marketing (The Complete Beginners Guide)

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 05/17/22 •  24 min read

It was 11pm on a dreary night in Bangkok.

It was about a week before I’d have to flee the country due to a government crackdown, and I already had to leave my apartment due to gunfire and grenades going off constantly for 48 hours. (Seriously, true story).

My (now) good friends Derek and Clay had an apartment across town that they’d just moved into. Despite only knowing them for a brief period of time they let me come crash for a few days while I figured out my next steps.

While all of this was happening, author Chris Guillebeau was launching his latest product called the Empire Building Kit. Among other things, it featured an email a day for a year and was designed to help you build a business during that time.

I’d hardly done anything during the previous year to monetize Location Rebel.  But when this was released, I figured “why not?” and wrote a review talking about how cool the program was.

I went down the street to grab a coffee and when I came back and refreshed my inbox it was 11:05 – 5 minutes after the sale began.

I refreshed my email as soon as I got back, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

There were 4 emails, each of them saying “Sean Ogle You’ve Just Referred a Sale! You’ve earned a commission of $126.99.”Empire Building Kit Sales

In a matter of 5 minutes, I’d made $500.

I’d never made money like this via my website before. But it was that moment that I truly understood the power of building an audience and monetizing it through affiliate links.

In this post I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to start affiliate marketing on your blog, even if you’ve never made a cent online before, don’t have a huge audience, or even if you haven’t started to build your website.

We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do, so let’s get going!

How to Start Affiliate Marketing for Beginners: Some Common Questions Answered

This is one of the most in-depth videos I’ve shot on how to start affiliate marketing, so tune in while you read this post:

What is Affiliate Marketing?

This is one of the most common questions we receive, and it’s actually quite simple:

Affiliate marketing is a way for you (the affiliate) to earn a commission for recommending products or services to your friends or readers.

To simplify it, here’s the 5 step process for how to start affiliate marketing:

  1. You find a product you want to promote
  2. Do a search for “product name” affiliate program. If it’s on Amazon, you can also promote it
  3. Sign up for their affiliate program
  4. You get a special link that allows the merchant to track the people who clicked your link
  5. If they buy the product, you get a commission.

Pretty simple, right?

It can get much more advanced, but in this post, we’re just going to start with the fundamentals and get you to the point where you’re ready to make your first commission.

Check out our more detailed post for a bit more about the specifics of what affiliate marketing is.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

There are a lot of different ways to track affiliates these days, but nearly all of them are based on someone clicking your special tracking link.

The most common and basic type of tracking is via a cookie.

When an affiliate link is clicked, a small file called a cookie is stored on the user’s computer. Then they buy a product, the merchant can see that they were referred by you.

There are also more advanced methods based on the email used or IP address – but we won’t get into those here, we’ll stick to the most important stuff you need to know.

How Much Money Can You Make With Affiliate Marketing?

The amount you can make will vary wildly – it honestly falls somewhere between zero and millions.

Your income will be directly related to the type of offers you promote, how much traffic you get to the site, and your grasp of other online marketing skills like email marketing and SEO.

But in this post you’ll get a pretty good sense of the earning potential from different types of promotions.

I personally make multiple six figures a year through affiliate marketing.

But it wasn’t always that way:

How Do You Become an Affiliate Marketer?

Here’s the thing, you can pick just about any product that you can buy online, and there will be an affiliate program that will pay you a finders fee for referring a sale.

However, just because you can promote anything, doesn’t mean you should. 

The most important thing to consider when selecting a product to market is, “is it relevant to your audience?

For instance, for me to try and advertise for dumbbells on Location Rebel probably isn’t the smartest thing, because 99% of my audience could care less about them.

However, for me to promote, say, WP Engine a WordPress hosting company – makes much more sense, since almost every one of my readers either has or has considered starting a website.

And just recently, we promoted Streak as an awesome tool for freelancers to use to monitor leads right from their inbox. Once again, that’s something that speaks directly to the audience.

Here’s How to Start Affiliate Marketing on Your Blog in 8 Steps:

I thought about walking you through this whole process within this post, but honestly it’s all pretty straight forward and a lot of that is stuff you probably already know.

So rather than do that, I want to really focus on the specifics of understanding what makes a good affilaite product, and how to successfully promote it.

Go check this out if you’re looking for a full breakdown of how to build and monetize an affiliate blog or niche site.

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Types of Affiliate Products: Physical vs. Information vs. Services

There are three different types of affiliate products you can promote as a marketer

  1. Physical Products
  2. Information Products
  3. Services

Each of these has pros and cons, and we’re going to look at those now.

How to Promote Physical Products as an Affiliate Marketer

Physical products are probably the easiest thing to promote for one reason, and one reason only: Amazon.

Amazon has the world’s largest affiliate program, and once you sign up, you can get a link for any product on the site, earn a (small) commission on it!

As it sits currently, you can earn between 1 and 4.5% on any product you promote through the Amazon affiliate program. What that percentage is depends on the category it falls into. You can see that breakdown here.

Most of the stuff I promote I get a 3% commission on.

One of the nice things about promoting via Amazon is that you get a commission on everything the buyer purchases – not just the specific product link they clicked on.

So let’s say that I’m promoting some golf balls on my golf website.

The balls cost $50, so I’ll only earn $1.50. But, what if that same person also buys a set of golf clubs for $1,000, and a new golf rangefinder for $300?

Then all of a sudden that $1.50 turns into $41.50.

Amazon has a 24 hour cookie. So what that means is that if someone clicks on your link, they then have 24 hours to make a purchase in order for you to get credit.

It also doesn’t have to be for the product they clicked on. If they click on your golf ball link and then buy a new TV? You still get credit!

Other Ways to Promote Physical Products

So in a lot of ways, Amazon is like the gateway drug to promoting affiliate products because it’s very easy, and hundreds of millions of people use it on a daily basis.

But as you get more experienced, you’ll find there are more lucrative ways to promote physical products.

For instance, the REI affiliate program has a 5% commission and a 15 day cookie. If you have an outdoor-themed website, you have the potential to make nearly twice as much money on the products you promote, and you’re able to give people more time to buy.

Do as many people buy from REI as Amazon? No, but within your niche, you may find REI to be preferred and more trusted by your readers.

Many companies also offer their own affilaite program where they pay even higher commissions.

In the golf world I work with about a dozen companies directly that have affiliate commissions of between 8-20%. With most falling in the 10-15% range.

To give an example I promote golf rangefinders.

With one brand, if I sell a $500 rangefinder on Amazon? I make $15.

But if I sell that same one direct through a company’s affiliate program? I make $50.

Not as many people buy direct from the website, but considering I make over 3 times as much per sale, it’s worth it to promote it there!

In a recent month for this specific brand I sold 140 rangefinders with commissions of $1,377.15 on Amazon.

I also promoted it directly through their website, where I only sold 53 rangefinders, but made a commission of $1,687.83.

This doesn’t take into account other products people bought at the same time on Amazon – but it gives you an idea of how expanding to other physical product affiliate programs can be beneficial.

If you’re serious about Amazon affiliate marketing? I’d recommend you check out “The Affiliate Marketing Video Course” it’s a small investment, and the dude behind it is the smartest affiliate marketer I know. I can’t recommend the course highly enough.

How to Sign Up for Amazon’s Partner Program

Signing up for Amazon’s affiliate program is an excellent starting point.

Why?

Because the chances are good you already use Amazon, are familiar with it, and your readers are too.

You can sign up and get links immediately from the Amazon Affiliate program right here.

We’ve got you covered as well if you want to learn more about Amazon Affiliate Marketing.

Other Affiliate Networks to Consider

Most larger companies will use what’s called an affiliate network to host their products. These are sites you sign up for that might represent dozens of brands, and it’s how you get your special links and marketing materials.

Other smaller companies might do this in house, so it’s worth reaching out and doing a little research here.

But the major affiliate networks that I’ve used are:

Many of the largest companies work with them (for instance many of the golf companies I work with), and building a relationship with a larger affiliate network can lead to more opportunities that you might not have found otherwise.

Affiliate Marketing for Information Products

Honestly? I love promoting information products.

What is an information product? It’s a digital product, course, or community that is created by an expert in their field.

For instance, our flagship product Location Rebel Academy is an information product.

There are a lot of reasons that information products are so great to promote:

Generally, it can be a little bit more work to become an affiliate for these products because often the creator is a bit more protective of who they let market the products.

There’s also no central place you can go to join like you could with Amazon. Usually, you’ll need to talk to the author directly or look for an “affiliates” page on their product site.

Another significant benefit of promoting information products is that they usually have higher commissions than physical products.

30-50% is fair standard when it comes to promoting info products. Why? There are no hard costs associated with it.

And if a product creator can pay a percentage of any sale to an affiliate rather than have to spend significant amounts of money on ads? That’s a win for everyone involved.

When I promote information products I usually look for high-priced products created by people who are good at marketing. Why?

Because all I have to do is send traffic to their funnel, and they convert the sale. My work is relatively minimal.

I mentioned my Bangkok story above, but one of my first really big wins came through marketing an information product for building software businesses. Over 12 months I made over $20k in commissions from a blog post, 2 webinars, and a handful of dedicated emails.

That’s it.

So if you have a course or product that you’ve personally used and seen a lot of success from, check and see if there’s an affiliate program – because if you’re going to recommend it anyway, you might as well get paid for it!

Affiliate Marketing for Service Products

The third type of product you can promote is a service. This is another big one for me, because of the nature of what I write about here.

My business doesn’t function without hosting, a theme, email software etc.

So it can be easy to make a sale on services because if I personally love and use them, there’s a good chance you will too.

If you’re lucky, you can find a service that pays recurring commissions based on monthly payments.

For instance, SEMrush for years paid 40% referral fees each month for the life of the account. So if someone I refer joins for $99/month? I’d be making nearly $40/month for as long as they were a customer.

These days we’ve seen a lot of companies shift to one time payments. Now, SEMrush pays a flat fee of $200 for each new customer. Still, not too shabby.

But if you find those recurring commissions, you can build a solid stream of passive income if your promote it properly.

Think about which services you use and if it makes sense to promote them on your site. You can usually expect commissions between 15-30% on service products – sometimes higher or lower depending on what it is. Or if it’s a single payment, you can expect it to be equivalent to 2 months of payments.

My Favorite Affiliate Programs for Online Services

If you have a website related to online marketing, blogging, or business, there are fortunately a lot of really solid affiliate programs out there for different services.

I wanted to share a few of my favorites so that you can get a sense of what an affiliate program entails, and start to get a feel for what might work on your site.

Why Choose Affiliate Marketing Over Other Types of Blog Monetization

Most new bloggers assume that advertising or banner ads are the best way to monetize your site.

Up until a couple of years ago, I’d say you couldn’t be more wrong.

Why?

Because you needed a ton of traffic in order to make a significant amount of money, and the ads themselves would devalue your site and make it look horrible.

These days, this isn’t exactly true.

If you get to the point where you have 50k views a month, you’re able to qualify for certain ad networks (I like Mediavine) that actually pay pretty well for display ads.

They’re still ugly, but you can make some serious money as your traffic grows. About 3 years ago I decided to put ads on my site for a 3 month trial. I wanted to see if anyone would complain, and what revenue would look like?

In that entire time I haven’t had as single person complain about the ads. And last month? I made just over $7,000 from ads. That’s $7,000 for doing literally nothing extra. Hard to argue with that.

Mediavine Revenue

My Mediavine revenue for April.

If you’re curious about how to make passive income through display ads, then watch this video:

But this post is about affiliate marketing.

So why would I choose affiliate marketing as a primary revenue stream over display ads?

A lot of reasons, but a few of them are:

These are just a handful of the reasons affiliate marketing is such a good way to monetize your site, but they certainly aren’t the only ones.

And keep in mind, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have display ads and affiliate links. Just be sure you’re not trying too hard to make money that you’re losing trust in the process.

Here’s an example of a recent post I did on Breaking Eighty, where I reviewed the best golf launch monitors. I wrote a post, and shot a video. I have affiliate links for all the products.

Not only that for some of the products I was able to negotiate coupon codes with the companies, that provide a discount for my readers. Best part is? If that coupon code gets used, I make a commission as well, just as I would if they clicked the link.

Best Affiliate Products for Beginners

As you’re getting going, there are three specific types of products I recommend starting to market. These are ones that will give you the best chance of success in growing your business and actually making commissions early on.

I cover those here:

How to Promote an Affiliate Offer

Ok, now the most important part.

By now you should have a good sense of what affiliate marketing is, have an idea of what products you want to promote and know how to get your affiliate links for them.

But if you don’t know how to properly promote them, it doesn’t really matter now, does it? Nope.

In this section, we’re going to look at some of the easiest and most successful ways to promote an affiliate offer.

Affiliate Marketing With a Resource Page

This is probably the easiest thing you can do right now to bring in a few sales over the coming weeks: create a resource page.

Regardless of what your business is, there are tools, products, and services that you use to run your blog or business. By putting together a page of all of your tools and resources, you’re creating something that’s shareable, as well as useful.

You can also do a variation on this, and do a gift guide.

Our Best Gifts for Writers is a good example of this, and around certain holidays this brings in a nice bit of side income.

Affiliate Marketing with Product Reviews

If you’ve built up a lot of trust with your audience, product reviews are a fantastic way to generate some sales. This works for all three types of products you can promote, and I’ve personally seen success with each.

They key to a successful product review is honesty.

I’d generally only review things you like, but if there are drawbacks or little things that bother you – be upfront about them. Most people know that no product is perfect, so if you set expectations and are open with them, there’s a good chance they’ll buy it anyway.

Make sure you include the following items in any product review:

I’ve done this with a lot of success on my golf site.

Here’s a review a golf product that makes up to a few dozen sales a month. I said why I like it, I discussed the downfalls, and then made it clear why I’m ok with them.  Arccos Caddie

And another I did on Bluffworks, an awesome travel pant that I love for trips.

This post goes into way more detail about how to make money affiliate marketing through product reviews.

Affiliate Marketing with Tutorials

Tutorials are easily one of the most effective strategies for driving affiliate sales. They can take a long time to put together, but it’s also totally worth it.

So what is a tutorial exactly?

Simple, you create a post that shows people how to accomplish something step by step – you then make a product or service one of the key components to success.

I’ve done a couple of these.

With my How to Build a Niche Site post, I talk about all the steps you need to take to get a niche site up and running. So that includes some of the tools I know and love like a hosting service and ConvertKit.

I have another post, How to Set Up a Blog, that brings people step by step through the process using Bluehost. Readers can go through that post with no website at all and have their site ready to rock in less than 15 minutes using the tutorial.

You can also do it via video. Here’s an affiliate post I did walking you through how to do keyword research using SEMrush.

I make hundreds of dollars a month off of both of these posts but I know they are also really valuable to readers and we make sure to update them frequently.

Affiliate Marketing with Comparison Posts

These can be another really effective strategy for making affiliate sales.

It works well when there are either two products that are very similar and people are thinking about one or the other.

A great example would be comparing the PlayStation 5 vs the Xbox Series X.

If people are looking for a new game console, it’s probably going to be one of the two. That said, I don’t recommend you choose these because due to the overwhelming amount of information about both – it’d be hard to rank well in the search engines for any terms related to them.

A recent example I did is this post comparing the Garmin R10 vs. the Mevo Plus. 

Mevo plus vs R10

An example of an affiliate comparison post.

These are two golf products that consumers are very often trying to choose between.

Here’s an in-depth post that compares and contrasts all of the different options for hosting – and helps the user to select the best option for them.

Using an Email Series to Start Affiliate Marketing

This is probably the most effective (and most advanced) method we’ll talk about for making affiliate sales: your email list.

If you’re getting to the point where you have a sizable list, you can create a series of emails to promote a product. This works best if it’s an information product with relatively high commissions.

For this to work well you should have the following:

I’ve found a 3 email series usually works well for this, but don’t start going this direction until you’ve had some experience with either email marketing or the other affiliate strategies we’ve talked about.

5 Affiliate Marketing Mistakes You Never Want to Make

Over the years, I’ve made a lot of affiliate marketing mistakes, so check out that post and make sure you don’t fall into some of the same traps I did as you’re getting started with your affiliate promotions!

Or if video is more your thing? Watch this:

A Few Last Affiliate Marketing Tips

If you follow along with the strategies above, you’ll be making affiliate sales in no time off of your blog.

To improve your chances even more, I’ve got a couple more tips for you.

Use Lasso

I’ve been using Lasso on Breaking Eighty for about a year now, and I absolutely love it. 

The major benefit it provides is that it gives me essentially an affiliate link database. So if my link changes? I can update it in one place, and it’ll update it across every single link on the site.

It also does a great job of displaying affiliate links in a way that makes them more prominent and more clickable.

Here’s an example of that:

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Develop a Good Relationship with an Affiliate Manager

Most major affiliate programs for physical products or services will have an affiliate manager, whose sole job is to help you generate more sales.

You’ll need to prove to them that you have some potential, but do your best to get them on the phone before you start doing any major promotions. They’ll be able to give you a good sense of what works, what doesn’t, and potentially even give you a boost in commissions.

One phone call nearly doubled my commissions for one hosting company in particular.

Affiliate Marketing Alternatives: 4 Other Online Businesses to Supplement Your Affiliate Marketing Business

What I Recommend You Do to Start Affiliate Marketing NOW

Inside Location Rebel Academy we have a course called “Make Money Blogging.” It’s literally the most step by step course I know of for creating a niche website that makes money.

So if you’re looking for community support, help from us, as well as over a dozen other blueprints for building an online business? I think you’ll love the Academy.

If you want something solely dedicated to affiliate marketing, I’d take a look at “The Affiliate Marketing Video Course” (real clever name, Matt).

My friend Matt Giovanisci is probably the best affiliate marketer I know. He makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year with his affiliate sites.

And this course is extremely user friendly and covers a lot of the topics I mentioned here in more depth.

If after all of this, you think freelancing may be a better fit? Then snag our free 6-day course that walks you through all the basics of getting started.

This page contains affiliate links. This means that if you click a link and buy one of the products on this page, I may receive a commission (at no extra cost to you!) This doesn’t qffect our opinions or our reviews. Everything we do is to benefit you as the reader, so all of our reviews are as honest and unbiased as possible.

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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