Affiliate links are one of the most popular ways of monetizing a blog or website.
It consists in placing links on your website that drive traffic to another website.
Unlike display advertising where you get paid per view or per click on an ad, with affiliate marketing you get paid when the visitor is converted to a customer.
What Are Affiliate Link Programs?
To become an affiliate, you have to apply to a specific Affiliate Program. There are many different types of affiliate programs, but they all share the same concept.
If a visitor on your website clicks on an affiliate link, they are taken to your affiliate partner’s website.
A small parameter on the link (in the form of a URL query string like ?aff_id=) informs their website that you are the source of the new potential customer.
These websites will store that information for a given period of time, and if the visitor turns into a customer (which is called a conversion), you will get a reward.
This period, called Cookie Duration lasts anywhere between a few hours and a few months following the last click on your link and is tied to a specific browser on a specific device.
Some stores like Amazon have a longer cookie duration if an item is added to the basket.
The reward can be of various types, monetary or not, and be given to you immediately or later.
With Affiliate Marketing, you’re not paid to have links, you’re paid to help the partner make sales.
You can either enter in a contract directly with a website’s affiliate program or do it through an affiliate broker.
Why Do Online Shops Have Affiliate Programs?
Why would an online shop give you money on every single sale?
It’s simple, you give them (almost) free advertising.
With traditional advertising methods, a business needs to pay upfront. If their campaign is a success, they might have a hefty return on investment.
If the campaign fails, they lose money.
With affiliate marketing, they only pay you a fraction of their profit.
Research shows that affiliate programs are the main acquisition channel for as many as 40% of online shops in the United States (source).
Why Is Affiliate Marketing Awesome For You?
Affiliate Marketing is similar to Display Advertising in the sense that it’s almost completely passive.
Once you have set up your links and you’ve found a way to make them as attractive as possible without damaging your users’ experience, you don’t have to do anything.
Affiliate revenue will come automatically as long as your visitors click on the links.
Affiliate Marketing Types
There are many kinds of affiliate marketing programs, they can vary based on:
- The type of reward: Commission, Discount, Products
- The strategy: High Volume/Low Reward or Low Volume/High Reward.
Types of Rewards
The most common type of reward for affiliate programs is the commission.
The principle of a commission-based affiliate scheme is simple. Every conversion (sale) gives you a small percentage of the price.
The commission for such a program can vary from 1% for very low margin, cheap products to over 60% for very high margin products.
This type of program is generally the most interesting as you get actually paid real money for your effort.
Commissions are generally paid when the items are shipped, and refunds or returned are excluded.
Examples of Commission-based programs:
- Amazon Associates
- eBay Partner Network
Another way for a seller to reward you is to offer discounts on products.
This is common with either smaller online shops or with companies that offer services.
A good example of that might be a hosting platform. Some offer a discount such as 20% off every month for a year for every new customer you bring them.
This is profitable if you do use their service or product. But don’t sign up for such a discount program for a protein powder website if you don’t regularly consume protein powder!
Free Product affiliate programs are more common in highly specialized markets such as beauty or exclusive travel.
In such programs, you might be offered a free trip on a cruise ship if you manage to sell 10 trips.
One the very bottom of the affiliate scale are dual reward programs.
These are meant for occasional sales but have the advantage of benefitting both the buyer and you.
In a dual rewards program, you give your visitors a discount code, for example, 20% off.
This discount code is associated with your account, and you might then make a small percentage of the sale in revenue.
It’s technically not an affiliate link program, as the reward is linked to the code and valid only on the purchase – there’s no notion of cookies storing your affiliate id.
Choosing A Program
Most affiliate programs are not exclusive, meaning that you can enter into as many programs as you want and combine the partners.
However, there are general best practices to follow to pick the best programs.
It’s absolutely essential for your affiliate program to be relevant to your content and to your audience.
If you have a knitting website, there’s very little point in having affiliate links for a TV store.
Not only would such links never be used, but they might even deter your audience from coming back to your website.
Volume vs Reward
Some affiliate programs offer a tiny reward. It’s common to see commissions under 4% of the sale. For items retailing under $5, it’s a 20-cent commission.
Such programs are only useful if you can generate a large volume of sales.
You can definitely achieve that if:
- The seller is a trusted player or a household name (such as Amazon, eBay, etc.).
- The buyers are likely to buy many items in the store. Stores selling a small range, for a small price, with a small commission aren’t worth your time.
- The Cookie Duration is long. With a 90-day cookie duration, any purchase of any amount made by the buyer within 90 days will count towards your commission. The longer it is, the better.
Some affiliate programs are low-volume and big rewards. An example of a low-volume high-reward program is most affiliates for digital courses.
Video courses are bespoke, highly-targetted niche courses that can sell for up to several thousands of dollars.
Because such products have a massive profit margin, they can afford to give a huge reward to their affiliates.
As a result, most of their marketing is done by their affiliates, not themselves!
Affiliate Programs rarely pay immediately. They generally have two types of payment schedules: periodically or by threshold.
A periodical payment schedule would transfer your earned commission to your account on a schedule.
It can be either every week, fortnight, or month.
A threshold schedule would wait until you’re reached a certain amount before making any transfer.
For example, it would make a transfer every time your balance reaches $200.
Stores selling physical products would generally consider the shipping date as the reference date for the commission, not the purchase date.
Best Affiliate Programs
Find in the table below the most common and our Top 3 preferred affiliate programs.
|0% to 10% (source)
|High Volume, Low Commission
|24 hours Visit
90 days Basket
|30 days (web)
7 days (app)
|0% to 70%
minus 25% for Skimlinks
Automated or Manual Selection
We’ll cover these 3 major programs in detail, but keep in mind that there is also a myriad of small niche-specific affiliate programs.
In fact, research shows that 80% of brands have affiliate programs (source). So if there’s a brand you like and use regularly, contact them and see if they have an affiliate program you could use!
1. Amazon Associates
Amazon Associates is the most popular commission-based affiliate program.
They hold such a vast inventory that they can cover most blogging niches, so you are likely to be able to find relevant items.
The commissions with Amazon Associates are relatively low, but they are so commonly used that you are likely to get revenue for completely unrelated items.
As an example, on our websites that generate about 2 million page views per month, 90% of all items purchased on Amazon are not what we linked.
So there’s always the odd chance that you might get a commission on a very expensive item such as furniture, laptops, or bikes.
Amazon Associate works worldwide, and it will automatically find a similar item to the one you chose for countries that don’t have them.
The commission structure is one of the most complicated with commissions that vary with the product category and time of year. They often do high-commission periods to drive up sales.
Amazon also offers bounties that are fixed-price rewards for the sale of very specific items (generally their own subscriptions such as Audible, Prime Video, Amazon Music, etc.) during a fixed period.
Etsy is much more specialized than Amazon, but they also have a massive worldwide inventory.
Unlike Amazon, Etsy has a fixed commission structure set at 4%.
The application is slightly more involved than with Amazon as there are a number of forms to submit, but they tend to be less picky once you’re in.
Etsy is better suited for blogs and websites in niches like crafts, education, religion, beauty, and fashion.
Skimlinks is quite different from Amazon and Etsy because it is not a retailer.
They act as a broker between retailers that have their own affiliate programs and publisher.
As a result, they take a cut of 25% on each commission, but in exchange, they open your horizon to thousands of retailers.
Skimlinks can work in exactly the same way as other Affiliate providers, letting you manually insert links.
But the real value (and potential risk) is in its automated link skimming (hence their name).
They provide a tool that can automatically transform existing links into affiliate links making it very easy for you to manage.
The drawback is that you lose a fair amount of control over what you are linking to, despite some tools to help you manage them.
How Much Can I Expect To Earn From My Affiliate Links?
Rather than complicated hypothetical calculations, we’ll show you exactly how much we make from affiliate programs.
We used to have several affiliate programs on our website (Amazon and various niche online retailers), but we decided to trim it down to Amazon only to reduce the management to almost zero.
On our websites, we generate 12 clicks on Affiliate Links for every 1,000 page views.
So for 1,000,000 page views, it’s 12,000 clicks.
Despite a similar strategy on our sites, the rate varies highly across websites, most likely due to the different demographics.
- Site with Older Demographics: 18 clicks per 1,000 page views.
- Site with Younger Demographics: 7 clicks per 1,000 page views.
Once on Amazon, our conversion rate is also variable:
- Site with Older Demographics: 10.2% convert to sales
- Site with Younger Demographics: 7.8% convert to sales
And of course, in terms of revenue, the same trend can be observed.
- $0.88 per 1,000 page views
- $0.25 per 1,000 page views
So a website generating 1,000,000 page views can completely passively generate between $250 and $880 per month without any aggressive form of promotion of affiliate links.
Most affiliate programs have detailed requirements, and it’s absolutely essential to abide by them.
Requirements can cover amongst other things:
- What your site can and cannot publish (brands don’t want to be associated with illegal activities for example).
- Where the links are displayed (Amazon for example restricts the links to your website. You’re not supposed to use them in a newsletter or on social media).
- A disclosure statement (it’s generally mandatory to write somewhere on the page that you will earn money from the links as an affiliate).
- The type and design of promotion material (some affiliate programs provide assets that you can use and forbid the use of custom images).
Make sure to read these requirements thoroughly as there’s nothing more frustrating than having your affiliate account terminated for a trivial reason after you’ve spent hours setting up all the links.
All affiliate marketing programs work with links.
The link to a product or shop will include a unique identifier that will let the brand know the visitor is coming from you.
That way if they convert into a buyer, the brand knows they owe you a commission.
Managing links is the single most important part of using an affiliate marketing program.
Avoid Manual Effort
Since affiliate marketing generally requires high volume to be efficient, you are likely to end up with links on all your pages.
One day, one of the following scenarios will happen:
- You change affiliate programs and need to update all your links
- A product has been discontinued, and you need to update all links
- A viewer told you a link leads to an error page, but they don’t remember which link
- You need to mark all your links as “rel=sponsored” or “rel=nofollow”
To make the management of links easier, follow these simple practices:
- Never insert an affiliate link manually into a page
- Use a plugin like Easy Affiliate Links, Easy Affiliate, Affiliate WP, or PrettyLinks for in-line links
- Use a centrally-managed link system for specialized links, such as WP Recipe Maker for ingredient and equipment affiliate links.
Most affiliate programs require the disclosure of your affiliation with them.
In general, it’s mandatory to have a small text explaining that you will earn from qualifying purchases made on their website through affiliate links.
This text needs to be visible, which means that you can’t really place it on your footer where only 4% of visitors go.
A quick way to insert such affiliation is to add a CSS :before block on a class right at the top of your post header.
This allows a code-free insertion that is immediately visible. It can also of course be done with plugins and manual codes.
Google’s Take On Affiliate Links
Now that you have picked one or more affiliate marketing partners, you’ve created and inserted all your links, how do you make sure that Google is not going to penalize you for your links?
Despite what you might read on some forums, Google are not waging a war on affiliate sites.
In fact, they also use affiliates to promote products such as Google Workspace.
However, they do have a number of guidelines on how to publish affiliate links.
- Thin Affiliates – Thin affiliates are sites where affiliate links are the bulk of the content. They are generally penalized and seen as spammy sites.
- Affiliate Links Should be a small portion of the content
- They should be naturally placed. Which means they are using relevant Anchor texts. Don’t add a bunch of random affiliate links below each paragraph hoping for clicks and don’t link to a TV with a clickbait anchor text.
- They should be relevant to your audience. If you have a recipe website, it’s perfectly relevant to link to ingredients and utensils. It wouldn’t be relevant to link to cruises or air travel agents.
Frequently Asked Questions
Affiliate links should be a minor part of your posts. It’s fine if a post has even a few dozen affiliate links, but their anchor texts should represent a very small percentage of the total word count. Think at most 1 or 2%.
The most popular affiliate program is without question Amazon Associates, but the best program for you is one that offers very specific, very relevant links for your niche.
Yes, some affiliate programs like Amazon Associates have a low tolerance to rule infringements.
Sellers do this to protect their brand, as spammy link practices reflect badly on them.
Therefore if you put links in the wrong place, use incorrect media, or forget to disclose your affiliate relationship, there’s a good chance you will get the boot.
Affiliate Links are a great and easy way to generate additional revenue and complement display advertising.
While there are a few rules to follow, it’s a very passive way of grabbing a small income.