Affiliate marketing guide for beginners

How to Make Money with Affiliate Marketing: A No BS Guide for Beginners

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What is affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing allows publishers (bloggers, webmasters, shop-owners, ect.) to make a commission from the sale of a someone else’s product. Each link has a unique tracking ID so the affiliate program can see when a sale has been made through your account.

Affiliate sales require 3 pieces: The advertiser, the publisher (you!), and the buyer.

Why should you use affiliate marketing on your blog

There are lots of ways to make money online. The biggest ad network in the world – Google – is a popular choice. But Google Adsense, and programs like it work through PPC (pay per click) or PPM (pay per mille) and often display random ads that might not be exactly what you want on your site.

For instance, I have very little say over what is displayed in the ad below:

Google is made of up awesomely smart tech, so chances are good that the ad will be something you’re interested in. But it’s still a toss up.

Splatter ads – dun dun duuuunnnn

The other major issue with ad networks is our (the publisher’s) fault. Too many people load up their site with a massive amount of ads, making sites look cluttered and a pain for users.

Carefully chosen ads and ad placement is a sign of a quality site.

It’s a tempting mistake to make. After All, you want to make money, and need people to click on the ads so you can do that. But it’s more likely you’ll be driving people away when you just plaster ads everywhere. Especially if the ads don’t really serve your audience.

Affiliate links are different

Using affiliate marketing to monetize your website or blog gives you more flexibility and options for targeting your users. Affiliate links aren’t random banner ads. They’re specific products or services created by a specific company that you’ve chosen to work with.

The image below is an affiliate link I’ve used in other posts. I know exactly what it is, I’ve used the product (a solar keyboard), I love it, so I include it where appropriate.

You can use affiliate links in your website’s text, or with an image provided by the affiliate company.

Benefits of affiliate networks vs ad networks
  • Ability to choose specific product link
  • Pick and choose products based on site niche or page subject
  • Tailor affiliate products and services to your users
  • Use text affiliate links in content for a cleaner webpage
  • Adds to your content instead of just existing in the same space
  • Gives your audience something they actually want
  • Makes your site seem more professional and well-thought out
  • Typically bigger payout than PPC ads

You can totally use ad network ads (like Google Adsense) and affiliate links on your site, just pay attention to the ad network’s terms of use to make sure you don’t get kicked out. Most of the time it’s pretty reasonable and basically boils down to: Make great content, don’t pile ads everywhere.

Affiliate Marketing for beginners

Create a platform

If you want to make money through affiliate marketing, ya gotta have a platform. You probably don’t need me to tell you that. People have to get to your link somehow, right?

An important thing to remember is that a website isn’t the only way to make affiliate sales. Although it’s a great way to start.

You can also use webinars to sell affiliate products by recommending them to listeners. You can do video reviews and recommendations. You can even publish some affiliate links straight to social media! Just be sure to read the terms of use so you know what’s allowed for each affiliate program you join.

For this post, I’m going to be covering how best to use affiliate marketing on a website, but you can take these tips and apply them to almost anywhere.

Choosing the Best Affiliate Partners to Join

You do not need to join all the affiliate programs under the sun. That’ll make you crazy and it’s just not necessary.

What makes this type of monetization great is that there are so many options. You have the flexibility to choose an affiliate partner based on exactly what your audience needs.

To help get you started on this road though, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite affiliate programs. They’re well known and reputable companies to work with, so it’s perfect for beginners.

First, a little lessons in affiliate lingo.

Affiliate program – refers to a single brand’s affiliate program

Affiliate network – refers to a company where you can browse and signup for multiple affiliate programs

Top 7 affiliate programs for beginners

I chose these affiliate programs and networks because they make getting started with affiliate marketing easy on us. The signup process is pretty straightforward, they are decently easy to navigate, and they offer a variety of products to choose from.

Tip: Use tools like this to mask affiliate links so they look cleaner
CJ (formerly Commission Junction)







Sometimes affiliate programs are filtered through an affiliate network (like ShareASale or CJ) other times the company hosts the affiliate accounts within their own site. If you sign up for the Itunes affiliate program you’ll notice that Apple works this way.

My easy method for finding unique affiliate programs for my sites:

If I’m looking for a new affiliate program to join, I brainstorm.

  1. What’s my site about?
  2. What brands/companies cover a similar a subject?
  3. What brands do I like?

Once I answer those questions I just Google a brand’s name + “affiliate.” And if they have an affiliate program it will usually pop up in the first couple results!


A super-quick way to find the perfect affiliate program for your site

More affiliate programs






How to choose affiliate products

Find affiliate products based on your site’s niche or your users. What do they like about your site?

If you’re creating a new post, think about what products you’ve used that relate to the post’s subject. Is there a way to add them to your post that makes sense?


Remember – don’t just litter your pages with affiliate links and pictures. Use them if they’re going to add value to your user’s experience!

How much can you make with affiliate links?

The amount you can make with affiliate marketing varies greatly depending on a few factors:

  1. Your traffic
  2. The commission percentage of each program
  3. How you use the affiliate links

With any ad program, the more traffic you have coming to your website, the more money you’re likely to make. The same principal applies to your affiliate links.

What makes affiliate earning potential different than a more standard ad program like Google Adsense is that the income potential can vary greatly no matter how much traffic you get.

A complete no-nonsense guide to affiliate marketing for noobs


Two bloggers, John and Jane, both get 10,000 unique visitors per month.

Jane and John both use affiliate marketing as their main monetization method online.

Jane makes $1,000 per month, but John only makes $300.

What’s makes the difference?

  • Jane does the research to make sure she’s adding links to products her users really like, and she makes sure to add them only to relevant posts.
  • Jane regularly creates polls online to ask her followers’ opinions. She tweets them. She pays attention to the products they’re talking about and the questions they need answered.
  • Jane creates reviews of products she’s actually used, and puts an affiliate link to the same (and similar) products in her post.
  • Jane pays careful attention to the payout percentage of her affiliates to make sure she’s choosing products with a high return.
  • John browses through affiliate networks and chooses a few links to products he thinks he’d like, then litters them through his site.
  • John often adds links to products in posts that have nothing to do with that post.
  • John rarely links to anything he’s actually used.

Taking the time to choose affiliate products carefully, and being picky about where you put them can make a BIG difference in your affiliate income.

I’ve got some Bad news for you

But it gets better, I promise!

A lot of people spew grand promises about making thousands of dollars online – and it’s so easy you can do it in your sleep when you’re 2 months old!

Ew. Sleazy clickbait is sleazy.

I’m not gonna tell you that. I’m gonna be real with you, because I think it’ll help you the most in the long run.

There’s a hard truth all bloggers and online entrepreneur-wannabes need to understand. The sooner you swallow this bitter little pill, the sooner you can move forward and reach your goals.

Almost no one is going to click on the ads on your site.


Yep. According to these stats, the average clickthrough rate of any ad network is around .06%. It’s a bummer.

More ad stats here

On any of the ads on your site. Affiliate ads, pay-per-click ads, it doesn’t matter. Most of the time they will sit there doing absolutely nothing for you.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of ways to earn an income online. But it’s important to be realistic about your goals so you don’t get discouraged early on.

It’s tough to make a living through advertising alone. Even with a lot of traffic, ad revenue may only account for a small fraction of your earnings. Although you can certainly make some extra money online here and there even as a beginner.

Make Money By Blogging With Affiliate Links

It’s not impossible to make a decent living with affiliate marketing. It’s been done. It’s been done a lot, actually. But it ain’t easy as pie, guys. You gotta be ready to learn, re-learn, hustle, and re-hustle.

Pretty much, whatever work you think it’ll take – multiply that by 1000. It’s not a get rich quick scheme, and if you expect it to be, you’re gonna want to give up.

7 Big Mistakes New Affiliate Marketers Make

If you’re hoping to build a more reliable income online using affiliate marketing you’ll need to be strategic. Be like Jane.

Still up for making affiliate marketing part of your routine?

Cool bro. I was hoping I didn’t scare you away yet!

I don’t want to discourage you guys, I just really want you to be realistic about what to expect so you can avoid burnout. It’s sorta like a marathon, you need to pace yourself!

Need a little inspiration after that dose of reality? Check out these income reports from people that make a living online:


A Blogger’s 5 Year Affiliate Earning for Inspiration – ShoutMeLoud


So to create affiliate links that get clicks and follow through, we gotta be like Jane.

We gotta be Strategic AF.

If you already have a site up and running that you’re planning to use, some of these steps don’t apply. But you may want to consider starting from scratch in the future to really fine-tune your affiliate skills.

Maximize your earning potential

Like our little story example shows, earning money online is about more than just putting up a few ads and waiting for the cash to flow in. You need a plan. Follow these steps.

Choose a niche

I’m willing to bet you’ve heard this before. Lots of people talk about creating a niche site being essential for any kind of financial success. There are definitely exceptions to that rule, but it can make affiliate sales much simplier. And more frequent. And faster.

Basically niches can be a really good thing when we’re talking about affiliate marketing.

Niche sites work well for affiliate marketing because:

  1. You’ve created a site for a specific purpose, and you’ll attract a users with a specific goal
  2. It makes narrowing down affiliate products much faster. You’ve created a site about awesome headphones? Hmmm… I wonder what affiliate products you should choose…
  3. Niche sites tend to rise to the top of Google results faster. Just remember that the content needs to be excellent! Google will let you freefall if you’re all ads!

Here are 2 examples of niche sites

Only one is monetizing their traffic with affiliate ads!

Site 1

Example of a niche site that isn't using affiliate marketing

Best Steam Mop reviews is actually the highest in Google’s search ranking for “Mop reviews” between these two. The crazy thing is, they don’t have ads on their site!

The site is pretty bare all around. Maybe the owner isn’t done with it. If it was decked out correctly, it could become profitable.

Site 2

Example of a niche site that is using affiliate marketing to create an income

The Steam Mop Club on the other hand is totally decked out, including lots of affiliate links next to very informative reviews. The creator has even displayed themselves as “the mop man.”

This site is the among nichiest of niche sites.

You can see how it might be pretty profitable, with tons of mop reviews, and Amazon links to each mop – they probably make a decent amount on each sale.

Keyword & niche research

PIGEON JACKETS – stick with me on this!

I know things just got weird. But I’ll explain in a minute.

Finding a profitable niche requires a little research. The Google keywords tool is a good place to start to find out what people are searching for.

Generally you should be looking at 3 factors in Google keywords. The number of people searching for your keyword per month, the competition level, and Google’s suggested bid.

What to look for with using Google keywords tool for research

You may be wondering where Pigeon Jackets comes in to this. Well, I was going to use Pigeon Jackets as an example of something people aren’t searching for. Because Pigeon jackets aren’t a real thing, right?


Apparently they are. And people are searching for them.

Google keyword research for affiliate niche sites

So we’ll use it.

Based on this info I can tell that I would not choose pigeon jackets. Can you tell from the photo why I wouldn’t choose this as a niche?

Avg. Monthly Searches

What it means: The number of people searching this keyword each month

Firstly, there aren’t many monthly searches. I like to go for a keyword that has at least 2,000 searches per month. 10,000 or more is my general goal.


What it means: The amount of advertisers running ads for this keyword

Next, there’s actually high competition for pigeon jackets.  So, first, WTF? Who are these people looking for pigeon jackets?


As you may have guessed, high competition is bad. We want low competition. That way it’ll be easier to get to the top of Google’s search results.

Suggested bid

What it means: How much Google suggests you spend on advertising for this keyword to be seen, based on what others are spending for it.

Lastly, there’s a fairly low suggested bid. I like to see a suggested bid of at least $2. I call this a “buyers bid.” Seriously, it’s just my random little term that helps me remember it 😛

Generally, a higher suggested bid tells us that advertisers are willing to pay more for this keyword, which probably means people are buying on pages with this keyword.

For affiliate marketing, buyers are very important.

A final note on pigeon jackets

After a quick search it turns out that pigeon jackets are actually just jackets for people, and pigeon is just a brand name. I cannot overstate how disappointed I am about this.

I was really looking forward to pigeons in tiny jackets.

Coo, man… by RobtheDoodler on DeviantArt

How to find a great niche topic

Unfortunately pigeon jackets isn’t the keyphrase for us. Sometimes life is just plain unfair, isn’t it?

So, to find a great niche you’ll want to find a keyword that has what pigeon jackets lacks.

  1. High search volume
  2. Low competition
  3. A “buyer’s bid” ($2 and up is my personal preference)

Important: choose a niche that’s going to make it easy to link to related affiliate products. You want to be able to link to products and services in a natural way. It should add to the user’s experience!

Remember the steam mop niche examples!

Amazon affiliates native shopping ads

Amazon has a new feature called “native shopping ads.” It’s a cool feature for affiliate marketers because it’s kinda a middle ground between an ad network and an affiliate network.

And yes, if you buy something through these Amazon links I would get a commission. 

Don’t worry – We’ll get to disclosures in a minute!

Option 1)

The “recommended” shopping tool let’s you specify what sort of products you want to appear in the ad, but then generates “random” products based on that, plus keywords that it finds in your content.

Option 2)

The native shopping ads “search” feature let’s you add a specific Amazon search result to your page. It will also allow  your users to search for specific products from your page if they want.

When someone sees an affiliate link on your site, they shouldn’t care that it’s an ad. They should be totally focused on the product because it’s something they actually like.


Affiliate marketing for non-niche sites

Like I said, not everyone who wants to be successful with affiliate marketing needs to have a niche site. However, there’s still a method to follow!

In fact, it’s the same method that you’d use to pick a niche site. The only difference is that you’ll be using it to pick the topic and keyword for a new post.

If you’re whole site isn’t about just one thing, then you can make niche posts instead.

  1. Choose a topic.
  2. Think about what sort of affiliate links you’ll be adding to your post.
  3. Do a little keyword research.
  4. Write the post, including your chosen affiliate products wherever they fit best.

Why niche posts work best for affiliate marketing

Lots of bloggers enjoy just writing whatever comes to their mind. And that’s totally fine. It’s just less likely to make you an income on your blog. Knowing how to create a niche post is much more likely to produce results.

Just like niche sites, a niche post is going to give you the best chance of making an income through affiliate links.

  • Focusing the topic of your post makes it easier for Google to pick it up and index it for similar searches.
  • That means people searching for info about your topic are more likely to find your post.
  • You get more traffic.
  • Not just more traffic, but targeted traffic. People looking for info and products related to your post’s topic.
  • So people who are interested in your affiliate product are landing on your page, PLUS there’s more of them.
  • All that adds up to more sales.

Affiliate Disclaimers & Disclosures

Ew. Legal stuff.

That’s right folks. Couldn’t get through a post about affiliate ads without touching on this.

Here’s my disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. I can’t tell you for sure how the law applies to blogging. Everything I say is my opinion, not necessarily fact. In order to get a clear[er] understanding of the law, check out the FTC’s site (link below).

The FTC regulates how we bloggers can use affiliate links legally

The basic gist seems to be that the FTC wants us to be honest with our audience about any financial benefits we get from them clicking or buying through our links.

Ah, if only it were so simple. But it’s the law, so of course it’s about as clear as mud to us non-lawyers.

Here’s what I can determine from the FTC’s site:

In a nutshell…

  1. It should be obnoxiously clear when a link on your site is an affiliate
  2. The normal disclaimers in your sidebar or at the bottom of your blog may not be enough – unfortunately, there’s room for interpretation here.
  3. Just having a disclosure page (even if you have a tab in your menu that says “disclosures policy”) may not be adequate.
  4. Promoting an affiliate product on social media needs some sort of wording like “ad” or “#sponsored” attached to it.
  5. The disclosure on social media should be as clear as space allows – for instance, on twitter, you might only be able to fit “#ad” but you’ll have more space on a Facebook post.
  6. If you bought a product yourself and you’re reviewing it, there’s no need to have a disclaimer.
  7. If you’re given a product for free by a company, and you write a post about it, make a video review, or endorse it on social media, you need to disclose that it was given to you.

Don’t panic!

It’s very unlikely you’re going to be tracked down by the FTC and sued. Again, the law leaves room for interpretation, and they really seem to be stressing that the point is being completely transparent with your users.

For further reading, check out the FTC’s site.

A list of disclosure examples from bloggylaw

This post from Michael Hyatt helps break some of this FTC madness down. As does this one from Amy Lynn Andrews.

That’s all I have for ya today! I hope it’s been helpful

Thanks to Jasmine from for making a request for a post about affiliate marketing, I really enjoyed putting this together!

Go here to request a post

Let me know what you think!

Have you started monetizing your blog?

A complete no-nonsense guide to starting affiliate marketing

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About the author


A sarcastic introvert with a blogging compulsion and a tendency to pet ALL THE DOGS.
Problem-solver, critical thinker, tech-enthusiast, occasional artist, very-expensive-piece-of-paper-holder (aka my Psychology degree.)
Fan of chai tea, hard cider, and new places.

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  • I have but it’s mainly through sponsored posts and brand partnerships. I have a few paid links in which they are placed in older posts. I think as long as they’re relevant to the post, it is fine. I haven’t tested the waters with affiliate marketing yet. I feel like I don’t have enough traffic for it yet, but I figure there’s no harm in starting if you have a community, even if it is small. 🙂 Who knows they may end up purchasing the product through you.

    • Absolutely, you can start even with a small audience. I really believe the trick is making sure that the products/services are things you truly think your audience will like. I don’t mind ads if they’re for something that I’d actually like to check out, ya know?
      I think there’s a tendency to think that we shouldn’t do advertising of any sort until we have a giant audience because ads will be primarily annoying, so we don’t want to alienate our small group of followers. But if you choose ads based on stuff you really think will help them, and don’t overdo it, then it can actually be a good thing!

  • Hannah Thank You so much for getting this together! There is so much great info here! I signed up with Share A sale awhile ago and found another called affiliate window. I think I will have the best run with it making awesome content post with stuff I like just as much. I need to get used to the aff ads on Twitter but space them out to where it look good and not spammy. Thanks again for all the info, hopefully I can get to stepping as this would be nice to make a nickel or quarter at least. :]