Affiliate Marketing for Beginners in 2020 (step by step guide)

by Daniel Ndukwu

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our comparisons and recommendations. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

There are countless business models online. Some of them require a lot of upfront investment while others require little more than a domain name and an idea. Affiliate marketing is in the latter category.

You can choose a niche, write a few quality articles, and start generating income. The best part is that there’s no limit to how much you can make if you play your cards right.

The hard part is getting started on the right foot. Have you chosen the right niche? What’s the best way promote your affiliate links? How do you find the best products with high conversion rates? Can you turn it in to a real money printing machine?

Those are just a few of the questions that can pop up when you’re just getting started with affiliate marketing. This affiliate marketing for beginners guide will walk you through what affiliate marketing is and how to do it the right way.

Let’s dive in.

What is affiliate marketing – really?

Put simply, affiliate marketing is the process of promoting another company’s products. Whenever someone you refer to your affiliate partner buys a product (and in some cases signs up for a service) you’re paid a commission.

One of the most popular affiliate marketing programs in the world is Amazon Associates.

Amazon associates affiliate marketing program

Even though it’s popular, it’s oftentimes not the best program because the commissions are so low and other considerations.

As an affiliate, you’re a commission only sales person for the organizations you partner with. This comes with its pros and cons. You don’t have a base salary but you can scale your efforts by promoting multiple partners. If you were on payroll, you’d have to adhere to specific company policies and only promote their products.

Your earning potential is unlimited and many affiliate marketing sites make millions of dollars a year. Of course, there are a few conditions that need to be met before you can produce that kind of revenue.

How does affiliate marketing work?

The entire process is straightforward but people seem to like complicating it. Here’s a quick breakdown.

  1. An affiliate signs up to join the affiliate program of the merchant they want to partner with (some of them have an application process before being accepted but legitimate programs don’t charge)
  2. Once approved affiliates are given a unique link with their tracking ID
  3. The affiliate shares the links in various places such as emails, blog posts, social media platforms, etc.
  4. An interested prospect clicks on the link and a cookie is placed in their browser to identify where the referral came from. This cookie can stay for a few days or a few months depending on the policies of the affiliate partner.
  5. When the cookied visitor purchases or signs up, the affiliate is credited for the sale and a certain amount of the revenue generated is attributed to them.
  6. The affiliate is able to see the results of their marketing through a dashboard provided by the publisher
  7. The affiliate is paid at the end of the payment period based on the sales generated.

It’s straightforward and it doesn’t matter if you’re promoting shoes or software, the process is the same. The nuances behind how it works won’t make or break your chances of success. Niche selection and product selection will so let’s take a look at how to do that. Before we get into the heavy stuff, here is a short list of tools to consider using that’ll make your live 1,000x easier.

Affiliate marketing tools to consider

  • Thirsty affiliates – Helps you track clicks on your affiliate links. It’s a WordPress only plugin
  • KyLeads – Used to build your mailing list so you can promote to an engaged audience over time
  • Ahrefs, Ubersuggest, or Semrush – competitive analysis and keyword research tools
  • Moosend or ActiveCampaign – email marketing tools

There are many more but these are enough to get you started and you’ll discover more as you learn more about affiliate marketing.

Niche selection

A niche is the specific segment of the entire market you’re willing to serve with relevant products. For example, you may want to serve the North American market. That’s a start but it’s far too broad because North America has millions of people that want different things.

Narrow your focus so you can be relevant to all the people who visit your website. For that, you may choose a topic like fitness. Unfortunately, Fitness is too broad and if you tried to create an affiliate marketing site dedicated to fitness, you’d be competing against brands with hundreds of millions of dollars.

You don’t want that so you’d get more specific and choose something like women’s fitness. That’s also too broad because fitness is usually divided into men’s and women’s fitness. You’d want to go a bit deeper and choose something like fitness for new moms or fitness for young professional women.

Even though the products and services would be similar, they’re targeted at a specific group. If those people land on your website, they’ll stick around because the content is tailored to their needs.

Here’s an example called nerd fitness.

Nerd fitness example of niche affiliate site

All of the content, though applicable to anyone, is tailored to nerds.

The niche you choose should, at the least, should meet the following criteria:

  • People are spending money there because of need or passion (food is a necessity but fitness is related to passion)
  • Interest is growing or remaining steady over time
  • There are other businesses which are serving the niche in one capacity or another

Let’s look at how to go through the process of determining whether a potential niche meets these criteria.

How to find your own niche

There’s no shortcut to niche research. It’s a combination of your own interests, market demand, and competition.

List out potential niches

First, create a list of your interests and skills that you have. This will be the starting point for your research.

After you have the overall list, you want to take a look at market demand answer the first question. Are people spending money there already?

To find out if people are spending money in that niche, simply type in a few relevant keywords and with the word “buy” or “products.” For example, “men’s fitness products” or “buy men’s fitness.”

Searching for product demand

In the image above, I simply searched for men’s fitness products and there were dozens of products displayed in the first few results. It checks out in that category.

Find interest over time

To find out interest over time, we’ll use a free tool called Google Trends.

Type in “Google Trends” in Google Search and it should be the first result. On the page that loads, type in the major keywords related to your niche in the search bar.

Google trends

When the result load, sort it by five years first then all time to see the trend graph.

Google trends fidget spinners

As you can see in the image above, fidget spinners were popular for a while and then dropped off suddenly. That’s the kind of niche you want to avoid unless you’re at the beginning of the trend and can secure a strong position in the market.

In a niche like fitness or personal finance, you’ll see strong interest from year to year because those are evergreen topics. If there are niches that show strong interest on your shortlist then move on to the next step. If not, start again with different potential niches.

Check competition

Even though a niche may have buyers and sustained interest over time, it may still be a bad fit based on competition. I’ll give you a way to assess this but in the end, you’ll need to make your own decisions based on your skillset and resources.

First, navigate to Google or your favorite search engine and type in your major keywords. Make a note of all the domains on the first page of Google.

Repeat this process with all of your major keywords until you’ve uncovered all the major websites. It doesn’t matter if they are affiliate marketing sites, software websites, eCommerce brands, etc. 

Once you’re done compiling your list, navigate to a website called similarweb.com. It’s a competitive analysis tool that’ll give you an idea of the traffic and source of the traffic.

Similarweb results

If you see they have a large amount of traffic and it comes from search engines, that may be a sign the websites are authoritative. At the same time, it may reveal untapped traffic sources you can utilize (or even ones your competitors are successful with which you can also use).

The next tool is Ahrefs.com. This is a paid tool but you can also use a tool like Ubersuggest which is free (though not as robust).

Type in the domains you compiled and look at:

  • Quality of backlinks
  • Domain Rating (a metrics from Ahrefs that measures website authority based on backlink profile)
  • Search traffic

That’s enough for a quick analysis. If you see that every domain on the first page has a high domain rating of 50 or more then it’s a sign that the niche is competitive. If there are at least a few below the 50 mark then it’s a sign the niche is less competitive.

Of course, there are many other factors to consider but this is enough to get a quick understanding of what’s involved in the niche you’re considering. You can do deeper research when you’ve settled on one.

At this point, choose the niche you want to focus on for the foreseeable future and move on to the next step.

Product research

When niche selection is done, you don’t want to start building your website and generating traffic. Before that, you should have a clear idea of the kind of products available to promote as an affiliate.

This will help you map out content, determine where you can get quick wins, understand the type of product reviews out there, etc. There will be more products coming out all the time (and many companies will go out of business) so look at this exercise as a preliminary step.

If you’re not happy with the product mix or the commission levels then you can always switch to a different niche at this point.

Other affiliate sites

The first stop to find the best products in your niche are other established affiliate sites. You’ve already done some of the work by listing out domains that are ranking for relevant keywords.

Identify the affiliate websites and go through some of their content. Affiliate posts are usually easy to spot because they mention “best X” or “X review.” At other times, affiliate links are embedded in educational content.

Focus on the best of type articles. Look at both the topic and the specific products being promoted.

Hover over the link. If you see something like https://www.growthboost.co/go/webinarjam-2/ or webinarjam.com/?2343svse3/ then there’s a good chance it’s an affiliate link.

Take a few minutes to research the top products recommended on each post to find out their commission structure. Is it a one off payout or recurring and what’s the percentage?

Major affiliate networks

There are tons of affiliate networks out there. Some of them specialize in a certain type of product. For example, Clickbank deals with information products while CJ deals with physical products or services. There are others that deal with all types of products like JVZoo.

There are too many for me to list here so I recommend starting with the most popular ones like:

  • CJ
  • JVZoo
  • Clickbank
  • Impact Radius
  • Routaken Linkshare

You can also try to find a few niche specific ones using Google. For example, “health affiliate network” or “fitness affiliate network” may yield a few platforms related to those niches. Though the absolute range of products will be smaller, most of them will be relevant to you.

Google searches

There are many ways to go about this process and the more creative you are, the more opportunities you’ll find.

First, search for best of articles in your niche. “Best fitness apps” “best fitness gear” etc. are common examples. Click on the results on the first page. Most of them will have similar products on display but you should be able to find quite a few.

Another route you could go, is searching for the affiliate program of specific vendors. If you wanted to promote Under Armor on your website then you’d simply type “Under Armor affiliate program” in Google to see if it exists.

Finally, use search queries like “best health affiliate programs,” “best fitness affiliate programs,” or “best x niche affiliate programs.” You’ll find a few lists that compile the programs for individual niches.

All three of these methods are starting points. As you grow within your niche and learn the ins and outs of it, you’ll find more programs to promote.

It’s almost time to start building your website but there’s still another important step.

Choose a handful of promotion channels

Online, there are countless ways to generate traffic and someone from somewhere has been successful with it. If you jump from one strategy to another every month then it’ll be difficult to gain traction. In fact, this is one of the major reasons people fail with affiliate marketing (or any online business for that matter).

Avoid this outcome by looking at your skillset, the niche you’ve chosen, and the competitiveness of that traffic channel. If it looks promising then go for it, if not, you may want to revisit it at a later time.

SEO

SEO (Search engine optimization) is the bread and butter of the largest sites in the world. It’s not social media because of the nature of social sites – things don’t last there. With the proper optimization strategies, SEO can bring traffic to specific articles for months or years.

Look at some of the largest affiliate websites in the world and how they get traffic.

Nerd wallet

It’s no accident. This traffic strategy is scalable but it takes time. The good news is that as you get traffic it becomes easier to acquire even more. That’s because the authority of your website starts to increase and search engines see you as a reliable source of information related to your topics.

Keep in mind that you’ll gain authority around specific topics and not others.

For example, if your niche is technology then you may start to rank on the first page of search engines for related terms without much effort. If you write an article about health or business then you may not rank well on search engines no matter how hard you try.

Of course, there’s an exception to every rule. Huge publishers like Forbes use its massive domain authority to rank for unrelated terms.  

SEO should be part of your playbook but it’s a long term strategy that takes months to start yielding fruits (6 – 12 months in many cases). In the meantime, other traffic strategies will be front and center to generate income from your affiliate site.

Social media

A social media following is something that can have tangible results in many spheres of influence. It goes beyond just generating traffic and each platform has its own nuances (Which would require an article or series of articles to explain). That’s why there are so many agencies that help you gain traction.

Here, I’ll just give you a general idea of what’s required to gain traction on the platform.

  • Facebook

Facebook is one of the largest social media platforms in the world but has many issues when it comes to generating traffic. The lifespan of your posts is short and most of your audience won’t see what you publish on your fan page. It’s pay to play.

It also represents all demographic groups from and can be used for everything from business related niches to fashion. If you have the resources, you can quickly build a fan base using paid ads.

  • YouTube

YouTube gets billions of page views from every corner of the globe and can become a sizeable income source on its own. The challenge here is the type of content. Videos are considerably harder to produce and edit on a consistent basis which.

If you’re not already conversant with the video creation process, you’ll be required to learn the ins and outs of it before you can hope for success. The major benefit is that you can monetize your videos with Google AdSense, earn an income, and still monetize with affiliate links.

Though YouTube denies it, many creators claim they get more distribution on the platform when ads are enabled. The key metrics tracked on the platform are CTR (click through rate), watch time, and engagement and it can be used for almost any niche.

  • Instagram

Instagram is the quintessential visual platform. There are few options beyond uploading, liking, and commenting. Because it’s so visual, abstract niches like digital marketing, SEO, etc. don’t do as well. Niches like fashion, health and fitness, lifestyle, etc. do well. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

It’s getting more difficult to start an Instagram account and be successful because of the way the platform works. You’re unable to follow a large amount of people in a short amount of time, comment to often, etc.

One of the benefits of Instagram is that you can send people directly to a product landing page from your bio link and expect them to buy. If you go this route, expect to get little traffic but high quality traffic.

  • Pinterest

Pinterest, though a social media platform, more closely resembles a visual search engine. People don’t comment often but they will save and share your content. The people who spend time on Pinterest often have high incomes and are in a buying mindset.

It can be used for any niche with success but the most popular ones are health and fitness, fashion, travel, etc. It’s more or less ideal for any niche that has a large visual element.

  • Twitter

Twitter has been called many things and I won’t get into the problems with the platform here. It has a few hundred million active users, requires your phone number on sign up for some reason, and has the attention span of a gnat.

With that being said, if you can capture the attention of people then you’re in an interesting position. It has a demographic of above 30 and you’re free to paste links anywhere. The posts only last a few seconds to a few minutes so you’ll need to be quite active on the platform to generate a sizeable amount of traffic.

Guest posting

Guest posting goes hand in hand with SEO because you’re able to build links to pages you’re interested in ranking. It also has other benefits like getting you in front of other people’s audience and driving referral traffic.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to finding guest post opportunities. You can reach out to sites directly to see if they’re accepting guest posts or look for the ones that openly display opportunities.

Follow the bread crumbs of other popular people in your niche. If they’re written for a website then they’ll likely accept your guest post too. Use this as a long term play because guest posts tend to deliver little traffic unless it’s on a website that doesn’t publish often (just a few times a week or less) with a huge audience.

Email marketing

This strategy can come into play from the very beginning but you’re not focused on your own email list. Instead, you’ll be focused on the mailing list of others in your niche and the goal is to grow your mailing list so it’s a steady source of traffic down the line.

Look out for people in your niche that aren’t competing with you directly and try a guest emailing strategy. It’s similar to guest posting but it’s within email. Send people directly to a sign up form and then promote your products and articles to them.

This list isn’t extensive and I’ve left off many traffic strategies that could be effective like paid traffic and forums. The simple truth is that I can’t list out all of them.

It’s up to you to determine which ones will be a good fit for you, learn the ins and outs, and stick with it long enough to gain traction. Most people won’t go viral but anyone can learn the skills required to be successful.  

Create quality content

Now, you’re ready to build your website and start creating quality content.

I’ll be the first to tell you that quality content is subjective and varies from niche to niche. In the marketing space, quality content is long-form, full of custom imagery, plenty of citations, and comprehensive.

In the stamp collecting world, it may be one thousand word posts with an image or two. With that being said, there similarities between great content no matter the niche. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a great writer. Instead, great content:

  • It meets the needs of the reader (if they’re asking about Pokémon Go, you’re not telling them about Pokémon the TV series)
  • It’s comprehensive (they get all the information they need to get started or know exactly where to get it)
  • It’s easy to read (that means no large blocks to text. It’s broken up by small paragraphs, bullets, images, etc.)

There are many other factors but going through it will require another few thousand words. Here’s a great resource to look at to understand how to create quality content.

In addition to the content you need certain pages to protect yourself:

  • Terms of service
  • Privacy Policy
  • Affiliate disclaimer
  • Earnings disclaimer (if you share income figures)

Additionally, you’ll want to add an about page and contact page.

That’s it, once you’ve designed your website and have the key pages in place, it’s time to create content and start promoting it.

Conclusion

An affiliate marketing website can be a lucrative investment when you play your cards right. This guide has gone through the major concepts you need to select a niche and get started on the right foot. With that being said, it’s only a fraction of the information you need.

You’ll learn as you go. There’s no other way but be sure to imbibe the lessons here so you get started on the right foot. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments and don’t forget to share.

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