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The Beginner’s Guide to Affiliate Marketing

When you’re looking to make money from your website or blog, affiliate marketing is absolutely one of the best tools to do so. While placing advertisements on your website will also garner you income, most bloggers earn the majority of their income through affiliate marketing.

So what exactly is affiliate marketing? How can you start using this type of monetization on your own website or blog? Let’s take an in-depth look at everything there is to know about affiliate marketing.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Let’s just get this out in the open: affiliate marketing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Good payouts from affiliate marketing are the result of hard work and time. However, the great thing is that it can be done from the comfort of your home!

To define affiliate marketing, think of your website as a subtle type of online advertising. Today we live in a world of e-commerce and online purchases. More and more people are turning to the internet to find the products or services that they need or want in their life.

So, how do people searching the internet find what they are looking for?

With hundreds of thousands of online retailers now in business, it can be hard for people to find that perfect item that they’re looking for. This also means it’s harder for those online retailers to make sure they’re getting enough traffic to their websites.

The solution for these retailers is to have other websites drive traffic back to them.

This is where you, as the publisher, come in. Someone with a website or blog can form an affiliate relationship with a retailer (either directly or through an affiliate network). You then drive traffic back to the retailer’s site (and usually to specific products or services) by including specialized links within your content.

When someone clicks on that link, tracking cookies within the consumer’s browser tell the retailer that this particular visitor came from your website. Then, if the consumer purchases something on the retailer’s website, you’ll get a commission of the sale price.

We’ll talk more about where you can place these links down below. Right now, let’s see how you can make sure that your affiliate marketing website is profitable.

Choosing a Profitable Affiliate Marketing Niche

Narrowing down your niche is an important part of creating a website in general. This gives you a focused audience who is more likely to find you in search results.

But, how can you know which niche will bring you the best revenue with affiliate marketing? Let’s go through some of the steps of choosing a niche to see.

1-     Identify Your Interests

You’re going to be doing a lot of writing about your chosen topic. If you choose something that you will easily become bored with, that website won’t last very long.

But don’t forget, just because you like something, doesn’t mean you know how to write about it. What I mean is this: your previous knowledge can be extremely useful in picking a niche. However, don’t let this narrow you down too much. If you’re willing to do a bit of research, you don’t need to be an expert in your niche.

However, don’t let this narrow you down too much. If you’re willing to do a bit of research, you don’t need to be an expert in your niche.

I’ll use myself as an example in this case. When I started my own website, I chose budget travel as my niche. Why? Mainly, because I absolutely love to travel! I’ve lived in 4 countries (soon to be 5!) and my husband and I are always looking for a new adventure. Also, since we live simply, budget travel was something I knew a lot about.

For me, this niche fit perfectly into my interests and my previous knowledge. However, I also had previous knowledge of dentistry, cleaning services, gardening, and a few other things. Why didn’t I decide to write about any of these subjects? Because I really couldn’t care less about them.

Now, the niche that fits your interests and previous knowledge might not be the most profitable niche. For example, I knew when I created my website that B2B health and finance were two very profitable niches. But again, those things simply don’t interest me.

So, to start choosing your niche, make a list of topics that interest you, whether you already know them well or you’re willing to learn.

2-     Check for Online Demand

Popularity on the internet is a finicky thing that is constantly changing. To start, let’s see what the immediate demand for your topic is.

There are plenty of tools to check the search rate and popularity of certain keywords. Google’s keyword planner is a free tool inside the AdWords system that allows you to see the search volume of certain keywords within a niche topic. You can adjust where these searches are being conducted as well, if you want to get a clearer idea for a certain part of the world.

Also, I like to use the Keywords Everywhere browser extension. This lets you see the search volume per month of any keyword that you type into Google.

Basically, higher numbers are better here. This means that there is a demand for this topic on the internet.

Next, let’s see if that demand is just a passing phase or if it’s something that will stick.

Our next tool is Google Trends. This tool allows you to see the popularity of a certain topic or keyword over time, whether it’s over the past few years, months, or even hours. You’ll be able to see whether the demand for this topic is increasing, or whether people are already getting bored with it.

3-     Look for Signs of Life

Want to see how much interest the online community has in your niche ideas? Time to see what your potential audience is saying and doing.

This can be done with a simple Google search. Start by finding niche blogs within that topic. See if there are any well-established sites. Are these sites getting visitors? How do people interact with their posts? Do they get social media shares? How are they making money?

Checking out this competition ahead of time will give you good ideas for the future. Remember: while it’s good to see a few established blogs within your niche, a popular topic might not be profitable if it’s overrun by competition.

If you see too many established websites within your topic, it will probably be very difficult and time-consuming to actually make a decent profit from this topic. However, don’t give up on the idea entirely. Try narrowing down your niche a bit more.

Let’s go back to my own personal example. I found that the topic of budget travel was being covered by many other blogs (and most of them had traveled a lot more than I had!). So, I decided to narrow down my niche to budget travel in Spain. That way, I still had part of my original niche, but it was easier for me to achieve a better ranking.

4-     See Which Niche Has Products that Sell

You’ve probably narrowed down your original list of niche ideas to a few topics that are actually popular online. Now, how can you choose the niche that will make you the most money?

Affiliate marketing is all about recommending products or services to your readers. So, it’s time to find out which of your niche topic ideas actually has products that people want to buy!

Here’s what I want you to do: take that list of niche ideas that you have and, alongside each item, list the problems that people face within that niche. Then, list the products within your niche that can solve those problems.

For example, let’s say that your chosen niche idea is women’s hiking clothes. Some problems that your audience faces might include finding clothes that are breathable, finding good hiking boots that are durable, purchasing clothing for hiking in winter, etc.

Now, it’s time to see if those products are actually selling online.

Amazon is one of the largest online retailers, and also offers an interesting affiliate program for niche websites. (We’ll talk more about that later.) But, their site is also useful for finding out if certain products are actually selling.

Try searching your niche keywords in Amazon and see how many results you get. Hopefully, you’re getting thousands of results for general niche keywords.

Now, within those products, check for consumer reviews and ratings. How many reviews are you seeing on these niche products? Are there some products with hundreds, or possibly even a few thousand reviews?

Then it looks like you’ve found your perfect niche!

Working with Affiliate Networks

Once you’ve set up your niche website, you’ll be ready to start earning cash with affiliate marketing. You have a choice in doing so: working with affiliate programs or going directly to companies to set up affiliate marketing relationships with them.

Let’s talk about some of the most popular affiliate marketing networks, and how they can benefit you and your business.


This affiliate network is one of the largest available, and has been in business since 2000. That’s 17 years of experience under their belt already, making them a trustworthy company. They have over 4,000 merchants within their catalogs which span over a wide variety of categories. In January of 2017, ShareASale was acquired by another global affiliate called Awin, thus increasing their reach to a more international crowd.

The platform is easy to use and offers a lot of assistance for new affiliate marketers. Their blog is full of interesting tips and helpful ideas for those lost in the large sea of merchants available on the site.

Commission Structure

As far as one can tell from their website, the commission structure of ShareASale isn’t exactly set in stone. Since there are so many different merchants on their site, each one has a different commission. I’ve seen between 3% all the way up to 20%.

Also, some merchants just give you a set price commission. For example, WP Engine pays up to $200 for sales commissions.


  • 4,000+ merchants to choose from, with more being added constantly
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Functional search feature helps you choose the best merchants for your site
  • In-depth reporting features that show you exactly what you’re doing


  • Payouts start when you earn $50
  • Some have complained that when a merchant’s program is shut down, affiliates are not notified


This company has also been in business for over 17 years, and focuses on lifestyle products. Mostly, the products that are available in their affiliate marketing program are digital products created by entrepreneurs.

With so many years in the business, Clickbank has become another very trusted affiliate marketing program that many can take advantage of. Their tracking system is also a highlight, as they track for up to 60 days!

Commission Structure

Commissions on Clickbank are set by the vendor. This means that the vendor can choose between 1% all the way up to 75%. However, remember that the commission that affiliates receive is a percentage of the net sale price. This means that Clickbank takes their percentage first, then calculates your commission from the remaining sale price.


  • Some of the highest commissions available
  • No pre-approval necessary
  • Multi-lingual support
  • Set your own pay threshold as low as $10
  • 60-day tracking means more chances of earning
  • Knowledge base to help new affiliates


  • Slow customer support

CJ Affiliates

The catalog of CJ Affiliates boasts some of the most well-known brands currently on the market. They have more than 3,000 merchants currently on their site, including many household names that we are all familiar with.

This huge array of top brands can be a positive or a negative feature. It is an excellent way to earn a better commission if you are an established affiliate marketer. However, the competition within this network makes it difficult for new affiliate marketing websites to join.

Upon sign-up, you will need to join the advertiser’s programs individually, and they’ll need to approve you before you start marketing their products. This means, if you’re not an established affiliate marketer, you might get rejected. However, since there is such a large range of brands available on CJ Affiliates, you will likely get accepted by someone.

Commission Structure

Commissions are not listed on their website, but some users have mentioned an average of 25%.


  • Monthly payments through direct deposit or check
  • Vast array of advertisers from different categories with big brand names
  • Notification if a link or ad isn’t working
  • Real-time reporting


  • Some affiliates are disappointed by commission rates, mentioning that they’re not as high as other top affiliate marketing programs.

Amazon Associates

This program hardly needs an introduction. All of us know Amazon and probably use this website on a regular basis. The affiliate marketing program that Amazon has established, known as Amazon Associates, provides income for many affiliates around the world.

Commission Structure

Amazon has recently made some major changes to their affiliate commission rates. Before, you could earn a higher commission by selling a greater volume. Now the commission rates are set depending on the category. The lowest commission is 1%, and the highest is 10%.


  • Extremely simple to start using
  • Wide variety of products to advertise
  • Many options for ad display, including interactive widgets
  • Payout threshold of $10


  • Some categories offer very low commissions


This company was founded in 1997 under the name Rakuten Linkshare. It is one of the oldest and most respected affiliate networks, and has maintained itself as one of the best available. Ease of use is key for Rakuten. They make it extremely simple for publishers to see how affiliate marketing is working for them.

Rakuten features thousands of advertisers within brands that are well-known. Also, they cover many different categories, making them an excellent choice for affiliate marketers.

Commission Structure

According to their website, Rakuten offers commissions between 1% and 6%, depending on the category.


  • Easy-to-use control panel for affiliates
  • Optional rotating banners
  • Excellent support system, with customer support and educational tools for affiliates


  • While payouts are reliable, they are unpredictable. Payouts are made to publishers only after the advertiser has collected pay. This means publishers might be stuck waiting for payouts up to 60 days or more.

These are just some of the many affiliate marketing programs available online today. These are some of the most reliable, and also have been rated by many as the best available. However, depending on your niche, you could also get involved in affiliate marketing programs that are more specific to you. For example, many travel bloggers join’s affiliate program and earn commissions from booked hotel stays.

Make sure to check what affiliate programs are available in your specific niche.

Direct Affiliate Marketing Relationships

If you want to work as an affiliate marketing for a company that you like, it is always possible to go directly to them and negotiate an affiliate marketing rate. Also, many companies (such as GoDaddy and BlueHost) offer affiliate programs to those who want to promote their products and services.

In some cases, it will make more sense for you to create a direct affiliate marketing relationship with a company rather than going through an affiliate network.

In the end, it really depends on your niche and the commissions that you can get for that niche. The affiliate networks that we mentioned above generally deal with physical and digital products. Although these cover a wide variety of categories, it’s possible that your website is more suited to a different kind of affiliate program.

This is when direct affiliate marketing relationships with certain companies become worthwhile. Check into what’s available for your niche online, and see where you can earn a greater commission.

Of course, it’s also possible for you to use both methods at the same time. For beginning affiliate marketers, I recommend going with an affiliate network like the ones mentioned above. From there you can branch into other avenues of affiliate marketing when you have a bit more experience.

Creating Content

So now, it’s time to start writing content. But what kind of content should you write? What will attract your readers’ attention to the products you’re trying to promote? And how can you promote these products without making your website sound like one big advertisement?

Solve Problems

Above, we talked about writing a list of problems that your niche audience faces, and finding products that solve those problems. It’s time to take another look at that list, and possibly to add to it.

Going on social media or niche forums is a great way to find out what problems people are facing within your niche. Surf the web a bit, and see if you can add a few more points to the list you made above.

I’m hoping that at this point you have around 10-20 different problems that people are currently facing within your niche.

Guess what: you now have 10-20 posts to write.

The best part is that you already made a list of products above that solve those problems. So, recommend those products within your blog posts.

Don’t do this as an advertisement. Write like a friend giving advice.

For example, let’s say your selected niche is world travel. One big problem that world travelers face is packing everything they need into a small backpack. So, write a post about packing solutions, and link to one or two backpacks that are good for travelers.

Give your readers actual content that helps them or interests them. Show your expertise in the field. Then, they’ll be more likely to take your recommendations.

Provide Reviews

Reviewing products is another great way to add affiliate links within your website. You can tell people your real experience with a product or service, and then link to that product.

Comparison articles are also a fantastic option. You can usually fit in a few different affiliate links within the post.

For example, let’s say your niche is photography. Review some of the cameras, lenses, filters, or photo-editing programs that you use or know about. Write about why one brand or model is better than another. Then, add affiliate links into the text.

You probably won’t have to encourage people to buy at all: your review will speak for itself.

One word of caution does apply here, especially when writing reviews. It’s very important that you maintain honesty. If you give a good review to a product you haven’t tried, there’s a possibility that the product isn’t worthwhile.

When your readers see fake reviews, they’ll know. This will lower credibility for your site, and thus lower your earnings.

How-to Posts

Writing about how to do something within your niche is a great way to link to new products. If you use a certain tool or instrument to accomplish a task within your niche, create an affiliate link to it!

Another option would be writing about how to use a certain product in your niche. Going back to our photography niche example, you could write in-depth posts of how to use certain DSLR camera models, which lenses work best for nighttime photography, how to use a certain photo-editing program when editing wedding pictures, and so forth.

Depending on your chosen niche, the options here could be truly endless!

Where to Place Links and Banners

Placing links within the text is best done subtly. Don’t draw attention to the fact that you’ve placed a link. It’s best to avoid the words ‘click here’, or ‘follow this link’. That will just disrupt the flow of your content.

Instead, try to include links within the text that you’ve written for your content, without creating extra sentences that lead to outbound links.

Once more to our photography example. Let’s say you’re writing a post about nighttime photography, and you recommend a certain lens to your readers. Include the link within the name of the lens itself.

As an example, take a look around Income School’s website, or even within this post. You’ll see outbound links integrated within the text, making sure not to disrupt the flow of the article.

Many affiliate marketing programs also allow you to place banners within your posts or pages. Just like with the links, we don’t want these banners to interrupt the content of your posts. This will only frustrate your readers.

Instead, try to include banners in breaks in the text, such as when you’re about to start a new heading. That way, it won’t seem like such an interruption. Also, you might be able to place banners or widgets within the sidebar. Thus, you make sure they’re completely out of the way of your content, yet still very visible.


Affiliate marketing has consistently proven itself to be one of the most effective ways to earn money from a niche website. It doesn’t matter if you choose to work with an affiliate marketing network, or directly with the merchants themselves. Either way, you still have the chance to earn great commissions while recommending products or services.

Is affiliate marketing on a niche website hard work? Sure it is. However, dedication to that hard work will pay off in real cash.

For more Affiliate Marketing tips from industry experts, check out this article with 9 Affiliate Marketing Tips from Industry Experts on

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