Welcome to my ultimate guide to helping you to get started with affiliate marketing.
Because this is such an in-depth post detailing everything that you need to know, I have laid out content with bookmarks to the relevant parts of this post.
Should you want to jump forward to a desired section, just click the links below and you will be taken to the relevant part of this guide.
- What is Link Cloaking?
- Why Should You Cloak Your Affiliate Links?
- How to Cloak Your Affiliate Links
- Extra Bonuses From Using a Link Cloaking Plugin
- Why Some People Think That Link Cloaking in a Deceptive Practice
- Things to be Aware of When Joining an Affiliate Marketing Programme
- Signing Up for an Affiliate Marketing Programme
WHAT IS AFFILIATE MARKETING?
In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is a form of revenue share.
You promote a product on behalf of another company in return for a percentage of the sale, known as your commission.
Commissions will vary greatly, but they can be anywhere from a few cents to thousands of dollars plus, depending on what you are promoting.
This type of partnership is great for you as an online marketer as you don’t need to have a product, hold any stock, or deal with any customers.
And on the flip side of the coin, it’s great for companies as they get their products and services promoted risk-free as they only pay a commission to you upon receipt of a successful sale.
Due to those reasons, affiliate marketing is one of the most common types of income that bloggers and other online marketers receive, and it can also be one of the most profitable.
Related Read: 6 Ways You Can Make Money From Blogging
How Affiliate Marketing Works
Companies track who is sending them traffic via a tracking URL. This is a unique link that is personal to you.
By using this URL, you and the company that you are promoting can track how many people are clicking from your website through to the company’s website, and more importantly, how many people are buying.
Most online companies nowadays offer an affiliate program. All you have to do is sign up for the program and they will provide you with your tracking URL.
Affiliate Marketing and Google Adsense
A lot of people ask if they can do affiliate marketing as well as have Google Adsense on their website.
The answer is yes.
A lot of the time, people make more money from affiliate marketing than what they do from Adsense, but using both forms of monetization is common practice.
If you are trying to get approved for Google Adsense, having affiliate links on your website will not stop you from being approved.
Related Read: 11 Hints and Tips to Get Approved by Google Adsense First Time
1) Disclosing that you are an affiliate marketer
When using affiliate links, it’s good practice to make people aware that your post contains affiliate links and that you will benefit financially should they click and make a purchase. I believe that in some countries, this is also a legal requirement.
Although some people believe that this hampers their potential earning, I believe that it can help you.
People prefer it when you are upfront and honest. If you provide your readers with enough value and they trust you, they are more inclined to click.
I’ve even known people come back to my website and click on a link before purchasing a product, just so I can receive the commission. After all, it has no additional cost to them and this is a normal thing that anyone would do for a friend.
An example disclosure is below
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links included are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I use all the companies listed and I recommend them because they rock. If you would like to support this website in some way, using these links will help do exactly that. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.
2) Maintain your integrity
Another bit of personal advice is to only promote stuff that you know is good.
Don’t promote crap products or services – this will do more harm than good in the long run. Promote the things that you would happily recommend to your friends or your family.
This will help you build up trust with your readers, meaning more people are likely to act on your recommendations in the future.
LINK CLOAKING & AFFILIATE MARKETING
What is link cloaking?
When you are an affiliate marketer you have lots of tracking URLs.
They are usually ugly, very long, impossible to remember and they display your unique affiliate identification. They look something along the lines of this…
Link cloaking is used to remove the affiliate code. Therefore, making it difficult for users to recognize that it’s an affiliate link.
Why you should cloak your links
1) Prevent commission theft
The main reason people do affiliate marketing is to earn a commission. However, when your links are uncloaked, you leave yourself open to commission theft.
This involves dishonest people setting up malware in your web browser, which replaces your unique affiliate identification with theirs. This enables hackers to steal your commission.
Many networks will warn you of this, but there is not a lot that they can do about it.
By cloaking your links, you protect yourself from having your commissions stolen.
2) Prevents your emails going into the junk folder
Email deliverability is a super huge subject and there are a lot of factors that determine whether your emails end up in someone’s main inbox or in their junk.
If your email contains uncloaked affiliate links, this can sometimes set off the spam bots which will redirect your email to the junk folder and blacklist your email address.
This will damage not only that one email campaign but also any future ones that you may send out.
3) People like them more
When someone clicks on a link that shows a super long URL in their browser which is made up of numbers and letters that make no sense, a lot of people will run away wondering where you were sending them to.
A simple link like the one below is much more pleasing and branded to your site.
How to cloak your links
The easiest way to cloak your links is to use a WordPress plugin.
You can use your .htaccess file to edit your links, but unless you are experienced in using this file, then I wouldn’t touch it. If you make a mistake, it can bring down your whole website.
Plugins make it super easy to cloak your links as well as manage all the affiliate links that you have.
Here are two that I have used and would highly recommend.
Both have free versions that you can install from the WordPress depository. The free versions will do the job, but should you desire some extra bells-and-whistles, they also have premium upgrades.
- Thirsty Affiliates (I currently use the premium version of this plugin and have it installed on all of my websites)
- Pretty Link Pro (The free version is Pretty Link Lite and is available from the WordPress depositary)
Extra bonuses from using a link cloaking plugin
By using a cloaking plugin, you also get the following benefits
1) No-follow links easily
If you’re clued up on your SEO, you’ll know that Google doesn’t particularly like do-follow affiliate links and these can affect your ranking within SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
It is very time-consuming for you to add ‘rel=nofollow’ manually to every single affiliate link every time you use it. But with a plugin, this process is a piece of cake.
(If you are not sure what a no-follow and a do-follow link is, keep your eyes peeled for a future blog post that will explain all.)
2) You can track your own links all from one place
When you have lots of affiliate links from numerous companies it can be a pain in the backside to manage them all.
You need to log into each company’s dashboard individually to view your statistics or to get your link each time you need it. But with a plugin, it keeps all your links and stats in one place which makes them super quick and easy to link to and to monitor their performance.
Why some people think link cloaking is a deceptive practice
Link cloaking can be seen as a deceptive practice.
This is because people think that you are trying to hide the fact that it’s an affiliate link and that you can earn money from it.
Affiliate marketing is one of the oldest forms of marketing, therefore it’s not surprising that scammers also operate in this market and have devised tactics to rip off innocent customers and marketers. It is for this reason that I believe link cloaking is essential.
As long as I remain an honest affiliate marketer (I disclose my links and I only promote products and services that I would recommend to my friends and family) then I personally don’t believe it to be a problem.
FINDING THE BEST AFFILIATE MARKETING PROGRAMMES & AFFILIATE MARKETPLACES
Things to be Aware of When Joining an Affiliate Programme
If you are giving affiliate marketing a go for the first time, you must be aware that every affiliate program will have their own Terms of Service, which you must pay attention to and follow.
A few things to note are:
1) Payment options
Always check the payment options that are available.
You don’t want to spend all of your time promoting a product to later find out that they don’t pay out commission in your currency or to advertisers in your country.
Most will make direct bank transfers, send cheques, or offer PayPal payments in most major currencies. But there are a few exceptions, so make sure to double-check this first.
2) Minimum payout thresholds and payment frequency
Make sure to check what the minimum threshold is for a payout.
For example, some companies will not pay out until you have reached a minimum of $50 in commission.
Also, remember to check the frequency in which the company will pay out.
Some companies will only pay out every 90 days, therefore if you don’t reach your minimum commission threshold by this date, you will have to wait another 90 days before payment.
There are exceptions to these rules, the above is not the norm and each company will vary, but whatever their terms are, just make sure that you are happy with them before you start putting in the time and effort to promote them.
3) Commission structure
This is an obvious one, but you’re going to want to check the commission structure and what you will be paid per sale.
Again, this varies depending on the Terms of Service of the company that you are promoting. For example, you may receive a fixed fee per sale or a percentage of the total sale.
There may also be an option for a recurring commission.
For example, if you promote a membership product and a reader from your website joins up, you may get a commission on the initial sign-up and then a recurring commission on each membership payment that the customer makes in the future.
Another example is 2-tier affiliate marketing.
Instead of recommending products to customers, you recommend affiliate programs to other affiliate marketers. You then get a commission when the sub-affiliate makes a sale.
Overall, there are lots of different ways for this is work and for you to get paid – admittedly, some are better than others.
4) Cookie Length
This is your window of opportunity.
Standard cookie lengths are 30 days. This means that if someone clicks the affiliate link on your website, doesn’t purchase straight away, but comes back and purchases within the next 30 days, you will still get your commission.
Therefore, the longer the cookie length, the better it is for you as an affiliate marketer.
Some programs have zero cookie length. Meaning that the customer has to click your link and purchase in that session in order for you to receive a commission.
This is something for you to take into consideration when choosing an affiliate program to join.
Signing up for an affiliate marketing program
- Sign up directly with the company
- Sign up through an affiliate marketplace
Let’s look at each way individually.
1. Signing up directly with the company
As I’ve previously mentioned…
[climbs on soap box]
…you should only promote products and services that you know are good and that you would happily recommend to your own family and friends. You won’t get anywhere in this game by recommending crap stuff.
[climbs off soap box]
If you have a certain product or service in mind that you would like to promote, and that fits in with what you are creating content about, you can usually find if they have an affiliate program by doing a quick internet search.
Simply do a Google search for, ‘Company X affiliate program’.
If something pops up, just click on it and follow the instructions to join their program.
You may be approved to join their affiliate program instantaneously – in which case you can grab your unique affiliate link and crack on – or, you may have to wait to be manually approved. Again, this depends on the company.
If you are struggling to find out if a company you have in mind has an affiliate program, then you may find my secret weapon useful (and suddenly, no longer a secret)….
Introducing my secret weapon …
If you browse the internet using Google Chrome, you may be interested to know that they have a free add-on called Affilitizer.
When installed, it will highlight all the available affiliate programs relating to a specific website/product with a funky colorful triangle within your Google search results.
Pretty handy, huh?
And if that wasn’t good enough, when you click on the funky triangle, it will list all the places where you can join the affiliate program for that particular website/product.
Dreams = answered!
Click here to install Google Affilitizer for free
2. Signing up through an affiliate marketplace
When signing up to an affiliate marketplace you have access to hundreds, even thousands, of different products and services – and all via a reputable platform.
Here is my recommended list of affiliate marketplaces that you should join.
No matter what your niche is, there’s bound to be something on Amazon that you have used and are happy to recommend – there are over a million products that you can choose from and earn commission on.
Amazon is also a very well trusted platform that people feel confident purchasing through – this is only going to work in your favor.
Probably one of the most well-known online affiliate marketplaces – they have a vast library of over 6 million unique digital products.
This is the place to find affiliate programs for software, plugins, and online courses.
There have been both good and bad reviews about the products available on ClickBank, but it is your responsibility as an affiliate marketer to only promote the ones that you genuinely recommend and would use yourself.
This was the very first marketplace that I joined when I set out as an affiliate marketer.
Affiliate Window has some of the biggest brands including Boots, The Post Office, Sports Direct, Vodafone, O2, PC World, House of Fraser, Aviva, America Express, plus many many more.
When joining this platform there is a £5 joining fee, but you get this money back upon your first commission payment.
One of the leading global affiliate networks, CJ Affiliate works in the same way as AWIN.
I’ve only just started with ShareASale, and from what I can gather it’s the place to be if your niche is home and garden, fashion, weddings, or sport and recreation. Although they have lots of other categories available, these seem to be the predominant ones.
UPDATE: Since first writing this post, I believe that ShareASale has been taken over by AWIN, but it is still operating as a separate affiliate marketplace.
Apple has an affiliate program for iTunes, the App Store, iBooks, Podcasts, and the Mac App Store.
If any of these products fit your niche and you would be happy promoting them, then this is an affiliate program for you.
Very similar to Amazon Associates, except on eBay.
There are over 800 million listings that you can choose from so you are bound to find something.
I’ve squeezed this into one, but there are actually two types of affiliate programs here.
- AliExpress Affiliates – Mainly for consumers as it enables people to buy just one of each item.
- Alibaba Affiliates – Mainly for businesses that are looking to have items created or to buy stock in bulk quantities.
Again, these are similar to eBay and Amazon in the way that they list millions of products, in many different categories, from various different sellers.
As you can see, no matter what niche you are in, you’ll never be short of things to promote or products to craft your content around.
As an affiliate marketer, you have the luxury to decide which products or services you stand by, so make that choice a good one.
THE BEST WORDPRESS PLUGINS FOR AFFILIATE MARKETERS
Managing all of your individual tracking links can be a pain in the backside. If only there was an easy way to store them all in one handy place where you can get to them quickly, as and when you need to.
Well, my friend, I am about to answer your prayers and show you a range of plugins where you can do just that!
Most of them offer a free version as well as an all-singing-and-all-dancing premium version.
You can choose which one is the right fit for you depending on what stage you are at with your marketing.
This is my favorite plugin, and it’s currently the one that I use. The basic plugin is free to download, and then should you need to, you can upgrade to the PRO Version.
Some of the main features available in the free version include:
- Inbuilt affiliate link shortening/link cloaking
- Customizable link URL prefixes – loads to choose from or use your own custom prefix
- Handy affiliate link picker tool (with full instant search capabilities) makes it easy to insert affiliate links in posts, pages, and comments!
- Handy quick add tool lets you easily create new affiliate links without even leaving the post edit screen
- DoFollow/NoFollow options (global or per link)
- Open in new window options (global or per link)
- Add your graphics, banners, and other images to affiliate links for easy insertion
The following features are available in the PRO Version.
- Autolinker – Automatically link up keywords to affiliate links throughout your blog.
- Stats – Simple to read historical click statistics for all of your affiliate links.
- AZON – Search for & import Amazon affiliate links into ThirstyAffiliates with ease.
- Geolocations – Geo-target visitors with country-specific affiliate links.
- Google Click Tracking – Automatically detects affiliate links and adds Google Analytics event tracking.
- CSV Importer – Import and export your affiliate links to and from other sites you own.
This plugin has two versions available
- Pretty Link Lite – the free version
- Pretty Link Pro – the paid-for premium versions starting at $49 per year
The free version offers you all the basic must-have tools that you need in an affiliate plugin.
Here are some of the main features that Pretty Link Lite offers:
- Gives you the ability to create clean, simple URLs on your website that redirects to any other URL (allows for 301, 302, and 307 redirects only)
- Tracks the number of clicks per link
- Tracks the number of unique clicks per link
- Provides a reporting interface where you can see a configurable chart of clicks per day. This report can be filtered by the specific link clicked, date range, and/or unique clicks.
- Create nofollow/noindex links
Upgrading to Pro adds additional features such as:
- Pretty bar
- Meta refresh
- Tracking pixel
- Conversion reports
- Google Analytics plugin integration
- Plus more
Have you ever publish a blog post and then realized you have missed several opportunities where you could have used your affiliate links?
Well, this is where Auto Affiliate Links comes in. This plugin will automatically add affiliate links into your content based on keywords, whilst also cloaking your links and giving you the option for no-follow and do-follow.
Auto Affiliate Links also has the capability to extract and display links from Amazon, Clickbank, Shareasale, Ebay, Walmart, Commission Junction, BestBuy, and Envato Marketplace.
This is the #1 Amazon Affiliate WordPress plugin.
There is a free version available in the WordPress depositary and a paid-for premium version that you can get for $47 – which is well worth the cost if you are promoting a lot of Amazon products.
With the EasyAzon Pro plugin, you can
- Control your affiliate links without fussing with code
- Automatically generate Amazon commissions from international traffic
- Enable product pop-ups to attract user attention and get more affiliate clicks
- Set affiliate links to add products to the users shopping cart (more time to earn commission)
Plus, by installing the plugin you’ll get access to their free Amazon Affiliate Training course as an additional bonus. The course contains over 13,000 words, images, and videos to help you on your way to becoming a successful Amazon affiliate.
If you are an affiliate of AliExpress, then this is a must-have plugin.
Adding new products will become a breeze and it will save you heaps of time.
Some of the features include:
- Easy search – Find desired products on AliExpress.com to add to your website. Specify a category, keywords, price, commission rate, purchase volume, and more to find the best products.
- Post in minutes – Save time by posting a HUGE amount of products all at once. This way, you can have thousands of products automatically added to your site in just a few clicks.
- Live stats – Easily check how many products are loaded on your website and how many views and redirects to AliExpress each of your products get.
- Auto updating – The plugins auto updating system will keep your product info fresh with the latest data from AliExpress.
Although this is strictly not just a plugin, I feel as though if you are an affiliate marketer, you need to know about it.
Genius Link is a website-slash-plugin combo and it helps you earn more with links that work across any country, store, device, and OS.
Customers purchase in ‘buckets’ of 1000 clicks at $2 each, and includes:
- Globalise product links
- Auto affiliate international products
- Route clicks by user device, location, browser and date
- Geni.us short links
- Edit links in real time
- Manage links by campaigns and tracking tags
- WordPress plugins (Amazon Link Engine and iTunes Link Engine)
You are able to give Genius Link a whirl for 14 days free of charge, but there is no forever free option.
I would say that this is for the pro affiliate marketers – especially those that work with Amazon and iTunes and on an international basis.
CREATING YOUR OWN AFFILIATE PROGRAMME
If you run your own WordPress e-commerce store, selling digital or physical products, you may want to set up an affiliate program.
This will allow you to invite other affiliate marketers to promote your products in return for a commission (either a percentage or fixed fee).
An affiliate program sounds like a very complicated thing to set up. After all, each affiliate would have to have their own individual tracking links, their clicks would have to be tracked, their traffic would have to have monitored, and their commission would have to be calculated.
But never fear, Roseanna to the rescue again!
Here are a couple of plugins that make setting up your own affiliate program a piece of cake (with a cherry on top).
This is the probably most popular plugin for adding an affiliate program to a WordPress store.
The feature list for Affiliate WP is endless, but here are a few of the main ones:
- Accurate affiliate tracking
- Unlimited creatives
- Unlimited affiliates
- Real-time reporting
- Easy affiliate management
- Affiliate area
- Automatic affiliate creation
- Set cookie expirations
- Integrates seamlessly with 28 other popular WordPress plugins
This is a premium plugin and prices start at $99 per year – but it is well worth the cost if you are serious about creating extra sales from your affiliate program.
This plugin is free and available from your WordPress depositary. It’s a great no-cost way to set up your own affiliate program and to dip your toes into the water.
- Affiliate recruitment, registration, login, and management process
- Track your affiliates referral and give commissions appropriately
- Integrates with some popular e-commerce solutions
- Real-time reporting
- Unlimited affiliates
- Pay your affiliates using PayPal
- Affiliate ad impression tracking
Should you need some more bells-and-whistles later on, you can upgrade to their premium version for $39.
This brings us to the end of my ultimate guide in how to get started with affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is one of the easiest and most popular ways to make money online – it can also be one of the most profitable.
I hope that I have helped you on your way to creating passive income through affiliate marketing.
If you have any questions, please pop them in the comments below.