How to Start Affiliate Marketing

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Many people are interested in making money with an internet-based "side hustle" to supplement their regular income or even starting an online business to replace their income entirely.

Though there are many ways to make money on the internet, one of the fastest and easiest ways to make money online is by starting an affiliate marketing business. Even if you have an existing business, affiliate marketing is one of the easiest ways to add an existing income stream to your business.

Affiliate marketing is a great way to make money online as a standalone business or as an additional revenue stream to an existing business.

While not as easy as making money with ads on your website, it's still relatively simple to do and has more profit potential than just simply running advertisements on your website.

Affiliate marketing allows you to make money online, even if you don’t have a blog, website, or any products of your own. Following a few simple steps can get you up and running within hours and earning your first commissions right away. Affiliate marketing really is one of the fastest and easiest ways to make money online and should be a part of every online business owner's portfolio.

The formula for affiliate marketing remains relatively constant no matter what your market or niche. Your main task will always be traffic generation (i.e. driving prospects to the merchant’s website via your unique “affiliate” link). If you don't have any money you can get started by finding ways to get free traffic to your website, including blogging, guest posting on other websites, and posting to social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, etc.

If you have a budget you can drive traffic even faster with paid advertising methods, such as paid ads on Facebook, running banner ads on other websites, and using Google Adwords.

Free traffic is great because it's free, but once you have enough money start using paid ads to grow your business quickly.

Writing good advertising sales copy (copywriting) is the other important skill for online marketers. The good news is that when it comes to affiliate marketing, many vendors will provide you with advertising copy to use for your blog posts, websites ads, etc. They'll give you the emails to send, the banner ads to display, and even posts you can use on social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). The more materials that vendors give their affiliates the better changes an affiliate has to make sales for them - it's a win/win situation.

That being said, what are the essential steps for affiliate marketing success? Here, we focus on five critical steps to launching your own profitable affiliate marketing business quickly and easily.

Choose the Right Affiliate Network

The fit must be right between you and the merchant who is going to benefit from your promotional efforts, or it simply won’t work. The easiest way to begin with affiliate marketing is to select an affiliate network. Many affiliate networks exist, some of which are tied to well-known companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, while others specialize in specific types of products and services.

You may have heard of ClickBank, one of the oldest and most popular affiliate networks. A billion-dollar company, ClickBank specializes in digital products like e-books and software, as well as membership sites. If you haven't considered selling digital information products, then you should seriously consider doing so considering all the benefits. Digital information products offer much higher commissions (anywhere from 10 to 75%+) than physical products which usually only offer commissions under 5%. Also digital information products and can be easier to sell in many cases because people can get instant access and immediate gratification when purchasing a digital information product.

Seriously consider selling digital information products as an affiliate, as they often offer much higher commissions than physical products.

Another network you should consider when it comes to promoting products as an affiliate is Amazon.com. As you may already know, just about any physical product can be sold on Amazon.com. Though products on Amazon generally offer lower commissions than their digital product counterparts, selling products on Amazon as an affiliate can be a much higher volume business and most people trust Amazon as a merchant, making it easier to sell products as an affiliate.

Finally, in some cases, you may work with a company or individual directly as an affiliate; rather than going through a network. Entrepreneurs or companies may run their own affiliate program and you can apply directly to them to promote their products and services. If you see a product that you would really like to promote as an affiliate and the company doesn't offer a formal affiliate program, you can always reach out to them to work out a private deal as well.

Research and Select the Right Affiliate Products

A sound product strategy is a must for new affiliate marketers. Ideally, you should choose a niche that you can make money online with and has a lot of product vendors. This will give you a wide selection of products to offer your online community. However, when you're just getting started you should limit yourself to two or three products at a time. This will allow you to really become an expert on the products you are promoting which can be helpful when it comes to marketing those products (such as writing products reviews).

As you become comfortable with the affiliate marketing process, you can consider both specialized (e.g. fly fishing) and broad (e.g. weight loss) niches. Don’t forget to track your marketing metrics! They are usually provided by your merchant and/or affiliate network. Tracking your metrics will allow you to see what is working and generating sales and what is not working, causing you to waste time and/or money.

This way you'll be able to know which products your audience is responding to and which ones aren't generating any profits for your business. This is especially important if you are investing in paid advertising to drive traffic and promote products as an affiliate... you need to know which campaigns are profitable and which ones are losing money.

You'll want to continually monitor the marketplace for new products, review and test promoting those products to your audience to see which ones resonate and convert.

Consider Buying the Product Before Promoting It

As a new affiliate marketer, you are not obligated to purchase every product you want to promote. However, it goes without saying that actually owning and using the products is huge for establishing credibility and trust. Intimate knowledge of the product can mean the difference between making the sale and having prospects move elsewhere.

Writing product reviews are an excellent way to enhance your credibility as an affiliate marketer. This is especially easy with information products like e-books which are relatively inexpensive. After establishing some steady income it may even be worth buying higher-end products, provided you get in touch with the product creator to work out a strategic marketing plan that takes you to the next level.

If you actually use the product and get results with it, then sharing a case study or your personal experience can be one of the most effective ways of selling those products to your audience. As you build a more responsive list of email subscribers and buyers and your reputation, merchants may offer you “free” samples of e-books or other products.

Note: in many cases, merchants will be happy to offer you a free copy/sample of the product even if you don't have an established business -- it never hurts to ask! If so, you'll want to include full disclosure that you were provided complimentary access to the product in addition to having a disclaimer disclosing your affiliate relationship.

Utilize Social Media Marketing to Get More Traffic

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and other social media marketing methods are great vehicles for “word of mouth” or viral marketing. Video marketing, in particular, is a great way to demonstrate your expertise via commentary, screenshots, and live demonstrations if necessary.

Right now doing videos on Facebook and Facebook Live are extremely effective as well as utilizing YouTube for a more longer-term approach to video marketing.

While at first you may be focused on using social media as a free way to get traffic, keep in mind that there are powerful ways to use paid advertising on social media to reach your targeted audience and drive that traffic back to your site or your affiliate offers.

Consider Using Redirect / "Pretty" Links

Cloaking or using anchor links was a controversial issue in internet marketing circles, with some affiliate marketers swearing by it and others who feel it is unnecessary.

On one hand, long and ugly affiliate tracking links are a straight giveaway to people that you want to sell them a product (and people may be uncomfortable clicking on them). Therefore, making your link shorter and "nicer" looking will it give a more professional appearance. One of my favorite plugins for making links look "pretty" is the Pretty Links WordPress plugin.

This makes the link much shorter, more friendly, and easier to type in case they can't click the link for some reason and want to type it into their browser.

The Bottom Line on Getting Started with Affiliate Marketing

Whether you're starting a new business from scratch or already have an existing business (offline or online), affiliate marketing is a great way to generate income online. All you have to do it recommend relevant products or services to your audience and the vendor of the product your are promoting handles everything including product creation, handling the sales process, customer service, refunds, etc.

The key to success with affiliate marketing is to just get started and continue learning new tips and tricks to grow your affiliate business as you continue to build and grow your affiliate business.