By the year 2022, it is estimated that affiliate marketing will be worth over $8 billion. If you’re longing to find a way out of the grind of a traditional 9 to 5 job and get in on a multibillion-dollar industry, affiliate marketing may be the solution. What is affiliate marketing? This new niche of marketing involves earning a commission for promoting the products or services of another brand. 

Affiliate marketing is a departure from traditional marketing and has become popular because of its flexibility and profitability. Many brands and marketers alike have found that it is effective for driving sales and generating impressive revenue online. If you’re interested in getting started as a content creator or brand vendor, this article will tell you what you need to know about affiliate marketing.

What affiliate marketing is

Affiliate marketing is defined as a process in which a brand affiliate markets products or services — created and sold by a different person or brand — in exchange for a commission. A brand affiliate ultimately earns money by promoting a product they enjoy and making a slice of the profit on every sale they made. Brands track affiliate sales through links between websites. The process of affiliate marketing includes the following steps:

  1. The brand affiliate posts an ad on their blog, personal website, or social media feed.
  2. The consumer clicks on the link featured in the ad.
  3. Via the tracking link, the consumer is sent to the brand’s online store.
  4. The consumer makes a purchase directly from the brand store.
  5. An affiliate network records the sale as originating from the tracking link.
  6. The sale is credited to the brand affiliate.
  7. The brand affiliate receives a commission.

How affiliate marketing works 

How does affiliate marketing work, exactly? This popular marketing strategy functions by sharing the various tasks of product marketing and content creation between several parties. Affiliate marketing is effective because it utilizes individual talents to create impactful campaigns. In turn, this process allows contributors to earn a fair share of the proverbial pie. 

In typical affiliate marketing, there are three key players: the brand, the affiliate, and the buyer. In this process, these three parties share a complex relationship to secure the success of their affiliate program. Let’s delve into each important role: 

The brand 

This term encompasses the party that creates and sells the product or service. Essentially the brand is the party that is seeking marketing services. The brand may be:

  • An individual entrepreneur
  • A vendor
  • A merchant
  • Product designers or creators
  • A retailer with a product that needs marketing

The product may be an item — like a beauty product or household item — or a service — such as a fitness tutorial or nutrition coach. The brand may or may not be an active participant in the marketing of its product. If they are actively involved in marketing the product, they will share in the profit created from the revenue of their product. 

An example of a seller might be a wellness brand seeking exposure to a new audience. They would pay an affiliate to promote their brand via their website, social media, YouTube channel, podcast, or another medium. 

The brand affiliate

The affiliate may be a content creator, marketer, or advertiser. Brand affiliates are also known as publishers, and they may be a company or an individual. The brand affiliate’s role is to market the brand so that it is attractive to potential customers. They promote the product by convincing consumers that the product will be of value to their life or business. If a sale is made as a result of the affiliate’s content, they will earn a commission.

One of the advantages of using an affiliate is that they often have a strong connection to a niche market. The brand may be able to leverage the personal brand of the publisher to establish a relationship with new consumers in specific markets.

The buyer

The buyer is the target audience, consumer, or client of the brand. Perhaps the most important player in affiliate marketing is the buyer. The consumer discovers brands via the affiliate’s blog, social media presence, or website. Once they make a purchase, the brand and the affiliate split the profit from the sale. 

The buyer may or may not be aware that they are being sold a product via affiliate marketing. While affiliate marketing occurs with varying levels of transparency, brands typically do not upsell in an affiliate marketing program. As a result, the consumer experiences the buying process as they would with any product. 

Tim Ferris, the host of the popular podcast, “The Tim Ferris Show”, chooses to be a straightforward brand affiliate by acknowledging that his show is sponsored by his brand partnerships. 

In this powerful example of affiliate marketing, Tim Ferris makes it clear that he is being paid to promote his brand affiliations, while also providing a compelling explanation of their benefits.

How affiliate marketers earn money 

Affiliate marketing is often touted as an escape route from a traditional desk job. For the affiliate, the appeal of affiliate marketing lies in the power to make money by creating content online. But how do they actually earn money? While there is no one answer to this question, there are a variety of avenues through which brand affiliates get paid, including:

Per click

In a pay-per-click program, the affiliate aims to direct consumers from their website or social channel to the brand’s website. In this process, the affiliate must persuade the buyer to make the leap from their content to the seller’s site. In this model, the brand affiliate is paid based on the increase of web traffic they create for their brand. 

Per lead

The pay-per-lead system may seem complicated, but essentially, this model pays the brand affiliate based on the number of leads they generate for the seller. In this program, the publisher must successfully persuade the consumer to move from their content to the brand’s website and convert to a lead. This may be signing up for a newsletter, providing contact information, creating an account, or committing to a product trial. 

Per sale

The pay-per-sale system is the most standard form of affiliate marketing. In a pay-per-sale system, the brand compensates the affiliate with a classic commission — a set percentage of the product’s sale price. The affiliate must take enough action that the buyer makes a purchase in order to earn money from this model. 

Common affiliate marketing channels

Affiliates possess the freedom to choose the platform or channel that most suits them and their audience. In fact, they have the freedom to choose more than one! Common affiliate marketing channels include:


In modern business, influencers are perhaps the most “of-the-moment” marketers. Influencers are social media users who impact consumer decisions via their social media following. These contemporary marketers are well-equipped for affiliate marketing as it is often quite simple for them to persuade their followers to make a purchase based on their recommendation. In fact, many followers engage with influencers to gain recommendations and lifestyle tips. 

Liza Koshy is a popular entertainer, social media personality, and high-profile example of a brand affiliate. In this example, Liza uses her Instagram feed to promote her partnership with the fitness brand, Fabletics.

Liza Koshy models products from her brand partner, Fabletics. Liza uses her social media star power to drive sales for her brand affiliates.

Blogging or Podcasting

The modern blogger relies on strong SEO skills and compelling content to attract an audience. Bloggers typically convert their followers by providing in-depth reviews and content that promotes the value of their affiliated brand in an engaging way. Ultimately, bloggers drive their readers to the brand’s site through links and positive reviews. 

A contemporary iteration of blogging is podcasting — a medium that nets millions of listeners per month. Podcasters often discuss their favorite products as a part of their content or take a break mid-episode to promote brands they love. Tim Ferris is an author and podcaster who promotes products on both his written blog and podcast.

Tim Ferris promotes his affiliated brands with a multi-media approach.

Hosting a YouTube channel

Another popular way to create brand affiliate content is with a YouTube channel. Brand affiliates can create seamlessly integrated promotions, or pause in their content to market their brand partners. A popular example is “Binging with Babish,” a hyper-popular YouTube cooking channel. Host Oliver Babish often interjects his cooking tutorials with convincing promotions for brands like Squarespace. 

In this YouTube video, Babish paused mid-sloppy joe to promote Squarespace.

Launching email campaigns 

While email newsletters might not be hyper-impactful on their own, they are a powerful part of building brand loyalty originating from a blog, social media following, or website. Affiliates may build email lists that they use to promote upcoming events, reveal sneak peeks, and create a VIP experience. In this way, bloggers and influencers alike can utilize email marketing to link their followers with their affiliated brand site where they can make their purchases.

The benefits of becoming a brand affiliate 

There is clearly money to be made as an affiliate marketer, but there is a long list of lifestyle benefits as well, including:

Earning a passive income

Beyond personal enrichment, the purpose of employment is to earn a living, and — contrary to tradition — an affiliate can make an impressive profit from the comfort of their home. Affiliate marketing is considered to be a passive form of income in which the content creator can continue to earn money long after they have clocked out for the evening. After investing time in the original marketing campaign, the publisher will continue to see returns every time the buyer makes a purchase or uses their tracking link — depending on the affiliate model they are working within. The result is a steady flow of income built by a flexible work schedule. 

Avoiding customer complaints

Brand affiliates do not have to field complaints or customer service questions from the buyer. Instead, they are a link between the brand and the buyer. This means they are able to enjoy the profits of their marketing efforts without any of the drawbacks of customer service.

Working from home

One of the most appealing aspects of being a brand affiliate is the flexibility it affords. Marketers can launch campaigns and earn money from home, during travel, or from anywhere they choose! The flexibility doesn’t end with the location of a home office — publishers enjoy the freedom of working as a freelancer. This means they can set their own goals, only market products that intrigue them, and create their own work hours. 

Launching a career without major out-of-pocket costs

Unlike booting up a business with their own money, fresh brand affiliates can launch a career as a marketer with minimal cost to them. This allows publishers to get started quickly and easily. 

Earning based on performance

Many brand affiliates enjoy the rewarding model of this form of marketing. Performance-based earning can help boost motivation and provides fast-paced upward mobility. 

How to get started in affiliate marketing

If the life of a brand affiliate sounds appealing to you, there are several steps you can take to become an outstanding affiliate marketer:

1. Start by building an audience

As you launch your affiliate career, it is essential that you build a niche audience. The goal is to tailor your content to a particular audience, whom you can convert from a reader to a buyer. You are much more likely to find success in marketing by establishing your expertise in one area. 

Consider an industry or niche that you are already passionate about. Are you a yoga enthusiast or fitness buff? Do you have a degree in public health or psychology? Are you a beauty aficionado? Market to an audience to whom you know you can provide value and entertainment. 

2. Network 

Building your network of fellow influencers and bloggers is key to successful affiliate marketing. Consider guest blogging, collaborations, and other creative ways to share resources as a way to earn more affiliations. You can build a more committed audience by becoming an active part of an online community. 

3. Build a portfolio

Before connecting with prospective partners, you should establish a strong portfolio of content with a consistent following. Brands want to partner with affiliates who bring clear value to their current marketing strategies. Take the time to build your personal brand before shopping it around to other brands. Start by building a personal website and developing your online presence. 

As an affiliate, there are several ways to reach your audience. Consider:

Many affiliates settle into a preferred platform for marketing. Don’t be afraid to experiment before landing on your favorite way to market. 

4. Study SEO

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a powerful force in any form of marketing. As an affiliate, you can harness this power to attract visitors at the right time. Your goal is to rank as high as possible in searches related to your keywords. SEO can be complicated, but it is worth the time and effort.  

5. Find a brand affiliate program 

To truly launch your brand affiliate career, use Google to search for brand affiliate programs. Once you’ve found a brand you think might be a great fit, follow the application process and establish a connection with your desired company. If there is a product you hope to promote that doesn’t have a public affiliate program, reach out! They may be willing and eager to develop an affiliate partnership with you. 

6. Choose a quality brand

With so many products in need of marketing, it is important to pick a product that you truly believe in. Being authentic about the products you agree to promote will make it easier to create compelling campaigns. Consumers are intuitive — you will earn more clicks, leads, and sales by staying true to your personal brand. 

Take time when scoping out your next campaign. Carefully research the seller, their demands, and the product before agreeing to be an affiliate. Less-than-stellar products can damage your rapport with your audience as well as your income. Make a point to only partner with brands you truly believe in. 

7. Create engaging content to drive conversion

Your career as an affiliate relies on your ability to create content that is compelling to your audience and inspires them to visit your affiliate brand’s site. Continue to produce the content you have always been passionate about with your new brand in mind. 

One way to do this is by reviewing products and services you are interested in. As a blogger, you might create an in-depth written review. As an influencer, you might create a tutorial, unboxing, or review video. Focus your reviews on the benefit a given product can bring to the lifestyle of your audience. Effective reviews often include a comparison to similar products and honest thoughts on the item or service. 

Remember to keep things fresh! Affiliate marketing is a challenging industry. As such, you will only maintain an edge if you stay-up-to-date on marketing strategies and new trends. Keeping your skills and ideas current will help drive your conversion rates and boost your income. As you navigate your career as a brand affiliate, continue to study the ways in which you can better convert your viewers into paying customers. Use surveys and interactive elements to get to know your audience. Understanding this process will ensure the longevity and profitability of your efforts. 

5 Affiliate marketing tips 

If you’re passionate about becoming a stellar brand affiliate, here are 5 affiliate marketing tips to get you started:

1. Recommend products you love

Again, as an influencer or blogger, your rapport with your audience is the foundation of your success. By recommending products you are truly enthusiastic about, you will continue to build trust and authentic connections with your followers. 

On the other side of the coin, if you promote a product that you have not used or researched, you risk damaging your hard-won relationship with your audience. Your readers and followers seek your recommendation for a reason. So, commit to enriching the lives of your audience to earn long-term followers and build your affiliate career.

2. Diversify your affiliations

One way to level up in the brand affiliate industry is to partner with multiple brands. By marketing a diverse range of products within your niche, you will be providing a richer experience for your audience and expanding your opportunities to earn a steady income. 

3. Track your sources

Use analytics on social media and Google to gain a deeper understanding of your audience. Pay attention to who responds to your content and why. When you take a deep dive into your analytics, you can better choose the areas in which to focus your time and efforts. Use tools like A/B testing to gain better insights about your audience. Converting your visitors to consumers of your affiliate brand is not a guessing game — it’s a science!

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or say no

When partnering with a new brand, do not hesitate to ask for more information about their program. Ask for their average conversion rates and typical commission numbers if the information is not readily available. If you don’t love their answer or feel exceptionally excited about the product — pass. As an affiliate marketer, it is sometimes not worth the risk of damaging your reputation for an uncertain partnership. Ultimately, trust your intuition when negotiating your next brand affiliate deal. 

5. Lean into your niche 

Very often, consumers are looking for hyper-specific products and services, and they look to their favorite influencers and bloggers to make a recommendation. The more focused your content is, the more you will appeal to a specific set of consumers. Rather than trying to get massive amounts of traffic, direct your efforts towards making quality content that meets the needs of your targeted audience. While traffic may be smaller, you will earn higher conversion rates among loyal followers who trust your advice. 

Next Steps 

Affiliate marketing is a powerful force in the contemporary marketing world. According to Forbes, the future of affiliate marketing is bright. They predict that influencers will continue to thrive, commission systems will become more comprehensive, and hyper-targeted niches will be paramount moving forward.

Now that you know what affiliate marketing is, how it can benefit both businesses and marketers, and how to get started, are you ready to jump into the affiliate industry? To learn more about how online marketing can work for businesses of all kinds, check out The Download, a free marketing guide for professionals.