What is Affiliate Marketing?

What is Affiliate Marketing?


Also called publishers, affiliates are independent online marketers who promote products or services sold by merchants (also called advertisers). When an affiliate sends someone to the merchant who makes a purchase, the affiliate earns a commission. The merchants partner with a network, which tracks sales and pays affiliates. The affiliate manager, a person or agency, manages the relationships between all three.

The terms affiliate marketing and performance marketing are interchangeable. Apogee is “A Performance Marketing Agency”, but we often refer to ourselves as managers in the affiliate marketing industry. We attend Affiliate Summit (disclosure: affiliate link), but the industry trade association is The Performance Marketing Association, of which we are a member.

Content affiliates focus on creating content for blogs, podcasts or videos. Coupon affiliates generally focus on running websites that present databases of available coupon codes. Loyalty and cashback affiliates have their own model, paid search another, and retargeting affiliates yet another.

An affiliate may be a single person working from home or a company with more than a hundred employees and offices in major cities.

The clickstream is the chain of events that leads to a sale of a product, a sign-up for a service, or the submission of information that generates a lead. The first affiliate to convince a site visitor to click an affiliate link is an influencer. Content affiliates are most frequently influencers. Later in the clickstream, we may see that same visitor click other affiliate links before making the final purchase. The last affiliate to generate a click is the closer.

Attribution is the method by which we determine which affiliate gets paid a commission. In most affiliate programs, the closer gets the full available commission. In Apogee-managed affiliate programs, the attribution model is different. We split the commission between the influencer and the closer.

As this is a single web page, not a book, there is an emphasis here on material for the smaller, content-focused affiliate.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate Marketing is a simple way for online savvy people to earn commissions promoting products they love.

We work with a wide variety of affiliate types. Bloggers or good niche site owners are often the most successful with strong search engine optimization and growing social media audiences. These affiliates post trackable text links and banners to companies they use on a daily basis and ask their visitors to purchase through those links so they can earn a commission on the transaction.

The next level up would be review affiliates. They carefully test the products and compare them to other brands. A good honest review with proper disclosure about the commissioned relationship can yield tens of thousands of dollars for many years.

We also work with a handful of coupon sites, loyalty sites, paid search, shopping cart abandonment, comparison shopping, datafeed users and pretty much anyone with a solid plan and a legitimate online presence.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

How much money will I make?

 Realistic expectations are important. You will not make a million dollars this year. Or even next year. Anyone who tells you differently is probably selling a $197 “course” about how to blog for six figures a month, and the only person making money in that equation is the snake oil salesman. Affiliates can educate themselves with resources freely available online. No starter kits from gurus or apprenticeships under anyone claiming to have all the answers are ever required—or even a good idea.

Create a blog about a hobby and use affiliate links in the content. Use social media to drive traffic. Promote a site through paid search. Build an email campaign. Use coupon codes to entice customers to buy through affiliate links. Review or highlight products on a site powered by datafeeds. Create a podcast and learn how to speak an affiliate link. Same with video. Options abound. Talk to an affiliate manager for ideas.

Affiliate income is naturally variable, but again, realistic expectations are important. Think marathon, not sprint. Tens of thousands of dollars per month is possible, but it will not happen overnight, and it will not happen without hard work.

Where do I find links and how do I put them on my site?

Each network has its own interface but it’s fairly straightforward with each to login as an affiliate, find the merchants that have approved your application, and pull up a list of text links, banners and product pages. The networks provide the HTML or JavaScript code to copy and paste into the appropriate place on a website or social media application. The networks are the best places to find tutorials or help in learning how to place links.

Will traditional coupon, loyalty and toolbar sites take my commissions?

They can, and likely will, unless the program has advanced attribution rules in place. Some transactions have multiple cookies dropped throughout the clickstream and in the majority of the existing programs, the last cookie always wins. More and more customers are seeking coupons and cash back on purchases. When advanced rules are in place, certain types of affiliates will share commissions, making it fair for the affiliate that originated the sale and the one that closed the sale. Ask the program manager if this option is enforced in the program.

What do I need to know about FTC regulations?

Affiliates need to be aware that their posts, giveaways, reviews, or even simple affiliate links can impact a brand. The FTC has guidelines for disclosure of material connections that must be followed. Apogee maintains an FTC Compliance page that gives an overview of this ever-evolving subject.

What's the best way to monetize a site?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to success with affiliate marketing, the best way is often the simplest.

Identify the core theme of the site and search for merchants with relevant products that have affiliate programs. Narrow it down as precisely as possible; expansion can come later. Take a site all about homeschooling, for example. Find brands that sell school supplies, books, science kits, puzzles, and brain teasers. Join that program and reach out to the affiliate manager. The manager can educate about best sellers and what links convert the best. Create unique content about those products and drive traffic to those pages. Text links account for the majority of sales but banners still add to the user experience.

My link/code isn't working, what's wrong?

Apogee tests links and codes. Merchants test links and codes. Sometimes they break anyway.

Affiliates calling attention to broken links is always appreciated. Broken affiliate links hurt everyone, after all. Coupon codes are a little different, in that they often have specific start and end dates and will break outside of those dates. Calling attention to a broken code inside of a valid promotional period is especially appreciated.

Often times, browser cookies or the cache needs to be cleared or the page needs to be refreshed to see if any updates have come through the coupons and deals database.

How and when do I get paid?

It depends. Choose to work with affiliate programs on networks like ShareASale, CJ Affiliate or AvantLink, and they will issue payments. The merchants pre-fund escrow accounts and usually have credit cards on file to add funds when they dip below a threshold. The networks add a layer of protection and fight for affiliates to ensure properly scheduled payments.

Merchants that operate an affiliate program “in-house” do not use a network. They handle their own tracking, commission calculations, and affiliate payments.

In each case, network and in-house, a payment threshold applies. Each will have its own terms; some might only issue payment once $25 in commissions is accrued, others might issue at $50. It could be several months before enough is earned to receive a payment, and typically payments are made by check, bank transfer or PayPal. Again, this depends on the company issuing the payment.

Where can I find more resources about affiliate marketing?

Getting out of the house or office to meet industry thought leaders and other affiliates is invaluable to the affiliate experience. Affiliate Summit (disclosure: affiliate link) has two main conferences each year and we strongly recommend going and participating. You will not find better educational or networking opportunities. Smaller Performance Marketing Summit events have begun throughout North America. Networks have annual conferences as well. One such is ShareASale ThinkTank, a smaller conference mixing merchant owners, managers, and affiliates with a range of experience levels. Attend as many events as time and budget will allow to maximize your educational opportunities.