Affiliate marketing 101

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Are you attracted to the idea of having at least one other source of income?

Are you wondering how to get started with affiliate marketing?

Slackershot: MoneyLots has been written on the subject by nearly every Internet marketer out there. Affiliate marketing, if you’re unfamiliar with the topic, is pure commission-based sales. You sign up for an affiliate program with one or more companies or networks and refer people to them. In exchange for your efforts, you receive a percentage (usually small) of any transactions that occur.

How do you get started? Affiliate marketing, since it’s more or less a form of lead generation, follows the same principles as any sales and marketing organization. You need a receptive audience to sell to and products or services to be sold.

For the purposes of this quick article, I will assume you have an audience of some kind that’s focused on your area of expertise or personality. If you don’t, you need to build that first. Even more has been written on how to build an audience. I recommend reading Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation and CC Chapman’s Content Rules as starting points for this.

The first important point about affiliate marketing is to find products or services that you’re happy to recommend, happy to talk about, things you talk about already for free. It’s fairly easy to make compelling content about a product or service if you’ve already been a paying customer of it and like it. The products I recommend on this blog (at the bottom of the post) are products I use and paid for originally before signing up as an affiliate. When I say I recommend them, I really do.

Look at the bottom of the websites of products and services you like. Look for links to affiliate programs, partner programs, etc. as ways to get started. Join an affiliate network like Shareasale or a store like Amazon Associates. There are three things to look out for:

1. An affiliate program manager. Most companies, especially those working with networks like Commission Junction or Shareasale, have a dedicated affiliate manager who can address questions or concerns (like “where’s my money?”).

2. The program rules and terms. Some programs restrict which marketing channels you may use. Failure to comply will result in you giving the company free business, since they won’t pay you. Email especially is excluded from a lot of programs because of the danger of spam. The terms also dictate when and how you’ll get paid, so make sure you understand those clearly.

3. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Every time.

Once you’ve found a few programs that you can like and recommend, use your channels and audience to make your recommendation. Two things are important, one of which is legally required.

1. You must disclose your affiliation. Read the disclosures page here for one example. It’s generally good practice to disclose globally and note where you can that something contains affiliate links.

2. Try not to hard sell. It’s fine to be excited about a product or service you’re recommending, but don’t market crap to people who trust you just because there’s a fat commission on the other end. If the phrase monetizing trust ever creeps into your mind, just go apply at your local used car dealership for a career there instead. Everyone will be happier and know what to expect.

Finally, speaking of expectations, unless you have a gigantic audience to begin with, you should expect beer money performance to begin with. A few dollars here, a few dollars there – it will add up as you continue to grow your audience and your affiliate relationships, but start with small expectations.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a good place to start. If you want to read up on more about how to do affiliate marketing well, I recommend digging into the work of Jim Kukral. A fellow USF professor, he’s my go-to guy for affiliate marketing information and is one of the best folks in the field to know. His book, Attention: This Book Will Make You Money, is also a good starter read.

Disclosure: every link in this post that can be is an affiliate link. It’d be irony and fail if it were otherwise.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


2 responses to “Affiliate marketing 101”

  1. I love the disclaimer. Thanks for the post!

  2. This is great advice. I became an affiliate (and VAR for that matter) because I’m a technology evangelist. I was already evangelizing products and services I believed in and realized that since engineers are supposed to make a lot happen with a little, that I should be earning a little commission in the process.

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