DISCLAIMER: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you click a link and choose to purchase, I get a small commission at no additional cost to you (sometimes even saving you money!). This helps me keep this blog afloat. I only promote products that I know and love, or that I think you'd love!
You’ve probably seen the term “affiliate marketing” thrown around, but maybe you don’t quite know exactly what it is, how it works, or how you can make money online with affiliate marketing.
I love being an affiliate for awesome brands or products that I love because I get to recommend my favorite products to people I know if I think it could help them AND I get paid for it – over and over again!
Affiliate marketing is the #1 way I make money directly from my blog, and I want to show you how you can, too. So let’s dive in.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is when you sign up as an affiliate for a company, then recommend their product(s) to others. If someone makes a purchase through you (via a unique link you get when you sign up), you get a commission.
Businesses love affiliate marketing because it gives them another sales channel, and they only have to pay you when you bring in a sale. Bloggers love affiliate marketing because it gives them a way to make recurring, almost passive income. (I say almost because it does take a little work up front, and to make good money, a little maintenance here and there).
How much can you make with affiliate marketing?
The amount of commission may vary, depending on the company. Some companies pay as low as 2-4% and, others pay as high as 50%.
Typically, digital products offer the highest commissions since there’s no physical cost of goods to the company.
The amount you can make is limitless, but there are several factors that could help, such as:
- a large audience
- the right audience (you want people who are able and willing to invest in products or services)
- the right products
I have several friends who make over $10,000 per month as affiliates. And one friend of mine, Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, makes nearly 6 figures a month as an affiliate!
People wanted to know how she did it, so now she teaches her exact system to bloggers.
Click here if you want to learn her step-by-step process for making money as an affiliate. (BTW, I took her course and loved it…which is why I’m a proud affiliate, because I know it can help you like it did me.)
Is affiliate marketing a get rich quick scheme?
I know… results like Michelle’s are definitely not typical, but they’re not entirely uncommon, either. I personally know a handful of people who have had $10,000 months through affiliate marketing.
Speaking from my own experience, I once made $1,260 in a single week in affiliate income with this blog. And I’m going back through Michelle’s course again to find ways to increase that amount and make it a regular occurrance.
But don’t be fooled into thinking affiliate marketing is a get rich quick scheme, because it’s not. You can’t just throw up a bunch of links and expect people to purchase. I’ve had this blog since 2013, and each year, my affiliate income grows more and more, but I definitely put a lot of effort into growing the blog first.
You have to:
- provide value through your blog content to build trust
- grow an audience
- be selective about the products you promote
But when done with integrity, it can be a fun (and lucrative) way to make money from your blog.
Is affiliate marketing a pyramid scheme?
One question people new to affiliate marketing ask is, “Is affiliate marketing a pyramid scheme?” and the answer is NO. A pyramid scheme is an illegal business model in which you invest a said amount of money to basically become a “recruiter”.
You make money by recruiting others to invest in the scheme (and you get a cut of the investment as well as the investment of anyone they recruit). They recruit others, and so on, but there’s no actual product or service being sold. Everyone just invests in the scheme itself. It’s unsustainable, and 90% of people who invest in a pyramid scheme lose money.
Affiliate marketing, however, is perfectly legal. You don’t pay anything up front, or recruit anyone to invest in the scheme itself. You simply recommend a product, and if someone chooses to purchase the product through you, you get paid a referral fee.
Do you have to pay taxes on affiliate income?
Affiliate income is just like any other type of income (even if you are making money while you sleep!) and you are required to pay taxes on it.
When you apply to become an affiliate for a brand (more on that in a bit), you’ll usually have to submit a W-9, and at the beginning of each year, you’ll get a 1099 from any companies you made affiliate income through.
A 1099 is like a W-2, except it’s for independent contractors, which means that if you’re in the U.S., you’ll be responsible for paying your own Social Security and Medicare tax, as well as Self-Employment tax, State tax (if applicable), and Federal tax. If you make less than a certain amount in a year, you may not get a 1099, but technically you’re still required to pay taxes on that income.
If you have questions, it’s a good idea to speak to your accountant. But it’s not that big of a deal. Considering that affiliate income is (mostly) passive income, I’m willing to pay my share.
Who can be an affiliate?
Anyone with a blog can become an affiliate, but the requirements vary from brand to brand.
Most new bloggers start with Amazon because it’s easy to get approved. There are no special requirements to sign up, and you can start promoting products right away.
Some companies have stricter requirements, such as the size of your audience, or whether or not they think you’ll be a good fit for their brand. If you have a blog on knitting, but you apply to be an affiliate for indoor pole dancing equipment, you might not get approved. (But if you do, by all means, get off the couch, wrap yourself in yarn, and shake your money maker!)
Can you become an affiliate without a website?
While there are many offline referral programs that operate with a similar concept as affiliate marketing, typically affiliate marketing is done online via your own website.
When you sign up for an affiliate program, you get a special link that tracks which sales came through you. And while you could technically share your link on social media vs. a blog, you won’t have much success that way.
The best way to have success as an affiliate is to create a blog around a specific topic, then build an audience that is interested in your topic. Gain their trust and they will gladly buy what you recommend.
Want help with starting a blog so you can make money as an affiliate? Click here to sign up for my FREE course, Launch Your Profitable Blog.
How do you become an affiliate?
To become an affiliate, you need to first identify companies, products, or services that could benefit your audience, and see if they have an affiliate program.
Most people who are new to affiliate marketing start with the Amazon Associates program. Like I mentioned above, Amazon is easy because there are no special requirements. It’s a great way to get your feet wet, and there are literally a ton of products to promote in any niche or industry.
Amazon affiliates only make about 2-4% from each sale, but with so many potential products to recommend, that can add up.
Another easy way to become an affiliate is to sign up for an affiliate network like Shareasale or ClickBank. These affiliate networks provide an affiliate platform to thousands of merchants. When you create an account with an affiliate network, you have access to all of the merchants in that network, increasing your chances of making money as an affiliate.
You may still need to apply for certain merchants, but since you entered all of your info when you created your account with the affiliate network, applying to merchants is usually no more than a click of the button.
And then some businesses run their own affiliate programs individually, so for those, you need to apply directly. Some will only accept you if you already have an established blog or website. Others require that you be in a specific niche.
But the only way to find out is to apply! If they think you’re a good fit, they’ll approve you.
How do you find products to promote?
The first thing I do when looking for an affiliate product to promote is to think about what my readers might need or would benefit from the most.
- Is there a certain topic they’ve been asking about?
- Do I have any existing blog posts that get a lot of traffic that don’t have any affiliate links?
- Are there any products that I’d recommend to my audience, even if I weren’t getting paid to do so?
So if there’s a topic I get a ton of questions about, I might look for highly-rated books on Amazon to promote. Then I’ll drop those links in a blog post on that topic.
If I have an existing blog post that is already really popular with my audience, I’d google any products that I mention, and promote those as an affiliate. Or I’ll brainstorm some affiliate opportunities that I could inject in the post.
If I have products that I use myself and absolutely love, how can I share those with readers? For instance, in this blog, I’ve talked a lot about Bluehost, the web-hosting company I’ve used since 2009.
I’m a huge coffee lover, so I’ve also mentioned our Aeropress Coffee Maker on this blog and on social media. I use it every day, so I love recommending it because it makes a damn good cup of coffee. But even if I weren’t an affiliate, I’d still tell everyone about my Aeropress, because it’s such a great product!
If you’re not sure if a brand has an affiliate program, there are a few ways to find out.
- Visit the company website and scroll to the bottom of the page. Oftentimes, if a brand has an affiliate program, it will be linked in their page footer. It might say something like “Affiliates” or “Partners”.
- If it’s not immediately obvious on their website, you can Google [product or brand name] + affiliate and see what comes up.
- Send an email through their contact page and ask!
- If it’s a physical product business, check to see if they sell on Amazon. If so, promote their products via Amazon Associates.
What are some ways to promote affiliate products?
There are a lot of great ways to promote affiliate products. The most popular way is to simply drop affiliate links in a relative blog post.
You can also create a gift guide for your niche that links to several products in one post. I publish a holiday gift guide for sailors each year, and December is by far my biggest month for affiliate income as a result. You can check them out below to see how I did them!
- 2019 Holiday Gift Guide for Liveaboard Sailors
- 2018 Holiday Gift Guide for Sailors
- 20 Great Gift Ideas for Sailors & Boaters
Another way to make money online with affiliate marketing is to write a review of the product you’re promoting. Write in specific detail why you love it so much! Also be honest – is there anything you’d improve?
When promoting affiliate products, your audience will trust you more if you are honest about what you don’t like. This lets them know that you’re looking out for their best interest by giving them all the facts — and in the end, you’re leaving the decision up to them.
If you have a YouTube channel, create a video review of the product. If you’re a vlogger, use the product in one of your episodes and drop your affiliate link in the description.
Why I love making money online as an affiliate
Recommending products I love (and think you would, too), or know would help you in some way AND getting paid to do it is a win-win-win.
You win, because you learn about an awesome new product. I win, because the merchant pays me for the referral. And the merchant wins, because I introduced them to a new customer!
In addition, my favorite way to make money online is through passive income streams. And while I don’t believe there’s such thing as completely passive income, affiliate income comes pretty damn close. You write a post once, put it out for the world to see, then you’re done with it.
And that post or video can continue to make you money for years to come. I still make money on posts I wrote back in 2013 when I started this blog!
Those holiday gift guides I mentioned earlier? I go back each year and add the link to the new post to all the older ones. I link to all the older gift guides in the new guide. So each December, I make money on the new post as well as the old posts.
Conclusion (plus my bonus affiliate tracking sheet)
So as you can see, affiliate marketing can be a great way to make money with your blog.
And whether you’re new to affiliate marketing or you’ve been doing it awhile, I highly recommend Michelle’s course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.
I thought I knew all the things and her course still taught me so much. She holds nothing back and gives you everything you need to make or increase your affiliate income. You could make your course money back with just one blog post.
Right now I’m working through the bonus lesson on using Pinterest to get more blog traffic. That lesson alone will get me closer to my insane affiliate income goal for next year (stay tuned!).
I hope you can see the potential of promoting as an affiliate. Now that you have some ideas on how you can make money online with affiliate marketing, get my free Affiliate Tracking Template below, so you can start rocking your affiliate income!