What Is an Affiliate Program?

Joining an affiliate program is a way to earn money from your website

Your goal in affiliate marketing is to earn commissions for mentioning or recommending services or products on your website. To do this, you join one or more affiliate programs. The program shows you links or images for specific products or services. You choose the ones that "fit" your content and receive links or images that include identifiers for your website. You publish the images or links on your web page.

When a visitor to your website clicks on the link and then makes a purchase or completes an action, you receive a small commission. In some cases, you are paid if someone just clicks on the link.

Before You Join an Affiliate Program

Take the time to set up a first-rate website. There is a lot of competition for viewers on the internet. The more polished your site appears and the higher the quality of your content, the more success you'll have in affiliate marketing. Run the website for a while before contacting an affiliate program.

How to Sign Up for an Affiliate Program

Although Amazon Associates is the largest of the affiliate marketers and certainly worthy of your consideration, there are hundreds of smaller programs available. When you are just starting out, use only established, well-reviewed companies, such as: 

  • eBay Partner Network
  • Avangate
  • AvantLink
  • ShareSale
  • CJ Affiliate by Conversant (formerly Commission Junction)
  • Rakuten (formerly Buy.com)
  • Clickbank

Look for a company that offers links for products or services that have something in common with your website. When you find one and express interest, you'll be asked to provide some information; you may be asked to open an account, and you'll definitely be asked for the URL of your website.

This is where having an attractive website with good content pays off. If your site looks amateurish or thin, you'll probably be rejected. If that happens, clean up your site, add more and better content and try again with another marketing company.

Each affiliate marketing company and each advertiser has its own rules, so they can't all be covered here, but take the time to read everything before you make a selection. You can sign up with more than one affiliate marketing company, but don't litter your website with too many of them.

How Affiliate Programs Pay

Most affiliate programs have specific rules about how they pay, but there are two methods you can expect to see:

  • Pay per click is similar to most online advertising. You are paid whenever someone clicks on the link, button or image you place on your site. They don't need to buy anything or take any action. Pay per click is usually low paying.
  • Pay per action pays you every time someone clicks on a link from your site and then completes a specific action. You might be paid a percentage of a sale or you might be paid every time someone moves deeper into the target site. This method, especially when you get a percentage of sales, can be lucrative.

    The reason affiliate programs work so well is that you're not relying on a computer to match up ads to your content. You do it yourself. You know best which ads will work best on your content and which products and services you can recommend or mention. 

    Most affiliate programs don't pay out until you reach a specified threshold, and even then, the payout is slow. Be patient.

    How to Make Money With Affiliate Marketing

    Making money with affiliate marketing is all about traffic. The more eyes that see your website, the more likely the affiliate links on your site will be clicked. The best way to encourage traffic to your website or blog is to fill it with high-quality content and to refresh that content often. Then promote your website. How you do that is up to you, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

    • Share your content (with its link) to Facebook or other social media sites every time you post something new.
    • Gather an email list and add to it constantly. Then use it to promote your website or blog by sending a newsletter or a teaser to draw readers to your site.
    • Add a link to your site in your email signature.

    Advice for the Beginner

    Don't quit your day job. Although it is true that a few individuals make thousands of dollars a month using affiliate programs on their website, the vast majority of people who try this make very little. Keep your expectations low and work hard posting high-quality content and promoting your site.