The Tool Shed Blog

What is Affiliate Marketing? A Beginner's Guide to Online Partnerships

When it comes to marketing concepts, there are probably none with more misinformation and confusion surrounding it than affiliate marketing. Some consider it a phony, get-rich-quick pyramid scheme. Others swear that it can turn your 5-day workweek into a 5-hour one.

In reality, neither of these things is true about affiliate marketing, at least not for most people. There are a few exceptions. Some influencers have done particularly well with affiliate marketing by putting in a lot of hard work.

However, “gurus” who claim you can become the next billionaire with the click of a button are endemic in the media and in online culture. For most, this isn’t the case.

That said, you can make a living with affiliate marketing. It’s more akin to freelancing than anything else. Affiliate marketing provides passive income, but there’s a great deal of work you must do before you start seeing serious returns.

HubSpot Logo
Align Marketing and Sales with HubSpot
Break down silos and align your teams on one integrated platform. HubSpot's software solutions seamlessly connect your departmental data to help you create an exceptional customer experience. Click here to learn more about HubSpot.


For this reason, affiliate marketing isn’t for everybody.

For example, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it may not be a good idea to quit your job to start an affiliate marketing home business. It’s a competitive marketplace, and, in most cases, you won’t be bringing in much money after immediately starting.

Instead, you may be better off running your affiliate marketing business in your off-hours until you get fully established.

According to one study, only 0.6% of the affiliate marketers surveyed had been in business for at least one year. All the rest were brand new.

Thankfully, the affiliate marketing landscape has matured dramatically since then. There are plenty of use cases and best practices to follow, and more and more companies are open to working with affiliate marketers. About 15% of all digital marketing revenue comes from affiliate marketing.

Here’s everything you need to know to get started. First, what is affiliate marketing, anyway?

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing. In an affiliate marketing arrangement, a business provides its affiliates with income based on each visitor or customer they bring in through their marketing efforts.

In other words, as an affiliate marketer, you earn a commission by promoting someone else’s products.

Typically, an affiliate will be a website owner or a social media influencer. The trick is having enough visitors to your website or enough of a social media following that a business could benefit and grow its sales by partnering with you.

And therein lies the biggest challenge of affiliate marketing: making the numbers work. Anyone can start a blog, but if you intend to monetize it by becoming an affiliate marketer, people need to read your blog.

Generally, there are either 3 or 4 parties involved in affiliate marketing, depending on whom you ask:

  • The Merchant: the business that hires an affiliate to promote their product(s).
  • The Affiliate: the individual or company who promotes the product(s).
  • The Customer: the business or consumer who finds products through affiliates and buys them from the merchant.
  • The Network: the organization that acts as an intermediary between the affiliate and the merchant.

There isn’t always a network, but networks can provide first-time affiliates with an easy way to get their business started. They usually handle payments and product delivery, so each party is confident about every transaction.

In fact, sometimes, working with a network is in your best interest. Not every merchant will partner with an affiliate if they don’t work with a network, and networks often offer entire databases full of products you can promote online.

Here are a few of the most popular affiliate networks:

Most of these networks make it easy to start, and most don’t require any upfront payment. Others work like marketplaces for affiliate links, which you can choose and then place on your website.

Boost revenue, productivity, and growth.
Explore The Gallery now.
Download Free Resources

How Do You Make Money with Affiliate Marketing?

If you’ve done any research into affiliate marketing already, you’ve probably seen warnings saying that you won’t get rich overnight. While this is true, it doesn’t mean you can’t earn a decent living as an affiliate marketer or at least earn some extra passive income while you work your day job.

There are a few different types of affiliate programs:

  • Commission Per Lead Affiliate Programs: You earn a commission for each lead you generate for a business. A lead is usually “generated” when a visitor fills out a contact form.
  • Sitewide Commission Affiliate Programs: You earn a commission if someone follows your affiliate link and makes a purchase on the merchant’s website. It doesn’t matter what they purchase, as long as they were referred by you.
  • Single-Tier Affiliate Programs: You earn a commission when a sale for a product is generated through your affiliate link.
  • Two-Tier Affiliate Programs: You earn a commission if you refer other affiliates and they start making sales (like multi-level marketing).
  • Multi-Tier Affiliate Programs: The more sales made through your affiliate link, the more you earn in commissions.

As you can see, affiliate marketing is mostly passive. Once your affiliate links are online, it’s up to your audience to act. But that doesn’t mean you can sit back and do nothing while the money rolls in.

You won’t be actively selling products to buyers. Instead, you need to attract high volumes of relevant traffic to your website using inbound marketing.

How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing

One of the best things about affiliate marketing is that it costs almost nothing to start. Most affiliate programs are free to join, so most of your costs come from your own marketing methods, like your website. In fact, anyone who owns a website could potentially become an affiliate marketer.

There’s no need for you to create a product or service, and you won’t have to ship anything to customers. Best of all, you can work anytime, from anywhere you want. All you need is an internet connection.

Step 1: Research Before You Start

This guide should give you a good idea of how affiliate marketing works, but there’s plenty more research to do before you get started. There are two things you need to investigate before you begin: products and programs.

The products and services you sell will reflect who you are as a marketer and a brand. There are plenty of affiliate products available on the market, and most of them cater to niche audiences. So, for example, if you run a blog that covers news in the manufacturing industry, it doesn’t make much sense for you to become an affiliate of a company that sells dietary weight loss supplements.

You should also consider the quality of the products you’re promoting. You might even consider ordering the products and seeing them yourself before marketing them. Remember, you will be tied to the products you promote, so pick products that work for both you and your audience.

The affiliate programs you choose will determine when and how you are paid and what types of businesses you’ll be partnered with. Again, it’s sometimes easier to start with an affiliate network. You can also research specific businesses that might be a good match for your products, but that’s easier to do after you’ve identified your niche.

Step 2: Identify Your Niche

Most affiliates draw traffic to their websites by posting useful information, like blog posts, frequently. That means you’ll be writing a great deal about a specific topic on your website, so make sure it's something you’re interested in.

Furthermore, you need to be sure there is an audience for your niche. Some of the most popular topics, like sports or movies, are easy enough to write about, but you’ll be competing against every other blog that covers those topics.

Consider drawing from your own experience and expertise. If you have a background in a certain subject, like science, business, or academia, it might be worth writing about. People appreciate hearing from an expert. You can also enlist other authors to create content for your site.

When it comes time to choose what you want to market, pick affiliate items that match your niche.

Sponsored by HubSpot

Step 3: Start Your Website or Blog

If you haven’t already, you can create your own blog or website. Informative websites with how-to guides are a great opportunity to build traffic.

Whatever you choose to write about, make sure you write consistently. You’ll need to keep your website updated with fresh content on a regular basis if you want to draw enough traffic. Some of the best affiliate marketers update their blogs every day or at least several times each week.

If you like, you can also submit your content to third-party websites. Some affiliate marketers do this exclusively.

Step 4: Choose an Affiliate Program

Now that your website is up and running, you can obtain affiliate links. You should already have a good idea of what type of products and services you want to promote on your website. Hopefully, you’ve already made inquiries into a few affiliate programs.

Once you’ve decided on an affiliate program, sign up to get your affiliate link. This is a unique link that will tell the merchant that their referral came from you — that’s how you earn credit for it.

An affiliate link is simply a URL. It will begin with a seller’s domain and end with a referral ID (your ID). For example, an affiliate link might look something like this:


There are a few different ways to use your affiliate link. It all depends on how you want to place them:

  • Within Text: You can place your affiliate link within the text of a blog post just like any other link. Just make sure to use anchor text that gives the reader a good idea of where the link will send them.
  • On the Sidebar: You can turn your affiliate links into banners or CTAs (calls to action) on the sidebar of your blog.
  • Using Images: If you use images on your website or within blog posts, you can make them clickable links with your affiliate link. Just make sure the image makes it clear where the link will take the reader.
  • Note: Don’t overwhelm your reader with affiliate links. It makes your website feel spammy rather than helpful. Furthermore, you should always disclose your affiliate relationship. Not only does this help to build trust, but it’s also an FTC requirement.

Step 5: Market and Measure

Once you’ve joined one or several affiliate programs and you have your website up and running, you need to promote yourself to get visitors. First, try all the free marketing techniques you can, such as:

  • Search Engine Optimization: Use keywords in your posts that target your niche. Set up your website so it can be easily read by search engines.
  • Social Media Marketing: Promote your posts and your website on social media. Try to build a social media following by regularly posting the types of content your audience would be interested in.
  • Email Lists and Newsletters: Encourage visitors to sign up for your newsletter and send out emails promoting your new content.
  • Landing Pages and Lead Pages: Use landing pages and lead pages in your emails and social media campaigns to refer your followers to your business partners.
  • Helpful Content: Affiliate marketers often use product reviews to market their business partners’ products, but you should also create helpful content that your audience finds useful.

Remember, your content should be of high quality. That means it should be free of typos, easy to understand, and relevant to your readers. Make sure your blog and website are mobile-optimized as well, as over half of all internet visits now occur on a mobile device.

Once you’ve laid out your marketing strategy, measure its success. If you find that certain tactics are more effective than others, consider doubling down on those.

Get Professional Help with Your Affiliate Marketing

Now that you know what affiliate marketing is and how to do the basics, you’re probably wondering how you can turn this form of passive income into a full-time gig. You can do it on your own, but you can jump-start the process by getting some help.

gardenpatch provides marketing services to affiliate marketers so they can attract a highly-targeted audience and boost their commissions. Contact us today to learn how we can help you grow.

Popular Insights:

Tiago Headshot CTA Updated

Need Help with Your Affiliate Marketing Strategy?


Subscribe by email