Affiliate Marketing for 2021 – A Step by Step Guide

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Besides dropshipping, affiliate marketing is one of the most commonly recommended startup businesses for new entrepreneurs. The brilliance of affiliate marketing is that it requires no inventory, little startup capital, and no experience, much of which can be earned as you grow your business. 

This guide will walk you through step by step how to get started with affiliate marketing in 2021 as a new entrepreneur, covering the different traffic routes available to build your audience and customer base. Affiliate networks, or sites where you can find new products to promote, are covered in this guide, as well as how to choose your niche to market. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to make money with affiliate marketing, all while keeping expenses low. 

This guide won’t pitch you a $1,000 course but will supply you with high-quality free information that you can immediately get started deploying for your new affiliate business. 

You’ll learn how to get higher conversion rates, engage your audience, build an affiliate blog, and make more money with affiliate marketing based on the proven experience of Santrel Media and its founders. Get started by reading the definition of affiliate marketing and how it works. 

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is the practice of a third party marketing a product or service or acquiring leads on behalf of a business for a percentage of the sale or a commission fee. Affiliate marketing has been around since the 90s although it’s changed quite a bit in the past 5 to 15 years with the acceleration of affiliate marketing on the internet. 

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work in 2021?

Affiliate marketing is when a marketer promotes products for another business and a customer buys the product or becomes a lead, and the marketer earns a commission or a percentage of the sale. As an example, imagine I get you to sign up for a bank account through a link. As the affiliate marketer, the bank may give me $100 to $150  for each person who clicks a link and makes a purchase through the link. 

That’s how affiliate marketing works: you get money for earning a business sales.

Every time you earn a business a sale, you make a commission. This can be scaled rapidly and you can go from zero dollars up to five figures. Another benefit of affiliate marketing is you won’t need to deal with customer service as the business itself will need to field customer service requests. 

You’re just a third party as an affiliate marketer. If you were marketing Nike shoes, you won’t need to worry about returns of the shoes, as you would if you ran an ecommerce store or dropshipping business. Of course, you should make it a priority to only market quality products or services, to maintain the trust of your customers. 

Returned Nike Shoes

Why Choose Affiliate Marketing as a Business in 2021? 

The reason affiliate marketing is the best opportunity to get started with if you’re new to business is because it’s free to start. You won’t need startup money to buy products and sell them as you might with an ecommerce business or technical or industry knowledge as you might with a software business.

While it’s normally true you need money to make money, with affiliate marketing you don’t need a lot of cash upfront to get started. You will need $100 to $200 to get started faster but you really could get started with $0 if necessary.

Affiliate marketing comes with no barrier to entry to get started so you can launch your lean startup with low levels of risk like the cost of your time but otherwise it’s almost impossible to fail and not make money.

Choosing a Niche for Your Affiliate Marketing Business

Most things you can buy on the internet, including most software, subscriptions, and physical products you pay for, have affiliate marketing programs which accept new affiliates to market on their behalf. Even the biggest companies in the world have affiliate programs or are willing to start them for the right affiliate. 

While finance is often the first sector people think of when it comes to affiliate marketing due to the success of influencers and affiliate sites like NerdWallet and The Points Guy, this sector is highly competitive and can be difficult to compete in.

Intro to Affiliate Networks

A great place to search affiliate marketing opportunities is Commission Junction which houses businesses offering high signup fees for affiliates, sometimes $100 per referral. This search can yield ideas for which niche you should pursue based on your expertise and interest. 

For example, you could find a high-yield savings account with high interest rates to market through Commision Junction. When a member of your audience clicks your referral link and converts, you could earn $100. If you get just one hundred people to convert, you’ll make $10,000. 

Commission Junction

The benefit of affiliate marketing for niche industries is you can have lower views on YouTube than a huge account like David Dobrik and still make thousands of dollars, without having to rely on AdSense. 

VPN Services

Another popular service to promote as an affiliate marketer is VPN services. If you create content about productivity or tech, you can include an affiliate link in your bio and a disclosure of the affiliate link, and can earn over $40 per VPN conversion. Plus your converting audience will acquire a discounted price for the service.

VPN services can earn you quite a bit of money. To sign up as an affiliate, go to NordVPN and Affiliate in the footer, and you can become an affiliate. Through this affiliate program, you can earn an upfront percentage of the purchase and even a percentage of renewals, earning you recurring commissions. This makes for highly passive income. 

To get started, you’ll need to sign a large disclosure. 

Staying Honest as an Affiliate Marketer

An important tenet to remember is that you should have integrity as an affiliate marketer because lots of affiliates will promote products that aren’t good because they’re greedy. Only choose to promote products that are valuable or you use yourself. Don’t promote a bank service or other product if you didn’t think it was a good choice for your customers. 

It’s important to not be shortsighted with money and maintain good ethics. You could lose trust and followers if you don’t follow this guidance. 

When choosing a sector to become an affiliate marketer for, make sure to pick a topic you’re passionate about otherwise you’ll lose interest and stop working on your new project pretty quickly. 

Affiliate Networks: The best way to connect with brands

One of the best ways to find products to promote, without individually contacting brands, is through affiliate networks. These networks serve as connection points between brands which wish to have affiliate marketers promote their products or services. 

You can also discover brands by seeing what competitors promote and searching for the Affiliate page, dedicated to engaging with potential affiliates, but affiliate networks are easier. 

Amazon Associates 

One of the most basic affiliate programs that are used by affiliate marketers is Amazon Associates. Through this program, you can promote anything Amazon related and get a commission. For example, you could promote a camera you use if you have a YouTube channel and earn a percentage of that sale. 

If audience members who click the link purchase the item within 24 hours, you’ll earn a commission, even if they don’t re-click the original link. The commission per sale is 4%, which for most items is not much, but this can be worthwhile with higher-priced items. 

Amazon Associates

Commission Junction 

Another prominent affiliate network already mentioned in this guide is Commission Junction. To get started with Commision Junction, you’ll need some channel to already be developed to share. To get started, sign up and enter your traffic source (website, YouTube channel, or social media channel).

You’ll be presented with a list of products you can promote, sometimes with big names like Nike, Adidas, and 23andme. You can browse through categories like Educational Products and Financial Services to find the perfect product for your audience and niche. 

Make sure to read through the terms of the opportunity, and once satisfied, join the program and see your percentage commission. This network is an excellent place to find niche products like beauty products or automotive products to promote.  

Impact Affiliate Marketing

You should also explore the other available affiliate networks including Impact, which functions similarly to Commission Junction. You’ll be able to browse available opportunities, find the right ones for your niche, read the disclosure, and sign up for those which are relevant. 

Free vs Paid Traffic: What’s the Difference? 

As an affiliate marketer, there are two ways you can earn traffic, or visits to your content, which can lead to affiliate revenue. You can earn free, or organic traffic, or paid traffic, where you pay for advertising to your content which will lead to conversions. 

While you should start your affiliate marketing career earning free traffic to get your feet wet, unless you have previous experience running ads on Google, Bing, or Facebook, this section will cover the ways you can earn paid traffic.  

Paid Traffic: Paying for Site or Content Visits

Google Paid Traffic

One of the top ways affiliate marketers earn traffic through paid marketing is through Google AdWords. Through Google AdWords, you can create ads to appear in search results for your selected niche and related keywords. 

Some affiliate marketers like Top10.com pursue an affiliate strategy wholly dependent on paid traffic, whereby they create pages for financial subjects like ‘best bank accounts’ or ‘best credit cards’ and pay for Google search ads for these keywords. When searchers click their results and convert, choosing one of these financial products, Top10 earns $100 to $200 a referral. 

Paid Google Results for Bank Accounts

There are slimmer margins with this approach than free traffic and more room for error as you’ll have to pay for advertising and could see some ads underperform, cutting into your referral fee. 

For example, you’ll have to split test ad copy and landing page design to find the ads and copy which performs best. 

Facebook Paid Traffic 

Another way to earn paid traffic is through Facebook advertising. The principle of this acquisition channel is the same as Google advertising, except you’ll create and publish ads through Facebook Ads Manager instead of Google AdWords. 

By creating ads for Facebook, you’ll have the ability to target select demographics like men or women, people in different locations, and differently interested consumers that could be a match for the products you’re promoting. 

Through Facebook Ads, you can promote your affiliate content and earn referral fees when users convert. For example, you could promote a list of the best VPN services with catchy text and simple visuals with affiliate links included in the list on your website. 

As with all other affiliate content, it will be important to include disclosures in your content about the ways you earn revenue. 

Free Traffic Sources

Even if you choose to opt for paid over free traffic, you should still have a website or other free traffic channel you build up to showcase your work to potential advertisers and affiliate networks. 

This free traffic channel can be a website, YouTube channel, Instagram page, Facebook group, or another place where you can highlight regular users. Affiliate networks often require you to offer a link to this channel so you can share your website, YouTube.com/yourchannel, or Instagram.com/YourProfile. 

These are the top channels to build free traffic: 

Blogs 

One of the tried and true methods to earn affiliate revenue is through blogs. While some think blogs aren’t as relevant nowadays, they’re still highly profitable and a great way to earn followers organically. For example, Good Financial Cents is an excellent personal finance blog which earns large amounts of revenue monthly with reviews and advice articles for managing finances. 

Good Financial Cents

Blogs are also easier places to get viewers to convert than some other free traffic channels.

YouTube 

While YouTube can scare some people away as a free traffic channel because they’ll need to get in front of a camera and speak, remember that with practice, you’ll get better. Also, the fear that some people experience with YouTube could drive away competitors. 

By building a YouTube channel around a niche and sharing affiliate links with your growing audience, you could make plenty of affiliate revenue. While personal finance is highly competitive currently, there are many niches that you could cover and earn revenue for. 

Facebook  

It can be difficult to build a Facebook page following but if you’ve already developed an audience through a blog or YouTube channel, the process will be easier. 

One interesting way you could share affiliate links is through Facebook Groups. By starting a Facebook Group dedicated to a subject like credit cards and growing the number of members, you could have control over the share of affiliate links and pin your links to the feed, earning plenty of affiliate revenue if your value add through the group is high enough. 

Credit Card Facebook Group

Another place to start a group and build a community is Discord. While Discord is a newer platform for communities, it could be tapped as a new place to share affiliate links with plenty of great customers. 

Instagram 

Instagram is harder to develop as an affiliate marketing channel as you can't share individual links as easily unless you have 10,000 followers at which point you can add links to your stories. Instagram could be a good channel to develop alonsid 

Reddit and Other Forums

Forums are another place to share affiliate links. If you build up a subreddit or forum dedicated to some niche subject, you could share affiliate links with followers. Many of these forum sites are saturated with affiliate links so you’ll need to tread carefully depending on the community. 

Answer Sites like Quora

Some affiliate marketers go across answer sites like Quora, answering questions like “What’s the best VPN services” with their answers and affiliate links. While this might work once in a while, there’s lots of competition and it’s highly time-consuming. 

VPN answer on Quora

Email marketing 

Email marketing can be a tough channel to start out with but if you build up another channel or channels, you should consider setting up an email marketing account and building a list of engaged audience members. As your list grows, you can send relevant emails with advice and recommendations as well as affiliate product links to earn some revenue through this channel. 

How to Build an Affiliate Marketing Blog

Regardless of whether you’re pursuing a paid traffic strategy or other free traffic channels, you should consider building a blog to at least serve as your hub for other links. You can create an affiliate marketing blog in a number of ways, regardless of your technical expertise or purchasing power. 

Choosing a Website Builder

To get started with affiliate sites, you should consider where you’d like to build your website. You have a number of options, each with varying levels of design freedom and ecosystem support.

The best platform for the number of free templates and plugins is WordPress.org. This platform can be combined with Elementor to design more complex web pages in WordPress.org. Through WordPress, you can scale up your number of articles, which is perfect for affiliate marketing. 

Wix Site Builder

If you prefer setup simplicity, Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly are great alternative platforms. Wix in particular allows for a high-level of design freedom with a drag-and-drop interface. 

Choosing a Hosting Service

The next step is to choose a hosting service to connect with your new website builder. Hosting services often come with a free domain for a year, which you’ll need for your new affiliate blog. 

Three of the best hosting services you can choose are Hostinger, HostGator, and SiteGround. SiteGround is a recommended hosting service for WordPress.org, which will be great if that’s your chosen website builder. 

SiteGround Hosting

Hostinger, HostGator, and SiteGround each have varying levels of speed, types of hosting, and different pricing which you should evaluate before you make your decision. 

Connecting Your Website and Hosting Service

Once you’ve chosen a website builder and hosting service, you’ll need to connect the two services. Your chosen hosting service will likely provide a guide for connecting with the website builder but before you make your decision, you can evaluate compatibility. 

Upon connecting the two services, make sure to opt for domain registration privacy to hide your name and address as a precaution. 

Creating and Optimizing Content

Once your website is up and running, make your relevant design changes to your website and add your new logo for your affiliate marketing blog. From there, build out your blog with relevant content about your chosen niche. Learning about keyword research and looking at top competitors for insight into how to build a successful blog for your particular niche. 

If you’ve chosen WordPress.org as your website builder, you should install the YoastSEO plugin to assist with your SEO for different pages. Researching SEO further will help you learn how to structure your website, optimize content for Google, and write content that’s relevant and will rank for your niche. 

Yoast SEO

How much money can you make as an affiliate marketer?

Marketers can make up to $200 per sale for higher end products in niches like personal finance and on the low end, make just a couple of cents for more affordable items through Amazon Associates. Ultimately, the skies the limit for how much you can make as an affiliate marketer, you just need to take advantage of the right opportunities. 

How can I start affiliate marketing with no money?

You can get started in affiliate marketing for free by starting an Instagram account, Facebook Group, YouTube Channel, or free blog, and building up your following while promoting relevant affiliate product links. WordPress offers free, domain-less blog creation you can use and you can record videos for YouTube on your phone while editing with free software. 

The Responsibilities of Affiliate Marketers

Starting out as an affiliate marketer, it’s essential you start off on the right foot and maintain good ethics and best practices for your new business. 

You should talk to viewers like friends. If you do your job right, you’ll earn their trust and it’s important to be conversational and avoid adopting salesman-like tactics to hard sell pricey or bad products. You should only promote what you personally use and like or products you believe are good picks for your audience. 

By creating good content and products, you’ll develop a rapport and trust with your audience. While you won’t need to do customer support as an affiliate marketer, it is good to maintain contact with your audience and get their input. 

When using an affiliate link, you should also make a point of telling your audience that you’ll earn a commission to keep creating reliable content. This applies whether you’re marketing on social media, a website, or YouTube channel. 

And finally, register your business as soon as you launch to simplify your life and make sure to keep your personal and business expenses separate to keep tax season easy. 

Final Takeaway for Your New Business 

Starting an affiliate marketing business will be challenging at times but ultimately highly rewarding, a great learning experience, and likely a profitable business as well. Following the steps laid out in this guide will lead you on the path to success for your new affiliate marketing business in 2021, especially choosing the right niche, maintaining good ethics, choosing great products you’d use yourself to promote, and keeping engaged with your audience. 

As you think about the niche you’d like to choose and the right traffic channel, evaluate top competitors for those niches as well as generally successful affiliate marketers for tips and tricks. Good luck with your new venture and feel free to reach out to Santrel Media if you have any questions yourself!

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