Affiliate Marketing FAQ’s for Beginners

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What exactly is affiliate marketing? What’s a “cookie”? How do I get compensated for promoting a brand? Whether you’re thinking about signing up with a brand as an affiliate or have already done so, chances are, you have a lot of questions. To help you better understand this marketing model and how to be successful with it, we’ve compiled a list of some of the commonly asked questions affiliates/publishers have.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is, first and foremost, about relationships. It relies on a relationship between a merchant (ie. Retailer) and you, the affiliate/publisher, as well as a relationship between you and consumers.  When you promote the merchant’s product or service offerings (on your blog, website, social media feed, etc.) and a consumer purchases a product/service from the brand based on your promotion, the merchant pays you a revenue share of the sale that you helped generate.   Compensation can include join incentives; special discounts or one-time offers to help you become more familiar with the merchant’s brand; product giveaways; blog post bonuses; and, of course, commissions.

Who are affiliates?

Affiliates can be individual bloggers, publishers and influencers as well as companies. Examples include:

  • Content/blogging sites
  • Coupon sites (i.e. RetailMeNot)
  • Deal sites (i.e. Slickdeals)
  • Loyalty/reward sites (i.e. Ebates)
  • Influencer networks

How do affiliates get paid?

Affiliates can get compensated in a variety of ways, which are determined by the merchant. The three most common are pay-per-sale, pay-per-lead and pay-per-click. Affiliates only get paid when their promotional efforts actually result in a transaction. Most often, all payments earned by affiliates are paid out through the third-party network the program is hosted on.

Is there a cost associated with signing up for an affiliate program?

There is no cost for signing up as a partner to promote a brand through their affiliate program. You can sign up for as many programs as you would like across any affiliate network at no cost to you.

What is a commission rate?

Typically, commission rates are based on a percentage of the total sale (e.g. 10%), and in some cases it can also be a flat fee for a transaction. Your commission rate is set by the merchant.

Who manages your affiliate program?

Some merchants manage their affiliate programs in-house, others turn management over to a network or an external agency, sometimes referred to as an OPM (outsourced program management).

What is an OPM?

The purpose of an OPM is to oversee the day-to-day operations of a program and manage the relationships between the merchants, networks and affiliates. Some day-to-day operations of an OPM include daily transaction checks, product data feed (see definition below), recruitment/outreach, application approvals, inquiries, sending the newsletters out to affiliates, reporting, offers, program materials, and more.

What are networks?

In affiliate marketing, programs are run on affiliate networks. Networks help affiliates register and apply to individual programs and act as the trusted intermediary between affiliates and merchants. For example, networks host the merchants’ creative (banners, links, etc.), handle all tracking and reporting, and automatically pay out commissions to affiliates based on the rules set by the merchant. The network uses cookies to track a customer’s progress from the affiliate’s blog/website (or multiple affiliates’ websites) through the merchant’s shopping cart. The network then automatically pays out commissions to affiliates based on the rules set by the merchant. A few of the most common affiliate networks are ShareASale, Commission Junction, Impact Radius and Rakuten Linkshare.

What is a cookie?

A cookie is a small piece of data that works with web browsers to store information like user preferences, login or registration information, and shopping cart contents. When someone comes to your blog or website and clicks on your affiliate link, a cookie is placed on their computer or mobile device. That cookie is used to remember the link or ad that the visitor clicked on. Even if they leave your site and come back a week later to make a purchase, you will still get credit for the purchase and receive a commission.

How long do cookies last?

This is a decision made by the merchant. The cookie’s duration, also known as “cookie life,” depends on the merchant’s needs and strategy. For example, cookie life can be 10 days, 30 days or even just a few days. The most common cookie length for an affiliate program is 30 days. This means, when someone clicks on your affiliate link, you’ll be paid a commission if they make a purchase within 30 days of the click.

What kinds of companies offer affiliate programs?

There are thousands of companies that offer affiliate programs — from large retailers (Target, adidas, eBay) to small niche retailers. In fact, it’s estimated that over 80 percent of brands utilize affiliate marketing to drive sales, according to a Rakuten Affiliate Network survey.

Do affiliates need a certification to be an affiliate?

There is no certification needed. However, we do recommend that you learn as much as possible about what it means to be an affiliate. Fortunately, there is a lot of information out there to help educate new affiliates, including podcasts, blogs, webinars, research reports and much more.

Although you do not need training, merchants do have the power to approve or reject affiliate applications. Some are looking for specific qualities in their affiliates and are more selective about who they choose to accept into their program. Often, merchants will not approve sites that are sexually explicit, violent, violate international property laws, advocate discrimination, promote radical religious or political views, or advocate or promote any illegal activities.

Do affiliates need to have an established website to get started?

Not necessarily. While it is possible to register a site that is not live, it’s important to understand that most merchants look to partner with affiliates who have an established blog/website with a good network of readers/visitors. They also want to work with affiliates who have a track record of providing high-quality content to a targeted, loyal audience that’s relevant to their vertical. For example, if the merchant sells women’s jewelry and your blog/site is mainly targeted at men who love grilling, then that affiliate program might not be a good fit. Therefore, we strongly recommend having an established blog/website that’s receiving good traffic before you apply to a program. Alternatively, if you don’t have an established site, but do have an established social media following, most programs will accept and allow you to post affiliate links on social media pages you own or operate.

Who has control of what’s being published on an affiliate’s site/blog?

While you have total control over the information you share on your blog/site, you must adhere to the merchant’s terms and conditions of what you can/cannot promote on your site as it relates to the merchant’s brand. In addition, the merchant may have branded terms and trademark names and phrases that you are prohibited from using. All of that will be outlined in your affiliate agreement, which you will generally have the opportunity to review and accept prior to being approved into a program.

Do I need to disclose my relationship with a merchant?

Affiliates should take note that the FTC requires a disclosure statement within any and all pages, blog/posts, or social media posts where affiliate links are posted as an endorsement or review, and where it is not clear that the link is a paid advertisement. This disclosure statement should be clear and concise, stating that you may be compensated if a user purchases through your link. If you received a product for free, this also must be clearly stated in your disclosure.

  • Disclosures must be made as close as possible to the claims.
  • Disclosures should be placed above the fold; scrolling should not be necessary to find the disclosure. (e.g. Disclosure should be visible before the jump).
  • Pop-up disclosures are prohibited.

For more information about FTC disclosure requirements, please review the FTC’s “Dot Com Disclosures” Guidelines; and the FTC’s Endorsement Guidelines.

How does an affiliate know what brands to partner with when just starting out?

It’s important for an affiliate to align themselves with a brand that they are familiar with, are passionate about, and that relates to the content that they share on their blog or website. For example, an avid runner who has a site dedicated to fitness and health might be a great fit for a brand like adidas or Reebok. It’s important that what an affiliate is writing about is relevant to the brand they are promoting.

What is a product data feed?

A product data feed is file of all products a merchant advertises online that is uploaded to networks for affiliates to use. The product data feed will include important details such as prices, images, descriptions, categorization, keywords, etc. When a merchant uploads a product data feed to the network, affiliates will then have access to download the full feed or select one-off products to add to their site. Anytime someone clicks on a link from a product datafeed, they’ll automatically land on the product page on the merchants site.

What is an RSS feed?

An RSS feed is a system that allows your site to be easily and automatically updated based on the banners, links, and products you display.

What does EPC mean?

EPC stands for Earnings Per Hundred Clicks. This is sent to the merchant as an apples-to-apples way to measure performance. It takes into account purchase price, commission and cookie. For example, if a program has a $20 EPC, that means that for every 100 people an affiliate drove to the merchant’s site, the affiliate should net $20 in commissions, on average.

For more tips on how to become successful as an affiliate, check out our 7 Tips for Being a Successful Affiliate blog post: http://www.accelerationpartners.com/blog/seven-tips-for-being-a-successful-affiliate

There are some great affiliate marketing programs out there – and we’re fortunate enough to manage many of them. To learn more about how to get started with affiliate marketing, or to find new programs to join, check out the extensive list of affiliate programs that we manage.  We represent some of the fastest-growing programs in the industry, including Target, adidas, Reebok, Tiny Prints, The Honest Company, Gymboree, The Children’s Place, Rent the Runway, Stella & Dot, Warby Parker, ModCloth and many more.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in 2008 and has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

33 comments

  1. Great article! Thanks for your clear explanation.

  2. Do not forget that content is king so dont always rely on out sourcing your work.

  3. This is a very complete affiliate marketing FAQ.
    Thanks a lot. :)

  4. Schwanson says:

    Great blog! Keep them coming.

  5. Affiliate programs are a great way to make money. Good article and well explained.

  6. Onwe Azubuike Charles says:

    Hi,
    I am very new to this affiliate thing and I am working hard to truly know how this affiliate thing works. From your explanations I am getting an idea of what to do once I become an affiliate. My questions are:
    1. As an affiliate, what will I be doing day in and day out.
    2. Do I need to select any product from merchant site or to just refer people to his site by having a link to his site?
    Thanks,

    1. The best thing I can tell you to do is to focus and pick an area that you know and enjoy. I do much better with categorizes that I know well and can get it to.

  7. Onwe Azubuike Charles, To try to answer your questions in case you come back here again:

    1. Day-in and day-out you would be working on your computer promoting your affiliate link or url! There are many ways of doing this and if you google ‘affiliate marketing’ or similar queries you will come across a lot of free and good information explaining the answers to your question.

    2. You need to have a SPECIAL url from a merchant, which will include in it a code that shows that you were the one who promoted the merchants site and got the sale. If you just direct people to the merchants normal url, there will be no reference that it was you who sent the customer there – so no money for you!

    Good Luck!

    Miranda

  8. Great articles..Very useful informations..
    Keep it up..

  9. Well explained what affiliate program is. My experience is that it depends very much on what you are selling and how you offer it to your clients. I have some affiliates with thousands of visitors and no one buy. Maybe I made something wrong 😉

  10. Great article! good answer! clear explanation and simple… Thank of lot.

  11. Good article, thanks..

  12. kegnum says:

    Wow… lots of info thanks alot :)

  13. isme says:

    very useful information for newbie like me

  14. Patrick says:

    Very clear information. Thank you.

  15. Thank you for addressing a lot of the common questions. I know some affiliate programs may have automatic denials. For instance, sometimes that happens at commission junction. I am not sure why? Does it have to do with newness or that one’s EPC is too low? Also I think the amazon cookie is only one day which is the shortest one I’ve seen! Very interesting blog.

  16. Yes, they may have preset conditions based on your past performance or web traffic.

    Amazon’s cookie is actually session based, its good only for things ordered or put into your cart before you leave the site. So in some ways its actually better or worse than a day, but its not great either way. On the flip side, they do tend to convert well.

  17. I think the commissions offered by the merchants are normally higher than 20% for products delivered electronically. For example ebooks. In this case, no shipping costs are involved. Therefore, most of the merchants can offer as high as 70% for any products sold by affiliates.

  18. Interesting article, there’s a few affiliate networks that I’m new to. Have found clickbank to be a bit junky. It makes it easier to sell affiliate products when they are of high value and quality.

  19. Jean says:

    Great site!… thanks for the info.

  20. Tanay says:

    The key to an affiliate marketer’s success is to choose a good affiliate program and to employ excellent marketing techniques in promoting or selling the products to consumers. Why good and not the best affiliate program? There is no “best affiliate marketing program,” as one program might make one affiliate marketer a millionaire and the other a frustrated marketer. In other words, it can be a success to one and a failure to another. But there certainly is a good affiliate marketing program to start with. How to make it best would now depend on you.

    But before you think how you are going to make it best and financially rewarding, first think about how you are going to land on a good affiliate program with the thousands of affiliate marketing opportunities abounding in the Internet today. Try to look into the following tips and suggestions on how to best select the affiliate program that’s right for you.

  21. Maggie says:

    Very relevant info and your post is very detailed too. Great write-up!

  22. freak says:

    good faqs for beginners!!

  23. Steve says:

    This is a well written and informative article, though I am a bit confused about the reference to affiliate fraud just from not having a web site. Many affiliate programs these days allow e-mail campaigns, which do not require one to have an actual site. As long as it’s done within the bounds of the current laws, and there is no spamming, I see nothing wrong. Unfortunately, there will always be uncountable hordes that either haven’t a clue, or don’t care.

  24. mktanny says:

    nice post,the most descriptive one i have read so far.

  25. i tried Affiliate Marketing using amazon, clickbank and others. so far i earn a decent amount of money from them. the secret to earning money on affiliate marketing is none other than lots of website traffic..
    ““

    1. Tracey says:

      And, would you share how you go about getting that traffic? Thanks in advance!

  26. This is really standard and basic info that every new affiliate marketer should know instead and out. Always good to come back to the blasics.

  27. Caramoan7 says:

    i am interested in earning money through Affiliate Marketing and i just joined amazon affiliate programs, clickbank and others. they say i need lots of US and UK traffic to earn decently on Affiliate marketing.
    +

  28. Shubham says:

    This post explains all the basics of the Affiliate Marketing..!! Well thanks for the info..! i really needed to understand the basics..!

  29. Nice! Just wanted to respond. I thoroughly loved your post. Keep up the great work on http://www.accelerationpartners.com .

  30. e cigarette says:

    Excellent article! We will be linking to this great content
    on our website. Keep up the great writing.

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