A lot of people ask the same questions when they are trying to learn about affiliate marketing, so I have tried to compile all of the answers here in one place.
What is an affiliate program?
An affiliate program is a system in which your website posts a link to another website, and if a visitor to your website clicks on that link and then buys something you receive a commission. It is a great way to share in the revenue generated when you drive traffic to someone else’s site and works best when you have content that is relevant to the product being sold. For example, let’s say you have a site all about dogs, and you are an affiliate of Petco. Bob the dog owner comes to your site to do some research on a rare breed, and sees the link to Petco. Realizing that he could sure use some more dog food, he clicks on the link, goes to Petco.com, and buys $100 worth of dog food. Since you are the affiliate that sent Bob to Petco, you receive a commission of $10.
What kinds of companies offer affiliate programs?
There are literally thousands of companies with affiliate programs, ranging from big ones like Amazon and Best Buy to smaller niche retailers.
How is my affiliate account managed?
The vast majority of affiliate programs are managed by a third party “network” such as ShareASale, Linkshare, and CJ Affiliate. These networks will get you registered as an affiliate and then let you apply to individual programs. On the network site, you will have access to tools to add banners and links to your site with your tracking ID. The network will also offer real time reporting and handle payments and tax forms. That way, if you earn commissions from 15 different vendors in a month, you won’t get 15 small checks. Instead, the network will consolidate all of your commissions into one payment. This system makes it much easier to track your income and adds a layer of protection. You are paid out of an escrow account at the time of a sale so that the merchant cannot run out of money before you are paid.
Are there any start-up fees or other costs associated with joining an affiliate program?
No. It is free to sign up, and free to add banners and links of your merchants to your site. Web merchants are looking to gain traffic and sales – they are more than willing to not charge you anything AND pay a commission for your help.
Do I need any special qualifications to be an affiliate?
Not as a rule. However, individual merchants do have the power to approve or turn down your affiliation application, and some are looking for specific qualities in their affiliates. 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. If you do not do any of things and are turned down, you may want to check with the merchant you are applying to to see what they are looking for.
Do I have to have a currently operating site to become an affiliate?
No. You can usually register a site that is not live as an affiliate, as long as you own the domain name. Just make sure that you use an email address associated with the website in development, otherwise it will be very difficult for you to get past the affiliate fraud screening process.
How much are commissions?
Commissions range based on the margins for that industry. 10% is probably the average, however, this can vary. Big ticket items like TVs may carry lower commissions, while high volume affiliates (those who refer a lot of customers and generate a lot of revenue) can get 15% or even 20% commissions. Check with your affiliate program to find out the specific commission available as well as their performance tiers.
How often will I get paid?
Most networks will aggregate your commissions and then send you a check or make a direct deposit somewhere in the middle of the month for the previous month’s sales. If you enroll in direct deposit, you will generally receive your money a few days earlier than you would get a check in the mail.
What is a cookie?
A cookie is a small piece of data that is transferred to a computer in order to mark it for a later transaction. Affiliate programs are based on cookies. The way they work is that when a user comes to your site and clicks on the link of a site you are affiliated with, a cookie is placed on that user’s computer. Then, even if they leave the site and come back a week later to make a purchase, you will get credit for the purchase and receive a commission. A merchant can make the duration of a cookie as long or as short as they want, depending on their needs and strategy. Some are a year long, others only a few days. Generally, smaller and more specialized vendors will have longer cookies, while big consumer companies like Walmart or Best Buy will have very short ones.
What is a product feed?
A product feed is a system by which you are easily able to choose, manage, and modify the products you offer on your site on behalf of a merchant you are affiliated with. Product feeds are only important for online stores and other sales sites – if your site just has a banner linking to a merchant, you do not have to worry about it.
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 is an acronym for “earnings per hundred clicks.” Think of it as a way to measure one program against another. If a program has a $20 EPC, that means that for every 100 people you sent to their site, you should net $20 in commissions on average. This number takes into account the program’s conversion rate, commission level, etc. Generally, a $20-$30 EPC is considered strong.
How much do I need to know about computers to become an affiliate?
You or someone you work with should be familiar with HTML, so that you can copy and paste banners and links from merchants onto your site. If you are uncomfortable with technology, this is not an industry for you.
Do I have to live in the U.S. to be an affiliate?
No. The great thing about the internet is that it makes geography irrelevant.
If I have multiple websites, do I need to create multiple affiliate accounts?
Most affiliate programs and affiliate managers allow you to register multiple websites under one central account, allowing all your commissions to be aggregated. However, you should check with your individual affiliate programs and affiliate manager.
What is a sub-affiliate?
A sub-affiliate is a website that you have recruited to become an affiliate of a merchant. Many affiliate programs offer rewards for bringing in sub-affiliates – either payments or increased commissions.
Do I have to have a website to be an affiliate?
No. If you do not have a website, you can create special text links and either use those directly yourself to place orders on behalf of clients or you can e-mail the link to friends, family, and customers.
If you are looking for new programs to join, please check out the list of affiliate programs that we manage. We represent some of the fastest-growing programs in the industry including Tiny Prints, Blurb, Stella & Dot, Tea Collection, and more.