August 4th 2016
Affiliate Marketing FAQ's for Beginners
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: https://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. 

Author: Renee Christensen