Elaine Malone, of design blog XOmisse, shares everything you need to know about using affiliate links as a blogger
Affiliate marketing is based on revenue sharing – you promote products and services using an affiliate link and earn a commission on the sales generated. The affiliate link is a unique trackable URL that identifies you as the traffic source. It is usually one of the first methods bloggers try when wanting to generate an income from their blog.
It’s popular because it’s pretty easy to setup and start earning from, without there being a huge learning curve, strict schedule or startup costs. Getting commission on a sale isn’t anything new and neither is affiliate marketing. In fact one of the first affiliate programs was Amazon Associates, which launched in 1996. Though we are seeing a rise in this type of passive income as the online space grows.
Affiliate links allow bloggers to make money by promoting products and services they use to their audience through their blog and social media channels. The commission is typically anywhere between 5-25% of the total sale but could potentially be higher depending on the merchant’s terms and the items for sale.
It can take a little bit of time and effort to set up but getting started with affiliate marketing can be relatively easy and you can start earning money straight away, especially if you already have a following online.
How affiliate links work
- You, the publisher, join an affiliate program and are given a unique ID and specific URL that you can use as an affiliate link in your content when promoting the product or service.
- When someone clicks on your affiliate link to visit the merchant’s (brand, business or owner of product/service) site, a cookie is placed on their computer for a pre-determined timeframe (usually 30-60 days). This cookie ensures that the publisher is credited with the referral, even if the sale doesn’t happen right away.
- When the sale is completed, it is credited to the publisher and the commission is added to their account, so that the merchant can pay them. Most merchants require you to get to a threshold amount (like £50-£100) before paying. You’ll then typically be put on a payment schedule.
What affiliate networks and affiliate programs do I join
A lot of merchants run their own affiliate programs, you’ll find an affiliate area (usually linked in the footer) on their site where you can apply to be an affiliate.
These could be physical products, digital downloads (software, ebooks, music), online courses or professional services online (marketing or web services, blogging platforms, email marketing service providers and online course platforms). There are also a number of affiliate networks you can join.
These are third party online marketplaces where you set up a profile and can apply to multiple affiliate programs by different merchants. CJ Affiliate (formerly Commision Junction), Awin (formerly Affiliate Window – they have an Etsy Affiliate Program as well as BooHoo and Forever 21), Impact Radius, Skimlinks, ShareASale, She Savvy, Amazon Associates, ClickBank, Rakuten Affiliate Network (formerly LinkShare), Shopstyle Collective and RewardStyle are all examples of these, who will connect you with their partnered brands. LiketoKnow.it (owned by RewardStyle) is another popular option, especially for fashion bloggers on Instagram.
Most programs you join will have a screening process, so make sure to provide all the relevant information, fill out the form completely and read the terms. Once you’ve been approved you can start using the banner ads and links in your content.
Merchants usually run exclusive deals and promotions, which can boost your commission sales. So remember to check back in from time to time, test your links regularly and review what methods are working.
How to disclose affiliate links
In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) state that you must disclose affiliate links on your blog, social media, emails and anywhere else you might use them.
Their guidelines say that disclosure is “required to ensure that the affiliate content is obviously identifiable as a marketing communication”.
In the US, the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) also require that you disclose the relationship and let people know you’ll earn commision. Even if disclosure isn’t required by law where you’re located, it is good practise and helps maintain the trust you’ve built with your audience.
You’ll want to identify the affiliate links and explain that you’ll earn commission on sales. Remember that you also have to disclose affiliate earnings as income to HMRC too.
How to find the best programs to join
My advice is to only become an affiliate for products or services you have personally used. Then you can honestly recommend them and explain your reasons why people should use them. It can be helpful to have a clear understanding of your audience, then make a list of the products, services and tools you use and see what will work with your niche so that they fit seamlessly into your content.
As a blogger, there are so many products and services you can partner with depending on your blog topic and what type of content you create. You could create a shop page on your site using affiliate links, add a “shop this post” section at the end of your blog posts or create monthly wishlists.
As well as products, you could think of the different tech items you use (phone, laptop, camera, headphones and external hard-drives) and the services you use online (editing software, cloud storage and WordPress plugins). If you have a self-hosted blog, you could become an affiliate for your hosting (or even your domain) provider and add “proudly hosted by [link]” to your sidebar or footer.
Make sure to research merchants to make sure they are legitimate and fit with your audience. You’ll never have to pay a fee to become an affiliate and avoid merchants who pressure you into using “black hat” [aggressive, spammy tactics that don’t comply with search engine guidelines] SEO strategies to drive traffic to your site.
I also recommend keeping a spreadsheet for the affiliate programs you’re part of with details about the merchant, affiliate area URL, your affiliate ID and affiliate link. This can be a helpful way to keep track when you start to join a number of affiliate programs and affiliate networks.
As you can see, affiliate marketing is a great way to start monetising your blog. Once you’re promoting products and services that fit with your audience and blog, you should start seeing results and begin to earn some extra money.