December 19, 2022

A Crash Course in Affiliate Marketing

So you've probably heard of a way to make money online called affiliate marketing. But what is it exactly? How does it work? And how can you get started with it?

Whether you want to start from scratch, monetize a current project, or generate another stream of income, it's all possible with affiliate marketing.

A Crash Course in Affiliate Marketing

By Daniel Cole | Updated June 19, 2024
So you've probably heard of a way to make money online called affiliate marketing. But what is it exactly? How does it work? And how can you get started with it?

Whether you want to start from scratch, monetize a current project, or generate another stream of income, it's all possible with affiliate marketing.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is when content creators and online businesses advertise the products and services of others (like ours) in return for a commission based on a specific result. This is done via an affiliate link or code.

Getting started with affiliate marketing is usually free — there's no upfront cost to join affiliate programs.

The steps

Here's a step-by-step rundown of how it works:
  • 1
    You find an affiliate program
  • 2
    Register for that program
  • 3
    Add the affiliate links to your content
  • 4
    A visitor clicks one of the links
  • 5
    They then purchase a product or service
  • 6
    The affiliate tracking system record the purchase
  • 7
    You are credited a commission for the purchase
  • 8
    You get paid (usually once a month) for all purchases credited to you

What types of content can you put affiliate links in?

The classic form of content for affiliate marketing is a blog — and it's still probably the most popular. You can also add affiliate links in the description of YouTube videos and on Instagram and other social media posts.

Review websites have become popular in the past few years. These review and compare different makes and models of consumer goods to help shoppers decide between them. Including affiliate links to retail outlets where the reader can buy these goods is a natural fit — and thus, virtually all of them do so.

Instagram influencers often use affiliate links to generate income in addition to traditional paid ads. If you're just starting to grow an Instagram or other social media following, you could make use of affiliate links to earn money from it.

Podcasters also use affiliate marketing all the time. In addition to including links in story notes, they often include promo codes in their ad copy which serves the same purpose as an affiliate link (and give a discount to their listeners).

Here's a list of just some of the platforms on which you can do affiliate marketing:

  • Blog
  • Youtube
  • Email lists
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn content
  • Twitter
  • Review websites
  • Podcasts
The type of content you create and which platform you focus on must be appropriate for the niche that you are targeting.

What makes modern affiliate marketing work — cookies

A cookie is a small piece of data that your browser stores when you visit certain websites. When someone clicks on your affiliate link, it'll leave a cookie on their computer or mobile device that the affiliate program you're a part of will track.

Without cookies, the seller of the product or service wouldn't be able to track your commissions, especially if the customer leaves their website and comes back later, not through your link.

    Forms of commission

    By far, the most popular form of commission is on a per-sale basis. So no matter what affiliate program you sign up for, you'll almost surely get a payout based on the number of sales you make via your links.

    Other forms of commission include pay-per-click or per-lead. Pay-per-click or per-view is the primary method used by search engines and other content advertising (think YouTube ads). While in the past, some affiliate programs paid commissions in this form, it is exceedingly rare these days.

    Usually, the commission will be paid out once a month, though there's often a minimum amount necessary to get a payout. You'll be paid for all the sales that you brought the last month.

    For some services, like car rentals, you'll only be paid after the service is completed. That is because the customer can cancel for free before the start. In the example of car rentals, once the customer returns the car, you're credited for the sale.

      Getting started with affiliate marketing

      • 1
        Choose your niche
      • 2
        Think about what products you want to reccommend
      • 3
        Find affiliate program(s)
      • 4
        Start building your audience
      Choose your niche

      If you have a high-traffic website, popular social media account, YouTube channel, or any other digital outlet with an audience that you would like to monetize via affiliate marketing, then you're already halfway there, as you already know the niche.

      If you don't have an audience built up yet, then you'll want to start by determining your niche. We'd recommend that you don't attempt to find what will be the most profitable niche, but instead determine what types of content you'd like to create and how you're going to get traffic to that content.

      The reason for this is simple — you're going to produce better content if it's something you're passionate about or something you already know a lot about. Bad content is unlikely to lead to any real results in affiliate marketing.

      That said, before you decide on a niche and start building an audience, there are a few things you need to check. You'll need to make sure there is a sizeable potential audience, affiliate programs for products related to your niche, and that the space isn't highly competitive.

      Many spaces are highly competitive already, and building an audience in them will be exceedingly difficult and time-consuming. However, with some thought, you can find niches related to them that are easier to build an audience in. For example, if you're starting a blog or a review website, you'll want to see how difficult it will be to get traffic from search engines.

      After you know your niche, you can determine what platforms to use to reach your desired audience.

      Find products and services

      While you could advertise any product or service in your content, and therefore sign up for any and every affiliate program under the sun, it is unlikely to be the best strategy. That leaves two other types you could recommend.

      You could recommend products and services directly related to your niche, but that you haven't personally used before. This works better for some types of content than others. For example, if you have a review website, you're unlikely to be able to use all of the products in a category but will still need to have all of the available ones listed and reviewed based on their specs.

      If you're an influencer, podcaster, vlogger, or otherwise produce content for a dedicated audience, you must be very careful recommending products you haven't used. Recommending just one thing that turns out to be bad quality will greatly affect your ability to advertise anything.

      So the best things you can recommend are those which you've had personal experience using.

      Most affiliate marketers will recommend some combination of the above.

      Find affiliate programs — direct or through affiliate networks

      Many of the sellers of the products and services you'll want to recommend have their own affiliate programs. They also can usually be found as part of one or more affiliate networks. Should you go directly through them or sign up for an affiliate network?

      Like everything, there are tradeoffs between the two. When you work individually with an affiliate program, you may get individual attention and better commissions. For example, in our affiliate program, you get a personal affiliate manager who'll help you earn more by giving you ideas to help grow your audience and increase bookings made through your links. Our direct affiliates also get a higher commission than those using our program through any of the affiliate networks.

      With affiliate networks, however, you get access to many different programs at the same time. This can save you time and hassle, especially when you're just starting out.
      Commission Junction

      You'll naturally want to look at the commission percentage of the programs before choosing which one to go with.

      You may also want to consider the cookie lifetime of it, too. This is typically 30 days, meaning if a customer visits the site affiliate partner through your link and purchases something in the next 30 days, you'll get a commission from it.

      Some programs have cookie lifetimes that are shorter (such as only for the session, so if the customer leaves and comes back later, you won't get a commission), while others have longer ones (like ours, which has a lifetime of 365 days).

      Keep in mind that pretty much all affiliate programs only pay a commission to the site which the customer came from most recently — they don't want to pay multiple commissions for the same sale after all.

      Start building your audience

      Now that you've chosen your niche, products or services, and affiliate programs, it's time to grow your audience. How to do this could take up an entire article, or really a book.

      The primary thing you need to do is create content and make sure it's finding and connecting with your intended audience. If you've chosen a niche that you're knowledgeable and passionate about, the content creation part will likely be the easy part. Making sure it finds the audience you want will be the more difficult part.

      If you're running a blog or website, you'll need to educate yourself on SEO principles starting with finding keywords to target. You can use Google Adwords to do this, at least at first (you'll have to sign up for it, though you don't need to actually run ads). Their keyword planner will help you find those keywords. Over time once you've started bringing in some revenue, you may want to consider paying for a tool like ahrefs.

      2024 protip: While it might seem easy to create a ton of content quickly and easily with AI, you should avoid this. Search engines are trying their best to derank AI-generated content and reward content created by those who have true expertise in their niche.

      If you sign up for an affiliate program like ours, we'll help you with more tips and tricks customized for your site to help it rank well for certain keywords. Affiliate networks also have good amounts of general education about this, too.

      If you're setting off to be an Instagram influencer or vlogger, there are a lot of tutorials around to get you started. Just keep in mind that it'll take a considerable amount of time to grow your audience.
      SEO can seem overwhelming, but getting your foot in the door and learning the basics is easy, and the right affiliate program will be right there to help you along the way.

      There're some legal issues

      The days of the internet being a Wild West are over. There are now regulations governing privacy and marketing on the web.

      If you have a website or blog, even if you are not engaged in affiliate marketing, you need to make sure that you have a privacy policy that adheres to regulations like the EU's GDPR. The specifics of this are outside the scope of this article. In fact, you may want to have this handled by a lawyer to be completely safe.

      Specific to affiliate marketing (on any platform) is that you must disclose that you are potentially being compensated for recommending a product or service. In the US, this is required by the FTC. There are similar regulations in EU countries.

      While you may think this may cause your audience to avoid purchasing through your links, it is actually very useful in building trust with them. This will help grow your audience, and besides, many will want to support you and see this as a great way to do that.

      While you should put this in your privacy policy, it's also helpful to have it on any page where you have affiliate links. Here's an example of what this disclosure looks like from Nomadic Matt:

        Why you should try affiliate marketing

        Easy to get started

        Joining an affiliate program and adding links to your content is quick and simple. And from there, you only have to worry about growing an audience to use the links and make purchases.


        Affiliate programs are free to join. So you don't have to risk anything to start trying to earn commissions.

          What you should be aware of

          It takes time

          Affiliate marketing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. You're not going to start a website and immediately earn thousands of dollars a month. It takes time and work to build an audience. But if you have the patience, it will pay off in the long run.

          No guarantee

          Your income from affiliate marketing will not be stable nor guaranteed. Since it requires that people purchase the products or services you recommend, your payouts can vary from month to month.


            Let's go through a couple of examples to give you a better idea of how this all works. These examples are similar to what you can do in other niches or on other platforms.

            Hiking and other outdoor activities

            Let's say that you're an avid hiker. You spend lots of time outdoors on trails and camping in the wild. You probably know a lot about equipment for this. You could start a website that reviews this equipment. Or you could simply start a blog or vlog (and likely an Instagram account either way) to share your adventures and advice with others.

            These will often include packing lists for different trips. This is the perfect place for affiliate marketing. You already have a lot of products that you have personally used to recommend to your audience. All you have to do is find affiliate programs to be able to earn commission by doing such.

            For this, you could search in an affiliate network for programs related to outdoor activities. You could also sign up for Amazon Affiliate Program, but Amazon doesn't have all of the best brands for hiking gear. So you might want to see if the places you buy gear have affiliate programs. REI would be a good one to start with (or BergFreunde if in the EU). You may find that the programs you won't are all on one affiliate network, and then you can sign up for that specific one.

            From there, simply recommend the gear you use to your audience and start earning commissions.


            For another example, let's assume that you're an avid traveler. You may want to create a travel blog or vlog. There you build an audience sharing your adventures. You can also give tips to other travelers, among them being what services you tend to use for booking things.

            You book flights, hotels or other properties, rental cars, excursions, and more when traveling. Of course, there's lots of gear you also buy and use. For both, you can recommend what you've found to be great services and products to others.

            For the travel gear you recommend, you may want to join the Amazon Affiliate Program, as Amazon has most of the gear you'll want to recommend, including camera gear and backpacks.

            For travel services recommendations, you could find each booking platform you use individually, like this:

            • for hotels (keep in mind that Airbnb ended its program),
            • for flight tickets,
            • Tiqets for museums and attractions,
            • and, of course, our affiliate program for rental cars.

            Of course, it may be easier for you to use an affiliate network rather than signing up for each individually. You can find all of the above programs in the Travelpayouts network.

            And from there, all you have to do is build your audience by sharing your experiences and tips and start earning commissions from your recommendations!

            What's next

            Now that you know the basics of affiliate marketing and hopefully have even started finding your niche, products, and affiliate programs, it's time for you to create some content and grow your audience. We hope all the information given here helps you on your journey to becoming a successful affiliate marketer.
              Top Related Locations
              Here's a list of locations for renting a car that are great to write articles about that include your affiliate link — they are extrenemley popular with many renting cars in them.

              Daniel Cole

              Content Strategist at
              A world traveler, Daniel has been creating content for since 2019. Before that, he had traveled through some 50 countries, highlights of which include traveling by rental car across the United States, experiencing the danger of the sun in Brazil, and freezing in Lapland in the middle of winter.

              With degrees in Economics and Finance, he has a passion for all things data but particularly telling stories with data visualizations.