A complete guide to affiliate marketing

Are you interested in bringing in some more money without developing new services or products? Then you may be interested in learning about affiliate marketing. Rather than creating new things for people to purchase from scratch, affiliate marketing allows you to earn commissions by recommending products to your audience.

Affiliate marketing has its roots in traditional commission-based strategies that pay salespeople when they close a sale. The difference, however, is that affiliate marketing commissions go toward a web publisher who successfully drives people to another brand’s website. For example, if you published an article and pointed your readers halfway through to an organization that offers a suite of software applications, you’ll receive a commission if your readers make a purchase based on your recommendation.

This article will discuss what affiliate marketing is, how it works, some of its benefits, and how affiliate marketers can ultimately generate more money.

Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing 

1. What is affiliate marketing?
2. How affiliate marketing works 
3. What are affiliate links?
4. Signing up for an affiliate program
5. Promoting your affiliate products
6. Platforms to promote your affiliate product
7. Tips to keep in mind

What is affiliate marketing?

Let’s briefly cover a few more important things to know so that you have a better understanding of what affiliate marketing is. One key thing is that affiliate partners can either work directly with brands participating in their affiliate programs, or connect with affiliate marketing merchants by joining affiliate networks. Either way, affiliate partners aim to drive more people to a participating merchant’s site by mentioning the merchant’s services or products in their published content.

A good example you may already be familiar with is the Zoho Affiliate Program. This program is one of the best services for those getting their feet wet in affiliate marketing and who want to make money by recommending Zoho's products to their readers and clients. Programs like these are highly efficient thanks to their ease of use because content creators simply need to sign up for the program, after which they’re free to start making product and service recommendations.

How affiliate marketing works

Affiliate marketing may seem unapproachable when you’re first starting out, but it’s actually pretty simple. The process begins with an affiliate signing up for an affiliate marketing program like the one we mentioned. Once they sign up, that affiliate obtains an ID and affiliate link that they can include in their content to recommend a product, such as a top-rated productivity suite, to their readers. 

Once they’ve gotten their affiliate link, an affiliate will use it in their content. When someone clicks on that link, a cookie is cached, allowing merchants to give credit to their affiliate partners. Actions that qualify affiliate partners to receive credit from a merchant may be things like making a transaction or becoming part of a newsletter’s subscriber list.

Keep in mind that different affiliate merchants use different commission rates. Affiliates can earn as little as 1% or as much as 50% from the value of a completed purchase, or they may even be paid a fixed fee. Additionally, affiliate merchants may pay out their commissions every month, while others only pay out once an affiliate has achieved an agreed-upon commission level. 

If you’re planning on getting into affiliate marketing or have recently begun working with an affiliate merchant, we recommend checking out their website for reports on your performance and details on the payment model you’re working with. Although setting up an income stream via affiliate links is one of the best strategies to build passive income that compounds in value over time, it’s important to remember to exercise a bit of patience when you’re just starting if you don’t immediately see a significant stream of new income come in. 


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Affiliate links—what are they?

Affiliate links—also called referral links—are the URLs that affiliates insert into their blogs, social posts, and newsletters that direct readers to a merchant’s product or service page. Affiliate links include the unique ID an affiliate receives when they sign up for an affiliate marketing program, which lets merchants know who drives people to their product and service pages.

It’s possible to receive an affiliate link in a few different ways, but you’ll typically get one either through the dashboard a merchant has on their website, or directly through the affiliate program in which you’re participating. Affiliates will occasionally get a specific URL if they only recommend a single product from a specific merchant.  

As we mentioned, your readers will get cookies placed on their devices when they click on the affiliate link you’ve placed in your content. Cookies let merchants track their visitors so that they can credit the correct affiliates, but not all cookies are the same. Some affiliate cookies will last 24 hours, while some will last even longer, meaning you can potentially make commissions even on purchases made days or weeks after a reader first clicks on your link.

How do you sign up for an affiliate program? 

If you’ve settled on a niche, it’s time to pick a program and sign up for it. Ideally, you want to get involved with an affiliate program that aligns with the niche you’re interested in filling. 

We recommend considering the following when it comes to finding a program that suits you: 

  • Getting in touch with some brands that are active in programs you’re interested in and signing up.
  • Joining a marketplace.

Regardless of the method you follow, you’re likely to run into (mostly) reputable and reliable programs to sign up for. One thing to remember, though, is that there’s more to consider than just a program’s reputation. You should also focus on the EPC and commission rates that an affiliate program offers its affiliates. 

That said, even if you stumble upon a program you find through a marketplace or by getting in touch with brands in your niche with a low commission rate, it may still be worth checking out if it has a high EPC rate.

Ways to promote your affiliate product

Spend just five minutes searching on Google, and you’ll notice that affiliate marketing is heavily geared toward the e-commerce niche. When it comes to SaaS products, affiliate marketing is easily missed. 

Why? Mainly because e-commerce affiliate programs make it pretty easy for both brands and their affiliates to earn some juicy revenue. 

That’s not to say that affiliate marketing isn’t viable if you want to promote something like your SaaS billing software. As a SaaS product provider, you can get involved with an affiliate referral program or get started yourself by using tracking software. 

We recommend you consider doing things in-house if your company is just getting off the ground. If you decide that you’re going to work in-house with affiliate tracking software, you’ll need to integrate it with your website first. 

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to define your SaaS commission strategy by answering the following questions: 

  • What are you going to define as a conversion?
  • How much are you going to pay per conversion? 

Remember that your affiliate programs should feel like natural extensions of your website and provide affiliates with a streamlined experience. A good way to do this is by customizing your affiliate scheme. Consider creating a custom subdomain or adding your brand’s logo to your dashboard. 

Different platforms for promoting your affiliate product

Among the most popular ways to promote affiliate products is through email marketing. It makes it easy to disseminate product-related information to your audience, engage them, and ultimately, bring in new revenue. 

Another great way to promote your affiliate products is by posting video content to your YouTube and Instagram channels. Create videos that directly relate to topics relevant to your industry. Consider creating your video content by pulling existing content from your social media and blog posts, or even from questions you’ve previously gotten from your customers. You can also include hyperlinks in your video content to promote your products, too.

In general, it’s important to spread your information around on as many platforms as possible. In addition to promoting your SaaS product by adding links to your social media and blog posts, for example, consider including them in your website banners. 

This applies to your affiliate program, as well. While it’s great to put this info on your site, you should also be including it in the content you write for product review websites, in your guest and roundup posts, and on your resource pages.

Final tips to keep in mind

The thing with affiliate marketing is that you’ll need to exercise some patience when it comes to cultivating a wide enough audience that feels confident in making purchases through your affiliate links. 

You must identify the right channels through which you can connect with more people, find products relevant to your niche, and create appealing content that you can promote across different channels. Wide niches, like cloud software suites for businesses, for example, can potentially be highly lucrative and conducive to making lots of passive income through affiliate marketing.

If you can do all of these things, then you stand to enjoy multiple benefits, such as making potentially unlimited affiliate marketing-driven earnings, earning commission without being beholden to a typical 9-5 work schedule, and avoiding lots of potential risks because getting started as an affiliate marketer only requires a relatively low financial investment on your end.


Thanks to affiliate marketing, you can quickly start building potentially significant levels of passive income that get bigger over time. When done right (and with a little patience and dedication), it’s possible to turn affiliate marketing into a full-blown career. 

If you lock down a lucrative niche, get to know more about your audience and the products and services they’re interested in, and participate in a well-known and reputable affiliate network, you can look forward to long-term success that brings you fulfillment and a lot of new cash!


Get started with Zoho's affiliate program

Author Bio:

Gary Stevens is the CTO of Hosting Canada, a website that provides expert reviews on hosting services and helps readers build online businesses and blogs. 


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