What is affiliate marketing? How does affiliate marketing work? These are two of the most common questions I get asked from beginner bloggers looking to monetize their blogs with affiliate marketing. They are excellent questions. To beginners, affiliate marketing can appear complicated and scary. It really isn’t. It’s simple and fun (yes, fun). In fact, affiliate marketing is the simplest, most effective way to monetize your blog.

What Is Affiliate Marketing? How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

Before we discuss what affiliate marketing is and how it works, let’s define some of the terminology you will often find when reading about affiliate marketing.

Affiliate Marketing Glossary

Someone who promotes a product or service to potential customers, in exchange for a commission on the sale when one occurs.

Affiliate ID
Similar to the affiliate link. Many affiliate programs offer an ID which you can append to any URL from the merchant’s site to create a tracking link.

Affiliate link
A special tracking link provided by the merchant to track the progress of your affiliate sales.

Affiliate manager
An expert employed by a merchant who can help affiliates earn more through optimization tips and advice.

Affiliate marketplace
A central database for affiliate programs. Examples include ShareASale, CJ Affiliate and ClickBank. You can access thousands of affiliate programs from a single membership.

The money you receiving from the merchant after someone makes a purchase after clicking on your tracking link. Is usually a percentage of the purchase, but can also be a set amount. Look out for recurring commission which will payout every time that customer makes a purchase for as long as he has an account with the merchant.

A method to promote products by offering discounts, occasionally by sacrificing some of your own commission.

Landing page
A product sales or demo page optimized for making sales. All you have to do is get potential customers to the merchant’s landing page and let them do the work of selling their product.

Link cloaking
A method to redirect, shorten and cloak your affiliate link. This makes affiliate links look more attractive and automatically assigns the rel=nofollow attribute to your affiliate links, helping to preserve your page rank. ThirstyAffiliates is the best link cloaker.

The company whose products you are promoting.

Payment method
The method through which you will receive your commissions. Affiliate programs offer different payment methods such check, wire transfer, or PayPal.

The person who publishers affiliate links on their blog, i.e. you!

Two-tier affiliate marketing
A system where you recommend others to join affiliate programs, and receive a commission when the sub-affiliate makes a sale. This income is often called sub-affiliate commission.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is where you promote products on your blog via links and adverts. When a customer clicks on your links and buys the product, you receive a commission from the merchant. The commission is usually a percentage of the total amount the customer spends on the site on that visit, and varies from a paltry 4% with Amazon to 50% and above with some companies, for example Elegant Themes (50%), Theme Isle (55%) and My Theme Shop (70%!) (these are all excellent sources of premium WordPress themes.) Occasionally, merchants will offer recurring commission which means you earn a commission on every purchase that customer makes through their account for as long as that account is active!

Here’s a visual summary of the process:
How-does-affiliate-marketing-work - What Is Affiliate Marketing and How Does It Work?

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

The term affiliate marketing can be a bit misleading. Usually when we talk about marketing we’re talking about how to make more people aware of your blog. In the case of affiliate marketing, the merchant is using you to make more people aware of their products. Think of it like a spider web: the merchant is the spider sitting in the middle of the web. The web is made up of you and all the other affiliates that have signed up to the merchant’s affiliate program. The larger the web, or the more affiliates a merchant can sign up, the more flies (or customers) the spider is going to catch.

Affiliate marketing is so popular because everybody wins: the merchant makes a sale, you get a commission, and the customer gets a great product. You could argue that the customer is paying a higher price for the products to allow for the extra commission, but there is so much competition out there (including companies that don’t have affiliate programs) that such merchants would not be successful.

Finding Affiliate Programs

Not all companies offer an affiliate program, but for those that do, you can check their website for more information. Be sure to check the company’s FAQ page if they have one. Another way to find relevant affiliate programs is a simple Google search. You could either Google “product name + affiliate program” or “company name + affiliate program”. Many companies use an affiliate marketplace to manage their program. Examples include ShareASale, CJ Affiliate and ClickBank. You can access thousands of affiliate programs from a single membership.

Adding Affiliate Links

Once you’ve signed up with an affiliate program you can start adding links and adverts to your blog. But don’t overdo it! Too many banner ads and links will have the opposite effect and will likely drive traffic away from your blog. Some of my best converting posts are the ones where I review plugins, themes and apps for WordPress users. I usually have 5 or 6 affiliate links in the main review. These links are not all to the same landing page. Often I’ll link to the support page or features page or anything else I think the reader will find useful (this is the key – you must make the reader want to click on the link). I also include a call to action button at the end of the review. Something like ‘learn more about this product now’. The reader only needs to click on one of these links and its job is done. Even if they don’t make a purchase that day, if my review is good enough (I don’t mean positive enough – all my reviews point out both the good and bad elements of a product), they may make a purchase later.

Cloaking Your Links

If you’re an affiliate marketer, I recommend you download ThirstyAffiliates. This free plugin redirects your affiliate links, shortening and cloaking them. Why should you cloak your affiliate links? Historically, links were cloaked to hide them from search engines, improving your SEO. But there are three other good reasons to cloak your affiliate links:

  1. Create pretty links: let’s be honest; affiliate links are ugly. ThirstyAffiliates turns your ugly links into something like www.myblog.com/recommends/amazing-product. That’s much prettier, and much more useful because it tells you and the reader that the link is for the amazing product.
  2. Stop page-rank leak: if you publish a post with a lot of outgoing links, your page rank (where your page ranks according to search engines) can drop. ThirstyAffiliates automatically assigns the rel=nofollow attribute to your affiliate links, helping to preserve your page rank.
  3. Easy management: having all your affiliate links in the same place makes it easy if you ever need to change the structure or export them.

Cookie Lifetime

When one of your readers clicks on a link and visits a merchant’s website, it generates a cookie (a small piece of data sent from the website and stored in the reader’s web browser). If the reader doesn’t make a purchase on that visit but returns in a few days’ time and makes a purchase, the cookie will inform the merchant’s website that their first visit was via your link and you will still receive the commission.

The lifetime of the cookie is one thing you should take notice of when signing up with new affiliate accounts. Amazon cookies last a paltry 24 hours meaning if the customer makes a purchase just two days after clicking your link, you do not get any commission. Most affiliate programs have cookies that last for several weeks, months or even years so you can still earn commission from someone who has not visited your site in months!

Be warned however, that if a customer clears their cookies from their browser or uses a different browser altogether, you will not earn any commission. Many affiliate programs use a last click wins model which means whichever affiliate is responsible for placing the most recent cookie on a user’s machine is awarded 100% commission for the sale. The best way to get around this is to write awesome content that persuades your readers to buy the products you are promoting right away!


Depending on which country you are operating from, it may be a legal requirement to disclose that your site includes affiliate links. For bloggers based in the USA, you should read the full FTC document as well as the latest rulings. You may also find this letter interesting. To keep on the right side of the law, I’d recommend including a disclosure at the end of every post that includes affiliate links. It doesn’t have to be wordy; something like, This post contains affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase. You could also put the same in your footer to make sure it appears on every page.


Affiliate marketing is the simplest, most effective way to monetize your blog. Sign up to as many relevant affiliate programs as you can find and start including links in your posts. Try to make the links feel natural and not aggressive. But most of all, make sure your posts add value to your readers. A failure to write great content is a failure to make any money.

I hope this introduction to affiliate marketing has answered any questions you may have and convinced you to start using affiliate marketing to monetize your blog. If you do have any questions or affiliate marketing success stories, please let us know in the comments below.

About The Author


David is the founder and editor of Blog Cogs, a blog about making a living from blogging. Learn more about him here.

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