If you’re just starting off with affiliate marketing, you’re probably overwhelmed by the number of things you need to do.
Don’t worry. I was overwhelmed when I first started too.
Back in 2009, when I created Investor Junkie, I was already an established business owner. I’d done some affiliate marketing for my previous business, but I’d never dived very deeply into it.
There was a lot to learn!
Anyone can start a blog, but few understand how to effectively monetize that blog with affiliate marketing. Even some of the “super affiliates” miss out on techniques to better optimize their content.
Start With the Basics
Let’s start with the basics.
The first step to successful affiliate marketing is getting into programs that are aligned with your niche.
All too often I’ll come across a mommy blogger who discusses things like raising children, couponing, and recipes but then posts about how you can create a side hustle by creating a blog on Bluehost.
Now, I’m not picking on mommy bloggers specifically. I’ve seen this phenomenon in many other verticals (niches).
And I get it: Bluehost has one of the most potentially lucrative affiliate programs out there. But that doesn’t mean it belongs on your site.
One of the core concepts of effective affiliate marketing is promoting products you either use or have no problem recommending to your audience. Your goals should be to create a brand firmly rooted in your niche and to become an authority on related topics.
So if you’re a blogger, don’t discuss and/or promote topics outside your wheelhouse. It’s disingenuous and alienates your audience. Your readers will immediately see right through it.
That’s why this isn’t a list of the “5 Highest-Paying Affiliates for 2020.” That’s surely the wrong model to follow.
TL;DR – What Are the Best Affiliate Marketing Programs for Beginners?
I’ve based my affiliate network recommendations on:
- Ease of use
- Ease to join
- Amount of merchants
- The variety of merchant verticals
- Timely payouts
Now, my list is by no means comprehensive. I’m sure there are networks that may be better suited to your specific niche. In addition, you may find that some merchants require you to establish a direct relationship with them, rather than using a network.
However, regardless of your niche, I think these are the best affiliate programs for any beginner. You can’t go wrong with any of them, and I recommend that you join all eight.
- Amazon Associates
- Commission Junction
- Sovrn //Commerce (formerly VigLink)
If you’re just starting with affiliate marketing, create your content first before applying to an affiliate program.Larry Ludwig
It’s easy to get anxious when just starting out with affiliate marketing. I get it: You want to start seeing results quickly.
However, in my opinion, affiliate marketing is a long game. It could take at least six to 12 months before you start seeing any measurable results.
It’s all too common in this industry for a blogger to work on a site for six months, get discouraged, and then quit.
Affiliate managers want to see professional-looking websites and actively curated content. Keep in mind they don’t know you from a hole in the wall.
I recommend building up at least one to three months of content and actively working on your website before submitting your blog to any of the services mentioned below.
For some competitive merchants, you may even want to publish content that references them before you attempt to get accepted into their affiliate program.
Otherwise, it’s likely you’ll be turned down by a highly desired merchant or affiliate network. First-time disapproval more than likely means you’ll have a tougher time getting accepted in the future.
Be very strategic when submitting your merchant applications.
1. Amazon Associates
Amazon is the affiliate network of choice for many beginners.
Now, Amazon Associates isn’t perfect – but I’ll go into that in another article. However, this program is great for someone just starting out.
Amazon is one of the largest e-commerce services in the world. If you want to link to any products for sale, Amazon should be your go-to.
For example, the software product Quicken once had an affiliate program with Commission Junction, the second network on this list. I placed several affiliate links for Quicken on my blog Investor Junkie, and it worked great.
However, this program unexpectedly shut down. I quickly changed my affiliate links to use Amazon instead. I was still able to monetize the web pages that referenced Quicken.
If you already have an Amazon account – and who doesn’t? — you’re already halfway there. Ideally, if you have an incorporated business, you should sign up using your company’s information.
The biggest issue to think about with Amazon is that its affiliate programs are country-specific. If your traffic is coming from one part of the world, you’ll need to make sure your Amazon links are set up for that country.
Here are the 14 countries where Amazon offers its affiliate program and the corresponding links to join:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- United Arab Emirates
If you are looking to better manage your Amazon affiliate links, I recommend the WordPress plugin AAWP. This plugin can not only create links based upon the country of your visitors. AAWP can display the current prices from Amazon and create product summary boxes that increase conversions.
2. Commission Junction (CJ)
Right behind Amazon, Commission Junction is perhaps the second-oldest affiliate program. Most folks in the industry know the company as “CJ.” Unlike Amazon, it’s a network rather than an e-commerce store.
This means CJ will hook you (the affiliate) up with merchants and manage most of the relationship for you.
If you’re a new affiliate marketer, this can be a godsend since you won’t need to work with a merchant directly. CJ and the other networks listed below can do all of this for you.
At the time of writing, more than 1,500 merchants use CJ’s service. These merchants are in a wide variety of niches, so it’s highly recommended you join this network.
CJ’s signup process isn’t particularly difficult. But once in, you’ll need to apply with specific merchants. The difficulty of the application process varies per merchant. There are some that will grant you instant approval, others will take a few days, and a few will leave you in limbo forever with no response.
Impact is one of the younger affiliate networks on this list. Impact was founded in 2008 by former employees of Commission Junction, Savings.com, and LeadPoint.
At the time of writing, Impact has more than 1,000 merchants in its network. Again, there’s a diverse array of merchants that should fit most verticals.
The application process to join Impact can be a little bit harder than it is for CJ, but once in, I’ve found it easier to get accepted by the merchants.
I think Impact’s reporting and postback options are much more flexible than those with the other affiliate programs. If a merchant uses multiple affiliate networks (which is common), I always use Impact first.
ShareASale is part of Awin and has some of the best merchant choices available. ShareASale currently works with more than 1,000 merchants offering everything from physical products to software services. This makes it perfect for this site’s focus on internet marketing.
The application process is relatively easy, and you can access data on conversions from existing affiliates. My only gripe is the limited number of links available from most merchants.
One of the nice things about the ShareASale service is it gives you insight on the effectiveness of the merchants you work with. ShareASale gives you details such as the average sale, conversion rate, EPC (earnings per click) and their rank in their service.
The next one on this list is FlexOffers.
In many cases, FlexOffers offers the same affiliate programs as other networks such as CJ. FlexOffers has over 12,000 merchants available in their system. They are perhaps one of the largest affiliate networks available.
FlexOffers is known as a “sub-affiliate.” This means FlexOffers itself joins a merchant’s program as an affiliate and allows bloggers to use its affiliate links instead of applying to the merchant directly. In return, you’ll split the commission for each affiliate signup.
So if you have a tough time getting into a particular affiliate program because you’ve just started out, FlexOffers can act as your middle man.
Of course, the downside is that the payouts are often lower since FlexOffers needs its cut of each transaction.
The signup process to join FlexOffers can be a pain. Since it’s a sub-affiliate, FlexOffers is somewhat responsible for the quality of conversions, which means it can be choosy when it comes to the affiliates it permits into its network.
However, if you’re a beginner affiliate, FlexOffers is a great option and worth applying for. Just make sure your website is ready and presentable.
The next one on the list might be one you’ve never heard of. Awin is somewhat of a new player on the market. It’s a merger of the two existing affiliate networks, Zanox and Affilnet in August 2017.
Awin has over 8,000 merchants in its network. They have one of the better networks and is very easy to use. They offer affiliate programs in many countries so it’s one I recommend if you have any international visitors. Though their merchants seem to be more focused on physical products then software or SaaS.
7. Sovrn //Commerce (formerly VigLink)
I’m not a huge fan of an automated way to place merchant links on a blog, but some affiliates want to monetize with little effort. Sovrn //Commerce is a way to do this. Previously it was known as VigLink.
Either via a WordPress plugin or with Google Tag Manager Sovrn //Commerce will insert affiliate links automatically on your blog posts. For someone looking for an effortless way to monetize with affiliate links, VigLink is the way to do it. You have a choice of CPC or CPA merchants.
The more reasonable option is to use Svrn // Commerce on user-generated content like a forum. They also have vBulletin and phpBB options.
Similar to Sovrn, Skimlinks will create affiliate links in your content automatically for you. For content that’s created without your involvement (like a forum), this might be a good option.
You can also insert links manually as well. They currently have over 24,000 merchants they work with, so I recommend you signup for this one as well. They have a wide range of niche markets.
Can you make money from affiliate marketing?
What percentage does Amazon pay affiliates?
Is Clickbank the best affiliate program?
How to make money with affiliate marketing without a website?
With that said, you can promote affiliate marketing via other mediums such as: social media, email, paid traffic and forums. Though most of those have very strict policies with affliate links, so make sure you understand the rules before you do any affiliate marketing. For example, Facebook does not allow URLs that are affiliate links in their ads.