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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.
Don’t Use The Highest Paying Affiliate Programs
It’s stupid to go after the highest paying affiliate programs.
This is one of the most common mistakes beginner bloggers and even experts make.
Instead, 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 starting a blog with 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 goal 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 “8 Highest-Paying Affiliates for 2021.” That’s surely the wrong model to follow and ignore anyone who recommends you do this.
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
Some of these affiliate programs are nowhere near the highest paying affiliate programs (cough Amazon). In fact, I consider Amazon the affiliate program of last resort. But I’m also not a beginner and know-how to maximize affiliate revenue. You on the other hand are just starting out and have much different needs. That is why it’s the number one program on my list.
Also, 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.
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.
You may want to publish content that references some of the most competitive merchants before you even attempt to get accepted into their affiliate programs.
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 and most trusted 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 they worked great.
However, Quicken’s affiliate program unexpectedly shut down. I quickly changed my affiliate links to use Amazon instead. That way, 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 for Amazon using your company’s information.
The biggest issue 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’re looking to better manage your Amazon affiliate links, I recommend the WordPress plugin AAWP. This plugin can create Amazon links that apply specifically to each site visitor’s country. AAWP can also display current Amazon prices and create product summary boxes that increase conversions on your site.
2. Commission Junction (CJ)
Right behind Amazon, Commission Junction is perhaps the internet’s second-oldest affiliate program. Most folks in the industry refer to the company as “CJ.” Unlike Amazon, it’s a network, rather than an e-commerce store.
This means CJ – like the other networks on this list – will hook you (the affiliate) up with merchants and manage most of those relationships for you.
If you’re a new affiliate marketer, this can be a godsend because you won’t need to work with a merchant directly.
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. The company was founded in 2008 by former employees of Commission Junction, Savings.com, and Leadpoint.
At the time of writing, there are more than 1,000 merchants in Impact’s network. As with Commission Junction, 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.
The next one on the list might be one you’ve never heard of. Awin is a relatively new player on the field. It’s the result of a merger of two other affiliate networks, Zanox and Affilinet, in August 2017.
With more than 8,000 merchants, Awin is one of the better networks and very easy to use. Awin offers affiliate programs in many countries, so I recommend it if you have any international visitors. However, keep in mind Awin’s merchants seem to be focused more on physical products than on software or SaaS.
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 provides you with details such as the average sale, conversion rate, EPC (earnings per click), and how they rank in the ShareASale 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 more than 12,000 merchants available in its system. It’s perhaps one of the largest affiliate networks available.
FlexOffers works directly with many merchants but is also what’s known as a “sub-affiliate” platform. 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 with FlexOffers.
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 because FlexOffers needs its cut of each transaction.
The signup process to join FlexOffers can be a pain. Because it’s a sub-affiliate, FlexOffers is partly 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.
7. Sovrn //Commerce
I’m not a huge fan of using automation 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, this product was known as VigLink.
The service gives you the choice of CPC (cost-per-click) or CPA (cost-per-acquisition) merchants.
Sovrn //Commerce will insert affiliate links automatically on your blog posts either via a WordPress plugin or with Google Tag Manager. If you’re looking for an effortless way to monetize with affiliate links, Sovrn //Commerce is the way to do it.
I use Sovrn //Commerce links directly in my content, rather than using the automated tool.
A more reasonable option is to use Svrn // Commerce on user-generated content like a forum on your site. The company also offers vBulletin and phpBB options to that end.
Similar to Sovrn //Commerce, Skimlinks will create affiliate links in your content automatically for you. For content that’s created without your involvement (such as a forum), this might be a good option.
You can also insert links manually as well. Skimlinks currently works with more than 24,000 merchants in a wide range of niche markets. I recommend you sign up for this one as well.
How do I become an affiliate marketer?
Can you make money from affiliate marketing?
What percentage does Amazon pay affiliates?
Is ClickBank the best affiliate program?
How do you 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. However, most of those options have very strict policies concerning affiliate links. For example, Facebook does not allow URLs that are affiliate links in its ads. Make sure you understand the rules before you do any affiliate marketing in these avenues.