Affiliate marketing is the best type of business. Why? Because it is all up to you. No physical boundaries holding you back, no revenue limits, just your wits and learning capabilities. Got you interested in learning how to start in affiliate marketing? The following beginner-friendly article explains the absolute essentials and lists the required components for launching your very first affiliate campaign.
Let’s lay down the basics before you start your affiliate marketing business: your role is to promote someone else’s goods or services and you get paid an affiliate commission by offer owners. To do this, you’ve got to do several things: select a category of offers you would like to run, connect with offer owners, and connect with people with online advertising space.
Here’s a short summary of how to start affiliate marketing:
- Find an offer category (vertical)
- Apply to an affiliate network
- Get an offer
- Buy matching traffic
- Set up tracking
Launching your very first affiliate campaign may seem as difficult as your first mile when you are learning how to drive. But all of us eventually drive with ease and confidence and the same is true in affiliate marketing. If you want to learn about the basics, read this article to see how to start in affiliate marketing.
Launching affiliate marketing business step by step
Currently, you are at the 0-mile marker of your affiliate journey. So let’s go over each step for a smooth start:
1. Find an Offer Category (Called a ‘Vertical’)
Before signing in anywhere, before any technical setup, you should decide which category of affiliate offers you will specialize in. In the affiliate world, it’s called a ‘vertical’. There are a lot of different verticals for you to choose from:
Selecting a vertical will impact several things:
- Level of competition, meaning how many people you will have to rival with to get visitor’s attention.
- Size of the audience, meaning the number of potential offer takers.
- Payouts, meaning your rewards for promoting offers. Usually, this is strictly tied with the first two points.
Research a vertical
Ideally, you should pick a vertical that you already know. You will be able to pose as an expert, find really good offers and write convincing content to promote them. You would do it honestly.
If you can find a vertical that you specialize in, you are a lucky person. For the rest of us, we have two options:
- “This is a vertical I would like to master”
- “This is a vertical that is supposedly very profitable”
I would like to recommend going with the first reasoning. Trends come and go, but your knowledge about a certain area can only grow. And seriously, you will enjoy running offers from a vertical that you like.
For example, are you currently interested in home security products for your personal use? Select this as a vertical and you have already done some research.
Selecting a vertical may be more important than you think. Many affiliates tend to jump from one to another, hoping to discover a magic one that will instantly bring them money. Don’t go this way. It is much better to know one vertical well than a few of them only superficially.
Discover what your audience actually needs
Your audience is the group of people that you will target. They are usually defined by broad criteria. But don’t think of them as some abstract group. They are real people with real problems that your offer may help to solve.
Let’s say that you want to start in affiliate marketing by promoting specific home security devices, like an IP camera. Learn what problems may be tied to promoting this kind of product to your audience by:
- Using the AnswerThePublic platform to learn what people ask about a given topic or a product and then researching the most popular questions on Quora.
- Finding and read the most shared articles about your selected niche on social media using BuzzSumo.
- Getting to know your audience with the Facebook Audience Insights tool.
- Talk to people directly, even with your friends and family. Do they have security concerns when it comes to having a camera in their homes? This gives you information that you should address in your content and look for offers that will solve.
2. Apply to an Affiliate Network or Affiliate Program
There are two ways to get that juicy affiliate commission: affiliate networks and affiliate programs. The former matches people with an offer (a product or service) with people that want to promote them, while the latter are run by big vendors, such as Amazon.
When you choose to apply for an affiliate network, you may feel frustrated, as they tend to take their sweet time to vet potential affiliates. You will have to provide some information about the plan you have, your level of experience and so on. Don’t get discouraged easily, people without any experience still join affiliate networks. Remember that even fight clubs recruited new members, despite it being a complete violation of the first two rules.
My best recommendation when applying to the network is to be honest and straightforward. If you are just starting your affiliate adventure, say so. Be a real person, use an email with your name and last name rather than the ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ type. They really want to work with you, they just need to protect their other clients (offer owners).
3. Get an Offer
Depending on the network or program, you will see anything between ‘a lot’ and a ‘buttload’ of offers after you sign in. But you are not blindly searching for just any offer that you think may be profitable. You have done your research, you know what people want and what will interest them. Search for specific offers, such as:
- ‘Hackproof security cameras’
- ‘Wireless IP camera’
- ‘IP camera SD storage’
- ‘Night vision IP camera’
If you have found several promising offers, look at the conversion rates, i.e. the number of people that took an offer compared to the number of people that saw an offer. This is not necessarily the best indicator, but it is some indicator of how good an offer is. Do not focus so much on payouts, getting a small number of low payouts is always better than not getting high payouts at all.
Offers have requirements. You need to send valid traffic that fulfills their rules. Failing to do so might get you banned in an affiliate network platform, so pay attention to the following things:
- Traffic type (pop, banner, native…)
- If adult traffic is allowed
For example, an IP camera vendor might not want his or her ad to be displayed on adult sites. In a country that he does not operate in. Inside annoying pop-ups. Be careful, or may lose prospective offers.
4. Buy Matching Traffic
A traffic source can be anything that attracts Internet users and can send them to promoted offers. It can be Facebook displaying an ad between posts, Google showing you sponsored search results or various ad exchanges that combine advertising space from popular websites that want to be monetized.
In general, traffic sources connect people that want to display ads (advertisers) with people that have virtual advertising space (publishers).
To be more precise, they connect publishers with the highest bidding advertisers only. Yes, there is an auction, like the old-timey ones with a gentleman banging a hammer on the table. But this time this gentleman is an algorithm and a hammer does a whopping thousand of bangs per second.
Remember, you are not just bidding for any traffic, you want specific traffic segments that match your offer requirements. You want to advertise using a concrete ad type on web pages in a concrete GEO. Think about what kind of people might be interested in your home security offer:
- People in big cities that live in small apartments or people in less densely populated areas that probably live in a house?
- A home security product is usually not something that you buy on impulse. So maybe people that use the Wifi connection at their home will be more willing to make the serious purchase over people that use a cellular connection on the go?
- If your offer is rather on a pricey side, maybe you should target people with more expensive smartphones?
On the other hand, do not take fiddling with targeting options too far. Remember, that:
depending on the selected GEO, your traffic volume may become very limited with very restrictive targeting criteria set.
The audience size is a significant factor. You can always increase your bid to win more auctions, but this will decrease your campaign’s profitability. And there is only a finite number of visitors available so you cannot scale up indefinitely within the same campaign, even with the highest bids. You have to balance the size of the audience with their quality and cost.
5. Set Up Tracking and Start Your Affiliate Marketing Business
A tracker is like your personal, friendly accountant that, honestly, everyone should have. Let’s call this person Stephen. Without him, the amount of information that traffic sources and affiliate networks usually provide is very limited. You will only know if you are making money. But with Stephen you will know, how are you making money. He can provide you answers to the typical affiliate questions, such as:
- “What segments of my audience respond best to my offer”?
- “Which landing page is more attractive to my visitors?”
- “What is the most profitable part of the day”?
He has all the numbers. He meticulously counts every click, every ad display, every offer taken and writes it down in his notebook. You can try to work without him, create a giant spreadsheet and manually feed it with cost and payout data. But remember, with great success comes a great amount of data to analyze.
How does it work?
Tracking requires creating a short detour for your traffic. After a quick setup, traffic will go from your ad through a tracker to an offer. The tracker then will look into traffic and derive additional layers of information from the visitor’s IP address or user agent. This way, the tracker gets all the necessary information and will provide you with tools to find underlying patterns or to direct visitors to different offers based on their characteristics. It may even employ its artificial brain to optimize your traffic.
Out of all other trackers, Voluum is the most versatile one. It gives you options to track without the initial redirect, to show you live data behind every visitor action, to sift out bot traffic, to organize your work with your associates. It does not require setting up a server, and it uses Amazon’s robust infrastructure to deliver tracking capabilities around the world.
A campaign funnel is a set of steps that a visitor goes through during his or her journey. In Voluum, you simply create a reflection of your regular campaign funnel:
- First, you set up an offer, a lander, affiliate network, and traffic source like you have to get offers, landing pages or traffic normally.
- Second, you create a campaign where you define how the traffic should flow from an ad, through a landing page to an offer.
- Third, you submit a campaign URL that Voluum has generated for you to your traffic source platform as a destination (target) link.
- Fourth, profit.
Final Notes on How to Start Affiliate Marketing
Now you know how to start affiliate marketing and you can get your business running. Just remember. Like with everything else, the first leg of the journey is the hardest. But you are not in a hurry. Affiliate marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.