Make a living with affiliate marketing: A story for beginners

936 654 Michał Schindler

Record scratch, freeze frame.

You’re probably wondering how can one make a living with affiliate marketing? Well, it all starts with a person that wants to do things differently. Someone who takes matters into their own hands. 

Roll tape.

This person usually takes a peek into forums or blogs, overhears something that friends or colleagues talk about, or simply researches how to make a living working from home. Finally, they discover the world of affiliate marketing.

Glamorous on the outside, a normal business on the inside, but infinitely scalable and heartily inclusive. Affiliate Marketing is where our hero decides they want to be. In their first step, they need to understand how affiliate marketing works and where they fit in.

Their story begins.

Retrospection

In a sepia tone filter.

In a world before affiliate marketing, there was no order. If someone had a successful web page, like a burgeoning fashion blog, they had to contact someone that advertises fashion related products directly. 

Barbaric. 

No one had any idea who saw an ad for that product and who reacted to it. The owner of that web page, called a PUBLISHER, earned money by facilitating the sale of that product. If random people saw an ad for that product, they were rarely interested. The publisher earned less and the offer owner sold fewer items. It was hard to make a living out of it.

The gods of marketing didn’t like this.

The new way

To tackle these problems, both sides started to cooperate with others that had similar interests. Publishers started to form platforms where they offered space on their websites for sale. These platforms, called AD NETWORKS, allowed people to find more advertising space with the bonus of targeting options all in one place. From then on, an offer owner could decide if they wanted to advertise in specific countries or for defined demographics. This was mutually beneficial for both sides, as offer owners could buy only profitable parts of traffic and publishers had control of what will be displayed on their websites. Together they could negotiate better prices for their traffic.

Besides ad networks, new sources of visitors emerged: social media platforms such as Facebook and search engines, such as Google. They all fall under one category: TRAFFIC SOURCES.

The same thing happened on the offer owners’ sides. Sometimes people that had an offer did not have the time or skills to promote it. So they started aggregating into platforms that had a selection of offers available for people that wanted to promote them in exchange for a payout. That’s how AFFILIATE NETWORKS were born. They also introduced a new profession: AFFILIATE MARKETER. That’s you.

Cue the music.

Character introduction

Hello, affiliate. Yes, that’s you. If you are reading this, you can already sit among other fellow affiliates. I just wanted to welcome you since you’ve discovered your profession. 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to act as an intermediary between visitors and offers: show the best matching offers to visitors most prone to converting. 

How to do that? Most forums and blogs will tell you that it’s a mixture of science and art, but it is more of a science than art. With a little bit of knowledge, you will uncover underlying patterns in data and make conscious decisions about who to target and with what. And you will make a living with it.

A hero’s journey

Epic music playing, conducted by the love child of Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL.

In the beginning, you may feel reluctant to follow your affiliate journey. You probably say things to yourself like:

  • I work as a gardener, how on earth would I fit in affiliate marketing?
  • Surely there is a relevant college degree that allows you to work as an affiliate marketer, which I do not have.

Trust me, no one has a Ph.D. in affiliate marketing. People with the weirdest background make a living with affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing doesn’t care about your employment history or education. Affiliate marketing understands. So start your quest and I will tell you more about the rules of this world, your foes and allies.

The conflict

No good story can be told without a central conflict and an affiliate’s journey is no exception. The ongoing battle between costs and payouts is in the heart of every business, but let’s dig into the specifics. Let’s take a closer look at where the money is being made and where it is spent. 

Where you spend money

Right now you already know that you need visitors that will see offers you promote. To get them, you have to sign up to a traffic source platform and buy specific segments of traffic. This is where you will have to spend some money. 

When you set your traffic targeting options in the traffic source platform, you define your AUDIENCE. Each audience reacts differently to an offer and you will have to test different approaches to see what works for them. During testing, you will spend some money to verify your hypothesis and assumptions. But finding the right audience for your offers will allow you to get this money back, and much more.

Where you earn money

And how do you make money as an affiliate? Easily. Offer owners will pay you if you persuade your visitors to perform some actions that are beneficial for those owners. These actions might include purchasing their product, signing up for a newsletter, or installing their mobile application. All these actions are known as CONVERSIONS. Offer owners will pay you for each conversion and their price is called a PAYOUT. 

You want as many conversions as possible while spending as little money for traffic as possible.

That’s the one and only rule of this battle. Winning means that you can make a living with affiliate marketing.

Your team

If all this sounds overwhelming then let me assure you that you will have some help. Affiliates are not expected to be a lone hero, but rather to have a team of sidekicks on their side. 

Game-style montage showing your teammates’ stats and characteristics.

Your team may consist of:

  • Fellow affiliates that you know directly or have met online. Sometimes they may be as inexperienced as you, some may already know more. They will offer you help, if asked, or at least some empathy.
  • Account managers from traffic sources, affiliate networks, and revenue tracking platforms. You are their customer. Their job is to help you.
  • A tracking platform. Without it, affiliate marketing is mostly guesswork. With it, it’s science.

Follow the yellow brick road and make a living with affiliate marketing

Camera panning across a beautiful landscape.

The beginning of your story will be about making decisions. You will need to find your niche, define budgets, and make time constraints. Then, the hard but fun part starts, finding the offers you want to run, where you want to run them, and how to track your performance to optimize for profit. Once you have everything that’s required to run a campaign, your new life will start with a new way to make a living.

It’s the end of your past life as you know it (but you should feel fine)

If you are wondering how affiliate life looks like in reality, here’s a not sugarcoated, down-to-earth visualization:

Expectations:

You wake up at a convenient hour. You make yourself a pour-over coffee (the best type). You get dressed. After all, you will be working. You open a laptop and log in to a tracker to check stats from the night. A quick glance tells you that nothing extraordinary has happened during that time. You just earned 134$ while being in REM sleep. You make a living passively.

Now it’s time for a visit to an affiliate network platform to check for new offers. You feel excited about the upcoming opportunities. You open a news portal in a separate tab. Traffic jams in your area, stock markets going up and down. Suddenly, your attention is caught by a banner that promotes a product from your niche. It’s not your banner. You click it and you are directed to a neatly designed landing page. You like the angle and you decide that it is time to test a new landing page to see if it catches on.

You take a sip of coffee and you start working on your new landing page. A tracker is working in the background. Things feel ok.

Reality:

Ok, this may have been a bit idyllic version of an affiliate’s life. But here’s what your affiliate life will consist of in reality:

  • Analyzing data and optimizing your campaigns in a tracker. A tracker is best compared to a live Excel spreadsheet, with rows of data that tell you, which one of your ideas proved ok.
  • Designing new landing pages or hiring others to do that. To be on the top of the ever-changing game, you will have to test which landing pages work with your audience and which are ignored.
  • Launching new campaigns. New offers may appear each day and it is always good to test new ideas and approaches.
  • Testing your working campaigns and investigating into what others are doing. Always be ready for what the future holds

There will be struggles along the way. Doubts, questions, and a feeling of unworthiness. But you can overcome these obstacles. Nothing can stop you from reaching the finale.

The climax

The climax of the first part of this story (did I mention that this will be one of those neverending franchises?) will be when you get your first conversion. This will not mean that you have won the battle, that you can make a living with affiliate marketing. At this point, you will still be investing more money than you’re earning. But trust me, the feeling that you were right, and everyone else that tried to discourage you from pursuing your own path were wrong is one of a kind.

Sequels, extended universes and the future of the franchise

Obvious sequel baiting.

The story does not end here. There will be more conversions to get, more campaigns to run, more battles to win. But the important thing is that from now on, you will be the author of your story.

Roll credits.

 

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