Affiliate Marketing For Dummies [What It Is, How To Start, And How To Win]

Want the simple guide to affiliate marketing?

Here we’ll discuss what affiliate marketing is, how to start, and how to win…

… the dumb passive income style 😉

Let’s get started.

Affiliate Marketing For Dummies

Affiliate marketing has a lot of moving pieces, so you might be asking yourself something like this:

What is the best program?

What is my commission rate?

Are they talking about the kind of cookie that you eat or a different kind?

What the H-E-doublehockeysticks is SEO?

I’ll stop you right there before you start hyperventilating. Let’s start talking about what affiliate marketing is. Then we’ll get into the other stuff.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is when you recommend someone else’s product. If a customer buys after you recommend the product, you get a commission.

Like this:

Let’s say I have a blog. My blog is about the coolest WordPress plugins ever. Like any DUMB (Definitely Unmistakable, Marvelously Brilliant) person would do, I recommend AmaLinks Pro to my readers.

If one of my readers buys using my link, I get a percentage of the sale.

But hold on a second there, bucko. Why would someone come to my site and use my link when they could just go straight to the owner’s site?

What value do I bring to the world as an affiliate?

Good questions.

Affiliates have 2 primary values in the world:

  1. We help potential buyers make a decision
  2. We provide new sources of potential buyers to the product creators

Let’s take a look at each of these.

1. We help buyers make a decision

You’re right, if someone wants to buy the Windsurfer paddleboard because they know for a fact that it’s the world’s greatest paddleboard, there isn’t much you can do there.

The buyer knows what he or she wants. You’re out of the loop.

But I would argue that most buyers don’t know what they want.

Not exactly.

They have an idea of what they might want. They feel a need.

This why people walk around clothing stores, or video game stores, or the food aisle, or wherever, and they look at different products. Buyers want options, they want to know which jeans fit the best, which game is the most fun, and which food is the best choice for vegans.

This is where we come in.

When people search something like “best paddleboard for tall men”, they know what their need is. They don’t know which product they want.

So we select a few products, read the reviews, scan through the specs, and maybe even try the products out ourselves. Then we specify: This is the best overall, this one is best for guys over 6’4″, this one is has the best grip, and this last one is the fastest.

We save people time. We show them which product suits their specific need the best.

These are often called “buying guides”.

We can also write specific product reviews: what are the pros and cons of this particular paddleboard?

Between buying guides and reviews, we help readers decide the best product for them.

But we also…

2. Open up new traffic sources for the product creator

I’m sure that Matthew would love it if he never had to give out an affiliate commission to anyone for AmaLinks Pro sales. But he might have a very, very small number of users.

Because us affiliate marketers hold the keys to traffic.

Alongside helping users make decisions and save time, we help product creators get new eyeballs on their product. And we’re a pretty low risk way to do it: creators don’t pay us unless they get a sale.

They can’t waste money on ads.

They can’t have a negative ROI.

In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is a business of guarantees. We help potential buyers feel secure in their purchases. We help business owners feel secure in acquiring new customers.

So that’s what affiliate marketing is. But how do we do it?

how to start affiliate marketing

How To Start Affiliate Marketing

Starting affiliate marketing is pretty easy: go to a website, look in the footer for an affiliate page, sign up.

But doing it right is a little more complex than creating a new username and password.

It all starts with a little space. Your little space.

Finding your niche

When I first started affiliate marketing, I signed up to a few programs. Clickfunnels, Amazon, something super stupid like a weight loss by juicing info course.

I’m sure that I don’t remember the last one because I purged the memory and no, I wouldn’t like to talk about it, thank you very much.

But I remember that I created a crappy landing page and tried to promote all of them. If you needed funnels or dog food or to drink liquid sadness I was your guy.

You can guess that I didn’t sell funnels, dog food, weight loss juices, or anything else.

All affiliate marketers fail because they either don’t try hard enough or because they don’t find a good niche. I can’t help the first one. I can help the second.

Your niche shouldn’t be broad. It should be specific, a thin slice of the human population. You don’t want college students. You don’t even want broke college students. You want broke college students who are trying to get a little bit of money back by selling their textbooks.

You want cat owners with overweight cats who poop too much.

Once you have a website (discussed below, so keep your eyes glued), every page or post should reach out to a thin sliver of a niche. Once you have enough pages or posts, you have collected so many slivers that you hold a significant portion of the pie.

We call that an authority site. You’re an authority in the niche and can talk about all sorts of things.

But you don’t start that way.

You start narrow. And the narrower you go, the less competitive it will be as a general rule.

Spend some time brainstorming your niche. If you don’t want to brainstorm, then I’ll help you be lazy: We’ve already compiled a list of 1,452 niche ideas that you can use today.

At the risk of sounding dumb, you can get the list by clicking on the link above.

Once you have your niche idea, it’s time to find the right affiliate program.

Finding your program

Your affiliate program will be the guys and gals who pay you when you refer sales. If you’ve ever read more than 5 minutes worth of stuff about affiliate marketing, you’ll have heard all about the famed Amazon Associates program.

I’ll save you a bunch of reading and say this: it’s a great pick for lots of niches that sell physical products.

Here’s the link to join

Amazon isn’t perfect: their commissions can be lower than some competitors, their affiliate support is as confused as we are, and they swing the banhammer so often that they might as well be a certain blonde Avenger.

But Amazon is the most trusted retail brand in the world. Whether you need socks, a new frying pan, cat food, or a Game of Thrones coloring book (please find better ways to amuse your children), Amazon has it.

And contrary to popular belief, a lot of their commissions are pretty reasonable. Some are terrible and you will starve to death if you start an Amazon affiliate site selling Xboxs (Xboxes?)

But plenty of other niches are fine.

Amazon also has the unique perk of giving you commission on any product sold within 24 hours of a visitor using your link. Commissions from a TV sale on a website that talks about feeding domestic raccoons? Yes, please!

Plus there are tons of ways to make your Amazon links more attractive. Shameless plug to AmaLinks Pro again.

If you aren’t in the physical products niche, I recommend somewhere like Clickbank.

It’s also not a bad idea to sign up for individual affiliate programs. These can help boost your revenue by offering new things to your audience and helping to protect you in case your relationship with one affiliate goes sour.

You can often find links to a website’s affiliate program in the site’s footer.

You’ve got your niche. Your program is selected. Now let’s chat about the most important part: making money.

affiliate marketing for dummies

How To Win As An Affiliate

The first step to affiliate success is to find your traffic source. Common traffic sources could be podcasts, YouTube videos, or blogs.

Most people won’t retire – or even put food on the table – with podcasts and YouTube can be hard to do well. I recommend a blog for most people who don’t have an existing audience.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. It’s easy to create lots of content over time with a small commitment each day
  2. Keyword research is easier with a blog than on YouTube or a podcast
  3. You control the website, so you can set larger plans in motion for the future

I’ll shoot straight with you: I think podcasts are saturated and YouTube leaves you with little control over your audience, videos, and traffic.

Not a big fan of either of those things.

If you are interested in starting a site, I recommend you follow these steps:

  • Use Siteground for your hosting. Unless you’re a web developer, you want to use WordPress. It’s the best option for anyone who doesn’t speak 11 coding languages.
  • Install GeneratePress or Astra as your WordPress theme
  • Use Elementor to make your site pretty

And voila. For the small price of hosting and a domain name, you have a basic, customized website. Now it’s time to start filling it up with content.

How to produce high-quality affiliate content

Your website design won’t make you a dollar and I recommend that you don’t get too worked up over it.

Content is where you attract your audience and make your money.

But a quick news flash for ya:

Not one person in the whole world cares about what you want to write about except for your mother.

(And me. I care)

But no one else does.

Every single person in the world is selfish. They want to solve their own needs and don’t give a rip about your passions or interests.

So when we write content, it has to be solving their need. We have to figure out what people are wanting to learn and then write content tailored for them.

This is called keyword research.

There are a lot of ways to figure out what an audience is searching for. I recommend Niche Pursuits’s article about the best keyword research tools (written by yours truly). Some are free, some aren’t, and the paid ones are almost always better.

For affiliate income, we want to target keywords where people are wanting more information about a buying decision. These articles can be separated into two categories: best X for Y and product reviews.

Think something like “best dog food for indoor dogs” or “constant contact review”.

The tried and true method for buying guides is to pick a few products you like, talk about the pros and the cons, and say which one is best for what kind of buyers. “Overall best dog food for indoor dogs”, “best dog food for long-haired indoor dogs”, etc.

These are your money pages. I also recommend that you publish a few non-monetized informational articles on your site as well. These info articles help your site look more authentic, authoritative, and attractive. Info articles can also be helpful later on when doing link building or collecting an email list.

I recommend sorting your content into categories. For a dog website, you might have a category for food (best foods for… what can dogs eat? etc.), another for care (best dog bed for… is my dog depressed? etc), and another for fun (how to train a dog to… best leash for… etc.).

These categories come in hand when we start growing our business

So let’s talk about how to really make affiliate marketing worthwhile…

Growing your affiliate marketing business

You’ve picked your niche, got your site, published some articles, and now the dollars are rolling in (oh if only it was that easy).

Now it’s time to turn your little affiliate play into a legitimate, sustainable business.

The first and easiest way to do that is to start crafting an email list. Remember those categories we mentioned above? Now they come in handy.

I recommend making a different email opt-in for each category. For your fun category, you might have an opt-in showing people how to train a dog to fetch. For your care category, you might have an opt-in showing people how to make their dog’s hair shine.

These categories help you figure out what your audience is interested in.

Once you have your email list, your options are unlimited. Publish a new post and want instant traffic? Email list. Find an awesome info article that pays high commissions to affiliates? Email list.

You don’t have to have a big email list to see the effects. I won’t go into the details, but I’ve seen one email to list of ~7,500 bring in a revenue of $15,963 immediate revenue and $667 monthly recurring revenue.

And this business sent out 4 emails per month!

*shocked Pikachu face*

An email list also gives you information. If 60% of your email list is interested in dog care and you have one affiliate post about the best dog brushes that does very well…

You might consider starting your line of dog brushes. You know you can recommend them in your affiliate post and you have an eager email list of people who trust you.

Now you’re drawing affiliate income from your competitors and selling your own product for much higher margins.

Your budding site and email list have other superpowers too.

Want to start a YouTube channel now? Instant traffic source and subscribers.

What about a podcast? Say it with me: sub-scri-bers.

Social media? Followers, likes, and groups.

Affiliate Marketing Works Because…

There are a lot of ways to make money online. But as far as “making money online” goes, none are quite as efficient as affiliate marketing.

You don’t handle the product, you don’t deal with customers. You recommend stuff. People buy it. You make money.

You make more per visitor than you would with ads.

You deal with less hassle than you would with a product.

Affiliate marketing is kind of the sweet spot for starting a new online business if you don’t have an existing audience.

How Long Will All This Take?

I get it. It all sounds great. Start a business, do a little work, then profit.

I’m sure you’ve heard that one before on the 3 a.m. infomercials.

No thanks.

I’m not promising it’ll be easy. The dirty little secret of the internet marketing community is how much work goes into this stuff. It’s a pain sometimes. If you’re working another job, you will be pulling either early mornings or late nights.

You will go through periods where you question whether it’s all worth it, when you swear that this is just another internet marketing hoax.

My best guess is that if you work hard (or invest money), that your results will start rolling in at about 6 months to a year. They’ll start slow, very slow.

Then they can grow.

It’s not easy. But it is worth it.

I started affiliate marketing right after I dropped out of college. I failed a lot, but I found a mentor, worked my way up, and landed a sweet gig as the director of marketing at a company that I’m passionate about.

The worst case scenario is that you fail and learn valuable skills that allow you to work from anywhere in the world. (Hello from Barcelona)

And that’s a trade that not even a dummy could pass up.