Your Step-By-Step Guide to Starting an Affiliate Marketing Blog in 2020
Having an affiliate marketing blog has long been considered to be the holy grail of the blogging world. That’s because affiliate marketing bloggers literally make money while they sleep.
And we’re talking serious cash… $1,000, $5,000, $15,000, $50,000 a month, and more. That may sound wild, but we know bloggers with 6-figure per month incomes, and the primary source is affiliate marketing!
Now, the reality is that it takes time to build and maintain an affiliate marketing blog — there’s no magic pill you can take to turn your blog into a 7-figure enterprise overnight. And if you find someone who claims to have one, they’re only trying to sell you a scam.
Building a profitable blog takes time, but when you learn how to do affiliate marketing the right way (aka, no scams!), you can earn a lucrative income, while promoting products that will bring value to your readers’ lives.
Seriously, what could be better than that?
If you’re interested in learning how to start making semi-passive income from an affiliate marketing blog, this guide is going to cover all of the most important points. You’re going to learn:
- What affiliate marketing is
- How affiliate marketing works
- What an affiliate marketing blog looks like in practice
- The kinds of affiliate products you can promote
- Pros and cons of affiliate marketing
- How to start an affiliate marketing blog
- Examples of affiliate marketing blogs
That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!
Your guide to starting an affiliate marketing blog in 2020
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is when a company pays you to promote products and services on your site using a special link. When someone clicks on the link and the company makes a sale, you get paid.
Here’s what Pat Flynn, the blogger behind one of the most successful affiliate marketing sites — Smart Passive Income — says about affiliate marketing:
“Affiliate marketing is the process of earning a commission by promoting other people’s (or company’s) products. You find a product you like, promote it to others and earn a piece of the profit for each sale that you make.”
That’s the simple answer, but let’s dig in a little more…
How does affiliate marketing work?
There are four main parties involved in every affiliate marketing blog:
- Brand: The company whose products you’re promoting
- Network: This is the party that connects bloggers with companies
- Blogger/Affiliate: That’s you!
- Customer: The people reading your blog and buying things
Now let’s go in-depth on each to see how they work together…
This is the company that creates the product or service you’ll be promoting on your blog. A decade or so ago, brands relied on celebrities to promote products, but as bloggers and influencers have gained status, companies are relying on them more and more.
A brand can be anything from a company selling a physical product or service, to even an online personality.
While big affiliate marketing bloggers might be contacted directly by a brand, an affiliate network is how newer bloggers find affiliate partnerships.
Bloggers need to apply to networks, and once you’re accepted, you’ll start connecting with brands. The network is the intermediary between brand and blogger. And these networks represent lots of different brands, which means you can find a variety of affiliate opportunities that fit your blog’s specific niche.
Here are a few of the most popular affiliate networks:
The affiliate/blogger/influencer is sometimes known as the publisher, because you’re the one who creates the content that promotes the brand. Affiliates shouldn’t just work with any brand, though, because affiliate marketing done the wrong way can be a huge turn off for readers.
As an affiliate, you are given a unique link to use when promoting a brand. That link will be placed in content created specifically to promote the brand, like a product review, but it can also be used if you casually mention the brand.
These links often have a cookie length. This is how long a customer has to purchase a product for you to still receive a commission. The length varies from company to company, but it can be a one-time click, 7 days, a month, 90 days, or even a full year (although a year isn’t that common).
These are individual members of your audience. They read your content, and if they’re interested, they click on the links and buy the products too.
An affiliate marketing blog in practice
Now that you understand the different pieces of an affiliate marketing blog, here’s how bloggers actually make money from affiliate marketing:
- Blogger creates content that promotes a brand
- Blogger puts their special affiliate link in that content
- A reader clicks on that link
- The special link tracks where new customers come from
- Customer makes a purchase through your link
- Blogger earns a commission
Your commission might be a flat rate — for example: Uber pays $60 for new driver referrals — or a percentage of the sale. Affiliate managers can negotiate commissions and cookie lengths between you and brands.
What kind of affiliate products can you promote?
There are thousands, probably tens of thousands of brands to work with… something for everyone. But in no way does that mean that you should try to promote all of them.
Affiliate marketing blogs should only promote products and services that make sense for your brand, blog, and audience.
If you’re questioning whether or not a brand is a good fit, here’s how to evaluate it:
- Is it a product or service that you believe in?
- Does it relate to your blog’s niche?
- Will it bring value to your readers?
If a brand isn’t a good fit, don’t force it. Your audience is smart, and they know when things are being advertised for the wrong reasons.
Affiliates should only promote brands that enhance their readers’ lives.
Now, as far as specific brands for different niches, here are some ideas:
- Travel bloggers can promote companies like Airbnb, City Pass, and travel gear sold on Amazon.
- Personal finance bloggers can promote personal finance and money-saving apps, like Personal Capital and Ibotta.
- Home decor blogs can do well with brands like World Market, Wayfair, and Joss and Main.
- Lifestyle bloggers can promote brands like Erin Condren (planners), Warby Parker, and Target.
That’s just a small slice of the different niches and affiliate options available.
And even though it’s been said already, only promote brands that are a good fit for you and your audience! You will lose readers if you don’t follow that rule.
Pros and cons of affiliate marketing
When it’s done the right way, there is a lot of good that can come from running an affiliate marketing blog. It’s profitable for the blogger, the brand is happy, and your readers get to experience something that improves their lives.
Now, let’s look at some specific pros and cons of affiliate marketing blogs…
Pro: Affiliate marketing income can feel pretty passive
Unless your affiliate partnership ends, the special links you put in your content are still active for weeks, months, or years after the content was created. That means you can keep generating income from posts you wrote a while ago — why affiliate income is sometimes described as passive income.
There is definitely still some work involved in maintaining affiliate relationships, the posts, and driving traffic to your site. But for the most part, it’s pretty minimal.
Con: It can feel spammy if you don’t do it well
This is the big fear from new affiliate marketing bloggers — what if my posts start to sound like spam?
Blog posts with affiliate links will only feel spammy when you stuff too many links into an article, when the brands don’t relate to your blog or audience, or when too much of your content is driven by your affiliate brands.
If you start getting pushback from your readers, reassess which brands you’re promoting, and how you’re doing it.
Pro: You can provide even more value to your readers
The really successful affiliate marketing blogs do well because they tell their readers about awesome products that are actually really helpful.
This is showing up for your readers.
You know you’ve done it right when a reader walks away saying, “Man, I’m so happy that I know about [insert name of product] now!”
Con: You aren’t in control of the networks or brands
Even though affiliate marketing can be pretty lucrative, you’re still relying on other people. If one of your affiliate networks changes a policy, drops a brand, etc., then you can lose income.
Read more about the pros and cons of affiliate marketing and more ways to make money from your blog at Make Money Blogging: Pros and Cons of the Top 5 Strategies.
How to start an affiliate marketing blog
We’re going to assume that you’re already a blogger, but if not, start with How to Start a Blog With Launch That Blog (Free Service).
There are two main components to starting an affiliate marketing blog:
- Growing your blog audience
- Learning how to promote products
The first one is necessary because affiliate marketing generally takes a larger number of page views than sponsored posts, and definitely more than display ads.
How to grow your blog audience for affiliate marketing
1. Regularly publish awesome content
Tell stories, make your readers laugh, give them helpful tips, teach them something new, follow trends, share your successes and failures, BE HUMAN.
But don’t just blog when you feel like it — create a posting schedule and stick to it. Once or twice a week is good when you’re starting, but many larger blogs post content 3+ times per week.
2. Get to know other bloggers in your niche
Blogging is best when you treat other bloggers like a network, rather than competitors. There are enough readers to go around, and the reality is that every blog is going to have a slightly different personality.
So, engage with other bloggers by following them on social media, sharing their posts, commenting on their links, etc. Once you’ve established a relationship…
3. Start guest posting
Send an email to other bloggers in your niche with an idea for a guest blog post. While you probably won’t earn any cash, you’ll be introduced to a whole new audience.
4. Be active on social media
You shouldn’t try to master every single social media platform, but do pick one to stay active on. If Facebook is your thing, you should have a public page for your site, create a private group for your readers, share your posts, respond to comments, etc.
5. Start building an email list from the beginning
This is a mistake that many, many bloggers and online business owners make — they wait too long to start an email list. All it takes is a creative lead magnet to capture someone’s email address, and once it’s yours, it’s yours (well, unless they unsubscribe for some reason).
You can use your list to send notifications about new posts, promotions, and eventually use it to drive readers towards posts with affiliate links.
Read more at: How to Build an Email List From Scratch
6. Get to know SEO
SEO, or search engine optimization, is how you make your way up in Google’s search results to bring in organic traffic. Money Lab’s SEO for Bloggers is an awesome resource, and we know because the advice is how we’ve grown our organic search results.
Learn more at our full SEO for Bloggers Course Review.
7. Leverage Facebook
Besides just using Facebook socially, we highly recommend that you pay for some traffic. It’s honestly the most effective way to drive people to your site, and it’s how our very own Bobby Hoyt (aka Millennial Money Man) built a 7-figure blog in just four years.
You can learn more at Facebook Ads for Bloggers.
How to promote affiliate products
1. Get to know your readers
Knowing your audience comes from interacting with them. What kind of questions do they email you about? What do they talk about in your Facebook group? Who is your typical reader?
How are you going to know what kinds of products will resonate with your audience if you don’t know them that well?
2. Use the products and services you’re thinking about promoting
This is Trust Building 101. If you’re going to tell your readers about some amazing new products, make sure you actually know that it’s amazing. Like we’ve said, your audience is too smart to fall for that kind of BS.
3. Start writing about the brands
If you like a product or service and think it will help your readers, then it sounds like you’ve found a winner. Now it’s time to start telling people about it.
One of the easiest ways to start creating content for your affiliate marketing blog is to start with a product review. Make sure you’re as thorough and honest as possible, even pointing out any issues you had.
4. Learn how to use affiliate links the right way
Best practices say that you only need to stick affiliate links in your articles about three times — once in the beginning, in the middle, then the end. Using CTAs (call-to-actions) can maximize their impact. You can also stick links in email blasts, but make sure your email is more than, “Hey, click on this link and buy something!” Always give your readers amazing content.
You also need to disclose that your posts have affiliate links inside of them. You can write a simple disclosure statement at the top of your articles, like “I may make money from products and services purchased through this site.”
Bonus: Check out Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing
If you want to learn even more about affiliate marketing, Michelle-Schroeder Gardner of Making Sense of Cents created an entire course on the topic. She teaches you the exact strategy she uses to regularly earn over $50,000 a month from affiliate marketing alone.
Read our full review of the course at: Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Review.
Affiliate marketing blog examples
Now that you’ve read through all of that, you still might be wondering what an affiliate marketing blog actually looks like. We’re linking some of our favorite sites for affiliate marketing motivation and inspiration. Click around these sites and pay attention to how they promote the brands they work with.
Michelle (remember her from the affiliate marketing course above?) is a personal finance and lifestyle blogger. She’s got a really unique niche that allows for a variety of affiliates.
If you’re not familiar with Bobby’s site, M$M teaches readers to save more money, make more money, and pay off debt. Bobby has been growing his affiliate programs, which include personal finance apps, side hustle courses, etc.
In terms of affiliate income, Matt Giovanisci’s site Swim University isn’t one of the highest earners (it nets around $250,000/year… still not bad at all). But what’s cool about this site is that it proves there are affiliate programs for any niche.
In addition to income from two books and their own products, Young House Love knows how to promote affiliate links. They create gift guides, link to products they use in their homes, and more.
Affiliate marketing blogs — the final word
Starting an affiliate marketing blog is an investment in your future earning potential. We’ve said over and over again that it takes work, but the payoff is semi-passive income.
When you get that first email that says you earned cash while you were sleeping or on vacation, you’ll know why bloggers love affiliate income so much.