How to Start an Affiliate Marketing Business

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If you've recently been laid off or gotten furloughed, or maybe you’re working part-time and stuck at home, now could be a perfect opportunity to start an affiliate marketing business. All you really need to get started is a computer, an internet connection and the desire to succeed.

While it has obvious appeal and allows you to set your own hours and work from anywhere, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. Like most other business opportunities, building a successful affiliate marketing business takes hard work and dedication.

In this 101 piece, we’ll cover the basics on what affiliate marketing is and how to get started.

What is affiliate marketing?

In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is the process by which an affiliate earns a commission for sales of products or services they refer to partners via their own marketing efforts. You promote a product or service on your website or blog. When your website visitors click through to the merchant’s site and make a purchase, you earn a commission from the merchant on the sale coming from your website.

For example: Let’s say you had a blog discussing small business and wrote a post about Azlo being a great online bank for small businesses. When somebody comes to your site to read about Azlo and subsequently clicks through to Azlo and creates a new Azlo account, you earn a commission.

Know the players

Before we jump into how to get started, let’s cover the key players involved in affiliate marketing:

Publisher – Also known as the affiliate marketer. That’s you. You’re building a website and creating content featuring a topic you know and enjoy.

Merchant – The merchant offers the product or service for the publisher to promote.

Network – The network serves as a middleman between the affiliate and merchant. The network provides all the necessary tracking links, manages payments to affiliates, and houses creative assets for publishers to use. Affiliates can also see and download their performance metrics for all the programs in which they participate.

Customer – The final and most critical player in the affiliate marketing circle is the customer. These are the people coming to your website. As an affiliate marketer, it’s your job to help these customers learn about the products and services you’re promoting. We’ll get a little deeper into how to grow your customer base shortly.

Choosing a niche

It’s generally a best practice with affiliate marketing to choose a niche to promote. The idea is to target a smaller but more relevant audience versus attempting to be all things to all people.

For example: Instead of creating a website about a broad category like traveling, you might want to focus on creating a site about traveling on a budget through Europe. The audience for budget travel in Europe is much smaller than simply traveling. But by targeting these potential customers who have a strong interest in traveling through Europe on a budget, you’re more likely to earn a sale.

Getting started and building a website

The easiest way to get started in affiliate marketing is to create a website or blog. Then use that platform to promote products and services relevant to your niche. To build a website, you’ll need to get a domain, web hosting, and a content management system such as WordPress. If you’re selling products directly on your site, you can use an e-commerce platform such as Shopify.

Creating great content

After you’ve set up your site, it’ll be time to start creating content. One of the most critical elements of success is to create valuable and useful content. And one of the best ways to make sure you’re creating useful content useful for your readers is to choose a niche you know and love.

Going back to the travel example above, do you love traveling Europe on a budget? Then write about that. Your readers are much more likely to return and/or make a purchase. Think about your readers and what questions they might be asking, then create your content around answering those questions.

You’ve built a website, you’re creating great content around a niche you love, and your readers are finding it useful and valuable. Now what? It’s time to find potential partners with relevant products and services your readers might be interested in. Using the travel example again, you could partner with sites for booking airfare, hotels, travel gear, insurance, and just about anything related to your niche.

Building an audience

A critical element for any successful affiliate marketing business is to build an audience. Think of this process as creating a community in which you’re the expert and leader. The more useful content you create, the more likely readers will return to your site again and again. Each subsequent visit is an opportunity for those readers to make a purchase of those relevant in your niche.

Best practices in affiliate marketing

As mentioned earlier, affiliate marketing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. As with any business opportunity it takes hard work, patience, and dedication to be successful. However, if you follow a few best practices, you’ll set yourself up for success!

Be authentic

Just like face-to-face interactions, authenticity is a major factor in connecting with someone and your website is no different. Being authentic helps create a sense of trust necessary for any successful business.

Focus your niche on something you love

This makes creating content much easier. Since you love what your writing about, you won’t get bored or tired of the niche you’re promoting.

Be the expert

Whatever niche you choose, you’ve got to be the expert. Visitors coming to your site have questions and are looking for information. If you’re the expert, visitors will be much more likely to return and potentially make a purchase.


Always be sure the content on your site is relevant to your audience. If you’ve got that blog on traveling through Europe on a budget, your visitors won’t be interested in reading about the latest car models. Keep your focus on your niche and keep giving your readers what they’re interested in.

There are many elements to affiliate marketing success we haven’t touched on here, but these basics are certainly enough to get started.

Remember: focus on what you love, be authentic, give your readers what they’re looking for, and partner with merchants whose products match your niche and reader interest.

Like any new business, affiliate marketing takes determination and hard work. If you follow these best practices, you’ll set yourself up for success as an affiliate marketer.

Understand SEO

You’ll also need to get your head around the basics of Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. That’s because you’ll be driving traffic with SEO. For starters, you’ll want to understand how to hone in on keywords, know the difference between earned, organic traffic and paid traffic. If you’re going to drive traffic with the paid search route, and build on keywords, you’ll need to learn how to run that sort of campaign.

If you’re new to SEO, content creation, and management, you can check out tons of free resources on the internet, or courses on sites like HubSpot Academy. Want to go for a deep dive and invest more into the world of affiliate marketing? You can attend the Affiliate Summit, which happens twice a year.

Your content needs to be relevant

The content you create and the products and services you promote need to match your audience's interests. If you have a blog about hiking and you add a link for fancy shoes, you’re not going to get many sales because shoes aren’t relevant to your hiking content.

It takes time and hard work, but affiliate marketing can pay off in the long run. As you create more content, your audience will increase and create the opportunity to promote the products they’re most interested in. Over time, you can build a passive income stream using the content you create today because it lives on the internet in perpetuity. Meaning it can drive sales well into the future. Just be sure to keep the content up to date. If you did a product review for example, make sure to update it often and up tp date.

Be an expert in that niche

To foster an online community you should be an expert in whatever product or service or vertical it is you're talking about. Then, when you create great content and slowly build an audience, you'll start to become an expert in the field. People will turn to you for information and products on that particular topic.

Another way to go about it? You can leverage your own professional expertise to affiliate marketing. So let’s say you’re an auto mechanic and own an auto shop. Or you’re a gearhead, or like working on cars and have a regular day job. You can certainly create a website and talk about car mechanics and sell car products and be very successful.

Focus on something you love

To keep yourself motivated, it should be a niche around something that you love. If you’re really into travel, do a travel blog. Really into diving? Do a diving blog. Or you’re a personal productivity coach but you’re also an Excel expert. Write on how to become an Excel expert. And if you love something, it’ll keep you pumped to continue building content and the business as a whole.

Create great content

Case in point: I'm really into hiking and I've been doing it my whole life. And I have a lot to offer to people that are interested in that. I can provide recommendations as to where to go, what to see, and what products do you use.

Be authentic

Shoppers can detect when someone’s being authentic versus blowing a bunch of air. This ties into creating a sense of expertise on whatever vertical it is you’re talking about.

But let’s say you’re authentic. You let your audience know this is who you are and this is what you love and why you’re doing this. People respond to that. Some affiliate marketers do this by disclosing that they don’t promote any product that they don’t use and love themselves. That’s one way of saying that you’re authentic.

Reach potential partners

So when do you build partnerships with companies that have affiliate programs? It’s only after you create great content and build an audience and gain traffic and engagement that you look for these companies to partner up with for affiliate marketing.

Look beyond Amazon

And while Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla with e-commerce, look into other affiliate marketing companies. As Amazon has made some changes and reduced their commissions across the board on their programs, it’s actually creating an opportunity for other merchants.

Instead of selling a product straight from Amazon, you might be able to find the product from another merchant with a higher commission. In other words, you might be able to land a better deal working directly with these companies instead of going through Amazon. There are affiliate marketing networks such a CJ Affiliate, ShareASale, and Impact Radius, which have thousands of merchants on their platforms.

When you’re starting out, expect to wear all the hats. It’s like being the CEO and also cleaning out the trash can in the office at the end of the day. You’re the CEO, webmaster, content creator, and project manager. But whatever it is you’re working on, you can do it with your computer and in your pajamas in Tahiti.

Just like any venture, building a business around affiliate marketing takes a lot of determination. It certainly has the potential to generate revenue for you. But it’s a long game. it's a lot of hard work, and you’ve got to be dedicated.

Steve Root
Steve Root is an 11-year affiliate industry veteran committed to cost-effective customer acquisition and building world-class collaborative partnerships. When not looking for Azlo’s next successful partnership, he coaches his son’s little league team and enjoys hitting the slopes in the winter. Steve manages Azlo’s performance partnerships based in San Francisco.

Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information and insights, but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.

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