6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Affiliate marketing is one of the fastest and easiest online passive income businesses to get started in. Depending on the path you choose, the investment to get up and running can be minimal. It all depends on your preferred marketing model and how much you need to outsource as opposed to doing it yourself. And the best part is, you can do this with any kind of site you set up, whether it’s a blog, general interest site, or ecommerce store. Once you get your foundation in place, your main ongoing costs are associated with advertising and promoting the products you sell, and you get to choose how much or how little you’d like to put into the process.
Affiliate marketing is essentially a way for you to earn cash for promoting and selling items or services without ever having to be responsible for the product, shipping, or fulfillment of the order. You strike a deal with a business, company, or individual to promote their products, and in return, when an item is sold through your affiliate account, you get a commission—a certain percentage or dollar amount for that sale. It’s a win-win situation for you and the business: They get free advertising and customers they might not have otherwise reached, and you’re compensated for the work you’ve put in. The commission they pay you is essentially part of their marketing budget. For some companies, it’s their exclusive form of marketing.
Let’s explore how this works.
Personalized affiliate links and cookies
There are two ways an affiliate program will track the prospects you send them:
1. Personalized affiliate links. If your affiliate program uses links to track sales, you’ll be given a login and a link associated with your account, which you’ll send to customers so the purchase can be traced back to you.
Different programs have different duration policies. Some companies will pay you for life any time a prospect you have sent them buys something; others pay only on the initial sale. Some programs have specified time ranges — 30, 60 or 90 days — during which they’ll pay you on purchases made by the prospect you sent them.
As with anything, there are a few drawbacks. You have to be willing to invest your time, energy, and patience into making it work for you. Small sales here and there are great, but if you want to make this your main source of online passive income, you have to be able to land a lot of sales to make a significant amount of money. You need to think about your efforts as building a business. Two considerations in that vein are creating systems that are set up to get consistent new lead acquisition and choosing higher-margin offers (same amount of work, more money).
For this to be sustainable as a long-term income stream, you need to create promotions that lead to consistent sales. This will take commitment, time, and dedication but will be easier for those of you who have some experience with search engine optimization (SEO) or paid traffic generation.
Finally, you really need to choose your affiliates wisely. If the merchant’s site isn’t up to par, slow, buggy, full of errors, and not geared toward making the sale, you’ll lose out as well. Take a look around the site and ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable buying from here?” If the answer is no, you may want to reconsider becoming an affiliate for that business.
Types of affiliate offers
Most offers you’ll be exposed to can be lumped into three categories: products, services, and stores.
There are two types of online products you can be an affiliate for: physical and digital. The marketing strategies you will employ won’t really change either way, but they do each come with their own sets of pros and cons.
Pros: Not all consumers buy digital products, but pretty much all consumers buy physical products. If you choose a product that’s in demand, made by a trusted brand, and sold through a credible online store, the selling is really already done for you.
Cons: The biggest cons to physical products are the shipping cost and the fact that it takes some time for the product to arrive. Also, there are certain products that consumers want to be able to touch and experience before they buy. That can sometimes hamper an online purchase.
Pros: One of the biggest advantages of a digital product is instant gratification. The consumer can immediately dig in and enjoy the product they purchased while they’re excited about it. If you’re in tune with your prospects’ problems and have a digital product that gives them the solution to that problem, conversions can be really high. No shipping costs are another plus.
Cons: Digital products are often swimming among a lot of competition that you need to stand out from. Also, you’re at the mercy of the retailer when it comes to making sure the product downloads properly. Sometimes digital products are so complicated they overwhelm the consumer, which can hinder additional sales from that prospect.
There are many services people pay for online that have affiliate programs. Some examples are:
- Financial services like tax preparation
- Social media and digital marketing services
- Professional services (hosting, payment processing, etc.)
- Travel-related services like Hotels.com and Travelocity
There are tons of stores that will give you commissions on the entire purchase made by a consumer you send to their site. This is great because it gives you the flexibility to market just one product they sell and still get credit for anything else your prospect adds to their cart, or you can just promote the entire store in general.