Let’s get the obvious out of the way at the outset, shall we? Affiliate marketing is not a form of native advertising. We know what you’re thinking: “Well, why the heck is the Native Advertising Institute writing about it then?”
There are two simple answers to that. One, we get asked about affiliate marketing all the time. And two, affiliate marketing and native advertising do have some similarities.
Both involve a partnership between an advertiser and a publisher and both can be used to promote products and services. You can think of native advertising and affiliate marketing as distant cousins in the digital marketing family. Like real-life cousins, they may belong to the same family but they are different in several key ways.
Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing strategy in which businesses partner with individuals or companies (affiliates) to promote their products or services and earn a commission on resulting sales.
Native advertising, on the other hand, is a form of online advertising in which the ad content is designed to blend in with the surrounding editorial content. Native ads are typically found in social media feeds, news websites, and other places where users are already consuming similar content. The goal of native advertising is to create an ad that feels less like an ad and more like content that is relevant to the user.
Another difference is that affiliate marketing is typically used to promote a specific product or service, whereas native advertising is often used to promote a brand or company in general. Native advertising is also more relationship-driven and puts a greater focus on establishing trust and long-term engagement with the target audience.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into affiliate marketing and explore ways of using it successfully.
Affiliate marketing 101: Understanding the basics
With affiliate marketing, a business rewards one or more partners (affiliates) for each visitor or customer brought about by the affiliate's own marketing efforts. The affiliates are usually bloggers, influencers or publishers.
In other words, affiliate marketing allows businesses to promote their products or services through other companies and/or individuals, while the affiliates receive a commission on resulting sales.
Affiliate marketing is a cost-effective way for businesses to expand their reach and increase sales. By partnering with affiliates who already have a large following or customer base, businesses can tap into new markets and target audiences without the need for extensive advertising or marketing campaigns. And because affiliates are only paid when a sale is made, there is little risk for the business.
Why should publishers consider affiliate marketing?
There is also little risk for the affiliates. Because affiliate marketing programmes typically have low upfront costs and no ongoing expenses, it can be a low-risk way for publishers to monetize their content.
Affiliate marketing can help publishers increase their revenue streams by earning commissions on the sales generated via their channels. This can be an important additional source of revenue alongside other advertising and/or subscription models. This diversification of revenue can reduce a publisher’s reliance on any one source.
How does affiliate marketing work?
The process of affiliate marketing typically begins with a business identifying and recruiting potential affiliates, who are then given a unique link or code to promote the business's products or services. When a customer clicks on the link and makes a purchase, the affiliate earns a commission.
The New York Times‘ Wirecutter site, for example, provides reviews of tools and gadgets, and includes this disclaimer on its articles: “When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission”.
Popular music reviewing site Pitchfork uses similar language: “All products featured on Pitchfork are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.”
These types of disclaimers are common and are one of the similarities shared between affiliate marketing and native advertising. Good native advertising will always include language like “Sponsored content” because publishers and brands alike know that deceiving an audience will likely backfire.
READ MORE: No one benefits from misleading readers
Different types of affiliate marketing
There are several different types of affiliate programs, including pay-per-sale, pay-per-lead, and pay-per-click.
In pay-per-sale programmes, affiliates are only paid when a sale is made. In pay-per-lead programmes, affiliates are paid when a customer signs up for a service or completes a lead form.
Pay-per-click programmes pay affiliates each time a customer clicks on a link, regardless of what happens next.
Why try affiliate marketing?
One of the benefits of affiliate marketing is that it is relatively easy to get started.
Many businesses have affiliate programmes that are open to anyone, and there are also a number of affiliate networks that connect businesses with potential affiliates.
Additionally, there are many resources and tools available to help affiliates learn about different products and services and how to promote them effectively.
However, it's important to note that not all affiliate programmes are created equally. Some may have strict rules about how and where affiliates can promote the business's products or services, while others may have lower commission rates or longer payout periods. It's important for businesses and affiliates to thoroughly research any programmes before signing up to ensure that it is a good fit.
Making money with affiliate marketing
To put it mildly, things are going pretty well in the affiliate marketing industry. A report from the Performance Marketing Association found that over 80% of publishers and advertisers use affiliate marketing to increase profits and engagement. When the same report reveals that affiliate marketing delivers a 12:1 return on ad spend, it’s little wonder that it is so popular.
Making money with affiliate marketing involves launching targeted, scalable campaigns that drive sales and success across high-quality publisher sites.
To take a hypothetical example, let’s look once again at Wirecutter.
Let’s say that Patagonia is experiencing a slump in vest sales. They partner with Wirecutter to provide affiliate links for the article The Best Insulated Vest. Wirecutter independently reviews a number of vests and ends up recommending the Patagonia Down Sweater Vest, saying it’s “a warm, stylish choice for people who want to wear a vest while walking the dog, running errands in urban areas, hanging out in cool temps, and engaging in outdoor adventures”. Patagonia did not pay Wirecutter to say that, the editors came to the conclusion on their own. But Patagonia does offer Wirecutter a small cut of any sales that come from the article. Patagonia makes a sale it may have not otherwise made and Wirecutter gets a small percentage.
That in a nutshell is how affiliate marketing works and why it is often seen as a win-win for brands and publishers alike.
Getting Started with Affiliate Marketing
When first starting out with affiliate marketing, it is critical to identify a profitable niche for your affiliate marketing campaigns. This niche should be small enough that you can directly target interested customers, but large enough that your affiliate marketing ads will have an impact. Your niche should also have crossover with the audiences of your affiliate partners so that you can both benefit from the partnership.
For example, if you’re in the real estate industry, focus on a specialised niche like buyers of single-family homes, investors, or short-term tenants.
Affiliate networks can assist new affiliate marketers in connecting with the best partner businesses and bringing their affiliate links to new audiences. Keep an eye out for affiliate programmes with affordable conversion rates, dependable payout procedures, and flexible connecting options.
Some of the best affiliate programs for beginners include Amazon Associates, ClickBank and Commission Junction.
High-quality content is always the key
No matter how wonderful your affiliate partner's site or audience is, it goes without saying (but let's say it anyway!) that you still need high-quality content to support your advertising and offers.
Creating a landing page or microsite for your affiliate links is one of the best methods to accomplish this. By doing this, once a potential customer clicks on your link or advertisement, they are immediately directed to an educational and simple-to-navigate website where they can interact with your business and increase conversions. The good news is that the right affiliate marketing platform will do the leg work for you, so you can start driving traffic to your affiliate site.
You (yes, you!) can succeed in affiliate marketing
Before launching an affiliate marketing campaign, some testing can make sure your ads grab the attention of your target audience. Do a trial run of your advertisement on a small test group before launching it to the public. Take their opinions into consideration and work out all the kinks before going fully live.
Amazon’s Product Advertising API can help you in targeting more specific audiences.
Affiliate marketing doesn’t have to be intimidating. It may take some time to get started, and there may be some stumbling blocks along the way, but the increased revenue will be well worth the effort. Use whatever creative assets you want to share your most recent promotions and maximise your affiliate advertising efforts at each stage of the customer journey. Consistency can be hard when trying out a new plan. You might get stuck in the details or frustrated by the problems that pop up. That's why it's important to have the right attitude and keep your eye on the prize: more money and success for your business.