Affiliate marketing for beginners: How do you get started? Simply explained

Fatih-Kağan Taşkoparan

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Only those who grew up in the "pre-Internet" era can really understand how many things the Internet has simplified to such an incredible extent. We once had to collect information about surgery times in the city or data for school referrals locally and in libraries.

However, if you are looking for information of any kind today, you will find well-organized data collections and countless well-researched articles on the Internet that answer exactly the questions you are asking yourself. But how can websites that "just" provide information actually earn money? By cooperating with you, for example. This is known as affiliate marketing.

In this article, you'll learn all about affiliate marketing basics and how affiliate marketing can work for beginners. Ready to get started?

What is the basic concept of affiliate marketing?

Digital magazines, information sites and similar projects generate a lot of reach that you can benefit from as a store owner. The prerequisite for this is that you start an affiliate program (also: partner program) and thus give the website operator the opportunity to share in the sales.

So there are always two players in affiliate marketing:

  1. Publishers (also: affiliates, high-reach websites)
  2. Advertisers (also: merchants, online retailers and service providers)

Publishers are owners of high-reach media. These can be websites, social media channels or newsletter lists. Advertisers are e-commerce merchants like you. They offer products or services on the internet.

Publishers integrate advertising material from advertisers (i.e. online retailers) as part of affiliate marketing. This can be done in many different ways: as a classic banner ad or as a link in an editorial article. The decisive factor is that these advertising materials redirect to the online retailer's product pages when clicked on.

When visitors click on such an affiliate link, this is tracked: it can be clearly assigned from which publisher a person came to an advertiser's website. Both sides benefit from this:

Publishers receive compensation from merchants for placing affiliate links from merchants on their high-reach websites. The online retailers receive more customers who find them from a wide variety of websites.

Depending on the agreement between publisher and advertiser, a commission is paid for different activities. The following billing systems are common:

  • Pay-per-click: Every click on an affiliate link is remunerated
  • Pay-per-lead: Only a specific action or lead (e.g. registration in a newsletter form) is remunerated
  • Pay-per-sale: In order for the publisher to receive a commission, visitors must not simply follow a link, but must buy something in the linked store. The amount of the commission is often set as a percentage of the shopping cart value.

This naturally leads to a small conflict of interest between publishers and advertisers. Publishers want to have predictable income, while advertisers ideally only want to pay a commission if they are successful. How both sides can agree on a model that is profitable for everyone depends, for example, on how big the publisher or how well-known the store is.

Affiliate network versus own program: Which makes more sense?

The technical implementation of affiliate marketing is one of the biggest challenges. Some large stores have decided to set up their own affiliate program. The best-known affiliate program in e-commerce is certainly that of Amazon.

For smaller store operators, however, cooperation with an affiliate network is a better option. In any case, this ensures that the tracking works. In addition, affiliate programs are advertised on such platforms with a wide reach, so there is a greater chance that interesting publishers will become aware of your store.

Affiliate networks usually charge a three- to four-figure setup fee to set up the basic technical framework. However, this is still significantly cheaper for you than developing your own affiliate program. The networks also offer their advertisers advice and service. This route is therefore recommended for beginners in affiliate marketing.

Suitable publishers for online stores: Who advertises for you?

To give you a small idea of who could promote your products as a publisher in the future, here is a list of typical types of publishers who use affiliate marketing in e-commerce to refinance themselves:

  • Content pages: These could be magazines from your industry, for example. In recent years, many comparison sites have also grown up that compare products from different manufacturers based on different criteria and use affiliate links to monetize this research work.
  • Coupon and deal sites: These are platforms that provide information about current discounts. If you are currently running an exciting deal, you will attract a lot of attention via such sites.
  • Cashback portals: Users buy from you via cashback portals; the portals return part of the affiliate commission to the customers.
  • Newsletter: Some publishers do not even have their own website, but maintain a newsletter list with many active email addresses that are sent advertising from time to time. However, the newsletter is often just a supplement to another format - e.g. from deal sites that draw attention to attractive discounts.
  • Social media: In addition to major influencers, many other publishers also like to use social media as a supplement to generate even more reach and earn affiliate commissions.
  • Special formats: There are affiliates who specialize in paid advertising - e.g. via Google Shopping or display advertising. Whether there is still room for a margin here depends above all on the amount of your commission.

As an advertiser, you have the choice of publishers in your own hands. When setting up a program, you are free to exclude certain types of publishers if you don't like their business model.

In addition to entire groups of publishers, you can also pick out and block individual pages that you don't like for various reasons. You can also prohibit certain techniques, such as brand bidding - i.e. bidding on your brand name in Google Ads.

Step by step into affiliate marketing: How do I get started?

If you have considered whether affiliate marketing can help you generate more sales, you can approach the launch of your affiliate program step by step.

Step 1: Calculate commissions

Do you know your margins and how high your advertising costs are? Then you can calculate the commission you should pay out to your publishers on this basis. The more attractive your commission is, the more publishers will be interested in participating in your affiliate program.

Step 2: Laying the technical foundations

For most affiliate marketing beginners, working with an affiliate network is the best choice at this stage. It must be ensured that customer tracking works properly. The affiliate network will provide you with the best possible support and advice.

Step 3: Set conditions

Your affiliate program is about to be launched. Now it's time to define a catalog of conditions that your publishers must meet. For example, you don't want price search engines to participate in your affiliate program? Then create clear conditions right from the start so that there are no complaints if you change your rules during operation.

Step 4: Start & maintain your partner program

After the launch, some publishers will probably become aware of your affiliate program straight away. But you shouldn't just sit back and wait for your affiliate marketing to get rolling. Instead, it is advisable to cultivate your relationships with publishers and actively approach potential publishers if you find an interesting site that would be a perfect fit for your store.

Conclusion: Affiliate marketing can also be implemented by beginners

Affiliate marketing can quickly become a success, even for beginners. The reach of publishers can lead to significantly increased sales figures in your store.

Apart from the setup fee that affiliate networks charge once to set up the affiliate program, the financial risk is limited. Especially if you only pay commission on sales. Of course, it is important that you calculate the amount of commission well.

However, there is also a sticking point: if no publishers take notice of you, your affiliate marketing project can quickly turn into a failure and not generate any revenue. Reasons for this can be an unattractive product range (too expensive, too little choice ...) or too little commission.

In particular, the fact that every e-commerce partner program inevitably competes with Amazon puts small retailers under pressure to put together a more interesting overall package.

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