Affiliate marketing can be a great way to make a living and enjoy a lifestyle of freedom by working on your terms. A big part of becoming a successful affiliate marketer comes down choosing the right affiliate marketing program. And that’s exactly what this article is about! But before we get to that, let’s first cover some important basics…
WHAT IS AN AFFILIATE PROGRAM?
Here’s a revelation… Every business, regardless of size, wants to sell more product. Of course, there are many ways to achieve this, but among the most important comes down to the big “M”: marketing.
While many companies have dedicated marketing departments to handle this part of the sales process, many also establish “affiliate programs” to help incentivize independent marketers like you and me to send them leads, referrals, or sales in exchange for commissions or rewards.
Most affiliate programs are free to join, but many merchants require prior approval before allowing you to promote their products and services.* This helps them to filter out spammers and newbies who don’t meet their requirements (usually this means not meeting their traffic quotas).
Once approved, you typically gain access to their backend tracking system, which often contains various tools, analytics, digital assets (such as banner ad designs), payment processing, and tips to help increase your chances of success.
Your job then is to send traffic to these sponsors either through paid ads or organic search traffic (SEO) using dedicated affiliate links provided to you by the merchant. (As a beginner, I strongly encourage you to stick with organic traffic. Yes, it can take a long time to see results but unlike paid ads, you’re far less likely to lose your shirt in the process!)
*Point of clarification: An affiliate program is not the same thing as an affiliate network. As you might suspect, an affiliate program is a program offered by a single merchant whereas a network is a marketplace filled with hundreds or thousands of potential merchants split into various categories. In this way, a network acts as an intermediary between the two sides. Like most affiliate programs, affiliate networks are free to join but require prior approval by individual merchants. [source]
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT AFFILIATE PROGRAM FOR YOU
There are a TON of affiliate programs out there so how do you go about finding one that’s right for you? Well, it comes down to your individual goals and preferences and asking yourself important questions like these:
What is Your Desired Niche?
Different programs specialize in certain niches, while others are broader and offer affiliates the choice of virtually any topic. To help identify a target area, give some thought to the kinds of things you buy on a regular basis, activities you enjoy, groups you’re a part of, or problems you wish you could solve. This way, you’ll have an easier time putting yourself in the shoes of a prospect, which can ultimately lead to better conversions and sales.
What Type of Products Do You Want to Promote?
One of the main distinctions between products is whether they’re physical or digital. A digital product might have a higher profit margin built in and consequently, offer better commissions. Physical products, on the other hand, often convert better and appeal to a market of impulse buyers, so volume and cash flow are potentially higher.
What Commission Rate is Acceptable to You?
Commission rate is a big one. Feeling like you’re not getting paid enough to be an affiliate can be quite demotivating after a while. However, there’s more to commissions than the initial commission itself. Some programs offer recurring commissions, which typically means you get paid every month as long as customers continue to pay their fees.
What is the Level of Competition?
Different affiliate programs and niches have higher levels of competition than others. If you’re just starting out, you’re better off choosing less-competitive areas. This gives you a chance to hone your skills without getting eaten by the sharks. Then again, sometimes markets with higher competition also have higher rewards.
So with that, let’s now dive into some of the finest and easiest affiliate marketing programs for newbies to get started with…
12 BEST AFFILIATE MARKETING PROGRAMS FOR BEGINNERS
The granddaddy of them all, Amazon Associates is perhaps the best-known affiliate marketing program for beginners. And for good reason… Amazon is a conversion machine. So long as your content is good and your site gets traffic, you stand a good chance of making sales. Why? Because the majority of online shoppers already buy through Amazon and have come to trust them. That works in your favor when visitors land on your site!
Keep in mind that while Amazon Associates is free to join, you’re expected to make your first sale within three months. If you don’t make at least one sale during this time frame, Amazon will close your associates account. But don’t worry, you can always reapply (and reapply again) until you make your first sale.
One of the things I like best about Amazon is that apart from making commissions off of products you specifically promote, you also get a cut from anything else a customer buys at the same time, whether it’s a high-ticket item like a flat-screen TV or a basic household item like toothpaste.
While Amazon converts really well, their commission structure leaves much to be desired. Let’s face it, Amazon’s commission rate was never that great to begin with but things went from bad to worse in 2017 when they redid everything. Here’s what it looks like now:
Another drawback is Amazon’s short affiliate cookie — a mere 24 hours. In other words, you won’t make commissions if the customer waits more than a day to buy the items through your affiliate links.
So given the low commission rates and 24-hour cookie, is Amazon’s affiliate program still worth it? Well, it depends. If you’re in a niche with lots of high-ticket items ($100+) then yes, it can be. But if you’re in a niche with mostly low-priced items (< $75), then probably no. You’d need a TON of organic traffic to make a good income from that, which isn’t realistic for someone just starting out.
At the very least, Amazon Associates can be a very good adjunct program combined with other affiliate programs/networks you’re partnered with. So, definitely check it out.
You don’t have to look far until you stumble upon a blogger promoting Bluehost as his/her preferred web hosting company for newbies. Makes sense when you think about it, considering Bluehost’s stellar reputation and awesome commission structure.
Bluehost pays an amazing $65 per sale with the possibility of making $120 per sale for super affiliates that generate tons of sales. These figures alone make them one of the best web hosting companies to promote.
Now, these high payouts are offered instead of recurring commissions. In other words, Bluehost offers a generous one-time payment in exchange for a lifelong customer. Even so, it’s still a fantastic deal. I mean, think about it, you could be making 1K per month just by referring 15 new customers every 30 days.
That said, promoting web hosting companies like Bluehost has become quite competitive so it could take a while until your efforts start to pay off if you decide to go the SEO route.
Bluehost’s affiliate program is free to join and you’re not required to hit a certain number of sales to keep your account open. They have a reliable tracking system, enabling you to monitor traffic and conversions through their dashboard. All in all, a great program to promote.
Along with Amazon Associates, Clickbank is arguably the most popular affiliate program for novices to cut their teeth. Founded in 1998, Clickbank has developed into a major platform connecting publishers with advertisers in the affiliate marketing space.
Clickbank offers a wide variety of digital products to choose from in many different niches, including the big three and all its sub-categories: health, wealth, and relationships. They also make it easy to see which products convert best so you don’t waste time promoting duds.
As an affiliate network with many publishers, Clickbank commission rates are all over the place. But it’s not uncommon to see rates as high as 75% for a standard eBook or software product.
All this comes with a big caveat — Clickbank, while potentially lucrative, is a platform littered with junk products and outright scams. Unlike affiliate networks like CJ and Linkshare (see below), Clickbank doesn’t screen publishers to the extent of these other networks. Thus, practically anyone with a pulse can register to sell their “guaranteed solution” to whatever problem their product purports to solve.
What does this mean for you? Well, it means you have to do your due diligence before deciding to promote anything there. Clickbank does have good products, you just have to dig around a bit to find them. Read online reviews of products you’re interested in and/or request review copies from the product creators themselves. Some will be more than happy to accommodate you.
It’s easy to set up an affiliate account with Clickbank and free to join (only merchants are charged). Unlike some affiliate partnerships, Clickbank’s payout threshold can be as low as $10, which is nice for newbies just getting started.
On the flipside, “dormant” accounts that have a positive balance but no earnings over an extended period of time are subjected to small deductions over pay periods:
- $1 after 90 days of no earnings
- $5 after 180 days of no earnings
- $50 after 365 days of no earnings
Yeah, that’s a bit of a buzzkill, but don’t let that dissuade you. Many affiliates make a nice living just by promoting Clickbank products, so why not you?
Formerly Commission Junction, CJ is one of the oldest and largest affiliate networks around, featuring more than 3000 big brand merchants with thousands of both digital and physical products to promote. If you can’t find something here related to your niche, you must have some super obscure interest! 🙂
CJ’s backend system is pretty sophisticated but usable once you get the hang of it. And in case you ever run into problems, they offer a reliable ticket system.
While joining the CJ network is pretty straight-forward, it’s important to fill out your application as best you can to increase your odds of getting approved.
The real challenge comes with getting accepted by individual merchants, especially large corporations who expect a proven track record before bringing you on board (i.e., traffic and sales). So, you’ll probably have to limit yourself to merchants with easier requirements, at least initially until things start to ramp up for you.
And don’t worry, if you get rejected by a merchant, you can always reapply a few months down the road once your numbers start to increase. Also, keep in mind that you’ll automatically be approved for certain products once CJ accepts your application, which may or may not be worth promoting depending on your niche.
The minimum payout for direct deposit is $50 and $100 by check, which is pretty standard (no Paypal option though). As far as affiliate networks go, CJ is considered the cream of the crop among many affiliate marketers.
As the biggest auction site in the world, eBay sells products every second of the day and there’s no reason why you can’t get a piece of the action. Keep in mind that promoting eBay-listed items tends to work best in niches catered around second-hand products, collectibles, and antiques. Think vintage clothing, video games, vinyl, jewelry — that sort of thing.
Signing up with eBay’s affiliate program costs nothing and commission rates are attractive: 50-70% of revenue that eBay makes off the product (not the product itself), double that percentage for new or reactivated buyers. As you’d expect, the exact commission rate depends on the category of the item being sold.
Unlike some other affiliate programs, eBay only has a $10 minimum payout threshold. That’s a good thing as seeing those first few dollars roll into your bank account can be a good motivator when starting out (waiting to hit a high threshold like $100+ can get frustrating fast).
Like Amazon, eBay offers several tools to help advertise listed items on your website. But also like Amazon, eBay cookies only last 24 hours. Still, as the only real game in town, you can’t complain.
In short, partnering up with eBay can work really well if you have the right niche to go along with it.
Email autoresponders are great for both new and experienced affiliate marketers to capitalize on since most are set up on a recurring commissions model. There are a bunch of good ones out there but my favorite goes to GetResponse, which is the service I use on this website to capture emails for marketing.
GetResponse includes everything you’d expect from an email marketing platform, including design templates, newsletters, autoresponders, forms and surveys, analytics, and so on. They offer a generous 33% commission rate for each month a subscriber stays on one of the following plans:
- Up to 1,000 subscribers = $15
- 1,001 to 2,500 subscribers = $25
- 2,501 to 5,000 subscribers = $45
- Plus many more tiers…
At $15 for the first 1000 email subscribers, GetResponse only costs about half that of its main competitor, Aweber ($29). The lower cost can actually lead to more sales if you position yourself correctly to your audience.
The GetResponse affiliate program is free to join and you won’t have to jump through hoops to get accepted. Their backend tracking system is pretty self-explanatory and you’ll find several tools to help get you started with your promotions. Support is super responsive should you ever run into problems. GetResponse is a solid affiliate program if there ever was one.
If you’re in the make money online niche (MMO), there’s no better network to be affiliated with than JVZoo. And it’s easy to see why. One quick glance at muncheye.com (a calendar of upcoming internet marketing product releases) shows you just how many new MMO products get released every single day.
In other words, they host a never-ending supply of products for you to promote to your audience.
The products can be anything from WordPress plugins and eBooks to sophisticated software and training programs.
As you’d expect, commissions vary but generally speaking, most rates start at 50% and above, sometimes much more than that. In this respect, the MMO niche is better than many other niches where commission rates are often considerably less.
That said, the MMO niche isn’t for the faint of heart as the business can be quite cut-throat. Moreover, the products themselves often fall short of their promises and sometimes even be outright scams. Still, if you’re willing to jump in and stick with it, promoting products on JVZoo can be a lucrative venture.
While JVZoo is free to join, you’ll need to get permission from the product vendors themselves for each product you wish to promote (unlike Clickbank). But don’t worry, this isn’t the CJ network (see above). As long you come across as legit and serious when putting in your request, more often than not you’ll get approved by the vendor.
I also find that promoting products on JVZoo is a good way to keep up to date in the fast-paced world of internet marketing. You’ll learn what’s currently working, which can potentially help you with your own online affiliate business.
Dating back to 1996, Rakuten (formerly known as Linkshare) is one of the oldest and best-known affiliate networks on the market, and that’s saying something given the competition.
While Rakuten has fewer merchants and categories than some of its main competitors (1000+ merchants and 20+ categories to be exact), it’s more than enough options for the average affiliate marketer.
Rakuten is free to join but you’ll need to apply to each merchant you wish to work with individually. Keep in mind, your site will need a good amount of traffic before many of these merchants will approve you.
Among its tools and resources, Rakuten offers a handy rotating ad banner creation tool that sets itself apart from its competitors. This can be quite useful depending on how you choose to promote merchant products.
Rakuten also includes tracking and analytics, albeit less robust and intuitive than some of its main competitors. Still, in the scheme of things, this isn’t a major drawback.
The minimum threshold for payouts is $50 but unlike CJ and ShareASale, payout dates are a bit more irregular (no set date every month).
If you sell or plan to sell physical products, Rakuten is certainly an affiliate marketing network worth exploring.
Started in 2000 and boosting over 40 categories with over 4500 merchants, ShareASale is one of the biggest and most reputable affiliate networks around, and especially great for those interested in selling physical goods like apparel, electronics, and gifts.
Obviously sifting through such a huge number of merchants can be daunting, which is why their PowerRank feature is useful as it allows you to limit your search to their top 100 merchants only.
Like other networks, ShareASale is free to join but you’ll first have to make an initial $5 payment for a security check, which will be credited back to you once you’re cleared. You’ll then receive a welcome kit offering tips on how to become a successful ShareASale affiliate.
Keep in mind, you’ll need to be approved by individual merchants for the products you wish to promote, but that’s standard fare among most affiliate networks (except for Clickbank).
ShareASale’s backend system offers real-time reports to track your data, including, clicks, sales, and commissions. Plus, it offers several useful resources and tools like a handy URL shortener for abbreviating long affiliate links.
Payouts are twice a month with a minimum threshold of $50, which about the norm among big networks (no Paypal option, unfortunately). Overall, ShareASale is a good network to be associated with.
In the past few years, Shopify has practically become synonymous with eCommerce stores. Started in 2006 and made public in 2015 on the NYSE, this online platform for aspiring entrepreneurs has shot up to become the de facto leader in the eCommerce platform space.
If you have an interest in dropshipping, subscription box businesses, or general eCommerce, Shopify is definitely the platform to promote. Affiliates earn an average of $58 per paid sign up plan and $2000 for Shopify Plus referrals — Shopify’s enterprise platform for large brands. Cookies last for 30 days, which is quite generous compared to many other affiliate programs.
Shopify even offers an email nurture system to help convert trial users into premium users when they sign up through your affiliate link, thus increasing your chances of earning more commissions.
Shopify’s affiliate program is free to join but you’ll need to be approved first. So long as you already have some quality content on your site related to eCommerce, you shouldn’t have a problem. Once you’re accepted, you’ll immediately be assigned an affiliate manager to answer any questions you have and to help optimize your site or ads for better conversions. You’ll also have access to tutorials, tools, and more.
Recommending Shopify will let your conscience rest easy as it’s an all around great and affordable service, but keep in mind that because it’s so popular, you’ll likely face stiffer competition.
11. Thrive Themes
If you like the layout of my site, especially a landing page like this, then you can thank Thrive Architect for that — one of the many tools produced by Thrive Themes, a leader in WordPress themes and plugins.
A sturdy WordPress theme, intuitive visual editor, attractive lead capture form, various widgets, and optimizers are all essential components to building a robust website, and Thrive Themes’ suite of awesome products pretty much covers them all.
Thrive Themes offers 35% commission per sale and 25% yearly recurring commission for customers who sign up with Thrive Membership — an annual membership plan that grants customers access to all their tools.
To give you a bit of perspective, their most popular tool, Thrive Architect, costs $67 for a single license so you’d make $23.45 off a sale — not bad. And the $228 annual cost for Thrive Membership would yield an alluring $57 per sale.
Thrive Themes low threshold rate of $20 makes their affiliate program even more enticing, especially for newbies looking for that first Paypal deposit.
The Thrive Themes affiliate program is free to join but you’ll first have to complete a short application “quiz” to see if you qualify. In most cases, you’ll be approved, especially if you have an active blog going related to website development, WordPress, eCommerce, SEO, etc.
Like any well-run affiliate program, Thrive Themes offers training, marketing materials, tracking links, analytics and more to help get you started as well as monitor your results. Their products practically sell themselves and that’s reason enough to promote them.
So I decided to save the best for last (well, it would have been last anyway considering this is an alphabetical list!) And the honor goes to Wealthy Affiliate (WA) — one of the top affiliate marketing programs for beginners.
I’ve been a member of Wealthy Affiliate for several years now and have no intention of ever leaving. Why? Well, for several reasons:
- They’ve taught and continue to teach me a TON about affiliate marketing.
- They offer great, super handy tools, resources, and services, including web hosting, site comments/feedback, and Jaaxy — their proprietary keyword research tool.
- Their 24/7 community is invaluable whenever I feel stuck or just feel like chatting with like-minded folks.
- Their affiliate program is top-notch, featuring generous commission rates, tools, and support. Plus, it’s based on a recurring business model, so you get paid each month a Premium member stays on.
In other words, Wealthy Affiliate offers the complete package for the aspiring affiliate marketer, unmatched in the industry.
Now, you don’t have to be a Premium member to promote Wealthy Affiliate but it makes more sense for the following reasons:
- As a new affiliate marketer, you’ll up your own game significantly by becoming a Premium member because of everything you’ll learn about affiliate marketing over time.
- The better your understanding of Wealthy Affiliate, the easier time you’ll have promoting it and that only comes with experience, which you only get by continuing as a Premium member.
- Your commission rate will be higher. To see what I mean, just compare the following rate structure:
Starter Member Affiliate Rate
- $4 for the first month, then $11.75 each month thereafter
- $87.50 for yearly commissions
Premium Member Affiliate Rate
- $8 for the first month, then $23.50 each month thereafter
- $175 for yearly commissions
With an average conversion rate of 12%, Wealthy Affiliate does a great job of turning Starter members into Premium ones. And it’s not hard to see why once customers have a look around during the six-day trial period.
Wealthy Affiliate offers all the affiliate tools you’d want, including analytics, links and tracking, banners and more. Plus, they’ve created an entire multi-step training program called ‘Affiliate Bootcamp’ that teaches you exactly how to promote Wealthy Affiliate to generate maximum sales .
Now, I’m sure you’d agree that affiliate marketing works best when you can get totally behind the product or service you’re promoting. Not only does Wealthy Affiliate as a service live up to this expectation, its affiliate program does too… in spades.
So, with all my gushing, you may be wondering if Wealthy Affiliate’s affiliate program has any downsides to speak of. I can’t think of any genuine drawbacks but there’s one thing you should understand in advance…
As you probably already know, affiliate marketing usually doesn’t involve much, if any, interaction with customers (unlike, say, eCommerce or dropshipping). Most of the time, a customer buys through your affiliate link and that’s the extent of your “relationship.” Promoting Wealthy Affiliate, however, requires a bit more effort to be successful…
Ideally, you want your Premium members to stick around as long as possible, right? Well, the best way to do that is to take interest in your customers’ success and that means answering their questions, responding to comments, and just being there to guide them whenever they need help.
Sound time-consuming? Not really. I literally only spend around 10 minutes per day doing this (if that) and I’ve got quite a number of Premium members in my roster, most of whom never contact me. And for those that do, I’ve really come to enjoy helping them succeed! Sharing the delight when one of your Premium members makes his/her first dollar online as an affiliate marketer can be quite the thrill. 🙂
If you’d like to learn more about the nuts and bolts of Wealthy Affiliate, I’d encourage you to check out my comprehensive review HERE.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!
What do you think about my choices for the best affiliate marketing programs for beginners? Did I hit the spot or am I way off the mark? Have your say by leaving your comments below!