Affiliate Marketing Programs for Beginners: Keeping to the Light Side

Affiliate Marketing Programs for Beginners: The Good the Bad & the Ugly

Have you been searching for profitable affiliate marketing programs for beginners? Great, then you’re in the right place!

Because one of the best ways for beginners in marketing – and solopreneurs – to cut their teeth is to learn affiliate marketing. That is, earning a commission from sales of products or services you promote on behalf of well-chosen vendors.

There are thousands of affiliate programs out there, but they’re not all suitable for beginners.

This article discusses how to choose the best affiliate programs or networks, and the best affiliate products to promote.

Note from the author: Knowing how to choose a good affiliate program will be important as you develop your marketing expertise. For that reason, I’d suggest reading Steps 1 and 2 before moving on. Want to skip straight to the list of Affiliate Programs? Jump down to
Step 3: the 5 best affiliate programs we picked out for beginners.And sign up below to receive the free Affiliate Program Checklist!

Step 1: How to Choose the Best Affiliate Programs for Beginners

Beginner Affiliate Program MinefieldFor a long time, affiliate marketing had a very bad press. Even now there are many affiliate programs of low quality. The trick is learning how to spot them.

Choosing the best affiliate program to meet your visitors’ needs, especially when you’re a beginner, can be a minefield. Not every program has a light side. Not every affiliate has your, or your audience’s, best interests at heart.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it ethically, and successfully, to make money from your blog.

The Dark Side: Affiliate Marketing Programs to Avoid

The Dark Side in a cloak

When you look at the dark side, careful you must be — for the dark side looks back.Yoda, Jedi Master

Remember: your site visitors rely on you. Trust is paramount. If you promote a bad product, you’re doing serious damage to your own brand. Your audience will leave and never come back, and may well spread the word.

That makes it important to know what to beware in an affiliate program in exactly the same way as we’ve seen the need to beware of fake reviews.

What to look for? As a general principle, avoid any that have an “earnings first” mindset, trying to persuade you to make a quick buck. Remember: your aim is to serve your customers.

    • First and foremost, any program that claims you can be a millionaire overnight — or make thousands within three hours — is a scam. No question.
Affiliate Marketing Scams

Example of an affiliate scam.

  • Always question hype. Don’t accept claims at face value. Using affiliates properly requires work. Remember the saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
  • Beware of any affiliate program that asks for an up-front payment. Most legitimate platforms are free.
  • Do your “due diligence.” Check reviews of any affiliate company you intend to use. Look for issues like poor customer care, little or no communication, late payouts.
  • What information can you find about the quality of the products or services themselves? Anyone can write a glowing review, particularly if they stand to make money from it. But is there specific evidence of quality and success?
  • In the financial and health and fitness niches particularly, beware of products apparently “sponsored” by or with a “testimonial” from a celebrity. Check out the person’s own website to check whether the claims are real.
  • Finally, ask yourself this: “Would I be happy to recommend this affiliate and their products to my grandmother?” If the answer is “no,” avoid.

How to Start Affiliate Marketing: Choose the Light

Finding a good affiliate is basically doing the opposite of going to the dark side.

Already know you that which you need. Master Yoda

By now, you have the message about what you need to look for. Customer-first. Money second. So it almost goes without saying that when you look at any affiliate program, you’re looking at quality, not commission.

  • Good quality products — obviously. We’ll come to that in a moment.
  • Take note of whether you can “deep-link” to individual products. If an affiliate only offers banners to their home page, it’s unlikely to have any effect. Customers want details of what they’re about to buy.
  • Customer service. If there are complaints about poor or no communication, avoid. Be sure to check out the brand on social platforms. It’s there you’ll get real feedback from customer posts and Tweets.
  • Statistics reports. You need to be able to tell which products and which types of link are working and which are not.
  • Regular payments. Some affiliates will pay directly into your bank account, others will pay by check or PayPal. Decide what you’re prepared to accept, and stick with it.

Step 2: How to Choose the Best Affiliate Products

Become an Affiliate Marketing Customer Jedi!

Affiliate Program Customer JediHaving assessed the affiliate program, now look at the products from that program that you intend to sell. Look for products based on what you know about your customers, plus your understanding of where they are in life and where they want to be. Choose what will truly help them.

Good relations with the Wookies I haveYoda, General in the Grand Army of the Republic

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Think about the time when you were new to your niche. What was the one thing that made a real difference to your life? What have you bought since that’s helped you the most?

Why consider that? Because you’re looking primarily for products that will work for your audience. Solutions you know will answer their problems. Items that will meet their needs. Services that will genuinely improve their life.

That is how your visitors will know they can trust you when you write product reviews or promote your affiliate products on your website.

That you’re not just trying to make money without caring about what you sell them. That you can answer their questions if they have some. That you’re not just promoting something because it has a big payout attached.

And to do that, you need to know and care about your audience.

If your brand was a person, people should want to be friends with them.Jay Shetty

Here are some pointers when you’re searching for affiliate products to promote:

  • Think wider than physical products, if appropriate to your niche. What about digital products? Courses? Services? Events?
  • Knowing your audience, would they appreciate something a little out of the ordinary? Have fun with this. In a travel niche? Don’t just promote hotels, promote houseboats, or tree houses. Backyard chickens niche? Look at cycling helmets for chickens (yep, there is such a thing — ask me how I know…).
  • What difference will this product make in your audience’s life? How will it improve their life?
  • What evidence do you have? The best is personal experience — you’ve used this product or service and can genuinely recommend it, warts and all.
  • Whether it’s a $10 Christmas ornament or a $10,000 car, are you comfortable promoting it? If you met a customer in the street, would she thank you for suggesting it?

How to Make Money With Affiliate Marketing

This is a topic all of its own, and outwith the remit of this article. But if you want to begin with affiliate marketing right now, just bear these simple points in mind:

  • Serve your customers first.
  • Be transparent. Let your audience know that you’re promoting this product because you genuinely believe in it. But also tell them you stand to earn a commission.
  • Be proud of serving your people and you won’t go far wrong.

Step 3: The Best Affiliate Programs for Beginners

Best Affiliate ProgramsOut of the thousands of affiliate programs, here are the five that we consider being the best for beginners in affiliate marketing.

“Best” in terms of being easy to join, easy to set up, easy to find high-quality products relevant to your niche.

You have two options: standalone affiliate programs, and affiliate networks, also known as platforms or “aggregators.” We’ll discuss three standalones first.

Standalone Affiliate Programs

1. Amazon.com

The 'Zon's' HomepageAmazon Affiliates is by far the best entry-level affiliate program for beginners. Launched in 1996, it’s one of the largest affiliate programs in the world, with more than $178 billion of revenue passing through the company in 2017 and 90 million Prime subscribers in the US alone.

That’s a large market to tap into.

Pros and Cons of Amazon’s Affiliate Program

  • It’s a globally known and trusted shopping platform with over a million products for sale.
  • 44% of American consumers choose Amazon above any other online retailer.
  • Conversion rates (numbers of people who buy) for Amazon Prime members is a whopping 74%, 13% for non-Prime shoppers. That’s compared with just 3% for other retailers.

What’s good for your audience

  • Millions of high-quality products delivered quickly and efficiently.
  • Excellent 30-day return policy — no questions asked.
  • A platform they know and trust.

What’s good for you as an affiliate marketer

  • There are very few niches not covered by Amazon products.
  • Applications for the program are simple to complete; links are quick and easy to set up.
  • You get paid for anything the consumer buys for the next 24 hours, not only the product you linked to (known as a “cookie” link).
  • Statistical feedback is helpful and detailed.
  • Support for affiliate queries is generally fast and helpful.

What’s not so good

  • Depending on the product category, commission rates can be as low as 1%.
  • 24 hours for a cookie is short compared with other platforms.
  • The pages for smaller products (Christmas decorations are particularly bad) are often taken down, leading to broken links. Amazon doesn’t inform you of this, so there’s no way to know unless you keep a close eye on every individual one. Or you get a complaint from an irate customer.

Does the Amazon Associates affiliate program have an acceptance threshold?

  • Amazon insists on an active website or blog with at least ten posts. It will be reviewed during the assessment process. They do not require a set number of site visitors.
  • They also accept social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, with at least 500 organic followers.
  • You must have a specific statement on your website or social platform identifying yourself as an Associate.
Our recommendation: the best affiliate program for beginners

Amazon is so well known and trusted worldwide and has so many products for sale across dozens of categories, that we can’t think of any niche that would not have a product their audience will appreciate.

It’s easy to set up, easy to link, easy to test, review and assess links for effectiveness.

If you want to choose just one affiliate program, choose this one.

How to join the Amazon Associates Program

Go to the main Associates page and follow the step-by-step instructions.


2. Zazzle

Zazzle's Affiliate ProgramLaunched in 2005, Zazzle is one of the most well-known “Print on Demand” platforms. It allows its customers to design their own merchandise, using templates on thousands of products from tee-shirts to mugs to pet supplies.

It works like this: take a blank product like a tee-shirt, sweatshirt, mug, greetings card, apron — you get the idea — and add your own text and / or design. Zazzle prints it and ships it.

But not everyone is a designer. If that’s you, there’s no need to worry, because you don’t have to create your own. You can choose to promote other people’s designs, and reap the affiliate commission reward.

Let’s suppose your website is about migraine relief. You’ve found books on Amazon, and you’re selling them as affiliate products. Great!

You’d like to offer your visitors something a little more imaginative. Maybe even adding in some humor.

T-Shirt Marketing Program

So you go to Zazzle, and find this…

Perfect!

Not sure about the color? No problem — customize the design to meet your own requirements.

Don’t want to sell tee-shirts? Fine! You can choose to make the same design available on any product: mugs, keychains, greetings cards, baby clothes — the possibilities are endless.

Want to provide it as an embroidered product? Easy! Submit the design for image conversion and add it to a throw cushion!

Pros and Cons of Zazzle’s Affiliate Program

What’s good about it: general

  • Most items are made in America.
  • Thousands of products with hundreds of ways to personalize each one.
  • Printing quality is said to be better than others in the same field.
  • Earn 15% per sale, 17% if you sell a higher volume.

What’s good for your audience

  • Very simple user interface where your audience can personalize designs by adding their own message or name, for example.
  • 30-day return policy.

What’s good for you as an affiliate marketer

  • Excellent for niches that may otherwise be hard to find a wider selection of products for.
  • The ability to personalize means these designs can be made unique for your audience.
  • You get paid for anything the consumer buys for the next 35 days, not only the product you linked to (that “cookie” link again).
  • It’s fun!

What’s not so good

  • Zazzle often runs sales, over which neither the product designer nor you have control. Prices can be reduced by up to 20%, thus reducing your commission.
  • Payment is only by check or PayPal — no direct bank transfers.
  • It’s tempting to spend a lot of time on Zazzle and get sucked into creating your own products. If you have time — fine! If not, make sure you’re rigorous about limiting your time on the platform.

Does Zazzle’s affiliate program have an acceptance threshold?

No. Anyone can join, at any time.

Our recommendation: the best affiliate program for creative types

Zazzle is a fun platform that can work well for niches that don’t otherwise have an obvious product set. Not as easy as adding an Amazon link, and you’ll probably need to write product review pages to sell this type of merchandise.

How to join Zazzle’s Affiliate Program

Set up a Zazzle account, remember to add your payment and tax details. Choose your design and product(s), add any modifications you may want, click the “share this” icon…

Zazzle's Affiliate Marketing Marketing Icons

… and start making 15% commission on your blog, social platforms or newsletter.

Simple.


3. Ultimate Bundles

Ultimate Bundles Affiliate ProgramUltimate Bundles is a popular program run by a group of bloggers and online influencers.

Based on their knowledge of what their audiences want, they collect a large selection of high-quality digital products — books, courses, downloads, cheat sheets — which they bundle into one package and sell through affiliates.

To maintain high quality across the bundles, their wide-ranging topics are supplied by specially selected contributors and have included a blogger’s toolkit, and courses on…

  • Herbs and essential oils
  • Managing money
  • Healthy living
  • Photography…

… and more. Something for most niches.

This is different from other affiliate programs in that the sale period itself is not open-ended. It’s always kept short to create a buzz, and a feeling of scarcity.

Traditional reviews where each part of the bundle is described in monotonous detail won’t sell these products well. They require a more creative approach — something like “Why just 3 parts of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle changed my life.”

Pros and Cons of Ultimate Bundles Affiliate Program

What’s good about it: general

  • A well-organized program by bloggers, for bloggers.
  • Generous commission structure at 40% for an affiliate; 70% if you are accepted as a contributor.
  • The rigorous assessment process for all download contributions, so you can be reasonably sure of high quality for each product in each bundle (but see below for the need for “due diligence”).

What’s good for your audience

  • Practical, step-by-step guides through a variety of topics.
  • Lifetime access to every product in the bundle once they’re downloaded.
  • Each sale is about a 97% reduction on the original prices of the bundled items.
  • 30-day no questions asked money back “Happiness Guarantee.”

What’s good for you as an affiliate marketer

  • A large selection of topics that will add value to your niche.
  • Apart from the first tier affiliate commission, there’s also a second tier. So if you refer other people to promote the bundles you also earn a proportion of the sales they make.
  • There are a dedicated Facebook group and specific training for affiliates including tips and techniques, planners and webinars.

What’s not so good

  • Reviews suggest that, while most parts of bundles are good quality, some are less so. As an affiliate, you would need to check each one to make sure your audience is getting a good deal.
  • The brief sale window makes pre-planning essential and marketing intense. This is not a “put a link up and forget it” program.

Does the Ultimate Bundles affiliate program have an acceptance threshold?

You must have a blog or website, but there are no minimum traffic requirements. Because it sells downloadable products, it’s available internationally.

Our recommendation: the best affiliate program for bloggers prepared to spend time marketing

If the bundles fit your niche and if you’re prepared to work at marketing them, this is an excellent affiliate program.

Want to see it in action? Take a look at SBIer Taylor Flanery’s sale of the “Ultimate Productivity” bundle.

How to join the Ultimate Bundles affiliate program

Visit the Ultimate Bundles application page. The form is simple to complete; bear in mind your website and social platforms will be assessed by one of the Ultimate Bundles team to make sure it’s a good fit.


Affiliate Program Networks or Aggregators

So far, we’ve checked out individual affiliate programs suitable for beginners. There’s another type of platform known as network, or aggregator, programs.

The difference is that these programs are not the ones selling the product. They’re a kind of middle ground: they host a large number of diverse affiliate programs and provide a “clearinghouse” for marketers (that’s you) to search and find those most closely aligned with a niche.

Pros and Cons of Aggregators or Networks

What’s good about aggregators: general

  • All the information is in one place — which affiliate programs you’re working with, how much you’re earning, etc. No need to go hunting through individual platforms.
  • Wide product selection: use the search facility to narrow down your selection. Because these platforms host so many affiliate programs, you’ll likely find at least one for most niches.

What’s not so good

  • You’ll need to do two checks: first, you’ll assess the aggregator, then the individual affiliate program.
  • There’s no assessment by the aggregator of the different programs they host. So the large choice can mean you spend a long time finding the right program, selling the right goods, at the right quality standard.
  • Merchants can suddenly go offline for no apparent reason, and you will not be notified. So your affiliate links will be broken and you will earn no money.

Do aggregator / network affiliate programs have an acceptance threshold?

Acceptance is the business of the individual affiliate program. It’s not done by the aggregator.

However, if your account is dormant for several months, most aggregators will close your account and you’ll need to apply again.

There are several aggregators. We’ll examine two of them.

1. ShareASale

ShareASale Affiliate ProgramFounded in 2000, this is one of the most widely used and trusted networks of affiliate marketing programs.

There are over 4,000 merchants represented on this platform, of which 1,000 are exclusively available through ShareASale. So if you’ve searched for an affiliate program in your niche and find one you like, you may well discover that you need to apply to them via the ShareASale platform.

Pros and Cons of the ShareASale affiliate network

What’s good about ShareASale

  • It hosts some excellent and out-of-the-ordinary affiliate programs, among them…
  • Craftsy — crafts and online classes
  • Viator — travel company, specialists in tours and quirky activities (Gladiator School, anyone?!)
  • Tailwind — Pinterest’s scheduling partner
  • Pinecraft — Amish goods, from customized gazebos to made-to-order Dutch Barn chicken houses.
  • Both digital and standard payments are available, which, until recently, has been rare.
  • Their affiliate customer service has been very responsive on the rare occasions I’ve needed to use it.

What’s not so good

  • It’s not as straightforward to use as some of its competitors, meaning it’ll take more time to set up.
  • The merchant search is disorganized — categories are not even in alphabetical order — clunky to use and sometimes inaccurate, in that it doesn’t always display all the merchants in the niche.
  • The merchant and links data feeds (lists) are painfully difficult to make sense of.
  • Statistics are not detailed enough to give any indication of which links (for example) work best.

What’s good for you as an affiliate marketer

  • All the programs are held together in one place — no need to try to remember which you’ve joined
  •  All the data from each program is available in the same place, making keeping track of what’s working and what’s not easier
  • Payments are made in one check, not from individual platforms, making your accounting that little bit less painful!

What’s good for your audience

  • There’s no real advantage for your audience in the aggregator system. The advantages, such as they are, are for the affiliate (that’s you!).
  • The main advantage for your audience is your large choice of affiliate programs to choose from.

Does the ShareASale affiliate program have an acceptance threshold?

You must have a website to join ShareASale, and it will be assessed during the application process.

Our recommendation: the best affiliate program for the breadth of choice. 

ShareASale is a good resource because it hosts some well-known and useful affiliate products. Some of them you’ll only be able to access by joining the ShareASale platform anyway.

How to join the ShareASale affiliate network

Start the application process. It’s a straightforward form, but bear in mind the information you provide about your website will be visible to any merchants you apply to. Give as much detail as possible in all of your applications.


2. CJ Affiliate by Conversant (Formerly Commission Junction)

CJ Affiliate by Conversant (Formerly Commission Junction)Exactly like ShareASale, CJ Affiliate by Conversant (CJAC) is a platform that provides a link between the merchant (affiliate program) and the affiliate (you). So in the same way, you won’t be working directly with the individual company.

In the affiliate marketing space since 1998, CJAC has the experience and the reach to be able to require pretty high standards of both its merchants and its affiliates. It works primarily with large and high-end brands, which, if you are accepted, can be lucrative.

Pros and Cons of the CJ Affiliate by Conversant Network

What’s good about CJAC

  • Its insistence on high standards means that you’re unlikely to find low-quality products here.
  • It partners with some world leaders: Sandals and Beaches Resorts, Inter-Continental Hotels Group, CNN, Time magazine, etc.

What’s good for you as an affiliate marketer

  • It pre-approves you for certain affiliates, so that you will not have to duplicate the approval process.
  • Products will be easy to sell as they are recognized high-end items.
  • Its platform is well laid out and the tools are easy to use.
  • Analytics are well produced, easy to understand and allow focus on what works.

What’s not so good

  • It works with a much smaller pool of affiliate programs — around 600 — which cuts down the choice for you.
  • You can’t see which affiliate programs are part of CJAC until you sign up.

Does the CJAC affiliate program have an acceptance threshold?

Yes, and it’s much higher than any of the other programs we’ve reviewed so far.

  • A website or blog with at least 10,000 page views per month.
  • Must have high-quality content in one of these areas:
    • Style, including fashion and beauty
    • Home, including interior design, DIY, cooking and food
    • Tech, including electronics, software and hardware
    • Business, including finance, tax and office
    • Lifestyle, including travel, outdoor, sports, health and wellness, and vehicles
  • A privacy policy must be in place.
  • The content must be written in English.
  • There must be no barriers to entering the site.
  • Your site cannot be a software, coupon or incentive type site.
Our recommendation: the best affiliate program for intermediate marketers 

You’ll need to work hard for acceptance into this platform because its standards are high. It’s not the best affiliate program for absolute beginners but if you have some experience of other channels, and you’re in the right niche, this would be an excellent choice.

How to join the CJAC affiliate network.

Visit their sign-up form. Remember: their scrutiny will be rigorous. Always be honest about numbers — they will check — and about the content of your website.


Still Not Sure Which to Go for?

Finding the right affiliate program can be confusing and overwhelming when it’s a new venture. If you’re not convinced any of our recommendations are for you, try entering “[your niche keyword] + affiliate programs” into a search engine. It will bring up niche-specific affiliate programs for you to assess.

Don’t forget to use the criteria in Steps 1 and 2 to decide on the best possible program.

Step 4: Where to Next? Learn Affiliate Marketing — Slowly

Beginner Affiliates - The Way of the Tortoise

Much to learn you still have… This is just the beginning!Yoda, Member of the High Jedi Council

Harness the Power of One

Phew! Even on a quick run-through, that’s a lot of information about affiliate marketing. And when you’re a beginner, it can be daunting. So many programs. So many products.

Let’s look at the most critical points.

  1. Avoid programs which are obviously “make money overnight” or don’t have real evidence of success.
  2. Choose programs and products you’d be happy to tell your granny about.
  3. Always have your audience in mind. Will this affiliate help solve their problems? Meet their needs? Make their life easier in some way?
  4. Choose just one of the five we’ve covered above. There is no limit to the number of affiliate programs you can sign up for. But walk before you try to run.
  5. Sign up for it. Take an afternoon to learn how to use it. Keep track of what’s working and what’s not. Look each month for broken links to items that may have been taken down.

Then — concentrate on becoming a Jedi Affiliate Marketing Master. 

Patience you must have. Powerful you will become.

Want help to remember everything we’ve covered? We have a handy download for you!

Cath Andrews

Cath Andrews

Cath Andrews is Solo Build It!'s Content Team Lead. She describes her day job and her online business, Raising Happy Chickens, like this: I spend my time doing what my mother calls “playing on that blasted computer all day” — and I love it. Knowing that other people benefit from my knowledge gives me goose-bumps. And goose-bumps are as important to me as the money my online business makes.
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