What Are Affiliate Links And How To Best Promote Them
Affiliate links are absolutely essential in tracking the performance of online marketers. Unlike traditional web links, which are solely used to link online resources to each other to provide a connected experience across the web, affiliate links have a much more specific purpose for marketers.
In order to receive a commission for promoting products, there needs to be an accurate and consistent means of linking sales back to a particular affiliate website.
Having a clear record of affiliate transactions with exactly who was responsible for converting customers to buy a product underpins what makes the affiliate marketing business model so successful.
Where can you signup to become an affiliate?
Which affiliate program to sign up to largely depends on what genre of products you wish to promote.
For example, if you're aiming to recommend products related to the Health & Fitness niche, you'll probably want somewhere you can view all of these types of product in one convenient place.
Here's a list of some of the larger affiliate networks you can signup with that offer this extra convenience:
Not all products are hosted on affiliate networks however as some product creators may instead have their own managed affiliate programs. To find these, usually you can visit the product site directly and there'll be a page for their affiliate program if one exists.
Ideally, you should only sign up for a product that you honestly believe is worthy of promoting and provides great benefit to your readers.
Additionally, it's completely up to you whether you sign up for an affiliate network or individual programs.
Here's a list of some individual affiliate programs that we personally recommend:
- ConvertKit is a vital tool when it comes to making email marketing dead simple
- SEMrush offers insight into your competitors as well helping to write content that ranks highly on Google
The signup processes for most affiliate programs are fairly similar and you'll become familiar quickly as you signup to various ones.
To give you a small taste, let's walk through how to sign up for the ConvertKit affiliate program.
How to get your own ConvertKit affiliate link
You can signup for the ConvertKit affiliate program here.
Just fill in the signup form as you would normally and you'll be taken to a dashboard which allows you to track your performance, including payouts.
The top right corner of the dashboard provides your affiliate link, described as the "Memorable URL".
And that's all it takes!
Now that you know how to signup to an affiliate program, there's only one question next...
Which affiliate program should you promote?
This is an all-too-common problem, especially for affiliate marketers who are newly acquainted with the business model and unsure how to take their first steps.
Here are some tips to give you a better idea on how to choose an appropriate affiliate program:
1. Think about products relevant to your chosen niche
First and foremost, you should be thinking about products related to your chosen niche.
If you've yet to pick a niche, focus on topics that you're passionate about or at least have some interest in. This will help you to write better content more naturally, which will only increase the authority your site holds.
Once you've got a good idea of what you want to write about, it makes sense to ensure that there are compatible products worth promoting.
If you're having a difficult time finding relevant products or products that have too low a commission rate to sustain your marketing strategy, it might be best to pick another niche.
If something doesn't feel right about your niche, whether it's that you've got a lack of competition from other websites or being unable to find enough products to recommend, don't be afraid to change tact and find a niche that's easier to support.
2. Play to your reader's interests
Think about your readers and what would be genuinely useful to them as a product.
Things you might want to consider:
- Would you or do you currently use this product?
- How easy is the checkout process?
- Is the site professional with well-placed calls-to-action?
- Will most of your readers benefit from using this product?
That last one should really be the most important factor in what you decide to promote. As it's your readers who'll potentially be clicking on your affiliate links, it logically follow that the products you choose to promote must be relevant and interesting to them.
Promoting products that have no relevance to your readers or are simply of subpar quality is a definite no-no and will harm your brand in the long run.
Finally, a good decider when you're struggling with multiple candidate products to promote is how much commission the affiliate program offers.
Whilst it's important to pick programs that'll ultimately lead to higher revenue, that should never be the sole deciding factor in your program choice.
There are plenty of products out there that are expensive to buy and/or have lucrative affiliate programs, but if they're not a relevant product for your readers or if there are simply much stronger product offerings elsewhere, it might be sensible to avoid them.
3. If in doubt, use an affiliate network
If you're still struggling to find recommendable products, take a look at an affiliate network such as Clickbank.
On average, commission rates are at least 50% of the sale price and there are a wealth of products from different categories available to affiliates.
Even better, you can differentiate products by how often they're promoted by affiliates.
This feature is available as a filter by "Gravity", where having a higher Gravity value refers to a product with a larger number of promoters.
That said, it might be prudent to ignore affiliate programs with Gravity values in the triple digits, as this might indicate an extremely competitive niche, making it more difficult for you to promote products belonging to the same niche or sub-niche.
4. Check the terms of the affiliate program
It's always prudent to make sure you're comfortable with agreeing to the terms of an affiliate program.
Make sure you're aware of what you're getting into and are satisfied with the terms they're offering.
As a simple checklist for what makes a good affiliate program, it's worth considering the following:
- What are the lifespans of the cookie?
- What percentage of the sale are you rewarded with?
- How are you paid commission (PayPal or bank account) and how often?
- Do they provide a user-friendly dashboard to analyse your performance?
- Do they provide adequate tools and banners to help you market the product?
- Do they provide good documentation for how to use their tools?
- Will you receive notifications (by email usually) upon product sale or when commission is sent?
How do affiliate links work
Now that we have the affiliate link from registering with ConvertKit, let's discuss its constituent parts.
Structure of an affiliate link
The example below shows what a genuine ConvertKit affiliate link looks like by default.
You may note that the initial affiliate program URL is different from the official product homepage
This is reasonably common for the more popular products that have scaled their own separate affiliate programs. Especially if the company who owns the affiliate programs also owns multiple products. However, most product websites will match the domain of their affiliate programs.
As for the referrer ID, this is the key bit of information that allows the affiliate program to track whom they should reward for bringing visitors to their site.
How is affiliate commission tracked?
When an affiliate link is clicked, just as with any standard web link, the user is redirected to another web page.
But the crucial extra step that happens here is that the unique id associated with the link is stored locally in a cookie.
A cookie, in simple terms, is a text file that the browser uses to access state information relevant to a web page.
So whenever the user browses to the same website, even if it's not the exact same web page, their browser will provide the cookie, giving the website access to its contents.
This is precisely what ensures that the affiliate program owner can ratify which affiliate to credit for any consumer purchase thereafter.
By providing the referrer ID from the cookie and sending it to the affiliate program site, the program owner can now validate which affiliate referred the customer.
Note that the affiliate cookie has an expiry for its lifetime, which is typically at least 30 days. This means that as long as the cookie still exists, the affiliate can be credited for a transaction, even if the product purchase occurs the next day.
But since cookies are stored in the specific browser in which the affiliate link was clicked, the cookie will not be made available if the user opens another browser or views the same website on a separate device.
Ultimately, this tracking process is exactly what enables the affiliate program to issue a payout related to any sales you've encouraged to take place.
Different ways to promote affiliate links
If you want to maximise your rates of conversion, it would be wise to place your affiliate links appropriately.
There are many effective methods of placing links on your site and they don't necessarily need to be used exclusively. It's usually prudent to combine multiple of the following approaches to maximise your income potential.
Probably one of the most popular ways of promoting affiliate links, writing blog posts provides a great opportunity to share relevant products with your readers.
As long as you've got interesting content, you can freely insert your links where they make logical sense and can appear natural to your userbase.
As well as linking directly in your main content, another technique that's gained traction recently is to create a floating sidebar containing affiliate links. As long as you keep the styling consistent and provide an experience that isn't too obtrusive, a sidebar offers a handy way to give easy access to your links.
Note that in order for your blogging strategy to succeed, your content must be of high quality and contain the relevant target keywords to drive traffic to those pages. Having a strong SEO strategy will improve the success of this method of promoting links immensely.
Another approach is to place your affiliate links on a separate page thats usually accessible from the main site navigation. This "Resources" page should list all of the programs you wish to recommend, as well as a rich explanation of what makes each product useful.
Make sure you're careful about which programs you choose to promote if you adopt this approach.
Though you should be doing this anyway, you'll want to make extra sure that any products you promote here are of high quality and provide genuinely useful functionality.
Having these all on one page is akin to staking your brand alongside your various recommendations in a single, consolidated statement.
Creating an email newsletter is a valuable way to give your brand a sense of community.
The users who took the effort to subscribe to your newsletter are clearly interested in more of your content. If they want the content to come to them, it likely points to higher levels of trust.
Having an email list provides an great opportunity to engage with your readers on a more intimate level, so offering exclusive content and/or special offers can make this a strong place to sprinkle some affiliate links.
You can even offer entire courses of content by email to keep engaging your users with hand-picked topics interesting to them.
Similar to the email newsletter, social media allows you to communicate with your followers and provide extra content easily.
That said, it pays to be social media savvy if you want to adopt this style of marketing.
While less intimate than email, it's easier to get a spread of diverse readership by sharing content via multiple social media platforms.
Make sure you've got a consistent setup with easy-to-use tools for sending multiple social posts across platforms simultaneously. Using the right tools can really help you streamline your social media campaigns, especially when you can schedule posts to be submitted in advance.
Remember that if you choose to promote affiliate links on social media, the FTC recommends you disclose that you're doing this fact.
You can either explicitly say that you're sharing an affiliate link or use the
Tips for using affiliate links properly
Once you've obtained your affiliate links and decided on your content marketing strategy, you'll be ready to start adding these links into your content. But before you jump in, it's best to follow some guidelines for how these links should be presented to your readers.
1. Don't place too many links
Generally speaking, you want to balance the length of your content with the number of affiliate links you pepper throughout your posts.
While it's not an exact science, a good rule-of-thumb is around 2-3 links maximum, especially if you're writing long blog posts.
It's not a hard-and-fast rule to follow but it should give an indication whether or not you're pushing your links too aggressively.
This is because you want to avoid making your content revolve too much around generating income and letting the quality of your content slide as a result. It's better for reader trust and building long-term relationships with your site to take the high road and minimise how much you spam with affiliate links.
That said, there may be cases in which including higher numbers of affiliate links still feels natural, such as when you're building an affiliate resources page.
When it comes down to it, just go with your gut feeling as long as you're still keeping your content quality up and it still flows naturally.
2. Avoid using raw URLs as links
Here's some good advice whether you're writing blog posts or writing for any other medium:
Mask your links with anchor text to keep them concise and easy to read.
Imagine you had a choice between including either of these affiliate links on a blog post, which do you think would appear more natural to readers?
Don't you think the second link much more appealing?
Would you trust a long link that had random numbers or other characters visible?
Short and easy-to-read link text will appear more natural when placed among other content and it's still obvious where this link will lead to.
3. Use friendly URLs that represent your brand
Though you can mask links as they appear on the page, you can still see the underlying URL when you hover on the link.
A more thorough approach is to prevent this by masking them entirely with a redirect.
This is called link cloaking and it's a practice we fully embrace at Niche Goals.
You may have noticed before now but we like to prefix our affiliate links with
/recommends to put our weight behind our words and show clearly that we stake our brand reputation on the quality of these products.
Giving a more personalised touch to these URLs also helps them to appear more professional.
For example, our link to ConvertKit appears as follows:
By cloaking links in this way, we hope to give our readers a sense of safety that we're not redirecting them to anywhere suspicious.
Cloaking links in turn should help you when you place affiliate links on your own website.
Readers are more likely to click a link on your website (affiliate or otherwise) if that link appears to direct them to another part of the same site rather than somewhere else entirely.
So cloaking holds an added benefit of increased click-through rates for your affiliate links.
While we prefix our cloaked URLs with
/recommends, you don't strictly have to follow this style on your own site.
Try and pick a prefix that makes sense with your brand and looks natural to your users.
Some other prefixes you might want to consider are:
4. "nofollow" your affiliate links
By default, search engines like Google with crawl your site and follow where your links direct them to.
If any of your links appear to direct somewhere that the search engine deems unsafe or unrelated to your content, you face of the risk of being penalised, leading to a slight downranking in search results.
To ensure you follow SEO best practices when using affiliate links, you should write your links like so:
<a href="/recommends/convertkit" rel="nofollow noopener noreferrer">
nofollow will stop you being penalised for redirecting users to external sites, so you should use this for any links to external sites, not just affiliate links.
You might notice we've also added
noopener noreferrer as well.
While this isn't an SEO practice, it's something we use at Niche Goals for a mix of user experience and security reasons.
While not mandatory, we prefer our links to external sites to be opened in a new tab, as this makes it easier to preserve our readers' experience on our site in a way they can return to easily.
Adding the additional
noopener noreferrer lets us do this while keeping our users safe online.
How transparent should you be about affiliate links
Ideally, it's better to be as transparent as possible with readers as this builds trust, as well as avoiding legal entanglements.
Do you have to disclose?
In short, YES.
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) mandates that any links that can lead to receiving monetary compensation must feature a disclosure to site visitors.
This includes endorsements, sponsorships and of course, affiliate links.
Ignoring the legal obligations for a moment, it's simply good etiquette for business owners to disclose upfront that they're making money in cases where the occurring monetary transactions are less obvious.
Wouldn't you rather be open with your readers and create a path to establish a stronger relationship with them?
So how should you disclose?
You should feature a disclosure on any page where you've placed affiliate links.
The wording of the disclosure is largely up to you but try to at least provide some basic understanding that there are affiliate links in the post.
Whatever you decide, don't obscure or downplay your disclosure.
Use clear, direct language to make sure to respect your readers.
At Niche Goals, we show our disclosure statements in posts as follows:
This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosures
You can also verify this by looking at the top of this very post to find the same statement.
But to make sure you're being legally compliant, there are 2 primary guidelines you should follow:
1. Put your disclosure where readers are sure to see it
Previous unsavoury practices would include placing disclosures on a hard-to-find page or hidden out-of-view due to precarious site styling.
Ideally, you should be placing your disclosure as local to the affiliate link as appropriate with your content.
This can be:
- at the top of a blog post
- adjacent to the affiliate link
At Niche Goals, we prefer to place our disclosure statement at the top of each post. This is for 2 main reasons:
- It's hard for users to miss as they scroll down from the top of the blog post.
- It requires low maintenance from us to ensure we're being compliant
We say "low maintenance" in that we're not manually adding extra text near our links for every post and also don't have to worry in case we forget to add them for some links by mistake.
Another potential risk with adding adjacent disclosures is that you can break up your post's flow if you're not careful with the wording.
In summary, doing things this way gives us a good balance between transparency and editorial effort but you should follow the method you're most comfortable with.
2. Display a separate affiliate disclaimer page
You should link to this page from site-wide navigation, either on your main navigation or footer as appropriate.
Also, make sure to include a link to this page near any disclosure text in your blog posts in case any users wish to know more.
We've covered how to become an affiliate, how affiliate links are tracked and how to display them naturally in your content while still upholding your legal obligations.
So now that you know how, why not sign up for some affiliate programs and get to sprinkling some affiliate links in your own content?