Affiliate marketing is the key to generating income from websites that might otherwise struggle to sell advertising space, or else service as an additional revenue stream for those websites already active in the advertising space.
The concept of affiliate marketing is relatively simple: you sign up for a program for a particular product or service, and if accepted for it, you can then using existing marketing materials and/or links with a unique URL. In the event that someone signs up for that product or service using that URL, you earn a commission.
As a way of making money online it sounds easy enough, but there are a lot of potential complications with affiliate marketing. For a start, the affiliate tracking must be precise and accurate, so that you are rewarded for the sales you actually made.
On top of that, you need products and services of actual interest to consumers. While many big brands are actively involved in affiliate marketing, there are various restrictions that may make them less attractive than alternatives.
For example, the time between a customer clicking a link and making a sale can be a number of days, so affiliate tracking that takes this into account will likely be more favorable to the affiliate marketer than ones that only reward instant sales, and therefore ignore the possibility of browsing.
You also need to actively promote affiliate products, something a lot of website owners overlook - or even overdo. But done right, it's possible to make a significant income from it.
Here then are the best affiliate marketing websites out there at the moment.
- We've also highlighted the best website builders
- Want your company or services to be added to this buyer’s guide? Please email your request to email@example.com with the URL of the buying guide in the subject line.
Best affiliate programs- at a glance
- CJ Affiliate
- Amazon Associates
The world's biggest affiliate network
Awin is a huge affiliate marketing platform that boasts of over 15,000 advertisers, 200,000 active publishers, and generated 139 million sales in 2018.
Publishers can sort through different advertisers to apply for the products or services that might work best, then if accepted, apply targeted links to generate an affiliate income.
Awin does enjoy a lot of brand companies offering a wide range of products and services, so there is a lot of choice. However, this means that a single brand might offer multiple products that need to be signed up for individually, such as for financial services.
Additionally, some brands can be very picky about the publishers they will work with, and even though you might successfully apply to one service from a company, you might find your application rejected from promoting a similar service by the same company.
Overall, though, despite there being such a huge amount of choice the platform is actually quite easy to use, though applying for individual services can be quite time consuming, especially if you think your website(s) might be fit for a number of different companies and/or services.
It’s hard to argue with two decades of experience
CJ Affiliate is a popular affiliate marketing program with global reach, formerly known as Commission Junction which goes back to 1998. CJ Affiliate features Product Widgets that are embedded on your site, and can then feature multiple products via a slideshow, collage or grid to increase sales. Additional functionality includes deep link automation to automatically monetize links that lead to a CJ advertiser domain, and real time transaction monitoring.
While this all sounds good, the stumbling block is the application process. First you need to apply with your website, which needs to be found worthy of becoming a partner, based on traffic, optimization and quality of content. However, this is only the first step, as then you need to apply individually to each vendor for the products that you wish to sell, and you may not be accepted into their individual affiliate programs, making this one of the harder programs to get up and running with.
Partner with the online giant that everyone shops with
Just about everyone already has an Amazon account and buys stuff from them, so it certainly makes a ton of sense to partner with them as an affiliate marketer in their Amazon Associates program. They also sell, well, just about everything, so you can be sure that they have a product to market that is relevant to the content on your website.
It is also free to join, and once accepted to the program you can sell any Amazon product, including third party ones without getting into individual programs. You also get the opportunity to get commissions on not only the specific product that was advertised, but any other purchases that are made at Amazon for 24 hours post referral.
However, Amazon does change its terms quite frequently, and sometimes this has resulted in a reduction of commission across various product ranges, so that the earnings potential available now is lower than it was a few years ago. Even still, it can be a handy way of monetizing existing links to Amazon that you might be using anyway.
The partner with literally thousands of vendors' products to sell
ShareASale is another affiliate marketer, with a longstanding reputation across eighteen years, and were acquired last year by Awin, an international affiliate marketer. They feature a large catalog of products to partner with from beauty supplies, to branded sports gear, luxury goods, and eyewear- almost 5,000 vendors in total, making it easy to find products that tie into your site.
With so many options, ShareASale uses a Power Rank system to clue you in to the most popular vendors. The signup process to get started has no cost, and is quite painless, with owner’s of multiple sites able sign them all up in ‘one fell swoop.’
The drawbacks of ShareASale center around the payouts. The payout threshold of $50 can be difficult to reach for newer websites still building their traffic. In addition, to add insult to injury for a struggling site, they can actually delete your account if your account remains under $25.
The SaaS approach to affiliate marketing
JVZoo is relative newcomer with six years of experience, and takes a SaaS approach to affiliate marketing; they must be doing something right as they were named by Inc among the ‘5000 Fastest Growing Companies in America’ for 2016 and 2017.
Product creators can list their products in their marketplace for free, and JVZoo gets a standard 5% commission on anything that sells - and nothing before that. Marketing affiliates get instant payments to their PayPal accounts as soon as the item sells, with no payout threshold required. In addition, there is opportunity to make money as affiliates can get a cut of sales of any affiliates that they have recruited, termed a ‘Second Tier Commission.’ Finally, if the buyer that was referred purchases another product (that was not specifically referred), the affiliate gets the commission- permanently.
The downsides include that payments are only made via the PayPal platform, with no option for direct bank transfers. Also, looking at the top selling products, they are all digital downloads, and of lower quality, that could potentially lower the quality of a website. Finally, the affiliate marketing commissions will be taken back for a buyer that requests a refund.
Higher commissions lead the way to popularity
Clickbank is a major affiliate marketer which has been around for years, with 200 million customers. They feature a variety of products to partner with, across many categories, particularly eBooks. It is simple for a novice to get started as anyone can create an online account, and it is free with no signup fee, so it is great for startups. They are also notable as Clickbank is known for having a higher commission rate than other affiliate marketers. They even run a Clickbank University to teach the ins and outs of affiliate marketing to those new to the field.
The downside of Clickbank is most of the products for sale are eBooks, and while they span several categories, most are lower quality offerings, without name brand recognition.
Other affiliate marketing programs to consider
There are a number of other affiliate marketing programs, including some major platforms not yet covered, which either bring together a large number of vendors under one place, or else are large retail platforms in themselves which offer affiliate payments. Then there are other programs where you don't even need to add any marketing or product information, but instead have affiliate links or advertising directly automatically inserted into your website pages. Here we'll look across the board at these options:
Tradedoubler is another big advertiser, especially in European markets. Like with CJ Affiliate and Awin you need to apply to different advertisers to be accepted, once that happens it's easy to get started. You can use simple links, or any of the promotional banners provided.
eBay partner program is specific to the eBay platform, a huge online marketplace populated by many small sellers. The advantage here is that you can list eBay products and be paid for any link clickthroughs that result in sales, without having to actually market any products directly through eBay itself.
Google Adsense may be seen less of an affiliate program as much as an advertising solution. However, if you're looking to monetize your website you should probably look to Google Adsense as one of, if not the main, source of income for those pages. While the payout isn't high it does add up, and can help support your affiliate marketing campaign and revenue.
Skimlinks is a program that replaces keywords in your text with paid-for links, from which you get paid per click. The advantage is that the links work directly in your copy so you don't need to make room for adverts, but the disadvantage is that some malware can do something similar, so Skimlinks might not look the best for your users. However, it's another option to consider on topic of your affiliate marketing and Adsense to help provide an additional revenue stream.