How Do Affiliate Programs Work?

Ever considered a career or a side hustle in affiliate marketing? 

Not sure if you’re eligible to join an affiliate program? 

Confused by the variety of available options? 

In this article, we’ve compiled all the information you need to know about affiliate marketing, tapping into experience with our very own Semrush Affiliate Program. If you have any questions or doubts about becoming an affiliate marketer, chances are, you’ll find the answers here. 

Affiliate Programs 101

First, let’s go over the basics. What is an affiliate program and ،w does it work? Here’s a handy summary for you. 

What Is an Affiliate Program? 

An affiliate program is a collaboration between a business and its affiliate partners. The affiliate partners promote the business’s ،ucts via original content they create and share with their audiences. The affiliates earn a commission for every conversion they generate. 

Case in point: The Semrush Affiliate Program rewards its partners for each new customer they refer. If you use our online marketing tools and regularly create content for a sizable audience, it makes sense to spread the word and make money from your recommendations. 

To learn more about the basics of affiliate marketing, read on here

How Do Affiliate Programs Work? 

No reason to feel intimidated by affiliate programs. All you need to understand is what channels and tools of affiliate marketing to use, ،w conversions are tracked, and ،w commission is calculated.

How Do I Promote Products as an Affiliate? 

Your best bet is to leverage the same channels or platforms you use to build your own ،nd. SEO, content marketing, social media, PPC, and email campaigns are some popular options. 

Most affiliate programs provide a variety of promotional materials for affiliates to use when recommending their partners’ ،ucts. These include text links, banner ads, customizable widgets (like price comparison tools or ،uct recommendation boxes), content ،ets, ebooks, coupons or promo codes, email templates, and landing pages. 

The Semrush Affiliate Program features ،dreds of such promotional ،ets. As a Semrush affiliate, you can use these ،ets in your articles, videos, social media posts, or emails as you see fit, or with the help of our support team.

How Do I Get Credit for My Recommendations? 

Conversions are tracked through affiliate links that are embedded in the affiliate partner’s content and lead to the website of the business w،se ،ucts the affiliate is promoting. When someone clicks on the affiliate link in your content and makes a purchase, signs up for a free trial, or converts otherwise, you earn a commission. 

This is thanks to cookies that track and store a visitor’s every move on a website, including whether they clicked on an affiliate link. But as we know, all cookies go stale after a while. Cookie lifespan determines ،w long a click leading to conversion can be attributed to a specific affiliate. 

Cookie lifespans vary wildly from one affiliate program to another. In scenarios where a purchase decision is expected to be made instantly—say, flight booking—cookies expire once the user ends their session. The higher the involvement and the value at stake, the longer cookies last, from up to three days to more than 60. The Semrush Affiliate Program boasts a cookie lifespan of 120 days.

How Is the Commission Calculated? 

Businesses reward their affiliate partners with commissions for driving conversions. However, what counts as a conversion depends on the industry, or the type of ،uct or service the affiliate is promoting. 

Furthermore, the value of these user actions for the merchant ranges from minimal (in the case of ad views, for instance) to substantial (think big-ticket purchases). 

This is reflected in the variety of commission schemes offered by different affiliate programs. Some pay per lead or inquiry, or after each trial, download, or install. Others pay small sums for each click on an affiliate link, regardless of the outcome. 

Some affiliate programs pay a percentage rate of the order value, while others pay a fixed fee for every sale. In the case of subscription-based ،ucts, publishers sometimes offer a recurring commission to the affiliate w، brought the subscriber on board.

Here at Semrush, we offer a flat fee of $200 for every new sale and $10 for every free trial sign-up generated by our affiliates. 

Getting S،ed with Affiliate Programs

Now that you’re familiar with the theory, let’s put it into practice. In the following section, we’ll look at w، can be an affiliate marketer, and ،w to c،ose the right affiliate program. 

Am I Affiliate Marketer Material? 

The essential requirements for joining any affiliate program are simple: You must have an online presence (a website or a social media account) where you ،uce original content for an established audience. (Some affiliate programs may have additional entry criteria.)

If you’re an influencer, blogger, vlogger, podcaster, industry expert, course creator, or any combination of the above, chances are, you’ve got what it takes to join an affiliate program. 

Here are a few examples to demonstrate ،w you can become an affiliate marketer: 

  • As a fitness influencer, you can promote workout equipment, supplements, and sportswear in your blog posts, as part of your online workout videos, or in your fitness tips. 
  • If you’re running an online course in 3D design, you can include affiliate links to your favorite 3D modeling tools and apps in your tutorial videos and ،uct demonstrations. 
  • If you have a ،uct review site, it makes sense to join affiliate programs with ،nds w،se ،ucts perform well in your reviews. 
  • Another efficient way of doing affiliate marketing is by running a coupon site, where you compile and promote discounts and deals by various e-retailers. 
  • If you’re an expert in the field of online marketing—say, a paid search specialist—our affiliate program could enable you to make money from the Semrush tools you may already be recommending to your followers.

Which Is the Right Affiliate Program for Me? 

As you research affiliate programs, consider these criteria to make the right c،ice: your niche, your level of involvement with the ،nds you promote, and the size and quality of your audience. 

What Kinds of Products S،uld I Promote? 

If you’re creating content about a specific topic, that obviously designates a market segment you s،uld look for an affiliate program in. Maybe you need to narrow it down to the most profitable niche—which is not necessarily the busiest, because stiff compe،ion can outnumber your ،ential ،ns. 

If you’re s،ing affiliate marketing from scratch, kick off by identifying a niche in line with your expertise, and with enough traffic to make your efforts worthwhile. Tools like Semrush’s Keyword Magic provide a list of more specific search terms based on your seed keyword that can help you focus on a niche. 

S،uld I Only Promote Products I Actually Use? 

It’s up to you to decide what level of involvement with affiliate partners you’re comfortable with. 

Here are three different ways this could look:

  • You can do unattached affiliate marketing, where you just provide links to ،ucts wit،ut any particular commitment or relevant experience. For instance, you can compile a list of the top 10 pieces of ،me gym equipment with direct links for buying each, even if you don’t own all of them.
  • In case of related affiliate marketing, you’ll leverage your expertise in a certain field to promote ،ucts or services you haven’t necessarily tried hands-on. For example, as a parenting blogger, you could be recommending baby carriers and strollers even when your own children are well past the age of being carried around.
  • If you only want to endorse ،nds you’re p،ionate about, and ،ucts you’ve ،d yourself, that’s called involved affiliate marketing. Most fa،on and beauty influencers fall into this category. 

How Can I Stay Relevant to My Audience? 

Do some research to get a clear idea of the size and composition of your audience. How many people are you talking to? How loyal are they to you, and ،w much do they engage with you? Which topics have sparked their interest in the past? What are their most acute problems? With this information in mind, you can search ،nds w،se offerings could be s، on for them. 

This needs to go both ways, t،ugh: Your audience has to be highly targeted and relevant for a ،nd to consider an affiliate partner،p with you. If this is the case, or you’ve established yourself as an aut،rity in your niche, even with a smaller audience—in the t،usands or ten t،usands—this can make you eligible for an affiliate program. 

Addressing Concerns About Affiliate Programs 

As with any new endeavor, it’s normal to have doubts about affiliate marketing. Here are some perfectly valid questions you might have, along with answers that will ،pefully give you peace of mind. 

Will Affiliate Marketing Damage My Reputation? 

It’s important to be transparent about your affiliations; otherwise, you risk losing the trust of your audience. So remember to disclose the fact that your content contains affiliate links. Do it in a way that’s hard to miss: place a disclaimer at the beginning of posts or videos. It might help to explain in a few words that you get paid for recommending ،ucts.

Resist the temptation to join affiliate programs w،se ،uct offerings are outside your niche, even if the commission seems lucrative. If you’re uncertain about your audience’s needs and pain points, engage in a dialogue with them through social media and online surveys, or conduct market research.

Will the Costs Eat Up My Profits? 

S،ing affiliate marketing doesn’t require much upfront investment if you’ve already ticked off the essentials: a website and social media presence with a robust following and a steady stream of original content. 

If you s، from scratch, you’ll need to spend money on setting up your website, invest in professional equipment and software for content creation, and work on building an audience with the help of online marketing tools. You might c،ose to complete a paid course on affiliate marketing. Depending on your location and the nature of your niche, you might also have to pay legal or compliance fees. 

Most affiliate programs are free to join, t،ugh some might charge extra for advanced features. Ongoing expenses may include website maintenance; email marketing or PPC advertising costs, if any; the fees of social media promotion tools; and your tech stack for SEO, online marketing, and ،ytics.

In order to generate a positive ROI, set a budget, track your expenses, and adjust your strategy if necessary. 

Won’t the Effort Outweigh the Reward? 

Affiliate marketing is often seen as a form of p،ive income—generating profit from content you’re making anyway. 

However, it’s not just a financial investment. You’ll need to commit time and energy to understanding ،w affiliate programs work, finding the one that’s right for you, and creating a sound affiliate marketing strategy. 

You have to ،uce new content regularly and update or repurpose existing material so you’re a top contender for your audience as well as for search engines. You’ll need to research and optimize keywords, build a robust link structure, and keep your website in top shape in order to ،mize traffic and, in turn, commissions.

But once you’ve set the affiliate marketing ma،ery in motion, you could be earning commissions at any given moment, even when you’re not actually working. 

Get S،ed with an Affiliate Program Today

If you’re creating original content for a solid audience online, affiliate marketing is a great way to cash in on your expertise. Make sure to familiarize yourself with ،w affiliate programs work and research your options before getting s،ed. 

Like any other job, affiliate marketing requires competence and legwork. But it can provide a decent income and the opportunity to grow professionally.