A Beginner's Guide to Affiliate Marketing: What to do and how to get started

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The billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “You’ll never be rich if you don’t find a way to make money while you’re sleeping”.

If you’re looking to get a passive stream of income and you’ve got a knack for creating epic content, then affiliate marketing is the answer for you!

And today, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to start making money as an affiliate — all for free!

Read our step-by-step breakdown of how to start affiliate marketing — and make money while you’re sleeping!

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular ways to monetize a website.

You wouldn’t be the first to have never heard this term before, and you’re probably wondering, “What is affiliate marketing?”.

Simply put, affiliate marketing is when a business markets its offers through a third party with affiliate links that people can click on to take them to the product that’s offered.

When you add affiliate links to your website, you’ll receive a commission from each person that clicks your affiliate link and completes a conversion action.

This means that you make money when your customers buy another company’s products that you marketed on your website or blog.

When this is done effectively, it’s a win-win situation for everyone!

How does affiliate marketing work?

Let’s start with the basics — affiliate marketing is made up of three parts:

  • The seller or merchant — the business that has an offer that needs to be marketed to customers
  • The affiliate or publisher — the publisher that markets the offer (this is you when you include affiliate links on your website)
  • The consumer — the customer that purchases the offer

For your affiliate marketing to be successful, each of these 3 aspects needs to be considered and it works like this:

The seller gains profit from its marketed offer, the affiliate earns money through commission, and the consumer gets what they want.

Who wouldn’t find this an appetizing offer?

Let’s look at an example of ebooks:

Ebook Example

In this example, Jesse (the affiliate) has an ebook blog with a wide audience.

Jeremy sells ebooks and wants to get into business with Jesse so that his ebooks can be advertised on Jesse’s famous ebook blog.

This way he can get more and more sales from people who are already ebook enthusiasts.

Jesse will earn a commission every time her audience clicks on a link and takes a conversion action on Jeremy’s online ebook store, such as buying an ebook.

The consumers, like Jane, get the content of Jesse’s blog plus the opportunity to buy ebooks from Jeremy’s online store if they wanted to.

See? It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved!

But we know that you’ve got some burning questions about the nitty-gritty aspects of how exactly all this happens.

So, let’s get into how each part of the process works.

Here’s an overview of the affiliate marketing process in 4 easy steps:

How affiliate marketing works
  • You start by signing up for an affiliate program — systeme.io offers you access to our affiliate program on any price plan you choose (including the forever-free one)
  • Find a product that you like and would recommend to your customers and that’s relevant to the needs of your audience
  • On your affiliate site, you then endorse the product and promote it to your visitors and email subscribers (with your unique affiliate link)
  • If they like the product, they’ll click your affiliate link, purchase the product, and you’ll get a commission

These are the fundamentals of affiliate marketing, and we’re here to walk you through every step of the process.

Let’s dive into more details on how affiliates get links from businesses to market, what you can expect to earn, and how you can expect to be paid.

The difference between affiliate networks and programs

affiliate networks vs affiliate programs

One of your first questions is probably: How do affiliates get the links they market from businesses in the first place?

The answer is through affiliate networks and programs — and we’ll break down these two terms that are often confused with each other.

What is an affiliate network?

An affiliate network acts as an intermediary between sellers and affiliates where businesses can submit their links, and affiliates can choose from the array of offers they want to market.

Some popular affiliate networks include Clickbank, Refersion and Amazon Associates.

A neutral space is created by the top affiliate networks where both businesses and affiliates can join to interact with each other and find what they need.

The advantages include small businesses gaining great exposure to affiliates that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to, and affiliates are provided with an extensive variety of offers to choose from.

However, on the downside, most affiliate networks also require a service fee for sellers or merchants.

What is an affiliate program?

Affiliate programs, on the other hand, are set up solely by businesses.

Affiliates then join a business’ affiliate program and gain access to the business’ links which they can market to their own customers.

The main advantage is that businesses have more control over their program and more direct access to their affiliates which allows them to build closer and stronger seller-affiliate relationships.

Systeme.io gives you everything you need to run your own affiliate program — including powerful affiliate tracking so you can make the most of it!

Plus, it’ll literally cost you nothing to get started.

With our affiliate program, you can:

Affiliate marketing is a legitimate way to grow your online business. It alone can bring you as much as a 20% increase in your annual revenue.

In fact, here at systeme.io, we’ve paid more than $3 million to our affiliates so far — safe to say, we’ve significantly benefited from our affiliate program.

Still not sure which affiliate program to go for?

High-paying affiliate programs aren’t difficult to find — Click here to see the top 50 best affiliate programs that’ll make your decision easier.

How much can affiliates make?


An affiliate’s income is like a plant — you have to nurture and develop it for it to grow and provide a return on your investments.

In the beginning, it's but a simple, generic seed — unassuming on the outside, but holding undiscovered ample potential for growth.

Running an affiliate business requires dedication and time.

Your earnings (as a beginner) are most likely going to be small at the start — but by consistently nurturing your affiliates and links, it can become very profitable as a way to monetize your website or blog.

ZipRecruiter’s higher forecast shows us that there’s definitely room to make money, and with the U.S. affiliate marketing industry due to reach $8.2 billion by 2022, this can’t be closer to the truth.

Here’s the trajectory of growth you can expect:

  • Novice/Beginner affiliate — Because this group generally starts affiliate marketing from scratch (the seed being planted) and, at this time, spends more time building their online platform, it’s not odd to see that their earnings are minimal
  • Low-level affiliate (earning up to $300/day) — This’ll happen when you continuously nurture your seedling until it becomes a modest plant
  • Intermediate-level affiliate (earning up to $3000/day) — This’ll happen when your plant becomes self-sufficient with room for growth
  • High-level affiliate (earning more than $3000/day) — This is when your plant is a fully grown tree that continues to produce more fruits

For all the overachievers out there, there's one more division that separates growing a tree from growing a forest.

You can become a super affiliate and make more than $10 000/day!

But don’t become discouraged if you’re struggling to reach your first $1000.

It’s estimated that it can take anywhere between 12 and 18 months to reach your first $1000 — but from there it really gets easier.

Put in the hard work, and it'll be worth it in the long run.

Your success will depend on your content, niche, how often you post, and the search engine optimization (SEO) strategies you follow.

Remember that affiliate marketing is a part-time passive income source — but you can still wake up with thousands of dollars in your bank account if you do it right by standing out from other affiliate marketers.

How are affiliates paid?

Ways for affiliates to get paid

The next biggest question you should be asking is, “How do I get paid?”.

Affiliates earn commissions by promoting affiliate products to their customers — and they can expect to earn between 5% and 30% of whatever their customers end up buying.

There are 3 different affiliate marketing models that we’ll walk you through.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

In this first model, the affiliate is paid for the online traffic they send to the business’ website that they’re marketing.

The affiliate’s only goal is to pique the reader’s interest just enough for them to want to know more — so whether or not the prospect actually purchases something from the business, the affiliate earns money.

More traffic doesn’t always equal more sales, yet the affiliate still gets paid.

Pay-per-lead (PPL)

In this model, for every lead that is converted, the affiliate is paid.

This means that it's the affiliate’s objective to get the lead to follow the link as well as perform the desired action, whether it's submitting a form, signing up for a trial, joining the email list, or buying a product.

This one requires a bit more enticement from the affiliate.

Pay-per-sale (PPS)

This is the most common model as it takes all the pressure from the business and hands it off to the affiliate.

Now, the affiliate only gets paid if a successful purchase is made.

Affiliates need to pull out all the stops for this one, as they not only need to interest the reader but also convince them entirely to make a purchase.

Two-tier or multi-level affiliate programs

Here, the affiliate earns a commission based on the sales their recruits make.

This means you’ll earn a bonus commission over and above the regular rate offered to affiliates.

For example: systeme.io allows you — when setting up your own affiliate program — to set a percentage of commission you want to give to your main affiliate related to every affiliate they bring to your affiliate program.

How the money reaches your bank account

Another necessary thing to consider is how the money reaches your account.

Every network and program has its preferences, but the main payment methods include PayPal, Stripe, wire transfers, cryptocurrencies, and Wise.

Below is a table of the most common payment methods and what they charge per transaction:

Systeme.io uses Wise because it’s an international borderless money transfer service that allows you to automate the payment of your affiliates by bank transfers — we love to make things super easy for you!

While some affiliate programs pay you within 15 days after the end of the month, the majority will take anything from 30 days to three months to do so.

For instance, systeme.io pays affiliate commissions on the 10th of every month — every 30 days.

Now that you know what exactly affiliate marketing is and how it works, let's move on to the actions you can take to start building a successful affiliate marketing career.

5 steps for successful affiliate marketing for beginners

affiliate marketing 5 Steps

Now that we've established the basics of how affiliate marketing works, we're sure you're waiting at the edge of your seat to find out how to become one.

Fortunately for you, we’ve mapped it all out!

Here are the 5 essential steps to making money with affiliate marketing — so you can start making money by selling products you didn’t have to create!

Step 1: Find your niche

It would be impossible to create content that caters to every person on the internet — this is why it’s critical to find your niche market.

Your niche market is a distinct sector of the larger market that is made up of your potential customers that you’ll target in your online business or blog.

Your niche should coincide with your interests, skills, and expertise — it’s vital that you find a profitable niche you can see yourself being passionate about for years to come (and that’ll make you good money!).

In affiliate marketing, your niche market is the people most likely to enjoy your content, click on the link, and make a purchase.

This group of people should all be interested in the same thing, and they must have something in common — because finding this shared trait or interest will help you to target your niche market.

These similarities could be demographics, lifestyles, budgets, cultures, needs, professions, hobbies, and many more!

It’s your job to find out what sets your niche market apart from the rest — and you can do all of this through research.

Researching your niche market is the only way of getting to know them.

So let’s go through 3 of the most effective ways to research your niche.

Keyword research

Keyword research is an often-overlooked aspect of SEO because finding the right keyword takes time — and every niche has its own keywords.

You should start by identifying the relevant keywords potential customers are using to find products, services, and information in your niche.

There are 3 types of keywords:

  • Head keywords — Usually single words with high search volume, high competition, and low conversion rates with unclear search intents
  • Mid-tail keywords — Consist of 2 to 3 words that broadly define a niche in your industry, but not exactly what the user intends to find
  • Long-tail keywords — At least 4 words that have a very clear search intent where the user is very close to converting

Here’s a graph with examples of the different types of keywords:

graph of the different types of keywords

Source: loganix.com

Luckily, to make the process of finding keywords easier, the internet is full of keyword generators, such as Keyword.io.

These will give you all sorts of information on your main keyword, mostly in the form of the long-tail keywords your niche’s customers are searching for.

By researching your niche keywords that represent your content, you're able to identify the questions that your niche market is asking.

You can then answer and address the pain points of your targeted customers in your content, supplying the ultimate solution as the offer you’re marketing.

Investigating the competition

If you’re trying to find what works within your niche, why not look at the people that are already succeeding?

By evaluating the leaders within your niche, you can identify everything they're doing right that effectively engages with your niche market.

You can employ the same tactics but in a way that separates you from your competitors — because simply being a copy of them won’t get you very far.

Analyzing the search trends

Search trends can tell you more about your niche than you would think.

A useful tool is Google Trends — Which will show you what's being searched within your niche and when.

This is extremely helpful for learning what is popular at the moment, so you can create relevant scheduled content to keep up with the trends.

Defining your niche market is crucial to finding your own place within your market — and by extension, finding which affiliate program is right for you.

This will play an important role in choosing the offer you want to market and in creating content that is optimized for your audience.

Step 2: Establish your platform

Maybe you already have space where you cast your content out onto the internet — and maybe you've also already established a loyal reader base.

If this is the case, this section will teach you how to pick your platform.

But if this isn’t the case, well, you’ve got a lot to learn!

Think about the content you have consumed today. Did you check your Instagram?

Maybe watch a YouTube video? Did you read a blog post or see any banner ads?

These are all platforms that are used by influencers or affiliate marketers to promote affiliate products.

Choosing a platform for your content is dependent on the content itself.

Blogging has become affiliates’ favorite medium, so let’s do this one first:

  • You have 2 optionscreate your own website from scratch or use a blogging platform (such as systeme.io) with all the features you need
  • All you have to do is choose a template, customize it, and start creating!

Next up is video content — and here YouTube reigns supreme, although there are lots of platforms out there such as TikTok, Vine, and many more!

Lastly, there are social media platforms that have largely become populated with businesses and marketing — with a lot of visual content:

  • The most popular social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — it’s a good idea to be active on all of these
  • The rise of influencer culture (someone with over 10 000 followers) on Instagram has made it a tempting platform for affiliates since they can influence their audience to purchase offers

With your platform chosen, your next step is to build a reader base — this is the group of loyal users that keep returning to your content.

This means more traffic and more clicks on your affiliate links!

Step 3: Join an affiliate marketing program or network

Now that you've found your footing and chosen your platform, it’s time to become an affiliate and get the ball rolling.

But there's still an age-old question — affiliate program or affiliate network?

Fortunately for you, as an affiliate, there are free affiliate networks and programs, so money is not an issue.

So, let’s weigh up the options.

The main advantage of affiliate networks is that you have access to a variety of brands, meaning you don’t have to scour looking for individual products.

Some extra bonuses are standardized tracking, reliable payment methods, and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for links and reporting.

But there are two sides to every coin.

Affiliate networks not only have a lot of competition for products, but it can also be a struggle to apply and negotiate with brands, plus brands can move to another affiliate network creating a broken link.

When it comes to affiliate programs, you work directly with the brand, which helps you to build a better relationship.

With that being said, it can be difficult to find dependable and effective affiliate programs that make the process super easy.

So, the question remains — affiliate program or affiliate network?

Why not both? You can easily try out affiliate networks like CJ, and affiliate programs like systeme.io (60% recurring commission) and see what works for you.

Step 4: Choose your product

Once you’ve chosen your affiliate network or program, you're ready to choose your products so you can make offers.

Creating and selling products is one of the oldest strategies to get an income from your business — both digital and physical products work.

Sell an ebook, an online course, or even limited-edition t-shirts!

Remember that product sales can either be digital or physical:

  • Physical products: These products are all physical items — and you just pack and ship when a purchase is made
  • Digital products: These are products like e-books, videos, online courses, membership sites, etc. — the inventory is limitless

If you have an online business, then you might already know how to sell physical products — but are you making money from digital products yet?

With digital products, what’s required is time and mental energy.

Plus, you don’t have to continually replenish inventory, and once the product’s done, it’s done! Simply update it every now and then to keep it relevant to your audience.

Need some ideas for creating digital products? Click here to find out more about the digital products you can sell.

Choosing your products may seem like a frivolous decision but choosing the right offer can make or break your affiliate marketing.

So, to set you on the right track, here are some things to keep in mind when deciding on your offer:

  • Stick to your niche — The offer has to coincide with your niche otherwise, you're going to sell the wrong product to the wrong people
  • Pick something you know and love — Your ability to sell an offer increases dramatically if you would buy the offer yourself
  • Ask yourself if it is a profitable decision — You have to research the offer and make sure that there's a large enough market for it
  • Aim high — The more expensive the product, the more you earn
  • Remember that you’re earning by commission — If you believe in a product, then go for it!
  • Keep it relevant — This means that you can get a long-lasting and consistent income from links you posted ages ago

Step 5: Create and share your content to drive online traffic

This is what we’ve all been waiting for — content creation!

What would a link be without content? A very bad affiliate marketing strategy, that’s for sure!

We've discussed the different platforms needed for each type of content, but we haven’t spoken about the approaches your content could take.

Here's a list of the most popular content formats for affiliate marketing:

  • Reviews — By giving an insightful review of a product, it becomes very easy to direct the consumer to the product (but don’t ignore integrity and objectiveness)
  • Tutorials — How-to guides on an offer effectively set you up for incorporating your affiliate link at the end
  • Personal blogs — These blogs focus on stories and experiences that you can center around an offer
  • Product comparisons — Similar to reviews, product comparisons give you not one, but two affiliate opportunities
  • Product posts — Posting a picture on social media with your product is a simple, yet effective, way of getting your link out there
  • Resource pages — You can even have a page on your site dedicated to useful, relevant resources including, products, tools, and services

Make sure to make use of social media and SEO tactics to ensure your content is seen far and wide — so that you can increase your audience size.

That covers the 5 steps to becoming a successful affiliate marketer.

Affiliate marketing strategies

Affiliate marketing strategies are the only way to transition from a low-level to a high-level affiliate — and to start making more money!

These are the strategies you put into place to optimize your content, drive traffic, and ultimately convert more leads.

If you’re going to try affiliate marketing, keep these things in mind:

  • Recommend products that are relevant to your audience
  • Only endorse people, products, and services that have convinced you of their worth and that’ll bring results to your customers
  • Make it clear on your website that you’re using affiliate links
  • Don’t use affiliate marketing if you sell a very similar product (or you’ll literally be giving your business away to your competitors!)
  • Don’t overpromote or clutter your website with lots of affiliate links

Keep your affiliate options open

You never want to close yourself off to opportunities — a simple and powerful strategy is to affiliate yourself with more than one brand.

This supplies you with more leads, more traffic, and more money.

Affiliate marketer and course creator, Jonathan Montoya, suggests using a tactic called the affiliate stacking ecosystem where you have a core high-ticket offer with side offers that support it, to give your clients the most value.

You can also set up a steady stream of income — if one offer drops in popularity, another one of yours may rise.

Optimize your conversion rates

First, you need to test and analyze your conversion rates.

This refers to the number of people that click on your links as compared to the number of people that actually purchase the offer.

The next step is conversion rate optimization — it simply means incorporating certain strategies into your online business with the goal of getting more out of your existing customers.

An excellent way of doing this is through A/B testing which checks which ways of phrasing content or placing call-to-action (CTA) buttons work best.

To do this, you set up two different versions of your webpage and see which one gets a better response, focusing on the conversion rates.

You can also perform A/B tests on your website or blog’s design, CTAs, visuals, coupons and deals, sense of urgency, and the placement and presentation of your links.

Want to learn more about optimizing your conversion rates? Click here.

Be honest with your audience

Honesty is really the best policy!

We know you’re excited to get started with affiliate marketing. But before you do, we have a word of caution you should keep in mind.

And that’s to put your audience first.

They’re your most valuable asset — and you don’t want to lose your customers or readers in the long run because you got a little too excited and implemented affiliate marketing that didn’t resonate with them.

It’s important that you invest your time in making sure you grow and maintain your website’s audience.

Be honest with your audience that you’re using affiliate marketing — because people don’t like it when you pretend that you’re not selling them anything when it’s clear that you are.

In addition, it’s a legal requirement to let your audience know that you're an affiliate and will be earning a commission.

Get Started with Systeme.io’s Affiliate Marketing

systeme.io logo

systeme.io logo

Your affiliate marketing success can literally be one click away!

As soon as you sign up to systeme.io, you automatically join our affiliate program and are given a unique affiliate ID.

You can find your affiliate ID directly from the affiliate dashboard:

systeme.io affiliate dashboard

systeme.io affiliate dashboard

  • All you have to do is send visitors to our site, and we'll convert them into customers
  • You earn 60% on the amount of all sales of systeme.io and our courses before tax
  • This is a lifetime affiliation, so the contacts you send are marked in our database with your affiliate ID. Even if they don't buy anything for 6 months or a year later, you will still earn commissions on their purchases
  • Our affiliate program works on the last cookie. If another affiliate refers the same lead with their affiliate ID after you do, they’ll get credit for the sale. However, you will still get commissions for the subscriptions that were bought using your affiliate link.

You can promote our Free plan, annual plans (which are offered at a 30% discount), lead magnets, and also, our $7 online courses.

Additionally, you can browse our marketplace to find tons of other offers to promote.

For additional tips and tricks on how to successfully promote systeme.io, you can join our Facebook community and communicate with like-minded entrepreneurs and other systeme.io affiliates.

Not only does systeme.io offer an affiliate program, but it also allows you to set up and run your very own program!

— You can read more on how to set up your own affiliate program here.

FAQs about affiliate marketing

Can I start affiliate marketing for free?

Yes, it’s possible to get started with affiliate marketing for free.

With systeme.io you have access to our affiliate program on any price plan you choose (including the forever-free one).

After creating your systeme.io account, all you need to do is:

1. Find your niche

2. Establish your platform

3. Join our affiliate marketing program or set up your own

4. Choose your product

5. Create and share your content to drive traffic

6. And start making money!

It’s as simple as that!

How much can a beginner make in affiliate marketing?

There’s no limit to how much you can make as a beginner affiliate marketer.

However, as a beginner, it could take weeks or even months to gather enough momentum to start seeing real results.

So, don't give up and keep working at it. The more effort you put in (for example, the more affiliate posts you have), the more success you'll typically have.

According to research, a good estimation of how much a beginner affiliate could earn is between $0-$1000.


There’s no doubt an affiliate income is a smart way to earn money online.

In fact, affiliate programs can be a very effective monetization strategy since the commissions are usually based on the sale price of the items in question.

As you have learned, the question of, “How to make money with affiliate marketing” has a fairly simple answer.

All you have to do is create a platform within your niche, choose a product through an affiliate program or network, craft your content, and get paid.

Understanding the inner workings, as well as the major strategies, can also teach you how to succeed in affiliate marketing.

Are you interested in affiliate marketing?

Well, what are you waiting for?

Start your affiliate marketing business today with systeme.io’s forever Freemium plan — we won’t ask for your card details!

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