What is affiliate marketing?

Before we get started, please note that this article has been written for audiences who have little to no understanding of how affiliate marketing works. If you’re already familiar with the concept then this article won’t be for you.

Starting off at the basics, what is an online affiliate marketing scheme?

FANTASTIC question, I’m glad you asked, you top egg you.

Affiliate marketing is a commission-based sales arrangement which, at its simplest level, involves three parties; the business, the affiliate/advertiser and the customer.

To become an affiliate marketer, you need to register with a business as a partner so that they provide you with commission every time you point one of your website visitors to their website to make a purchase (making them a customer).

Understanding how this works is better explained with an example, so let’s say you’re a hobbyist photographer, you create a website to host all of your best pictures and it includes a blog. Let’s say you call it Camera City.

Example blog page

On the blog you talk about things like where your latest pictures were taken, the time of day which has the best light for photography, your technique etc.

BUT you also review any current or new equipment you use on your photographic exploits. The place where you buy your cameras and gear also has an online shop with an affiliate program which, naturally you’ve signed up to. So every time you mention a piece of equipment you use, instead of using a normal link to take customers to the shop page with it on, you use an affiliate link.

The difference between an affiliate website link and a normal website link is that an affiliate link will contain a unique id specific to the affiliate marketer. So a normal link to a specific product will look like this;


(I just typed this website as an example without any idea if it’s a real shop, turns out it is in fact a London-based camera shop with a respectable 3 stars on Yelp),

whereas an affiliate link will look like;


What that little extra line in the URL says to the business owner’s website is that the customer was directed there by you. In turn, the business owner’s website adds a cookie to the potential customer’s browser which keeps an eye on whether or not the customer makes a purchase on the business owner’s website.

I know what you’re thinking – there aren’t too many people out there who are going to read an article on a certain camera and then be inclined to immediately follow a link to buy it.

You’re absolutely right, most people look around for different opinions before making a purchase like that. But thankfully, these cookies generally come with a 30-day purchase period as standard. This means that if the customer isn’t sure at first and waits a few weeks before deciding to make the purchase, you’ll still be rewarded commission for encouraging the sale as long as the cookie remains in the user’s browser.

Watching like a cookie

Generally, there are three ways an affiliate cookie can be removed from someone’s browser;

  1. If the user manually deletes their browsers cookies in their browser settings,
  2. If the user has a browser extension installed which automatically removes cookies for them, or
  3. If the purchase period expires i.e. if an affiliate cookie comes with a 30-day purchasing rule and more than 30 days have passed since the user clicked on the affiliate link.

Not sure what cookies are? The aboutcookies.org.uk website does a fantastic job of explaining them here.How commission headerOne of the best things about affiliate marketing is that the barrier for entry to such arrangements is generally fairly low. You don’t need to prove that you’re a website with millions of unique visits per day already or anything like that.

Typically, you just need to demonstrate that you have a working website, talk about the kind of content you post and what kind of products you think you’ll be likely to market.

Generally, the way commission is calculated is as a certain percentage of the amount paid by a customer for a sale made through an affiliate link – though the exact percentage you get generally depends on the item purchased and the reward scheme offered by the business.

When I’ve explained affiliate marketing to people before, some assumed that commission paid out to the advertiser was a fee added on to the price of each item on the businesses website. Understandably, they were concerned as this would make out as a very rough deal for the customer indeed.

Thankfully, this absolutely isn’t the case. The links used for affiliate marketing direct customers to the exact same website as would appear if they had gone to it directly – so don’t worry, there’s no difference to prices or any risk that you’re providing your customer with any less value than if they were to find the products themselves.

The money paid as commission is generally taken from the profit margin that the business sets for each item.

Most of the time, people will click on affiliate links on other websites without knowing it was any different from a standard link. I guarantee you’ll have done the same at some point if you’ve ever been a regular on websites like IGN, Trusted Reviews, Tech Radar or any other popular website which pointed you towards buying something online through links to other websites.

One of the biggest, and most commonly used retailers that offer an affiliate scheme is Amazon. Their UK commission rates (at the time of writing) look like this;

Amazon affiliate commission table

If you want to read more about their rates or find out how these rates vary from country to country, you can read about it on their website here.

Lots of websites make an extremely healthy revenue using affiliate marketing – especially ones which make a habit out creating articles containing lists (stuff like “10 Secret Santa Presents guaranteed to get an office laugh”.

However, it’s important to remember that in affiliate marketing you’re essentially a salesperson and so your ability to make a sale (using an affiliate link) is extremely dependent on the strength of your written sales pitch (copy-writing).

The websites that make significant amounts from affiliate marketing will do so by investing a good deal of time creating compelling articles.

A good example of this in action is through reviewer websites like Tech Radar – using comprehensive articles, websites like this will give an extended breakdown of the merits of a product (if it’s a good product) by which at the end, the reader feels informed enough to feel naturally inclined to make a purchase.Summary headerI hope this article made things a little clearer for you if you were unsure before. At this stage, you probably just want to find out how to actually sign up to one of these schemes. The great news is it’s incredibly easy to do so, all you really need to get started is have a published website.

Because I felt like this article was already verging on being too rambly though I didn’t want to add on a guide here, but I’m working on a separate step-by-step guide which you’ll be able to follow soon!

Is affiliate marketing something that could work for you? Is it something you might look to include in your own website? Let’s talk about it – I’d love to hear your thoughts or the ways you might use it yourself!

Email: kaeyo@inkbike.com
Twitter: @Inkbike
Facebook: @lnkbike
LinkedIn: Inkbike


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