Affiliate Marketing should be treated like any other serious online business.
There are affiliate marketing tools that are absolutely essential to get started, and there are ones that are recommended at later stages to help you scale hard and fast once you hit certain revenue levels.
Your toolkit will expand as your business grows.
Regardless if you’re a beginner and just started affiliate marketing, the right affiliate marketing tools will help you set the stage for success.
You can certainly get started with just the bare minimum, but keep in mind, you likely won’t achieve any real success unless you make some investments in your affiliate business.
You don’t need to invest thousands of dollars per month (although that will help), but you should have a growth mindset to this business.
I recommend making investments that are proportionate to the stage of your business. For example, in the beginning you may only be investing say $150 / month because that’s all you need right now and anything else is overkill.
But don’t be surprised if after a year or two you’re spending a lot more than $150 / month to continue growing.
This industry is maturing every day and doing the bare minimum is not a good long term strategy. Plus, making investments into your business and your future will reinforce good habits for success.
The most successful affiliates invest in whatever tools they need and don’t think twice about it. They don’t really have another option. The competition is fierce and the top dogs are constantly reinvesting in their businesses.
One quote that I love and think is relevant to this post is:
“Are you playing to win or playing not to lose?”
Let’s play to win.
Here’s my thought process when evaluating tools and the characteristics I look for:
- Is the service “affiliate marketing friendly”? For example, Mailchimp, one of the most popular and recommended email marketing software states loud affiliate marketing is prohibited.
- Can the service be easily integrated with other services that I am using or thinking of using?
- Can the service be integrated with Zapier or Integromat?
- How’s the pricing structure and how will it evolve as my business grows?
- Does the service align with the type of marketing campaigns I currently or plan on running?
We need to think long term and big picture when evaluating which tools to use. So, what are the most essential affiliate marketing tools (both free & paid)?
Let’s start with Website Hosting.
There was a time where you could buy dirt cheap web hosting, throw up a landing page, run some Google Ads and make money.
Those days are gone.
People will not tolerate slow websites. I mean look at your own browsing habits. How many times have you waited more than a few seconds for a site to load before bouncing?
Also, Google’s rankings now factor in your sites speed & performance as well. So, you’ll need a website that performs fast on desktop & mobile.
Remember, Google’s all about user experience so that means you should be too.
A slow website will kill your online business.
SiteGround is a personal favorite of mine. I’ve been using them for years. Their website hosting is affordable, high quality, and their customer support is outstanding.
They’ve got plans that scale with your website’s needs and are highly recommended. They also offer cloud hosting which becomes a necessity for high traffic sites (~100k+ unique visitors / month)
Another thing I like about SiteGround is their suite of website performance tools available for integration. For example, their integration with CloudFlare, a CDN, will boost the speed of your site and keep it extra secure.
The price as of today for their entry level hosting starts at $6.99/month. This is a special price and discounted from $14.99.
Once your site grows and you’re looking for dedicated cloud hosting then you can check out WP Engine.
Once you’re ready for cloud hosting be sure to check out WP Engine. WP Engine is a premium website hosting service and are specialists in WordPress. They are the go-to guys in the hosting industry for WordPress offering expert help.
Their hosting is completely optimized for WordPress making it the fastest hosting provider for WordPress sites.
The only drawback is it’s more expensive than other hosting solutions.
Website & Page Builder
You know the story.
The business owner needs a professional website but isn’t tech savvy.
That’s where website builders come in.
They solve a big pain point for all business owners that need a clean and professional site, which is all of them.
So, you have 3 options:
- Hire a developer and/or designer to build your site from scratch (can be very expensive!)
- Build the website yourself using the website builder (can be very time consuming & frustrating!)
- Hire a designer to build your site USING the website builder (best bang for your buck)
I prefer option #3.
When you’re just starting out, it’s infinitely better to hire a designer to use the page builder to build you a site or landing page. It’s more affordable than building a site from scratch and saves you a ton of time and headache.
These website builders are easy to use so once it’s built, they’re easy to maintain and update.
Elementor is one of the best page builders for WordPress. It’s easy to use and is as simple as dragging and dropping the design you want.
You can get started for free with limited features or make the small investment for Elementor Pro, which gives you full access to the platform.
The paid plans start at $49/year for 1 site making it perfect for the affiliate just starting out.
They also have tons of templates which will save you even more time. You can also build beautiful pop ups which will help you collect more leads.
Are they affiliate friendly? Yes
Divi, by Elegant Themes, is another awesome page builder. One thing I like about them is their live chat feature where you can speak with support for any website questions.
Divi also has many beautiful & modern design templates to choose from. Their drag & drop features make building websites and landing pages a breeze.
Their pricing starts at $89/year which gets you 1 license that can be used on unlimited sites! That’s an awesome deal. You can also pay $249 for lifetime access.
It’s worth noting that if you choose not to renew your license, nothing happens to your site. You just won’t get access to further updates.
Tracking & Analytics
Having good tracking & analytics tools are the difference between making a few sales and dominating a niche.
Google Analytics is a must and is free to use. It will track all the traffic for your website.
Once it’s set up, you’ll be building upon Google Analytics with tools that will help you solve your unique challenges as an affiliate, like tracking conversions that happen off your site.
A good conversion data platform will make your life as an affiliate much easier.
Not only will you be able to track all the conversions that happen off your site, but you’ll also be able to track all user engagements with your links in real time and have access to this data within Google Analytics (using the AnyTrack integration).
Taking it a step further, a good tracking tool will enable you to do advanced marketing tactics like building custom audiences using your SEO data and running remarketing campaigns after creating intent.
I’ve been using AnyTrack for a while now to track my affiliate sites and it’s hands down the easiest platform I’ve used to track my sites conversions and user engagements.
AnyTrack makes tracking your affiliate campaigns simple and syncs all your conversion data across your entire marketing stack.
A common issue that plagues affiliates is having access to accurate conversion data. And unfortunately it’s an issue that few conversion data platforms have been able to solve properly.
AnyTrack solves this with ease.
Their platform gives you the keys to take your affiliate business to the next level.
You can start for free and upgrade as your business grows.
Tools like Hotjar are a perfect compliment to a conversion data platform.
The conversion data platform will give you all the numbers you need & Hotjar will show you exactly what users are doing on your site and where.
Humans are visual creatures and the way Hotjar shows you heat maps of how users are behaving on your landing pages is absolutely invaluable.
I recommend checking out Hotjar or similar tools once the traffic to your site picks up and you’re getting thousands of visitors / month.
They have personal, business, & agency plans. Their personal plan is free for up to 2,000 pageviews per day.
I included this section because it’s not really talked about on other sites and seems to be an overlooked topic.
I’m not sure why. It’s very important.
As a business owner, you only have so much time and energy to spend in a day. You need to make sure the tasks you choose to work on give you the biggest bang for your buck.
There are many affiliates for example who aren’t very good writers but are excellent managers, so they’ll outsource content creation and focus on managing the business.
There’s also affiliates who are amazing copywriters, but for example, aren’t very good at outreaching for backlinks. In that case it would make sense to enlist the help of a content marketing agency to help with link building.
You get the idea. Know yourself.
Double down on your strengths and outsource your weaknesses.
When you think of outsourcing, you might think of sites like UpWork.
While UpWork is generally good for outsourcing, here are a few agencies that specialize in content creation & content marketing.
Let’s face it. As an affiliate, our content is our product, and good quality content is not easy to come by. Especially with how many content mills there are out there that churn out terrible content for cheap.
It’s important for SEO and your site’s DA (domain authority) to be publishing content consistently.
That’s where Linkplate comes in. They’re a high quality writing service offering solid content that’s optimized for SEO and is affordable.
Wingman is my growth marketing agency.
We help our clients win high intent customers with SEO & content marketing. Unlike other agencies, we develop content strategies that match buyer intent. Showing your website visitors the right content at the right time helps guide them further down the funnel and increases your inbound traffic & sales.
Content marketing is the most powerful way to increase your site’s traffic organically. As an affiliate, you have a million other things going on making it hard to balance your time between content creation, keyword research, promotion, etc.
This is the service I wish I had as an affiliate.
As an affiliate marketer, you often work alone and are forced to multitask your way to success.
Every minute counts, so if you can automate some of your tasks, you should do it!
Over the past few years, a number of automation platforms have allowed non-tech people to connect their tools via API, without prior coding knowledge.
Tools like Zapier, Integromat, Automate.io to name just a few.
What is automation?
For example, let’s say someone fills a form on your site.
You want to be able to verify the email address validity, and if the email is valid, add the subscriber to your Drip account, as well as in your Facebook custom audience.
Or how about:
- When you get a conversion, you want to receive a notification via Slack.
- If your site goes down, you want to get an SMS or have an email be sent automatically to your developer.
- When you get a conversion in AnyTrack, you want to update Convertkit or Drip with the conversion event.
Zapier, the leader in the automation space, allows you to create multi-step automations that include filters, data transformation, searches and different actions.
It’s by far the easiest automation platform to work with, however it can get quite pricey as you scale up.
Their plans are free to start for up to 100 tasks/month and scales up as your usage needs increase.
Integromat is the European counterpart of Zapier. Integromat is much cheaper than Zapier but more complex to work with. But, the complexity does come with more options.
It comes down to ease of use here. If you’re tech savvy, then Integromat might be the better option for you.
It’s free to get started and you get up 1,000 tasks / month.
Another good option would be to start with Zapier and then move to Integromat once you are familiar with the technical aspects and ‘logics’ of automations.
None of these platforms are natively built for affiliate marketers, but because they are integrated with thousands of apps, they come very handy when you need to connect apps.
The most important feature these platforms have is what we call a Webhook.
A webhook is a URL which you can append any type of data to so that it can be further processed or used in other applications.
For example, AnyTrack enables you to add a webhook URL in your workspace. Which will automatically be triggered for selected conversion types.
A classic automation example:
Fire a Zapier webhook when a Purchase conversion occurs, and then send the conversion data to your Drip account.
Good keyword research is critical to understanding your market. When you do keyword research you’ll learn what the actual queries your potential customers are using when searching for your product or service.
You’ll also learn which keywords are worth ranking for, and see how much volume and competition there is for the keywords you’re trying to rank for.
Keyword research guides your SEO & PPC strategies and is something every serious affiliate is doing.
I’ve been using SEMrush for a while now and their platform is continuously improving. Their platform will let you do all the critical tasks that affiliates need to be doing, like keyword research, competitor research, backlink profiling, etc.
This tool is a must have.
Their plans start at $99/month and scale up based on your business needs. They offer a free trial, so it would be a good idea to try them out for your niche and see for yourself how powerful their tool is.
SEO is considered to be the holy grail of traffic on the internet. SEO, Search Engine Optimization, is all about optimizing your content to rank in the search engines and get organic traffic.
It can be easy to get confused with all the tools that are out there, so it’s helpful to think of keyword research and SEO as separate in this regard:
Keyword research – facilitates the keyword research and high level SEO strategy to rank
SEO tool – helps you optimize your content and website for SEO best practices
Rank Math is a WordPress plugin that helps you optimize your content and site based on SEO best practices.
This plugin is awesome and gives you detailed feedback for the most part on what exactly is missing for your content to improve its SEO “score”.
It’s free to use with new pricing options that offer more features like tracking keywords for unlimited sites, etc.
Some affiliates focus exclusively on promoting their sites through paid media. Can you blame them? While SEO is perhaps the best form of traffic, paid media is right up there with SEO. The difference is paid media gives immediate traffic & immediate feedback, whereas SEO is a long term play.
Actually some of the most successful affiliates have focused exclusively on paid media and once they dial in their campaigns, they’re practically printing money. It’s crazy.
In any case, SEMrush will help your PPC strategy on Google Ads. But what if you’re running display ads, native ads, or mobile? Then you would need a tool that’s more specialized.
Remember, these tools will give you the intelligence you need while AnyTrack records all your conversion data and user engagements.
Performance marketing is a cut throat industry where any advantage you have should be used. The reason for it being so competitive is simple, the upside is limitless.
The industry is fast moving & constantly evolving. So how does an affiliate stand a chance of competing with the big guys? By using competitive intelligence.
WhatRunsWhere gives you insights into which ads are performing best and which strategies are being used to win today.
Their plans start at $299/month for desktop & native intelligence. If you want full coverage it’s $399/month. They currently do not offer trials but you can request a refund within 3 days of signing up.
As affiliate marketers, your priority is finding new audiences to promote products & services to.
Look no further than social media.
Social Media usage has been expected to rise 8.1% in 2020 with ~80% of all internet users using social media at least once a month.
That’s over 3 billion people on social media!
If you’re ignoring social media and focusing only on SEO, you’re missing out.
A good social media tool will keep you from pulling your hair out trying to manage multiple accounts, multiple post formats, schedules, etc.
If you plan on taking social media seriously, then a social media tool is crucial.
Note that only a few social media tools have some of the features we need as performance marketers like:
- Automatic UTM parameter builder so you don’t have to write manually each URL
- Built in Analytics
- Automation and scheduling
- Content curation
ContentStudio is a great social media & content marketing platform that is affiliate friendly. You can automate your social media campaigns and stay in the know of what’s being talked about in your community. Their content curation features are a huge time saver which allow you to monitor keywords, topics, and interests so you can curate the right content on the right social media platform.
Their pricing starts at $49/month for up to 10 social media accounts.
In today’s marketing world, content is king. A tool like ContentStudio will save you a lot of time and energy with promoting on social media.
Buffer links all your social media accounts into one interface which is perfect for affiliates that are already juggling multiple tasks at once.
Another thing that’s great about this tool is you can create content in the recommended formats for each social media platform & then schedule your content to be posted whenever you want.
Their pricing starts at $15/month and you can link up to 8 social channels and schedule 100 posts. I think it’s a perfect entry level option for affiliates who want to dip their toes in social media before going all in.
Email marketing has been and still is the most effective way to be in contact with your audience at scale. Depending on how you go about promotion, email marketing is a powerful strategy you should consider.
The flow would look like this:
Set up landing page
Set up the opt in form with an offer in exchange for their email
Give value to your audience and promote helpful products & services
If you want to use email marketing as an affiliate, you’ll need to make sure the email marketing tools you use are affiliate friendly and integrate with tools like AnyTrack.
ConvertKit is a great service that automates the entire email marketing process for you. You’ll be able to build your list, design your emails, create signup forms, and easily send email sequences at scale.
This integration gives you the opportunity to leverage the conversion data from your affiliate networks to improve your marketing funnels, and automate campaigns based on what your subscribers engage with, or purchased in the past.
You can start using their platform for free with up to 1000 email subscribers. Their pricing scales depending on your usage which is perfect for affiliates that need to stay as lean as possible while leveraging powerful tools.
Another great affiliate friendly email marketing service. Drip offers a lot of great tools for marketers so they get the actionable insights they need to make smart decisions.
You’ll get complete transparency into how your subscribers are interacting with your emails so you can see what strategies are driving revenue for your business, and then double down on them.
Drip also integrates with AnyTrack. The AnyTrack integration works the same as it does with ConvertKit because the integration is being done via webhooks.
You can start a 14 day free trial to test their tool out. Their plans start at $19/month for up to 500 email subscribers with no cap on how many emails you can send (just don’t spam ;))
Putting it all together
At the end of the day, the tools are here to improve your productivity, and to enable you to leverage your data in order to scale with confidence. Some tools should be used right from the beginning, and some are more powerful at later stages. If I could sum up which tools to use when, it would be this:
- Website Hosting
- Page builders
- Conversion tracking
- Google Analytics
- Keyword Research
Building the moat
- Content Creation / Outsourcing
- SEO / Paid media tools
- Email marketing
Optimizing as you scale
- Behavior analytics
As you progress as a performance marketer, the tools you’ll need will build upon each other as you create scalable systems to succeed.