Whether you’re just starting out as a blogger or are already an experienced marketing professional, affiliate marketing is one of the best ways to build an additional revenue stream. The best affiliate marketing programs can pay up to 60% of the value of each sale. Affiliate marketing income forms a large part of website revenues globally.
With many vendors pivoting to an ecommerce or digital-first approach thanks to the effects of COVID-19, it’s a great time to start or expand your affiliate marketing efforts. Read on to learn how to choose an affiliate program and some of the best affiliate programs by niche.
How to choose an affiliate program
Before you can choose an affiliate program, you need to know what makes a good one. Consider these factors as you do your research and make your decision:
Start with considering these essential factors as you decide what to promote and which program to partner with:
- Level of competition: While some competition is inevitable and even good, it’s hard to gain a foothold in a saturated market.
- Market trend: Total value alone is not a good indicator of market health. Looking at the year-to-year growth of a market will give you a better idea of its future profitability.
- Average earnings per click (EPC): This will depend on the products you promote. Big-ticket items command a higher price per transaction, but you’ll probably make fewer total sales.
In short, you want to choose an affiliate program in a market that is not saturated, that is steady or growing, and that offers a good average EPC.
Many affiliate marketing programs accept a high percentage of applicants into their program. However, those that do impose acceptance criteria typically set the bar very high.
For example, Airbnb is notorious for partnering only with websites that have at least one million visitors a month. However, for those that do get in, the payouts can be generous.
If you want to aim high and your site meets the criteria for programs with stringent entry requirements, go for it. Otherwise, aim for programs with a higher acceptance rate.
Affiliate commission rate
Affiliate programs usually pay either a fixed percentage or a fixed price per sale. However, there are other factors that determine how much you’ll get:
- Promotions for new affiliate partners.
- Higher commissions for hard-to-sell products.
- Higher commission rates for top-tier partners.
The calculations can seem a bit complicated at first. Fortunately, all good affiliate programs have an easy to use dashboard and reporting system where you can view your current and past earnings.
You will need to ensure your affiliate program or network is up to the task. Different platforms have different capabilities, and the technical requirements you have will depend on your exact goals and the type of website you want to run.
For example, if you plan to run a coupon or discount website, you’ll need an affiliate program that frequently provides coupon codes. If your focus is ecommerce, deep linking and product feeds will be high on your list of criteria. And so on.
Tracking capability is perhaps most important of all, since success in affiliate marketing is all about tracking. Look for affiliate programs and networks that offer something called postback URLs (also called server to server pixels). Postbacks are invisible links that pass data between systems, undetected by the consumer, their browser, or any ad blockers. Postbacks are one of the best ways for affiliate marketers to track and monitor conversions, and do not rely on cookies (which many users have now begun to intentionally block).
A cookie is a small piece of data that gets stored on a user’s computer as they browse a website. In short, it’s a way of tracking browsing activity. Cookies mean that affiliate marketers can get commission for a period of time after a customer clicks on their link, even if they buy at a later date. Cookie lifespans vary, but some last as long as 60 or even 90 days.
However, many big-name websites offer short cookie durations by design. Auction websites such as eBay offer good commission rates, but only a one-day cookie lifespan. Choosing an affiliate partner with longer cookie lifespans is likely to increase your earnings as many customers do not buy straight away after clicking on a link.
Most affiliate programs pay affiliates monthly. However, if you want to get paid more often, you could choose a program with weekly or every-other-week payouts. This is a convenient option for site owners that depend on affiliate sales as a major part of their income.
Be aware that some programs require affiliates to reach a certain earnings threshold before they will be paid. This is because the cost of processing a small payment is hard to justify, so the affiliate program instead chooses to pay all earnings at once when the threshold is reached.
Now that we know what to look for, let’s explore some of the best affiliate programs according to niche and experience level.
Best affiliate programs for beginners
If you’re not sure where to start with affiliate marketing, there are programs that are more beginner-friendly. They can help you earn some cash as you get started. Then, when you have built an audience and feel more confident, you can branch out into other, more niche-specific programs.
Here are a couple to consider:
- Clickbank. Clickbank’s affiliate network provides useful and easy-to-use tools including a paylink generator and redirect scripts.
- Amazon Associates. We can’t talk about affiliate programs without mentioning Amazon, the world’s biggest retailer. Amazon Associates boasts an impressive array of vendor offers, and the easy-to-use UI makes it even easier to start an affiliate campaign. However, Amazon does not have postback API integration for tracking and attribution. Additionally, Amazon slashed commission rates on many of its programs at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading many of its affiliates to move to alternatives.
- Walmart. Walmart has been one of Amazon’s biggest competitors and has been trying to disrupt the online retail giant for some time. Many Amazon affiliates have moved to Walmart in the wake of the former’s commission cuts during the pandemic. Walmart runs its affiliate program through Impact, a platform that has postback tracking enabled and can integrate with Anytrack.
When choosing an affiliate marketing program as a beginner, consider both the products on offer and the ease of use of the tools.
Best affiliate programs for web services
Web hosting and other related services are a lucrative market for affiliate marketers. Many programs in this niche offer a fixed commission per customer referral, making it one of the more profitable niches. If you operate in the tech space, web service affiliate programs might be the way to go.
- WPengine. This program’s commissions start at an impressive $200 per referral. It is one of the top brands in the industry, and it offers a six-month cookie lifetime.
- Cloudways. Cloudways’ commission starts at a respectable $50 per sale, and it offers a long cookie lifespan (90 days).
- Liquid Web. Liquid Web’s commissions start at $150 per sale. It is also a well-known industry player that offers 92% approval and a 90-day cookie lifetime.
Both WPengine and Cloudways run on the Shareasale network, and Liquid Web runs on Impact. Both these networks have postback integration with Anytrack.
If you’re looking for an affiliate marketing program that pays a generous fixed commission, web services such as hosting, VPNs, and software are a great option.
Top affiliate programs for online training
With the demand for online learning at an all-time high, online training is one affiliate niche you should consider exploring. Many of the best affiliate marketing programs in this niche offer very good commision rates.
- Coursera. The most well-recognized name in online learning is also one of the most generous affiliate marketing programs, offering commissions as high as 45%. The cookie lifespan is 30 days. Coursera runs on the Rakuten network (previously Linkshake,) which provides postback capability.
- Teachable. Teachable’s commission rate of 30% is one of the best in its niche, and the 90-day cookie lifespan is another plus. Unfortunately, Teachable runs on GetAmbassador, which does not have postback or API integration.
- Udemy. Udemy is the “Amazon of online courses,” offering thousands of programs in a wide variety of topics. It doesn’t pay as much as Coursera or Teachable, but the 20% commission is still generous. Like Coursera, Udemy runs on the Rakuten network.
Given the surge in demand and excellent commission rates, your site will soon start paying for itself if you start promoting online courses.
Top affiliate programs for travel
While the travel industry has suffered a dip in 2020 due to COVID-19, many people are now starting to take holidays again or planning them in anticipation of a return to normal life. Many travel affiliate programs offer hefty commission rates and great cookie lifespans.
Here are some of the best:
- Skyscanner. If you’re a travel blogger, your trips can start paying for themselves if you partner with Skyscanner. The site’s commission rate is unmatched (50% of earnings) and the 30-day cookie lifetime is one of the longest in the niche. Skyscanner runs through the CJ Affiliate network, which can integrate with Anytrack through API.
- Agoda: With a very recognizable name and a high average EPC, Agoda is a good choice for travel affiliates. Its commissions range from 4-7%, so you’ll be rewarded for a higher number of referrals. Unfortunately, the cookie lifespan is just 1 day. At time of writing, Agoda does not seem to support postback.
- Travelpayouts. Travelpayouts is an affiliate network that allows you to access over 60 affiliate programs, including Agoda and TripAdvisor. It’s easy to find an offer that suits you, and the cookie lifespan is a respectable 30 days. Travelpayouts supports postback and API tracking.
All of these programs offer high approval rates, making it possible for you to participate even if you don’t have millions of visitors.
Top affiliate networks
As well as individual merchants’ affiliate programs, you can also join large affiliate networks. The advantage of this approach is that they allow you to promote a variety of products from a range of different retailers. The advantage of joining a large affiliate network is that they tend to offer advanced features such as API and postback capability, a product feed, deep linking, coupon feed, and cookieless tracking.
Here are some of the best affiliate networks to consider if you want to promote multiple products or vendors:
- CJ Affiliate. If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for programs from various vendors, CJ Affiliate is hard to beat. Its main selling point is the incredible standard 400-day cookie lifespan. However, some of its partner programs use shorter cookie lifespans, so check before you join.
- Shareasale: Shareasale offers thousands of programs in its affiliate networks catalogue. Almost every ecommerce niche you can think of is catered for. Affiliate rates and cookie programs vary depending on the program.
Ecommerce affiliate marketing is a mixed bag. Commissions range from very generous to very poor. However, the variety of programs alone will ensure you’ll find something that fits your site’s niche.
Top affiliate programs for gaming
Gaming is a rapidly expanding niche with consumers willing to spend a lot of money on big-ticket items. Partnering with a gaming affiliate marketing program can earn you very high rates of commissions.
- Razer. When you say “gaming”, Razer immediately comes to mind. It offers high-end gaming products including CPUs, keyboards, and monitors. A single product can cost thousands of dollars, so even the 3-10% commission rates can bring in big money. Razer runs on Impact, the same affiliate platform used by Walmart.
- Alienware. An Alienware gaming laptop starts at $1,300, with some models costing thousands of dollars more. Alienware is owned by Dell and its commission rates start at 4%. Alienware’s affiliate program supports postback and API integration.
Gaming and esports have never been more popular. Affiliate marketing programs in this industry give gamers, game bloggers, and tech enthusiasts an opportunity to earn good money.
Choosing the best affiliate program for your site
There are thousands of affiliate marketing programs available in almost every niche you can think of. Chances are, if there is demand for a product or service, there’s the opportunity to make money promoting it through affiliate marketing.
The best affiliate programs for you will depend on your niche, the commission rate, and other factors such as acceptance rate and cookie lifespan. Doing your homework will help you find an affiliate program that works. Then you just need to promote your affiliate programs well to make every click count.
Here’s to making your first sales and expanding your business!