Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate Marketing Basics for Publishers

Successful online publishers have been using affiliate marketing to generate revenue for years. If you haven’t adopted this approach yet, you could be missing out on a valuable income stream.

Performance-based marketing is one of the fastest growing revenue channels for publishers, thanks to its significant earning potential and easy implementation. According to eMarketer, global e-commerce sales are expected to hit nearly $5 trillion this year. As a standalone market, affiliate marketing is worth more than $12 billion.

Affiliate marketing has helped digital publishers offset declining advertising rates, particularly during the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s already being used by some of the media industry’s biggest players, including The New York Times and BuzzFeed. Any publisher that embeds purchase links in product reviews, listicles, or other forms of online content is participating in affiliate marketing to some degree.

If you’re just beginning to learn about this strategy, these are the fundamental basics you should know.

Fundamentals of Affiliate Marketing for Digital Publishers

Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing. That means brands (or marketers) pay digital publishers based on the actual performance of their ads (embedded links) rather than past performance or potential performance.

Online publishers, including magazines, local news sites, and blogs, can partner with brands to drive traffic to the brand’s website. The larger the following a publisher has, the greater the potential for significant revenue with this model.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

Brand advertisers will pay publishers to promote their products or services online. Payment typically comes in the form of commission, which publishers earn each time a reader completes an action, like clicking on a link or purchasing an item on the brand’s website.

With a commission agreement in place, the publisher will embed the advertiser’s affiliate links within articles and other website content. The goal here is to earn money when readers click on the link and make a qualifying purchase.

How much commission a publisher earns through each of these purchases depends on the individual brand or the affiliate program. Publishers can earn anywhere from 5% to 30% on sales generated through links with the most popular affiliate programs. However, advertisers in certain industries or niches will offer substantially higher commission rates.

Affiliate links can be placed anywhere on a publisher’s website or social media pages. The more visible the link, the more income the publisher is likely to generate. Product reviews are the most obvious place for digital publishers to place affiliate links, but depending on the context, publishers can embed these links in just about any type of online content.

As a best practice, it is recommended that publishers always disclose the use of affiliate links, either by placing a notice at the end of the article or in another prominent location. Failing to disclose the use of affiliate links is a frowned upon practice within the online journalism community.

Top Affiliate Programs for Publishers

Most independent publishers don’t have direct relationships with brands. Rather than attempting to negotiate commission rates and other contract details alone, it’s more common to work with an affiliate program.

The most popular types of affiliate programs for publishers are:

  1. Affiliate programs for niche products (Example: ConvertKit)
  2. Affiliate programs for products with mass appeal (Example: Amazon Associates)
  3. Affiliate programs for products with mass appeal and high commissions (Example:

How to Get Started

If you’re an online publisher that wants to get started generating revenue through affiliate links, follow these steps:

  1. Choose an affiliate platform. If you have an online magazine or a local news site, your website is the most obvious platform. Social media influencers may be more likely to use a platform like Facebook or Instagram.
  2. Decide on a niche. What kind of products or services will you promote?
  3. Find the right affiliate programs. Amazon is one of the most popular options, but there are hundreds to choose from depending on your niche.
  4. Continue publishing great content. Success with affiliate marketing depends on the relationship you have with your audience. Don’t abandon that relationship in the search for new revenue streams.
  5. Get people to click on your links. The easiest way to get people to click on your links is to embed your links in high-quality content that generates plenty of traffic.

To learn more about turning affiliate links into a sustainable source of recurring revenue, read How Digital Publishers Generate Revenue Through Amazon.