Affiliate Marketing: What It Is and How to Get Started

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Affiliate marketing can be a lucrative passive income, side income, or career move. Learn about what affiliate marketing is, how it works and how to get started.

[Featured image] Two people working on an affiliate marketing campaign collaborate at a desk with a tablet and a laptop computer.

Affiliate marketing is a marketing model in which third-party publishers promote a merchant’s goods or services and receive a percentage of the sales or web traffic made as a result. It is typically considered a key part of modern digital marketing. 

Affiliate marketing appeals to businesses because it allows them to meet their marketing goals, and it benefits affiliates by offering them the opportunity to make a passive income. Making money as an affiliate marketer can offer a great income, or side income, but it requires time devoted to developing a platform and building an online audience of consumers to sell to. 

In this article, you can discover more about affiliate marketing and the processes involved, and learn concrete steps needed to become a successful affiliate marketer. 

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a revenue-sharing marketing method in which an affiliate, such as a blogger, influencer, YouTuber, or even a business with an online presence, shares or advertises another business’s goods or services to help them meet sales or marketing goals. As a reward for their marketing efforts, affiliates earn a percentage of the sales or customer traffic that they generated.

A business might work with an affiliate for a couple of reasons: 

  • Increasing sales, web traffic, and brand awareness

  • Connecting with a specific target audience (e.g. a shoe company that partners with a fitness blog to target fitness-minded readers) 

While revenue-sharing is not a new marketing concept, modern affiliate marketing typically refers to online digital marketing in which affiliates link to a business's product or service online and receive a percentage of sales or web traffic. Statista reports that approximately $8.2 billion will be spent on affiliate marketing in 2022 [1]. In the UK alone, £627M was spent on affiliate marketing in 2020 [2].

How does affiliate marketing work?

Affiliate marketing involves four main entities, that each play a unique part in the marketing process:

  • The affiliate (or “publisher”): The individual or entity that promotes the merchant’s product or service 


  • The merchant: The individual or entity selling the product or service promoted by the affiliate 


  • The affiliate network: An intermediary between an affiliate and a merchant’s affiliate programme. While an affiliate network is not strictly necessary for an affiliate and merchant to connect, it is a common channel for such relationships. 


  • The customer: The individual who purchases a product through an affiliate. Merchants and affiliates collaborate to connect them with the affiliate’s audience in order to convert them into customers.

Typically, the affiliate and the merchant join forces through an affiliate network, which might also suggest other merchants that fit the affiliate's profile. For example, a network might suggest a range of tech products to an affiliate who reviews cell phones. 

Occasionally, an affiliate and merchant might also connect organically through direct outreach. For instance, a merchant who manufactures cake pans might connect with an affiliate who writes about baking in order to get their product in front of the affiliate’s audience. 

Affiliate marketing examples

You have most likely seen examples of affiliate marketing before, even if you didn’t realise it. 

The reason for this is simple: The most effective affiliate marketing tends to be paired with quality content that readers actually enjoy and find useful. Though it might sound easy to post some links to promote products, make sales and drive traffic for merchants, it is the affiliates who have developed trust with their audience by highlighting quality products they believe in who are more likely to convert readers. Splashing links around without winning over your audience first and building a relationship is rarely successful. 

Some common examples of affiliate marketing include: 

  • Websites covering general topics that occasionally include affiliate links in blog posts or articles, such as Money Saving Expert, where links are placed in articles and guides on saving money and understanding finances.


  • Comparison websites that compare the prices of insurance, flights and hotels, using affiliate links for you to check out the best deals, such as Skyscanner.


  • YouTube videos that include affiliate links in the description, such as the one attached to MKBHD’s “My Every Day Tech 2022” video.


Affiliate marketing salary 

Affiliate income is highly variable and can often fluctuate from year to year. Furthermore, it can take time for an affiliate marketer to build up an online audience and begin to make a profit. 

Glassdoor states that the average affiliate marketer's salary is £38,040 [3], which is in line with other sources including Reed [4], who give an average of £42,619 and Indeed who quote £38,131[5]. However, many affiliate marketers are making a side income along with other forms of income. 

How to start affiliate marketing

Becoming an affiliate marketer could be a good option for those looking to make passive income and willing to take the time to build up their online audience. If this sounds like an appealing opportunity to you, then the following steps could help you on your journey toward becoming an affiliate marketer. 

1. Pick your niche.

Affiliate marketers are valuable to merchants because they can reach specific audiences composed of potential customers. The more detailed your niche, the more likely you can build an affiliate platform that meets the demands of an underserved audience with original content. At the same time, you will also want to pick a niche with a sizable audience share. 

Affiliate marketing in action

OutdoorGearLab reviews outdoor equipment used for sports, camping, hiking, climbing, and travel. The site offers its readers value by testing, reviewing, and promoting equipment that outdoor enthusiasts like them would find useful. As a result of serving this niche audience, OutdoorGearLab has become one of the most successful outdoor product review sites.   

Ideally, the niche you pick for your affiliate marketing efforts should be something that not only interests you but also offers value to a sizable, underserved audience. As you are brainstorming ideas, it can be helpful to conduct research with Google Trends to see if there is increasing or correlating interest in the topic. 

In this exploratory phase, some questions you might ask yourself include: 

  • What is a topic, hobby, or field that is of particular interest to me that’s not currently being served? 

  • How can I add a new angle or perspective to a topic with a lot of competition? 

  • What kind of content would I like to make to best serve this niche and my skill set? 

2. Pick a platform that matches your niche.

Once you have decided on the topic, audience, and products that your affiliate marketing platform will cover, you will want to decide on what sort of platform you want to build. 

While creating a dedicated review website, such as Consumer Search, is a popular approach, you can also do affiliate marketing on social media platforms like Instagram. The exact platform you decide to use will ultimately depend on the exact nature of your undertaking. In some cases, you might find that using a mix of platforms will best help your affiliate marketing endeavours.

Some common approaches and platforms include: 

  • A dedicated product review website specifically oriented around offering readers products 

  • A website or blog covering a specific topic that includes affiliate marketing in articles or posts about that topic     

  • Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube.

3. Join an affiliate marketing network.

Affiliate networks connect affiliates and merchants. While it’s not always necessary to join an affiliate network, you will likely find that doing so will streamline the relationship-building process with merchants and improve income opportunities. 

The type of affiliate network or marketing programme you join will depend on the type of products your audience is interested in. In fact, there are many different types of affiliate marketing networks and programmes offering a range of products and services from industry to industry. To optimise your chances of success, make sure to do research on the networks and programmes that best fit your target product and audience.

Some examples of popular affiliate networks and programmes include: 

4. Expand your network. 

Creating a successful affiliate marketing platform takes time and dedication. To increase your overall audience size, though, it is helpful to use a mix of digital marketing tactics. 

Examples of popular digital marketing strategies include: 

  • Content marketing 

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO)

  • Social media marketing 

  • Email lists 

While it would be beneficial to use any one of these approaches to increase your audience size, it would likely be most impactful to use a strategic mix of them. For instance, you might find that a combination of timely email blasts and SEO content will improve your marketing efforts more than either one on its own. 

5. Be consistent and master your skills.

In addition to taking time and dedication, affiliate marketing also employs a wide range of skills, including marketing, writing, communication, presentation, videography, and editing. The exact mix of skills that you employ in your marketing pursuit will likely depend on the platform, audience, and approach that you decide to take. 

For example, if you are running a YouTube channel that reviews collectible toys, then you will likely need a combination of video production, presentation, and social media marketing skills. However, if you are instead running a website that only features written reviews of collectible toys, then you will likely need to focus on expanding your writing, communication, and digital marketing skills. 

In many cases, you might find that you use all of these skills—and maybe even some more—as you work to drive traffic, produce eye-catching content, and increase affiliate sales. 

Get started

Affiliate marketing has the possibility to provide a passive income stream for those who create compelling content and put in the time and effort to grow their audience. Start building your marketing skill set by completing the Google Digital Marketing and E-Commerce Professional Certificate.

Article sources


Statista. “Affiliate marketing spending in the United States from 2010 to 2022,” Accessed December 15, 2022. 

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