Affiliate Marketing: What It Is and How to Get Started

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about affiliate marketing, what it is, and how it works, as well as how to get started as an affiliate marketer and pick a programme that’s right for you.

[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. It is typically considered a crucial part of modern digital marketing. 

 Making money as an affiliate marketer takes time to develop a platform and build an online audience, but it can be worth the effort. Globally, the affiliate marketing industry is worth about $12 billion USD. It's responsible for as much as 25 per cent of online sales for the world's top brands [1].

Affiliate marketing appeals to businesses because it allows them to meet their marketing goals and benefits affiliates by offering them the opportunity to make passive income.

In this article, learn more about affiliate marketing, how it works, and the steps to becoming an affiliate marketer. 

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a revenue-sharing marketing method in which an affiliate, such as a blogger or YouTuber, advertises a business’s goods or services to help it meet its sales or marketing goals. In turn, affiliates earn a percentage of the sales or customer traffic made due to their marketing efforts.

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

  • Increasing sales, web traffic, and brand awareness

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

Whilst 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.  According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the affiliate marketing business will exceed ₹66,168.07 million by 2025 [2].

Read more: Marketing Strategy: What It Is and How to Create One

How does affiliate marketing work?

Affiliate marketing involves four main partners, who 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 to convert them into customers.

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

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

Affiliate marketing examples

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

The reason is simple: the most effective affiliate marketing tends to be paired with quality content that readers enjoy and find useful. Though it can be tempting to promote products to make sales and drive traffic for merchants, affiliates who have developed trust with their audience by highlighting quality products they believe in are more likely to convert readers. In other words: quality sells. 

Some common examples of affiliate marketing include:

  • Websites covering general topics that include affiliate links in blog posts or articles, such as vCommission.

  • YouTube videos that include affiliate links in the description, such as the one attached to GeekyRanjit's "Lenova Yoga 7i" review video.

  • Dedicated review websites that cover products that appeal to a targeted readership, such as BGR India and

Read more: Influencer Marketing: A Guide to Developing Your Strategy

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. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for affiliate marketing in India is ₹20,000 [3].

Is affiliate marketing right for you? 4 signs

Becoming an affiliate marketer and even building a thriving affiliate marketing business could be a rewarding career path for you. Here are four signs to look for as you consider taking the first steps:

1. You want to create an income stream based on your interests.

2. You want to build an online audience and create unique content that engages them.

3. You want to create partnerships with brands you love and promote their products to your audience.

4. You are ready to take on an entrepreneurial mindset to grow your affiliate marketing business.


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, the following steps could help you on your journey to becoming an affiliate marketer. 

1. Pick your niche

Affiliate marketers can reach specific audiences composed of potential customers, making them valuable to merchants. 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. 

Techlusive reviews and reports on news about technology. The site offers its readers value by testing, reviewing, and promoting equipment that tech enthusiasts like them would find helpful. As a result of serving this audience, has become a top product review site in India, covering products from games and apps to smartphones.


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 brainstorm ideas, it can be helpful to conduct research to find out if interest in the topic is increasing or correlating. 

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

  • What topic, hobby, or field interests me that’s not currently being served?

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

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

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 that platform will be. 

Whilst creating a dedicated review site, you can also do affiliate marketing on social media platforms like Instagram. Ranjit Kumar (GeekyRanjit) has an impressive following on his Instagram account, which links back to his YouTube channel. The exact platform you decide to use will ultimately depend on the precise nature of your undertaking. In some cases, 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 provides 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. Whilst 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 types of products your audience is interested in. Many different types of affiliate marketing networks and programmes offer a range of products and services from industry to industry. To optimise your chances of success, make sure to research the networks and programmes that best fit your target product and audience.

Some examples of popular affiliate networks and programmes include: 

  • Awin

  • Flipkart Affiliate 

  • BigRock Affiliate 

  • Optimise

  • Amazon Associates

  • Cuelinks

  • Coursera Affiliate Program

4. Expand your network

Creating a successful affiliate marketing platform takes time and dedication. Use a mix of digital marketing tactics to help increase your overall audience size. 

Examples of popular digital marketing strategies include:

  • Content marketing 

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

  • Social media marketing 

  • Email lists

Using any of these approaches to increase your audience size would be beneficial, but using a strategic mix of them would likely be most impactful. For instance, a combination of timely email blasts and SEO content will improve your marketing efforts more than either one. 

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 you employ in your marketing pursuit will likely depend on the platform, audience, and approach you decide to take. 

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

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

Read more: 13 Key Marketing Skills to Boost Your CV

Get started

Affiliate marketing can provide a passive income stream for those who create compelling content and put in the time and effort to grow their audience. Get job ready by completing the Google Digital Marketing and E-commerce Professional Certificate available on Coursera. You’ll learn the fundamentals of digital marketing, e-commerce, and more. Topics include how to engage with customers, build and manage online stores, and building customer loyalty.

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