SEO Glossary: Affiliate Marketing

In a nutshell: What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a business model in which website operators advertise the products of sellers. If users click on one of the affiliate links and buy a product from the seller, the website operators receive a commission for successfully referring a customer.

How does affiliate marketing work in detail and which are the top affiliate programs?

In affiliate marketing, a distinction is made between affiliates and merchants. Affiliates operate a website and do not sell their own products. Merchants, on the other hand, are the sellers, who can either be manufacturers of the products, distributors of the products or a service provider.


The rising sales figures, the large number of companies with affiliate programs, the increasing search volumes and other positive developments in affiliate marketing reflect the great popularity of the affiliate business.


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How affiliates earn money with affiliate marketing

An affiliate can be a blogger, entrepreneur, influencer or any other person. In principle, anyone can get into affiliate marketing. All that is important for success in affiliate marketing is knowledge of online marketing (especially content marketing and SEO) or sufficient capital to pay agencies or freelancers to set up an affiliate business. If a person wants to earn money through affiliate marketing, there are several ways to do so:


  • Bloggers: In order to monetize their own blog, affiliate links are inserted in the posts at appropriate places in the text. If readers of the blog click on one of the links and make purchases on the seller's site, the bloggers receive a commission. Especially for bloggers who previously had no monetization measures on the blog, it is important to include the links to the sales pages in a natural way so that additional added value is created for the blog's readers.
  • Entrepreneurs: If you don't have a website or blog, you can have this set up by an agency or SEO expert. For example, niche topics with little competition are analyzed. A comparison portal, an advice website or similar is then set up on the niche topic. The better the created websites are SEO-optimized, the faster the first visitors come to the website, click on the integrated affiliate links and make purchases via the links, so that an affiliate generates cash flow with its website.
  • Influencers: These place the affiliate link in their posts or stories on social media. Followers are directed to the seller's page when they click on the link. YouTubers with a high reach can also place affiliate links in video descriptions or embed the links in videos, whereupon subscribers may click on one of the links and make purchases.


Possible merchants and top partner programs at a glance

As diverse as the affiliates entering the affiliate business can be, so can the sellers. In affiliate marketing, these are referred to as merchants. The first and still best-known merchant is Amazon. According to stories, a lady approached the then Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos at a party in 1997 to introduce him to the business model of marketing books in exchange for commissions. As more and more affiliates entered into a partnership with Amazon, affiliate marketing became more popular. eBay and OTTO now offer their own affiliate program. There is hardly a sales platform that would not work with affiliates.


In addition to the sales platforms, there are manufacturers who sell their products via the website and have also launched an affiliate program; two examples of this are the bicycle rack manufacturer THULE and the supplement store MyProtein. Several brokers, credit intermediaries and other service providers also use affiliate marketing to reach more customers more easily. In the end, both the affiliate and the merchant benefit.


The website regularly lists information on the most popular affiliate programs and the current highlights. According to this source, popular affiliate programs currently include


  • Amazon
  • OTTO
  • IKEA
  • check24
  • LIDL

Details on tracking and commission in the affiliate business

The rising sales figures, the high number of companies with affiliate programs, the increasing search volumes and other positive developments in affiliate marketing reflect the great popularity of the affiliate business. One of the reasons why affiliate marketing is so popular and why its popularity is increasing is the duration of cookie tracking: depending on the affiliate partner, an affiliate may benefit from several months of tracking.


To put it more simply: If the merchant's tracking duration is 90 days, then the affiliate receives a commission if the referred user purchases from the merchant within these 90 days. This commission is not only paid on one product, but on all products that end up in the shopping cart of the referred user within 90 days.


A tracking duration like this is just one of many examples. At Amazon, tracking is usually only 24 hours, so affiliates have to hope that the referred customer will buy as quickly as possible. Even with a reduced tracking duration, the affiliate business is lucrative, because with the increasing growth of the website, steadily increasing streams of visitors are generated, so that even with a 24-hour tracking duration, plenty of users use the link, who buy within the 24 hours and bring the affiliate a commission.


Commissions are awarded in affiliate marketing according to various models, so that a user does not necessarily have to buy via the affiliate link for the affiliate to receive a commission. The following commission models are possible:


  • Pay per sale
  • Pay per click
  • Pay per lead


Alternative to the in-house partner program: the affiliate network

The aforementioned companies such as Amazon, LIDL, THULE etc. have each introduced their own affiliate program and take care of its implementation; an affiliate program implemented by the merchant itself is also referred to as an "in-house affiliate program" So far, all affiliate programs of the well-known and popular merchants have proven to be reputable. Nevertheless, there is an alternative to the in-house partner program: the affiliate network.


In an affiliate network, affiliates are brought together with merchants who have not set up their own affiliate program. The advantage is that affiliates have access to a much larger number of merchants from a wide range of industries via the network. From time to time - depending on the product/service and merchant - higher commissions can be earned than with an in-house affiliate program.


At the beginning of affiliate marketing, it is important for every affiliate for strategic and financial reasons to decide whether an in-house affiliate program, a partnership via an affiliate network or both make sense in the individual case.


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Conclusion: What is affiliate marketing?

If you want to earn money on the internet, you can start an affiliate business. As an affiliate, all you need is a web presence (e.g. blog, social media profile) to link products or services from merchants. Ideally, these products and services should be of interest to your readership so that readers click on the affiliate link and take an action (e.g. purchase; subscription) on the merchant's linked page, which earns the affiliate a commission.

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