If you run a blog about food, fashion, fitness, tech, shopping or anything else in the “lifestyle” category, affiliate marketing is probably an important part of your business.
At the very least, you’re probably part of Amazon Associates, if not several other affiliate programs that make sense for your niche.
For the past few years, I’ve been running a blog about men’s style and lifestyle, and I’ve tried a lot of different affiliate programs and platforms.
I’ve learned quite a bit about which platforms are easy to use and which ones are a total pain, as well as which programs seem to convert best.
In this article, we’ll go over what exactly affiliate marketing is, and we’ll look at some of the different affiliate platforms you can use to make money from your blog.
Program vs. Platform
An affiliate program is a relationship between retailers and publishers that allows publishers to earn commissions on sales made from referral traffic (after readers click your affiliate link).
An affiliate platform is a technology that manages an affiliate program.
For example, Everlane has an affiliate program that’s managed through a platform called MagicLinks.
Some brands use one platform to manage their affiliate program, and some brands use multiple platforms.
Types of Affiliate Programs
In general, most of these programs fall into one of two categories:
Aggregators are programs like rewardStyle and Skimlinks that, after you apply are are accepted, allow you to create affiliate links to many different brands from one convenient place.
In other words, companies like Skimlinks already have affiliate relationships with hundreds of different retailers, and you can access these affiliate programs without applying to each brand individually.
If you’re a member of rewardStyle, you can use it to create affiliate links to Banana Republic, Nordstrom, Bark Box, Shutterfly, Green Chef and even Amazon.
These aggregators are very handy, as they let you create links and see all of your affiliate metrics (across all of their brands) in one convenient dashboard.
Individual programs are direct, one-on-one relationships that the publisher (you) has with the retailer.
These usually require an application and have some sort of approval process. It’s not like any blogger can join any individual affiliate program.
These relationships and everything that goes with them – link building, tracking, payment – are managed through affiliate platforms like ShareASale, Commission Junction, Refersion, Pepperjam and many others.
Brands will often switch between platforms, which is really frustrating for bloggers because you have to go back and change your affiliate links.
Pro Tip: Use Lasso to organize your affiliate links, and it will be much easier to make bulk changes and fix broken links.
I think this happens a lot when a brand starts using a new marketing agency. Most affiliate marketing agencies (i.e., the person or team who handles a brand’s affiliate program) have their preferred platform.
So if a brand hires a new agency, they’ll jump from Commission Junction to Impact Radius, for example.
This is why most seasoned bloggers have so many affiliate accounts. It’s a lot of usernames and passwords to keep track of (another reason to go with an aggregator over individual programs).
Which is better?
It’s obvious that aggregators like rewardStyle are way more convenient than managing a bunch of individual affiliate relationships across multiple platforms.
But there is one major advantage to joining individual affiliate programs:
With individual affiliate programs, you have direct access to the retailer’s affiliate manager, which means you can negotiate higher commission rates.
This is especially powerful for brands/products that you know convert well.
For example, let’s say you have a blog post about the best men’s Chelsea boots, and in that article you recommend a pair from Thursday Boot Co.
You want to link to these boots with an affiliate link so you can earn a commission on sales, but you have a few options to create this link:
- Link to them on Amazon
- Use Skimlinks
- Go directly to Thursday Boot Co.
Let’s say choose Skimlinks, which gives you an 8% commission for this specific brand, which is higher than Amazon and has a longer tracking window.
If your article generates one sale per day at 8% commission with an average order value of $150, you’re making $360 each month.
($150 x 30) x 8% = $360
But, let’s say that Thursday Boot Co. has their own affiliate program that’s managed through ShareASale. You apply to that program, get accepted and negotiate a 12% commission rate.
($150 x 30) x 12% = $540
Now you’re making $540 per month with the exact same content, just by changing the affiliate links from Skimlinks to ShareASale.
I’ve actually been doing this a lot recently. If I know a specific brand or product is converting well, I’ll reach out to the brand and ask if they can increase the commission percentage.
And I’ve been surprised at how much flexibility there is. I’ve had brands increase the rate by 50 or even 100 percent, which can really move the needle.
Also, if you’re sending a lot of traffic to a brand that doesn’t have an affiliate program, ask them if they’ll create one.
I’ve asked a few smaller brands to create a program using Refersion, which is the most affordable and easiest-to-set-up affiliate platform, and they actually did, which often turns out to a be a total win-win (for their business and mine).
The bottom line is, you should definitely use aggregators like Skimlinks and rewardStyle, as these let you create affiliate links for hundreds or brands from one account.
But you should also join individual affiliate programs for any brand that you promote a lot and/or that converts well.
And you should always ask for a higher commission rate. The worst that can happen is they say no.
What about Amazon Associates?
Amazon Associates, the Amazon affiliate program, is sort of in a class of its own.
Technically, it’s an individual affiliate program, but since Amazon is a multi-brand retailer that carries pretty much everything, their affiliate program is almost like an aggregator.
Plus, almost everyone buys stuff on Amazon. You probably have something in your Amazon cart right now, and affiliates earn commission off of everything someone buys, not just the product they linked to.
So if one of your readers click on your Amazon affiliate to a pair of socks but ends up buying a $1,500 laptop, you get a commission on that entire purchase.
Also, Amazon’s conversion rate is very high (around 5%) because people end up buying something, even if it’s not what they originally went to Amazon for.
But there are some drawbacks to Amazon Associates. I definitely wouldn’t recommend relying on it as your main source of affiliate revenue.
First of all, their rates in many product categories are very low, and they’ve been known to randomly decrease their rates with very little warning.
Also, their tracking cookie only lasts 24 hours, which means you only get credit for purchases made up to 24 hours after someone clicks your affiliate link.
Many individual programs last 30 days or even longer.
For my site, there are certain product categories that seem to do well on Amazon. It’s mostly less expensive items like socks, entry-level watches and affordable everyday carry items (wallets, key organizers, etc.).
If I have the choice to link to a product on Amazon or through another affiliate platform, I’ll usually go with whichever one has a higher commission rate.
The tie always goes to Amazon since their conversion rate is so high.
You can also link to two different places since some people will always prefer Amazon over anything else (or vice versa).
I use Lasso to create display boxes that give readers two different options to choose from.
Quick Rundown of Several Affiliate Platforms
Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve learned about a bunch of different platforms and programs over the years:
Sign up for this one first. There’s a low barrier to entry here (I think you just need to run one website or YouTube channel), and they probably carry 50% of the products you’d want to link to.
If you’re a fashion or lifestyle blogger, you should definitely sign up for rStyle.
There’s an approval process, and they don’t accept every publisher. In fact, it’s probably the most exclusive program I know of.
But it’s worth it, especially if your content is about clothing, home goods, etc.
Also, rStyle customer support is excellent. This platform is geared toward “influencers” (hate that word), and each customer gets a dedicated account rep.
They’re very responsive and proactive about helping you increase revenue.
Skimlinks has the best data/reports out of any affiliate program or platform I’ve used.
Like, it’s not even close. I wish other platforms would take notes from Skimlinks and up their metrics game.
They also have a WordPress plugin that will automatically turn non-affiliated outbound links into Skimlinks affiliate links.
So if you have traffic, adding Skimlinks to your site could add a revenue stream to your bottom line overnight.
Skimlinks is a huge platform with tons of brands. If I can’t get a link using rStyle, I’ll try Skimlinks (and vice versa).
I’ve noticed that commission rates are sometimes higher on rStyle, but that’s not always the case.
Also, Skimlinks customer service isn’t great. Several times, I’ve submitted support tickets that have just gone unanswered.
ShareASale, Commission Junction, Impact Radius, Awin, Pepperjam
I’m putting these all in the same category because they’re all the same.
Sure, they have slightly different brand marketplaces, and companies are always switching between these platforms.
But they’re basically the same thing. They let you apply to be an affiliate for lots of different brands using one account, and they handle tracking, payment, etc.
Some of these platforms have better user interfaces and reporting than others, but it’s really all about where the brands that you want to promote are available.
MagicLinks is a little different than the above programs because it’s also an influencer marketing agency.
So the people at MagicLinks will broker these hybrid deals that include an upfront sponsored content fee, plus affiliate commissions on the back end.
This is a really cool model that I wish more brands would get on board with because it mitigates risk for the publisher and provides unlimited, passive upside from performance based commissions (affiliate marketing).
Through MagicLinks, I’ve worked with brands like Everlane, Greats and lululemon (all videos, no blog-only content).
Refersion is lightweight and simple to set up (from the retailers’ perspective). It’s also more affordable compared to long established platforms like ShareASale.
But…it’s fundamentally different than other platforms for two reasons:
- You have to create an account for each retailer
- Refersion doesn’t handle payments
Point #1 is just a hassle, but point #2 is a real pain.
This means that it’s the brands’ responsibility to honor your affiliate relationship by paying out your commissions (preferably, on time).
This isn’t how it works on other platforms like ShareASale that require the retailer to maintain a cash balance and link a bank account, in order to ensure affiliates actually get paid.
With Refersion, there is a risk that the brand won’t pay your commissions, or that they won’t pay on time.
Some brands are very organized, and some are not. I’ve had to request payments multiple times, essentially chasing an invoice that Refersion created.
This is just like Refersion but built for Shopify stores. And, just like Refersion, it doesn’t handle payments.
I still recommend Refersion and Goaffpro to smaller brands that don’t yet have an affiliate program, but remember: these platforms are not as convenient or safe for publishers.
That’s a lot of info…
I know, it’s a lot to take in. But I really believe in affiliate marketing as one of the most lucrative and passive income streams for content creators.
So get out there and start making some money 😉