Is affiliate marketing legit? Back in early 2020, I was asking myself this exact question.
I was dubious about how some influencers promote affiliate marketing as a get-rich-quick scheme. Now, after doing affiliate marketing myself for over three years I can tell you that yes, affiliate marketing IS legit.
The caveat is that you must approach affiliate marketing with a realistic mindset. You’ll need time and effort to generate income from this approach. But done right, you can make a great deal of money with affiliate marketing.
In this article, I’m going to tackle the question of is affiliate marketing legit in more detail.
I’ll debunk common myths about this business model and share insights from my personal experience – which includes earning 5-figure commissions from some of my affiliates.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a popular online business model that allows website owners, bloggers, and influencers to earn commissions by promoting products or services from other companies.
The person promoting the product is known as the affiliate (that’s website owners like you or me), while the company creating the product or service is known as the advertiser or the merchant.
In essence, affiliate marketing works by creating a financial partnership between advertisers and affiliates. The advertiser provides the affiliate with a unique tracking link or promo code for a product.
The affiliate then shares this link on their website, social media, or other platforms to promote the product to their audience. If someone makes a purchase by clicking the affiliate’s link, the affiliate earns a commission from that sale.
The different types of affiliate marketing programs:
- Pay-per-sale: Affiliates earn a commission based on a percentage of each sale. This is the most common model.
- Pay-per-click: Affiliates earn a small commission each time someone clicks their link, regardless of whether a sale is made.
- Pay-per-lead: Affiliates are paid for generating leads, like email signups or app downloads, rather than direct sales.
The main advantage of affiliate marketing is that advertisers only pay affiliates commissions on results.
It provides an incentive for affiliates to drive real sales and signups, and allows advertisers to track the effectiveness of their marketing spend.
The Benefits of Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing offers many advantages that make it an appealing online business model – both for website owners looking to make money and merchants wanting to drive sales.
Benefits for Website Owners
For website owners and bloggers, affiliate marketing provides the following benefits:
- Low barrier to entry – It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to get started by signing up for affiliate networks. No inventory or large upfront costs required.
- Passive income potential – After the initial work of optimizing the articles for search and promoting affiliate offers, your commissions can keep rolling in over time. I still get commissions even now from articles I wrote 2-3 years ago.
- Be your own boss – Affiliate marketers have the freedom and flexibility to work for themselves. It’s also great if you want a digital nomad lifestyle.
- Work remotely – Affiliate marketing can be done from anywhere with an internet connection. No commute required.
- Cost-effective marketing – Driving traffic to affiliate offers provides an alternative monetization model compared to display ads (which some people don’t like to have on their sites).
Benefits for Merchants
For companies and advertisers, affiliate marketing delivers these advantages:
- Outsourced marketing – Affiliates essentially act as an outsourced sales force promoting products.
- Only pay for performance – Merchants don’t have to pay unless an affiliate generates a real sale or lead.
- Scalable – The merchant’s marketing reach can scale alongside increases in affiliate partnerships.
- Measurable results – Detailed reporting shows merchants exactly how each affiliate is performing.
- Expanded audience reach – Affiliates often have highly targeted niches and audiences that merchants want access to.
- Increased SEO visibility – Affiliates can help drive traffic and links that boost merchants’ search engine rankings. This helps get products onto the coveted front page of Google.
Is Affiliate Marketing a Viable Business Model?
Many people wonder – can you actually make money with affiliate marketing? While results vary dramatically, affiliate marketing absolutely can be a viable online business model with the right approach.
Can You Really Make Money?
There ‘s healthy skepticism around the promises of easy passive income with affiliate marketing.
And that skepticism is valid for sure – as just placing a few affiliate links or banner ads on your site is unlikely to generate significant earnings on its own.
One of the biggest factors in success is getting your SEO strategy on point. If you can rank your articles on the front page of Google for high-intent commercial keywords, then you’re much more likely to achieve success with promoting affiliate products.
You’ll find numerous examples of people building very profitable affiliate websites and side hustles. With consistent effort, it is possible to monetize traffic and start earning commissions.
But like any other business, getting great results requires patience, consistency and hard work.
Success Stories and Earning Potential
There are many inspiring stories of individuals earning life-changing affiliate income:
- Pat Flynn transformed his side project SmartPassiveIncome into a biz earning around $400k/month in commissions.
- Michelle Schroeder-Gardner earns over $100k/month from her blog Making Sense of Cents.
While these examples represent the top performers, there are thousands of people generating thousands per month via affiliate websites.
With enough dedication and persistence, you can attain four and five-figure monthly income levels.
Requires Effort and Consistency
Ultimately, affiliate marketing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.
Like any other online business model, it requires real effort and consistency over an extended period to build momentum and income.
You’ll need to commit to continual learning, honing your niche, producing high quality SEO-friendly content, and promoting offers.
But if you’re willing to put in the work, affiliate marketing is a tried and tested business model that can provide an excellent income stream – either as a full-time business or a profitable side hustle.
Evaluating Affiliate Program Legitimacy
Is affiliate marketing legit? Yes. But not all affiliate programs are created equal.
Some fail to pay their affiliates properly, enforce unfair rules, or are just outright scams. It’s important that you thoroughly vet any program before joining. Here’s what to look for:
Scam warning signs
Stay away from affiliate programs that seem sketchy or too good to be true. Warning signs include:
- Vague claims of high earnings without proof
- Pressuring affiliates to pay for upsells
- Complex commission structures designed to avoid payouts
- Affiliate links that redirect through multiple sites
- No direct contact info beyond a web form
- Overly promotional language with no real info
Importance of reading terms & conditions
Carefully read the terms and conditions of any affiliate agreement before accepting. Watch out for red flags like:
- Short cookie durations that reduce your commissions
- Ability for merchant to modify terms without notice
- Ambiguous language around payment schedules, thresholds, and processes
- Hidden requirements around traffic quality and affiliate duties
Transparency around commissions/payments
Legitimate merchants will be upfront and transparent about how affiliates get paid:
- Clear commission rates, payout timeframes, and minimums
- Easy to access reporting on your traffic and commissions
- Established payment methods and thresholds
- Responsiveness to affiliate questions and concerns
You should avoid programs that fail to provide clear payment information. Only promote offers where you understand exactly how you’ll be compensated.
Building Trust as an Affiliate Marketer
The most successful affiliate marketers don’t take shady shortcuts. Instead, they build loyal audiences by being transparent and providing genuine value.
Here are some of the keys to establishing trust:
Being upfront about financial relationships
Don’t try to hide that you earn commissions for recommendations. Your readers will appreciate upfront transparency. Clearly disclose when your content contains affiliate links.
Providing honest, high-quality recommendations
Only recommend products you would use yourself. Provide balanced pros and cons, not just sales hype. Prioritize delivering value to your audience above earning commissions at any cost.
Disclosing use of affiliate links
Ethically disclose affiliate links using language like “affiliate link” or “This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a commission if you purchase through my link.”
It’s better to avoid using misleading tactics like masking affiliate URLs (I did this for a while, using a tool called ThirstyAffiliates. But I’ve recently moved away from it and now I just use the regular affiliate links).
By being honest and direct about financial motivations, you’ll gain the trust of your readers. This builds a loyal audience that provides value to both the reader and the marketer over time.
Prioritizing transparency and high-quality content is always the best long-term strategy.
Operating an above-board affiliate marketing business requires paying attention to certain compliance issues. Don’t let these trip you up.
As with any other source of income, earnings from affiliate commissions must be reported as taxable income. Keep good records of what you earn from each affiliate program for your tax filings.
FTC disclosure guidelines
The FTC requires affiliate marketers to clearly disclose paid relationships (even if you’re not US-based but target US audiences. Follow FTC guidance around using terms like “Ad”, “Sponsored”, and “Promotion” with your affiliate links.
I recommend that you make compliance one of your top priorities from day one. Read program terms closely, research disclosure rules in your niche, and consult a tax professional if needed.
Proactively addressing compliance protects your business and brand reputation.
The world of affiliate marketing comes with important legal and tax considerations. But a little bit of education and proactive planning goes a long way.
Doing things the right way from the start allows you to build an ethical, sustainable affiliate business.
Getting Started with Legitimate Affiliate Programs
Once you understand the basics, it’s time to dive in. Here are the key steps to launching your affiliate marketing efforts the right way:
Researching and selecting programs
Search for affiliate programs in your industry or niche. The affiliate networks are a good place to start. Browse networks like CJ Affiliate, ShareASale, Partnerize or Impact.
So far, I’ve had the best results with Impact, but it depends which networks have the best offers for your niche. Don’t forget to vet programs thoroughly before applying.
Another strategy that has worked well for me is making a list of all the software tools I currently use (and like), and joining the affiliate programs via their websites.
This might not fit your niche, but if it does, it’s a great place to get started with authentic affiliate marketing.
Creating content and promoting offers
Grab some affordable web hosting and launch your website or blog, ideally on WordPress.
Once that’s ready, conduct keyword research to find commercial intent keywords in your niche first. For example, “best X product for Y use case”, or “alternatives to X product”, or “X product vs Y product”.
People who search for any of these terms normally have strong intent to buy. They’re in the research phase, so your article could well be what convinces them to buy – using your affiliate link.
Then, create SEO-friendly articles with detailed reviews and recommendations for products you want to promote. Share affiliate links prominently within content.
It’s also important to provide some informational content on your website, so it’s not all commercially-centric.
That’s why your keyword research strategy should also involve targeting relevant informational intent keywords in your niche, to help your audience achieve a goal, such as “how to do XYZ”.
Tracking links and monitoring performance
Use link tracking software like Lasso or ThirstyAffiliates to create tracked affiliate links. Monitor clicks, conversions, commissions, and optimize over time.
The keys are choosing complementary products to promote, producing high-quality content that ranks well, and tracking performance to improve results. Legitimate programs empower you to ethically monetize your platform.
Pro Tip: Start by promoting just one or two products within a niche before expanding. This allows you to provide laser-focused recommendations and build expertise.
Affiliate Marketing Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy to trip up when first getting started with affiliate marketing. Try to steer clear of these common blunders:
Spamming low-quality links
Avoid plastering lots of thin, irrelevant affiliate links all over your site. This lacks value for readers and can damage your reputation.
It’s best to include affiliate links naturally within your content, in places where they fit the context. For example, if you’re writing a how-to guide for moving abroad, it would likely make sense to include an affiliate link to your favorite money transfer service.
Choosing the wrong niche or offers
Pick a niche you’re genuinely passionate about and experienced with.
Google tends to favor sites with strong E-EAT signals, i.e. where the author’s experience and expertise in the topic are made obvious. Make sure you only promote offers that truly match your audience’s interests and needs.
Failing to match search intent
If you’re promoting affiliate offers via your blog, it’s essential to make sure your content provides the exact information users are looking for, based on keyword searches. This is the route to success with SEO.
If the search intent is informational, make sure you also give comprehensive advice, not just affiliate promotions. If the search intent is commercial, you’ll typically have an easier time converting visitors to affiliate sales.
Not tracking and optimizing performance
Use affiliate software to track links, test offers, monitor conversions, and identify top traffic sources. Continually optimize based on data.
Patience and persistence are truly crucial here. Don’t expect overnight results – you won’t get them. Instead, focus on producing high-quality content, cultivating an engaged audience, and providing genuine value.
This earns reader trust and brings in better affiliate commissions over the long-term.
Tips for Affiliate Marketing Success
How can you thrive and cultivate a sustainable, ethical affiliate business? Follow these tips:
Choose a niche you’re passionate about
Pick a niche you enjoy and find interesting. Your natural enthusiasm will show through in content that engages readers.
Build an audience that trusts you
Earn reader trust by consistently providing value. Be transparent about affiliate relationships. Give honest, thoughtful recommendations.
Provide value beyond just promotions
Don’t make your site solely about pushing affiliate products. Offer educational tutorials, comprehensive reviews, commentary, and other in-depth content.
This is a great opportunity to target informational intent keywords (such as the one in this article: “is affiliate marketing legit”), to help your audience solve problems and achieve their goals.
The most successful affiliate marketers don’t take shortcuts. They deliver genuinely helpful information to readers who share their interests and understand the financial arrangements.
When your niche site or blog becomes a trusted destination that readers return to again and again, your affiliate income will steadily grow. So stay patient, stick to your niche, and focus on building relationships. The results will come.
Final Thoughts: Is Affiliate Marketing Worth It?
So what’s the verdict? Is affiliate marketing legit? Can it provide real results as an online business model?
The answer is yes, affiliate marketing absolutely can be profitable if you approach it honestly and strategically. The low barrier to entry, passive income potential, and built-in marketing support from merchants make it very enticing.
However, results don’t come overnight without effort. Like any business, affiliate marketing requires consistent hard work over an extended period.
You must provide genuine value to readers, cultivate trust, and optimize your performance over time. Patience and persistence are key.
While affiliate marketing has its challenges and learning curves, there are many real success stories that prove the model can work.
Much of success with affiliate marketing – at least through the medium of blogging – revolves around a solid SEO strategy.
As long as you maintain realistic expectations, stick to your niche, follow ethics and compliance regulations, and continually improve your approach, affiliate marketing can be a rewarding endeavor.
If you have a passion that aligns with an affiliate program audience, and are willing to put in consistent work, there are legitimate opportunities. Approach affiliate marketing honestly and strategically, and you can build a sustainable business.