How to choose affiliate programs

One of the primary ways to make money from blogging and social media is through affiliate programs. These performance-based programs—where someone follows your link or uses your code to purchase a product, and you earn a commission—are typically win-win for the brand and you: they get new customers, and you get to monetize your audience by doing something you’re probably already doing: sharing products you love.

There are a zillion and one affiliate programs out there, just begging to be joined, and it can be tempting to jump in on all of them. I mean, why not? We did, when we first started getting our toes wet with affiliate marketing, and as a result I have more logins to affiliate platforms than I could ever remember in a lifetime. Having jumped in head first into way too many opportunities that didn’t move the needle for us, here’s what I’d recommend considering as you scout out affiliate programs to join—or to commit more resources to.

Play the numbers game

Promoting products that you like is a no brainer. But if no one is paying attention—or if no one cares about say, paleo lip gloss that stays put while scuba diving—you’ll be putting a ton of effort into creating content that won’t convert. Affiliate marketing is, at the end of the day, all about the numbers. A ‘good’ conversion rate for affiliate marketing is 1%. That means for every 100 people who see your content, one will go on to purchase.  

And that, of course, means that you don’t want to spin your wheels creating content that isn’t going to get maximum eyeballs, so it makes sense to focus your affiliate-marketing-related content on the types of content that you already know your audience eats up.

But how do you dig into what your audience likes and may like hearing about / be tempted to purchase on your recommendation?  A few easy ways to gauge interest:

  • Take a look at your top blog content in Google Analytics. What posts (and by extension what products or categories of products) are performing best on your site? Those are the niches to focus on first, because that’s where you’re getting the most eyeballs. Affiliate marketing is a numbers game at the end of the day; the more attention you have on your affiliate links, the more clicks you’ll get, and the more clicks you get, the more conversions you’ll see.
  • Look at your top content on social. This isn’t as easy to gauge as blog post analytics, but the engagement you see on posts should give you some indication of what your audience responds to most. (That said, any baby or wedding announcements don’t count as top content; those big life events will always get the most engagement!)
  • Poll your audience. Throw up a quick poll on Facebook or wherever you interact most, asking your audience what they want to see more of from you. Of course, keep this content-focused, not product focused; the categories and ideas they give you will be your best niche to focus on.

Join affiliate programs strategically

The spray and pray method may work for some, but it’s not where we’ve found the sweet spot with affiliate marketing. Instead, we like to approach our participation strategically. Here’s what we consider when we decide to join an affiliate program:

  • Pay attention to commission rates. Just like you need lots of attention on your post to drive as many conversions as possible, you’ll also want to make sure whatever you’re promoting has a healthy commission rate. Nothing’s more deflating than working really hard on content only to earn a few cents for all that effort. In general, higher-priced products are more likely to pay affiliates well—for that reason we’re all about programs like this one—but of course there’s a higher barrier to entry for high-priced products, so it’s all about striking a balance. There’s no one right payout rate or product price bracket you want to aim for, but do make sure that what you’re investing in content creation at least has the potential to make it worth your while.
  • Only promote products you love. (DUH). Trust is the most valuable thing your audience can give you, and no short-term cash payout for a crappy product is worth losing the lifetime value of a loyal audience member’s trust. Plus, if you become a shill for just about anything, your audience will get bored of your promotional posts and start tuning you out. And, and, if you need more convincing: creating content around stuff you use and love is exponentially easier than trying to find a creative angle on something you can’t get behind.
  • Diversify your portfolio. Because we’ve streamlined our affiliate participation, we have a mix of programs that include higher-paid commissions as well as lower-paying ones. The common denominator to all of them is that they are all products we actually love. Here are the affiliate programs and platforms that we’re most jazzed about right now:
    • Myobuddy Pro Massager: great payout rates, killer product
    • Great Lakes Gelatin: strong payout rate, price points are accessible
    • ShopStyleCollective: even though we don’t write about fashion, per se, this has been a great tool
    • FRÉ Skincare: good payout rates, in our niche, even though beauty isn’t our main focus
    • Amazon: this one’s a no brainer, since there’s such a wide range of products

And that’s how we go about affiliate marketing. We don’t do a ton of it; at the end of the day, it’s a small piece of our business, but it can be a very powerful tool if you approach it thoughtfully.

Your turn: tell us, what makes affiliate marketing work for you (or not)?

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Business Bootcamp, Career

Recommended3 recommendationsPublished in Business Bootcamp, Career


  1. Kathy

    These are great! I haven’t gotten to this point yet, but have been thinking about it so this was so helpful!

  2. Pingback: Creative ways to promote affiliate products on your blog

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