Affiliate Marketing Super FAQ

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about affiliate marketing but without any of the BS, hype or veiled sales pitches.

Is affiliate marketing legit?

Yes, affiliate marketing is legit. It is a proven online business model with a history dating back to the late early 1990s, with the ability to produce a better-than full-time income for people who operate their affiliate businesses properly.

The reason why some people think affiliate marketing isn’t legit is because it has attracted the usual scammers who want to sell it as a “get rich quick scheme”.

Modern affiliate marketing is probably best referred to as “digital publishing” because the key component of any affiliate marketing business is producing text or video content that is then consumed by an audience interested in that specific topic.

To put this in perspective, Google relies on digital publishing for its very existence.

Is affiliate marketing a pyramid scheme?

No, affiliate marketing is not a pyramid scheme or MLM (Multi Level Marketing) program. By definition, a pyramid scheme requires that you spend money to become part of a given program. Affiliate marketing programs are free to sign up for and promote.

Pyramid schemes also require that you hold stock of the products you’re selling to others. This can often lead to MLM distributors left with attics or garages full of unused and unsold stock. I have seen several friends left in this situation, in one case costing a young couple $20,000 that they couldn’t afford to lose.

Affiliate marketing never requires you to hold inventory of any of the products you promote on your website or social channels.

Pyramid schemes have an organized hierarchical structure where the owners of the program exist at the top of the pyramid, and the bulk of the revenue generated by distributors flows upwards to those at the top of the pyramid. Basically, the person at the top of the pyramid always wins.

No such hierarchy exists within affiliate marketing – affiliates have a symbiotic relationship with vendors or merchants i.e. the parent companies can only be successful if the affiliate also enjoys a high level of success.

Is affiliate marketing dead in 2022?

No, affiliate marketing is not dead in 2021. In fact, the affiliate marketing industry is projected to grow at around 10% per year for the next several years, and is currently valued at US$12 billion per year. It is a massive global industry that has yet to tap into the developing world.

At this stage the claim that affiliate marketing is dead is nothing more than a meme.

The first affiliate marketing program was launched by PC Flowers and Gifts in 1989, so the industry is now over 30 years old.  During that time I’ve witnessed people predicting that affiliate marketing had died in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011 (Google Panda and Penguin updates link), 2013, 2016, 2019

It’s also worth remembering that the affiliate programs existed long before the Internet existed. But in those days you’d be referred to as a commission agent or affiliated agent instead of an affiliate marketer. That’s the subject of a separate article however.

The same people who tell you that affiliate marketing is dead almost always have something to sell you, which is typically a course on one of the following:

  • PPC (Pay per Click) advertising
  • Drop shipping
  • Coaching people to be coaches
  • Amazon FBA
  • E-commerce sites
  • Real estate flipping
  • Crypto investing
  • Kindle/Audible publishing
  • Etc.

Their only motivation in telling you that affiliate marketing has passed away is because they’re using it as a form of negative reinforcement to convince you to purchase their course/coaching program instead.

Which basically means they’re doing their best to manipulate you into buying something that you either don’t need or doesn’t actually work.

What is EPC in affiliate programs?

EPC in affiliate programs is an approximate measurement of how much an affiliate publisher can expect to earn for sending clicks to a merchant’s landing page or offer.

It’s most commonly referred to as Earnings Per Click, but that’s not correct – EPC is actually a measurement based on 100 clicks.

Another issue is that you cannot take any claimed EPC as gospel for a given affiliate program. So, if you find an affiliate program with an EPC of $88.50, that would indicate that if you can get 100 people to click on your affiliate link that you’ll earn at least $88.50.

That’s not how things work in the real world of affiliate marketing.

That’s because certain types of affiliate programs and networks “manipulate” their EPC figures, or allow them to become inflated by coupon or discount sales.

In my own experience I’ve worked with affiliate programs with an EPC of $10 but routinely generated $25 sales from a trick of traffic to their offers.

And on the flip side of that argument I’ve also worked really hard to promote affiliate programs (to a relevant audience) with an EPC of $100 and promptly earned…nothing.

So, you should never ever take any claimed EPC at face value.

The only way to get an accurate EPC for an affiliate program or offer is to test it by driving traffic to it, either over time with organic or more immediately with Pay per Click (PPC) traffic.

How fast can you make money with affiliate marketing?

It typically takes between 6 and 12 months for an affiliate site, built on a brand new domain name, to generate tangible income. But it can take up to 24 months for an affiliate site or blog to reach its full income and ranking potential.

But there are obviously exceptions to every rule.

Like for example if you built an affiliate site on an aged domain name. In that case, you could be earning significant income from your affiliate business within the first 90 days of it going online.

For most people, making money with affiliate marketing is a marathon rather than a sprint.

  • Be patient
  • Publish consistently
  • Publish high-quality content
  • Offer value
  • Get backlinks to your site
  • Don’t expect overnight results

Is affiliate marketing legal?

Yes, affiliate marketing is a legal business model, with affiliate networks being regulated by the FTC and others. Income and earnings claims are carefully monitored and offenders are prosecuted.

There’s literally no reason for affiliate marketing to be illegal in any way except for the activities of certain affiliate marketers who defraud people – typically the affiliate networks though.

But you’ll find those people in every walk of life, from your day job to running crypto scams online.

I’m answering this separately to the above question on whether or not affiliate marketing is legit simply because I’d hate for anyone to think there’s anything even remotely illegal about this online business model.

In fact, the only people who might suggest there’s something illegal about affiliate marketing are usually trying to sell you something else…something that probably is either illegal or completely unethical.

So, long story short, affiliate marketing is legal in any country with a working criminal justice and legal system.

How hard is affiliate marketing?

On a scale of 1-10, affiliate marketing would score a 5 in terms of difficulty. It is one of the very few business models that exist today that allow you get started with as little as $100, have minimal overheads, and no stock, employees or special business licences required.

But that’s not to say that affiliate marketing is “easy” either, because it most definitely is not.

You need to be willing to adapt to a steep learning curve, preserve in the face of apparent failure, be patients, and be prepared to learn new skills all the time.

Affiliate marketing only becomes “hard” if:

  • You expect instant results
  • You’re not willing to learn
  • You think there’s a hidden secret to success
  • You’re lazy

If you fall into any of the above categories you’ll find that every business you try to start is “hard”.

Do you need a website for affiliate marketing?

No, you do not need a website to run an affiliate marketing business – you can generate traffic through social media channels or YouTube videos instead, for example.

But having a website makes your job far easier for a number of reasons:

  1. Some affiliate networks won’t accept applications unless you have a website
  2. You will become a victim of brand jacking if you build a successful presence online but never register your own domain name
  3. It’s impossible to split test different marketing approaches or traffic generation methods without a website.
  4. Google is not in the habit of ranking web 2.0 properties such as Wix, Blogger (which Google owns), or free WordPress sites  – these have been spammed to death.

The simple truth is this: If you cannot afford the $10 it costs for a domain name and $5 per month for web hosting then you’re not in a position to run a business of any kind i.e. you’re broke.

Can affiliate marketing make you rich?

Yes, affiliate marketing can make you rich, with incomes of 5 and 6-figures per month being entirely possible. But generating this level of income will require significant effort over a period of years, and just a tiny bit of luck.

So anyone who tells you that it’s easy to get rich from affiliate marketing is not being truthful. In fact, they’re telling you big fat hairy lies.

Pretty much anyone reading this can make themselves stupidly wealthy with affiliate marketing, but only if they’re willing to invest at least 5 years of their life and all their spare time in achieving that goal.

Getting rich is never easy, no matter what your chosen business model is.

You also need to consider what your definition of “rich” is.

I know affiliate marketers who earn over US$100,000 per month, or at least $1.2 million per year. These are in the 1% of affiliate marketing and do not consider themselves rich because a reasonably sized family home would cost them at least $500,000.

For others, US$1.2 million per year would be like winning the lottery…because it kinda is. Every year.

There are also thousands of other affiliate marketers earning anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 per month.

For many people the idea of having an extra 5 grand a month coming into their household would also be the same as winning the lottery, especially if you don’t have to work 3 extra jobs to make that kind of money.

What’s a good commission rate for affiliate marketing?

A good commission rate for affiliate marketing is 5% – 10% of the sales price of the product or service you’re promoting. Some affiliate programs pay far higher commission rates, ranging all the way up to 100% depending on the company involved.

With that said, lots of affiliate programs and networks pay anywhere from 1% – 2% commission on all sales generated by an affiliate.

It is only in very rare circumstances that a 1% affiliate program would be worth the effort of promoting i.e. the 1% commission equates to $1,000.

How can an affiliate merchant afford to pay you 100% of the sales price?

Because such commission rates only exist in industries where the lifetime value of the customer is worth far more than the once-off commission payment

Where possible, only work with affiliate programs or networks that offer an at least 10% commission rate.

What is a recurring commission affiliate program?

Recurring commission is where an affiliate generates a referral sale for the merchant in month 1, but then continues to receive commission for either the lifetime of the customer or for the number of months specified in the affiliate agreement.

Recurring commission programs basically mean you can generate months or years of income from a single sale.

And while this might not seem like a big deal, here’s what the numbers look like for a hypothetical recurring commission scenario.

MonthNumber of salesIncomeRepeating incomeTotal monthly earnings
1120020
22402060
31206080
424080120
5120120140
65100140240

The initial sales are quite small but the compounding effect can be massive. This is why so many affiliate marketers look for programs with recurring commission – it’s simply worth far more money in terms of income and far less effort in terms of work.

How can you learn affiliate marketing?

You can learn affiliate marketing either by purchasing a course that teaches you how to build an affiliate website from start to finish or you can choose to teach yourself how to do the same thing by watching YouTube videos and teaching yourself as you go.

There are obvious pros and cons to each approach, which I cover in more detail in a separate blog post on how you can learn to do affiliate marketing.

I realized when writing this that it’s far too big a topic to cover in 100 – 200 words.

Can I use blogger for affiliate marketing?

While you can build an affiliate marketing site using Blogger.com it’s not best practice because it is very difficult to generate organic traffic to a Blogger site and therefore generate income from that site.

This is despite the fact Google owns Blogger.

Google doesn’t rank Blogger, or other free content platforms, because they were and are still used by Black Hat SEO’s as a way to build backlinks while also cluttering Google with web spam.

There was a brief period pre-2010 where you could set up a Blogger blog and rank pages of content within days, or sometimes hours, of publishing it.

But Google’s search results were then flooded with spammy affiliate content – this left them with no choice but to filter Blogger from the search results.

So, while you can absolutely build an affiliate site on Blogger there’s pretty much zero chance you’ll make money with it.

Can you do affiliate marketing anonymously?

Yes, you can do affiliate marketing anonymously – there’s no requirement that you release or publish personal information as part of running an affiliate marketing business or affiliate site.

With that said, adding your name and a picture of yourself can add to your site’s credibility i.e. people are more likely to trust products or services you recommend.

You do also have the option of creating a persona for your site. So, instead of using your real name or picture, you can create a new identity to put out in public.

Persona’s are often required, especially if you build or run more than one affiliate site.

The same logic on being able to remain anonymous applies to doing affiliate marketing with YouTube  – you can put your real name and face out there, but you don’t have to.

Again, people are far more likely to trust products or services recommended by a real live human being but there are lots of affiliate marketers who never show their face on camera and make a better-than-full-time income from their YouTube channel.

Why do affiliate marketers fail?

The most common reason for affiliate marketers failing include choosing the wrong niche, expect overnight success, and suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome.

Affiliate marketing is often sold as a form of get-rich-quick scheme based on the idea of passive income. And when the average person hears “passive income” they mentally translate that to mean “No work involved.”

It would be better to refer to affiliate marketing as digital publishing because your income will come from the content you publish online either in the form of blog posts, videos, podcasts, or a mixture of all three.

But getting back to the original question – why do affiliate marketers fail?

The first reason is they choose the wrong niche, either a hyper-competitive niche (like affiliate marketing) that they cannot hope to compete in i.e. they’re up against SEO experts with large budgets and decades of experience.

The next reason why affiliate marketers fail is they start a site, publish 5 or 6 posts/videos/podcasts, realize they aren’t making any money, and then start the process all over again. 2 years later they announce to anyone willing to listen that, “…affiliate marketing is a total scam”.

It’s not.

They just suck at it.

But quite possibly the biggest reason why affiliate marketers fail is that once they decide that affiliate marketing is a lie, they then start a drop-shipping business. Once that fails they swap over to creating audio books expecting to get rich a month later.

Then once that doesn’t pan out they start an Amazon FBA business.

And so the process continues, rinsing and repeating for years and costing themselves an absolute fortune in courses they never study and business plans they never actually put into practice.

Should you buy a pre-made affiliate website?

If you can afford the fee involved, then a done-for-you website can help you shortcut the process of learning how to build a site, get it online and write and publish several thousand words of content.

Does that mean turnkey affiliate websites are the perfect solution for newbie affiliate marketers who want to generate an online income?

Not quite.

The first thing to understand is that a basic done-for-you affiliate site costs anywhere US $2,000 to US$10,000.

So you need to have disposable income to work with or borrow the money to pay for one of these sites.

The second thing to understand is that a turnkey affiliate site does not come with a guarantee of success. In fact, there’s no guarantee that you content will rank at all.

If your premade affiliate site was built on an aged domain then you’ll probably get at least some traffic, but if not you’ll have to invest the time, money and effort required to get backlinks.

But a huge issue around these pre-made affiliate sites that I’ve noticed is the quality of the content – based on what I’ve seen (across several sites) the quality of the content on these sites is awful.

Most of it is barely legible English obviously written by somebody who doesn’t speak English as their first language.

The reason why the content is so poor is because pretty much all of these pre-made affiliate site vendors pay their writers anywhere from 2c – 3c per word – I’ve seen them advertising on jobs boards for writers.

And believe me, if you’re paying 3c per word for affiliate content you are not dealing with professional writers.

We can prove that the content is crap based on what they charge for a site.

So, let’s say your affiliate site costs $3,000 and comes with 10,000 words of content…which comes out at 3c per word.

But that doesn’t factor in the cost of the domain (aged or otherwise), niche research, keyword research, etc.

Because once you factor in all those other expenses, the writers are probably making between 1.5c and 2c per word otherwise the site vendor won’t make any profit.

And the only writers you can hire for 1c – 2c per word are non-English speakers who have no niche-specific expertise.

How old do you have to be to do affiliate marketing?

There is no minimum age requirement to do affiliate marketing, although some affiliate networks or programs will only accept affiliates who are at least 16 years of old.

With that said, I have yet to see an affiliate program or network look for identification as part of their application process.

At worst some will ask for an application fee, but never proof of age or even your physical location.

The only requirement is to have a valid website, a bank account or PayPal account for your affiliate commissions to be paid into. And that’s it.

So, yes, you can do affiliate marketing if you’re under 19. In fact, a 14-year old can do affiliate marketing if they want to.

There are lots of teenage entrepreneurs who run online businesses either on their own or with the help of their parents. Nori Evoy is a great example of this – she launched her online business when she was just 14.

If anything it would be hugely beneficial for young adults to learn what it takes to build an online business – it’s a series of valuable life lessons that involved consistently applying effort and how economics work in the real world.

Plus it would be a fun project for parents and their kids to work on.

Can affiliate marketing be a side hustle?

Yes, affiliate can be done as a side hustle because it doesn’t require the same time and investment as an offline business such as a retail store or service-based business.

An affiliate marketing business can be started in whatever amount of free time you have each week. So you could start and build your affiliate business during weekends or in a spare hour or two each evening.

To be clear, you will need to invest a significant amount of time in starting an affiliate site or business. The difference is that you can spread that out over a period of months, and if you happen to miss a weekend or two the good news is that your business won’t fall apart.

Is affiliate marketing a good side hustle?

Objectively speaking, yes it is because you can start it in your free time, your total investment can be as little as $100, it has a very high potential ROI (Return on Investment), it has minimal risk, and can be scaled to whatever size you wish.

How much can you realistically make with affiliate marketing?

The amount of money you can realistically make with affiliate marketing depends on a number of separate factors including the niche you choose, being able to drive traffic to the site, the RPM for your niche, consistently publishing content, among others.

The truth is that your potential income from an affiliate marketing business will be directly proportionate to the amount of effort and time you put into building your site(s).

If you work hard on your online business then you can earn job-replacement income in as little as 12 months, but if you don’t work hard then you’ll make exactly $0.

There’s no upper “realistic” limit to how much you can make with affiliate marketing.

But here are some numbers to add context to the above:

  • 10% of affiliate marketers earn more than $65,000 per year
  • Of that 10%, only 1-in-5 of them earns more than US$1 million per year
  • 20% of all affiliates earn less than $20,000 per year
  • And somewhere around 80% of affiliates earn less than US$500 per year

And here’s the lesson to take away from that:

The massively successful affiliate marketers (millionaires) that I know work incredibly hard at what they do. They’re in bed while you’re binging on Netflix and they’re awake and working while you’re still asleep.  They do this year after year without complaining.

The unsuccessful affiliate marketers I know don’t work hard at their business beyond the first 30-day “honeymoon” period of excitement where they go around telling everyone about their new online business and how they’re going to get rich overnight.