If you’re a beginner just getting into the affiliate marketing world, knowing the best affiliate programs available for each niche is valuable. Whether or not you have a website, ad, or social media platform set up, you’ll still need a merchant to partner with. This is where affiliate programs create a bridge. Anyone can start a blog, but not many understand how to utilize affiliate marketing to effectively monetize their site.
By the time you get to the end of this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about affiliate marketing programs, why they’re needed, and how to choose from the tons of affiliate marketing programs out there. We’ll also review our top 5 choices across a few niches to get you started.
Let’s dive in with what they are and how they work!
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing, sometimes referred to as performance marketing or cost per action (CPA) marketing, is an arrangement that allows you to earn a commission for promoting an individual company’s products or services. While it is a form of online advertising, it stands out from other forms of digital marketing that rely on hosting ad banners.
Generally, with ad banners, you get paid per click, whereas with affiliate marketing you are paid for conversions. This means you are paid every time a visitor uses your link to make a purchase on the merchant’s site. In some cases, merchants may define conversion as a visitor purchasing a product (or service) and performing a specific action following the purchase.
Nearly every major company from Apple to Google has an affiliate program, which is free to join. Once you join, you get a unique tracking link to share on your website or social media platform. On other popular platforms, these links are often shared on include YouTube, email lists, and podcasts.
What Are Affiliate Programs?
Affiliate programs (also called affiliate networks) are pretty straightforward in principle. They provide a third-party platform that allows merchants and affiliates to connect with each other. Each party signs up with the platform, connects, and begins to work together. Affiliate networks help you connect with multiple merchants, rather than with just one individual company.
Affiliate programs help track important data that ultimately helps you get paid what you’re owed by the merchant. Here are a few things that affiliate programs help track:
- How many people see a banner ad
- How many people end up completing a purchase
- How many clicks a link on an ad or site gets
- Revenue generated by a single affiliate for multiple merchants and offers
Without this crucial tracking information, affiliates may have a difficult time getting paid. On the flip side, merchants could potentially get taken advantage of by affiliates submitting false results. Affiliate networks are essential for building relationships between merchants and affiliates, as well as keeping track of the entire process. This is why choosing the right affiliate program can make all the difference.
In exchange for providing this valuable service, affiliate networks often charge a commission for each action completed. This commission helps keep their platforms free to use.
Types of Affiliate Programs
Affiliate programs can be categorized into the following:
- Social - These programs are designed to work best when advertised on social media, either via paid traffic or influencers
- Content - These are usually advertised in articles, on review sites, blogs, or hidden within text
- Coupon - These programs gather coupons and discount codes
- Search - These program offers are found via search engine, either by paid advertising or organic results
- Email - Most of us have received hundreds of emails from these programs
When determining which type of affiliate program is for you, this is information you should take into consideration.
Is There a Fee to Join an Affiliate Program?
Affiliate marketing is a means for you to promote a merchant’s product in exchange for a commission. Since you only get paid for conversions, the merchant is already getting free promotion through your platform. You should avoid any affiliate programs that ask you to pay to join.
How to Choose an Affiliate Program
There are many affiliate programs out there, which can make it difficult to find the right one for you. Most merchants worth partnering with in the marketplace are part of affiliate networks that include other companies.
In addition to the commission rates offered by affiliate programs, we recommend that you incorporate these factors into your decision:
- Your current traffic
- Your target audience
- Your desired level of affiliate income
The most important thing to remember when choosing an affiliate program is not to get caught up in selecting the one with the highest commission rates. If you’re just starting out, going after the highest commissions and getting rejected could make it harder down the road to reapply for those affiliate programs. Your first goal should be to create a brand with your platform that is firmly rooted in your niche, allowing you to become an authority on related topics.
This means you should avoid promoting products or services (or topics if you’re a blogger) that are outside of your niche, as this can come across as disingenuous. We recommend partnering with programs that offer products or services relevant to your audience. If they don’t connect with what you’re promoting, you may find yourself alienating your audience instead of gaining income.
Keep in mind that you can ask your audience directly what they are most interested in and choose your affiliate offers based on their responses. Post a survey or poll, and maybe offer something in return for their responses.
Not all affiliate programs are a good fit for every website. Choosing the right partner (or partners) will help determine your level of success as an affiliate.
Keep reading to learn more about some of the best affiliate programs available to you in five different niches.
#1 – SellHealth
SellHealth is number one on our list for a reason: it’s one of the most popular, long-lasting affiliate networks in the health and beauty industry. Various products are offered through this affiliate program in the general health industry, as well as specialized sub-topics such as:
- Women’s Health
- Men’s Health
- Skin Care
- Sexual Health
- Hair Products
- Weight Loss
Because the health industry is highly competitive, it’s best if you already have a website and built-in audience when you begin promoting products from SellHealth. The biggest advantage is that you’ll instantly have access to promotional videos, endorsements, and exit offer scripts; as well as website templates for launching product-specific sites.
Commissions and Payments
The commission structure for SellHealth is dependent on which merchant’s offers you decide to promote. Most of the products payout between 30% and 50%. This rate is also determined by your sales volume per month.
Industry Leading Software and Support
The website offers access to tested and proven marketing tools, as well as industry-leading support, to give you everything you need to successfully increase your income as an affiliate. SellHealth’s state-of-the-art software can handle millions of hits per day and track all your sales, as well as where your referrals are coming from. You also have the option to create as many tracking IDs as you want to track the performance of all your campaigns individually.
Best Health Affiliate Program
SellHealth is hands down the best affiliate program focused on selling health-related products. The products sold on their merchant sites have been tested and proven in clinical studies, and have tons of satisfied customer reviews supporting their claims.
Between the high commission rates, specialized sub-topics, and reputable history, SellHealth stands alone. If your niche is in the health and fitness industry, SellHealth is a great affiliate program to join.
- Qualifying sales can earn 30% commission (up to 50% for affiliates who bring in higher volume orders)
- No website needed; you can promote products through social media, etc.
- Marketing tools and support are included
- Dedicated account manager assigned to help with problems or provide advice
- Reported to have paid more than $50 million in commissions
- Payments via PayPal, Paxum, standard check, wire transfer, or ACH (USA only)
- SellHealth offers money-back guarantees on most products
- Recurring commissions mean you get paid when customers you refer make future purchases
- No charge to participate
- Earnings must reach specific threshold prior to payout
#2 – ClickBank
With 6 million products in over 20 niche categories, ClickBank is a popular choice among affiliate marketers. This particular affiliate program has been around since the late 90s and boasts more than $3 billion in sales each year.
Regardless of your expertise, ClickBank is an excellent option for affiliates. Setting up an account is relatively simple, entry requirements are low, and once you’ve entered personal and payment information, you’ll have a huge database of resources at your disposal.
Commissions and Payments
The ClickBank affiliate program offers very high commissions of up to 75% and is known for its reliable payouts, which occur twice per month. Many of the products they offer are sold on a recurring basis, which provides a great opportunity for recurring income for you. Additionally, many products have upsell options that can help boost your income.
Free Product Research Tools
While it’s important to do your research on any merchant, this is especially true with ClickBank. Since they offer so many digital products from entrepreneurs around the globe, you can expect that some products offered by its merchants may be questionable. So be sure to use the tools ClickBank provides and do your homework.
ClickBank has many tools and offers that are helpful for new affiliates, though their user interface may not be as easy to navigate as other affiliate program websites. The information on their site is available to anyone, with or without an account, making it a useful research tool for affiliates looking for information on products in their niche.
Best E-Commerce Affiliate Program
ClickBank offers some of the highest paying affiliate opportunities by focusing on digital products from entrepreneurs and merchants all over the world. If you’re looking to exclusively promote e-commerce solutions (aka digital products), and you want hundreds of thousands of product options, ClickBank is a great program for you.
- Wide selection of products for a variety of niches
- Many products have high commission rates
- Recurring commissions for repeat customers you refer
- Easy to use interface with simple link generation
- Resources provided to help you learn the program
- Flexible payment schedule
- Payments via standard check, wire transfer, or direct deposit
- No fee to join
- Large competition for high-value products
- Many of the offers within the network are from somewhat questionable products or merchants
- Does not pay via PayPal
#3 – Bluehost
Any simple search will turn up many bloggers promoting Bluehost as one of the best affiliate programs out there. Bluehost is a reputable company and a great option for new bloggers to introduce to their audience. Most of Bluehost's services fall under two main categories, domain registration and hosting services.
Best Service Affiliate Program
By joining the more than two million Bluehost product users worldwide, your readers will benefit almost as much as you. Bluehost is a lucrative affiliate program that offers great services for your audience including:
- Free domain registration
- A free SSL certificate
- 24/7 support
- VPS hosting
- WooCommerce hosting
- Dedicated hosting
- Shared hosting
These services also have upsells, like faster hosting and added security, but you can grow a successful passive income just by promoting their two main services.
Flat Rate Commission Per Sale
In most affiliate programs, affiliates earn a commission percentage of sales conversions, but Bluehost works a little differently. The payout for affiliates is $65 for every customer referral. This is a one-time payment, but works out to be higher than many ongoing commissions from other domain registrars and hosting providers - and you get paid up front.
What’s more, your commission earnings per sale increase as your sales volume grows, potentially earning you thousands of dollars each month. While there is no specific sales tier system in place, once your sales per month increase you can contact your affiliate manager about raising your commission rate.
Easy to Join, Stiff Affiliate Competition
It’s free to sign up and there’s no waiting period to be approved, making Bluehost one of the easiest affiliate programs to join. As soon as you’ve joined, you’ll receive your unique affiliate link along with a variety of banners to promote Bluehost on your website.
It seems nearly every blogger starting out is promoting Bluehost because of the amazing services and ease of use. You’ll have your work cut out for you to stand out amongst the thousands of Bluehost affiliates, but it is possible to grow your affiliate income if you can get creative.
- Recommended by WordPress.org, a trusted company
- Flat rate commission per sale
- Ability to negotiate higher flat rates per sale as number of sales per month increases
- Assigned affiliate manager to help improve your sales and conversions
- No upper limit on earnings per month
- No fees deducted from earnings
- Products come with money-back guarantee
- Bluehost regularly offers discount coupons to affiliate marketers
- Free to join
- Payment processing can take between 45 and 60 days after the sale is earned
- Minimum threshold required for payout
- Payments only via PayPal
# 4 – Skyscanner
Skyscanner may be the best fit for travel enthusiasts since it specializes in finding the cheapest flights and rent-a-car services. This metasearch engine for flights works around the globe and is available in multiple languages. Skyscanner also provides affiliates with good deals to advertise.
This affiliate program allows bloggers and content creators to monetize their traffic using the travel search technology. Skyscanner selects its partners based on relative size of traffic-to-territory, market-proposition, and alignment to their market level strategies.
Best Affiliate Program for Travel Enthusiasts
For your travel blog, Skyscanner offers widgets and text links created specifically for promotion purposes. The travel widget is the easiest to start with since you can put it anywhere in your sidebar or content where users are more likely to take action. The widget automatically redirects your reader to the Skyscanner website.
If you are a more advanced developer, you can use the Skyscanner travel API to build your own search functionality on your website or mobile app.
New Payment Structure
In 2020, the program changed its payment structure to 80% for paid purchases (i.e. conversions) and 20% pay per clicks. Affiliates can earn $0.15 to $0.25 per click and exit clicks. Skyscanner has a 30-day cookie life, which means as long as the customer purchases within 30 days of arriving with your affiliate link, you will receive the commission.
- Offers white-label solutions for integrating flight searches into your website
- One of the most popular travel affiliate program APIs
- Payments via PayPal and bank transfer
- Free to apply
- Only paid for country specific traffic
- Must have targeted and relevant traffic to avoid being blocked
- Skyscanner can block you even if you have unpaid commission in your account
- Commission rates and conditions vary from country to country
#5 – Commission Junction
Commission Junction, more commonly known as CJ Affiliate, has been helping affiliates and merchants for two decades. Affiliates are known as “publishers” within the CJ Affiliate network and need to already have an established website to create an account. Since accounts are deactivated if you go six months without earning a commission, it’s important to have steady traffic to your site prior to applying.
Commissions and Payments
All commission earnings for CJ Affiliate are based on earnings per one hundred clicks (EPC), which means you have to drive traffic in order to succeed. As a result, bloggers and social media based affiliates tend to be drawn to this affiliate program.
There are also VIP Influencer Campaigns, which give you access to some of the best offers (from the largest brands) available in the network. CJ Affiliate’s content team has to advocate for you to qualify.
Best Affiliate Program for Beginners
For beginner affiliate marketers, CJ Affiliate may be one of the best programs available to get your feet wet. They’ll manage most of your relationships with merchants, allowing you to learn while still earning commissions. CJ Affiliate also provides real-time reporting, allowing you to monitor your account activity as it’s happening.
Additionally, the signup process isn’t very difficult, though you will still need to apply with specific merchants once you’ve joined the network. Some merchants grant you instant approval, while others may take a few days.
- Works with more Internet Retailer 500 companies than other affiliate programs
- Wide variety of niches to choose from
- Merchants have the ability to seek you out and connect, increasing your ability to grow
- Flexible platform for bloggers and social media marketers
- Pay per sale is usually higher in comparison to the affiliate via direct product site
- Paid via standard check or direct bank deposit only; no PayPal
- Minimum payout threshold
- Payment terms can be confusing
- Some reports of poor customer service experience
Choosing the Best Affiliate Program For You
Affiliate programs are as varied as affiliate marketers. No two are the same, but your audience, their needs, and their interests will help narrow down the hundreds of options to choose from. There are a number of great affiliate programs to consider joining in 2021, here’s a quick recap of our top recommendations:
- Best Health Affiliate Program: Sellhealth.com
- Best E-commerce Affiliate Program: Clickbank
- Best Service Affiliate Program: Bluehost
- Best Travel Affiliate Program: Skyscanner
- Best Beginner Affiliate Program: Commission Junction
Our list is by no means comprehensive but hopefully has provided some insight into how to make your next move. If you haven’t already, create your content and cultivate your audience before applying to any affiliate programs. If you already have a website, assess how established your online following is, and how much you want to earn through affiliate marketing.
Finding the best affiliate program suited to you is ultimately up to you. Exploring what’s out there, may take some time, but it will definitely be worth it.