How to start affiliate marketing for free

Affiliate marketing is a great way to make money from home, and you don’t have to be an expert marketer to get started. These days, there are many courses out there that claim to reveal the secrets of affiliate marketing, but not all of them are created equal. Some don’t provide any working materials while others charge hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The purpose of this article is to provide a viable workaround in the form of a step-by-step guide on how you can start affiliate marketing for free without having to invest any money.

In this blog post, I’ll show you how to start affiliate marketing for free for almost any product or service, affiliate marketing websites and free affiliate marketing programs for beginners.

How to start affiliate marketing for free

start affiliate marketing with no money

Are you interested in affiliate marketing, but worried you’ll need loads of cash to get into the business? Well, we have good news for you. You can definitely start affiliate marketing with no money down. There are just a few things you need to understand first. Here’s 4 tips to start affiliate marketing with no money.

What is Affiliate Marketing All About?

With affiliate marketing, you make money by promoting products and services to your audience members and referring them to the websites of retailers selling those products and services.

When someone you refer purchases something or completes an action, such as signing up for a service or an email list, you earn a commission. This marketing technique benefits both the advertiser and the affiliate. The affiliate gets paid while the seller makes a sale.

Bloggers Use Affiliate Marketing

These days, many bloggers use affiliate marketing to earn money. You may have heard that some of the best bloggers out there are making as much as $40,000 each month on affiliate sales alone.

Of course, to make this kind of money, you have to have a huge, loyal audience. But what if you don’t have that kind of following? Let alone a blog at all? Can you still become an affiliate?

Fortunately, the answer is yes.

How to Start Affiliate Marketing with No Money

We want to start by saying that having a blog and website should be your ultimate goal as an affiliate marketer. It is hands down, the best way to run a successful affiliate marketing business.

However, when you’re new to the business and you’re on a shoestring budget (or have no budget at all) there are a few things you can do to start generating the income you’ll need to eventually start your website and blog.

Create a Social Media Presence

Being an affiliate doesn’t mean you have to become a blogger right away. Instead, you can begin monetizing your online presence through social media. You can do this by placing affiliate links within your posts, updates, and profiles.

Social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and so on are packed with millions of users. You can easily integrate links into your posts and see results. Just make sure that you follow the rules and restrictions of these sites, as you technically don’t own your accounts.

Leverage Facebook

A lot of people, in fact, billions of people, are on Facebook these days, which makes it the largest social media platform. If you have an account, you can promote affiliate products on your page.

The important thing is to focus your page on a subject of interest to your audience. It could be health, money, fitness, relationships, or pretty much anything else folks are interested in learning about.

Leverage YouTube

Have you ever considered starting a YouTube channel? If not, then this is the best time to do it. YouTube is an incredibly effective platform for affiliate marketing and has millions of users.

The most successful YouTubers are earning millions each year just by making videos promoting products they enjoy. This is perhaps one of the best ways to become an affiliate without investing in a blog and website.

Just know that you probably won’t have very many subscribers in your first few months. But if you keep posting interesting and useful videos, you’ll eventually build the audience you need to succeed.

Join an Affiliate Program

Once you’ve established your following on social media or YouTube, you can begin to apply for affiliate network programs like ShareASale and Rakuten. These programs are constantly seeking publishers who can promote well.

Fortunately for you, we’ve made it even easier for you to find companies that offer affiliate programs related to your niche. We compiled the largest Affiliate Program Guide to help get you started on your search.

However, to join these programs, you’ll need to qualify, and that usually means having a solid online presence and following. So it’s important that you have quality content to be considered a good source.

affiliate marketing websites

Shopify

Shopify affiliate program

Shopify is a leading ecommerce platform, offering a quick and easy way for you to launch an ecommerce store. Right out of the box, Shopify provides everything you need, including online store templates, payment processors, shipping partners, and even marketing solutions through the Shopify App Store. It’s a great affiliate program for marketers that have ecommerce entrepreneurs as their audience. 

Affiliate marketers with Shopify receive a 100% commission on the first two payments of any subscription plan that a referral purchases. For example, a Basic Shopify plan costs $29 per month, so you’ll receive $29 for the first month your referral pays.

If your referral stays for a second month, you’ll get $29 that month too, for a total of $58 for that one referral. If a customer doesn’t stay for the second month, then you won’t receive that second month’s commission. 

Shopify offers commissions on all its plans. So you can refer all those current or prospective business owners in your audience to the Shopify plans below: 

  • Basic Shopify: $29/month (up to $58 in commission)
  • Shopify: $79/month (up to $158 in commission)
  • Advanced Shopify:- $299/month (up tp $598 in commission)

Commission rate: Shopify pays 100% commission on the first two payments of a recurring plan. 

Getting paid: Balances that are more than $25 will be paid out five business days after the 15th day of the month. 

Payment method: PayPal.

Cookie duration: 30 days.

Affiliate support: Yes.

Read more: How to Create a Successful Affiliate Program for Your Business

Amazon Associates 

Amazon affiliate program

Amazon is currently the largest online marketplace, and it sells just about everything. If you’re a blogger or an influencer, it’s a great affiliate program to leverage in your content. You can recommend products that you think your audience will buy and get up to a 20% commission on any referrals. 

For example, Jonathan Smith, founder of CamperGuide, is an Amazon Associate and uses his site to review and suggest different products that will complement the campers and RVs he sells. Because of the wide range of products offered through Amazon, Amazon Associates is a great affiliate program for anyone starting out in affiliate marketing. 

Commission rate: Anywhere from 1% to 20% commission, depending on product type. Amazon also offers varying flat commission rates for what it calls “special commission income.”

Getting paid: Monthly, but you’ll receive payment for the current month 60 days after the month ends. For example, you’ll get paid at the end of March for the commissions you earned in January. Amazon also holds payment until you earn a minimum of $10 as an affiliate marketer with it. 

Payment method: Direct deposit, check, or Amazon gift card.

Cookie duration: 24 hours.

Affiliate support: Yes.

Learn more: How to Become an Amazon Affiliate and Sell More Online 

Rakuten

rakuten affiliate

Rakuten is a cashback site that gives consumers money for making purchases through its website. It’s quickly becoming a popular shopping site, with recorded revenue of $3.4 billion for Q2 2021, up 15.8% year over year, and is continuing to grow. It has the third-largest market share of affiliate networks, at 7.85%.

Rakuten’s affiliate publisher program is connected to over 2,500 different retailers that sell all kinds of different products, similar to Amazon Affiliates. You can easily find a brand to work with as an affiliate and promote its products through Rakuten. Rakuten’s affiliate program offers three types of commission to earn more sales for your influence:

  • Dynamic commissioning, which gives insight into advertiser’s goals and payouts for scaled revenue 
  • Coupon commissioning to manage and monitor rules for coupon codes
  • Multi-touch commissioning so you get credit for your contributions at any point in the customer journey 

Commission rate: Varies depending on the individual merchant’s commission rates. 

Getting paid: Only pays out after Rakuten has been paid by the merchants, usually after 90 days. You must also have a minimum of $50 in commissions in order for Rakuten to send out your payment.

Payment method: Direct deposit or check.

Cookie duration: Varies by merchant.

Affiliate support: Yes. Rakuten has an email address, online live chat, and phone numbers for most countries. It also provides articles and educational materials for its affiliate marketers.

eBay Partner Network

ebay partner network

Founded in 1995, eBay was one of the first marketplaces that matched buyers and sellers on the web. It’s still a huge name globally and now includes affiliate marketing partnerships as well. 

As far as commission rates go, eBay Partner Network only pays a commission on the profit it makes on a sale. And those commissions vary depending on the type of product that’s sold. 

For example, let’s say someone is selling a PS4 on eBay for $200. Someone sees your affiliate link, clicks on it, and buys that PS4. If eBay makes a $20 profit on that sale, according to the table below, you would get $10 as a commission for that referral. 

ebay revenue share

As an affiliate program, eBay appeals to almost any demographic, since everything under the sun can be sold on eBay. In 2015, someone even sold a bag of air from a Kanye West concert for $65,000. 

Commission rate: $.50 to $1.00 when someone who hasn’t made a purchase on eBay in over 12 months clicks through one of your ads and begins bidding on products. You also earn additional commission on completed sales. Rates vary depending on the type of product. 

Payment method: Around the 10th day of every month for accounts that have earned more than 10 units of your country’s currency (i.e., 10 US dollars, 10 euros, etc.).

Getting paid: Direct deposit (if your country supports it) or verified PayPal account.

Cookie duration: 24 hours.

Affiliate support: Yes—eBay Partner Network has an extensive FAQ page with a number of articles that help answer a lot of common questions, as well as an email address for affiliate partners.

free affiliate marketing programs for beginners

1. Amazon Associates

amazon associates

Jeff Bezos is a pretty clever guy.

He’s also indescribably wealthy – his bank balance looks like his name converted to binary.

That wealth comes from foresight, like being one of the first online retailers to offer an affiliate program way back in 1996.

Yes, there was an Internet in 1996, except you could hear it when you picked up the phone. Ask your parents what that means if you don’t understand.

The Amazon Affiliate Program (aka Amazon Associates Program) is one of the oldest affiliate programs out there. And it’s vast, encompassing all of the products they sell online. So if you can find something on Amazon, you can sell it and get a cut of the profit.

And that includes everything from books to bullhorns, and anything in between – there’s something for every audience.

Amazon’s affiliate marketing program is pretty much the first place we send brand new affiliates simply because it’s so easy to use, especially when creating your first affiliate link(s).

Pssssst. Want to learn how to build an Amazon affiliate site free of charge? We give you step-by-step instructions. You can also check out our Amazon Affiliate Program Review.

URL: Amazon Associates Program

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

You get paid: Net 60

Payment threshold: $10

Best suited to: Affiliate marketing beginners building their first site

Pros

  • International brand recognition – everyone knows what Amazon is
  • 385 million products for Amazon Associates to promote
  • They place huge focus on customer service, so you benefit from that
  • Link creation and management is super easy
  • Easy-to-use affiliate dashboard

 Cons

  • Amazon changes their mind on commission rates as often as they change their underwear
  • The 24-hour cookie is far from ideal

2. CJ Affiliate

CJ Affiliate — formerly known as Commission Junction — is one of the oldest affiliate networks out there, one I’ve been using since about 2002.

What makes them different to Amazon is that CJ Affiliate specializes in big brand names, as well as smaller product and service suppliers.

So, at the time of writing this they represent mahoosive companies such as Zappos, Walgreens, Verizon, Under Armour, Trip Advisor, Staples, Sonos, Disney Shops, Sears, and Samsung.

And roughly 2,473 other affiliate marketing programs.

In addition to the super diverse range of brands and products, you also get all the tools successful affiliate marketers need — from excellent support to simple affiliate link creation.

But what I really love about the CJ Affiliate network is their metrics – I can clearly see if an affiliate program is profitable or not.

That’s a huge time saver.

There’s no guesswork involved, so you can map out exactly what affiliate programs you’re going to promote and roughly how much you can expect to make per sale.

URL: Commission Junction

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 30

Best suited to: Affiliate marketers with 3 – 6 months experience under their belt.

Pros

  • Intuitive interface and dashboard – ideal for affiliate marketing beginners
  • Lots of really big brand names under one roof
  • Direct display advertising (flat fee and commission) opportunities
  • You can find profitable affiliate programs without having to guess
  • Support and tutorials make things very easy

 Cons

  • Big brands come and go on this network all the time
  • There is a very mild learning curve when compared to Amazon

3. ShareASale

ShareASale is probably one of the most overlooked affiliate networks out there.

Part of this is because the interface looks very 2002 – it hasn’t changed since I first signed up for my account many, many moons ago.

And the lack of a “Wow” factor puts some new affiliate marketers off.

But my friends, my friends – ShareASale has some of the best affiliate programs out there. Some pay $300 – $350 per sale. And no, those affiliate programs have nothing to do with…umm “enlargement” products, or anything like that.

In fact, they represent around 5,000 different affiliate programs, but these are focused more on smaller but profitable companies, rather than just huge brand names.

The affiliate marketing dashboard is basic but functional, and sometimes the lack of complexity is actually a good thing.

ShareASale is one network you should seriously consider signing up for.

URL: ShareASale

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 30

Best suited to: An affiliate marketer looking for emerging brands or more tangential products and services.

Pros

  • Thousands of products and services to promote
  • Smaller, unknown but very worthwhile affiliate programs
  • The “Search for Merchants’ function is far superior to Commission Junction, for example
  • Their ‘PowerRank’ metric shows you where an affiliate program sits in the top 1000 on ShareASale
  • You don’t have to wait months to get paid

Cons

  • A very dated interface
  • The approval process for affiliate programs can be unpredictable at times

4. ClickBank

ClickBank is yet another affiliate network that falls into the “grandparent” category — they’ve been online since 1998.

And it’s a real rags-to-riches business story – one started by friends sitting around a garage, but that eventually transformed into a business with US$3 billion per year in sales.

While every other affiliate program was trying to figure out how to ship goods while still generating a profit, the guys at ClickBank turned that idea on its head by focusing instead on selling digital products.

That meant instant delivery, almost no overheads, and the ability for them to work directly with creators. And although they could never have imagined social media being a thing, their range of products can also work extremely well with those audiences. 

You can find all of their products in the ClickBank Marketplace, but they do also feature some physical products these days. 

The Marketplace interface is functional but looks like it hasn’t changed since 1998. It’s a minor gripe, but it’s long overdue a facelift.

If you need a little more of a helping hand to get started as a ClickBank affiliate, check out our (well Gael wrote it, so it’s a collective we) article on how to make money with ClickBank.

URL: ClickBank

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

Best suited to: Marketers who prefer promoting digital products

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 60

Pros

  • You rarely need to be approved to promote a program
  • Probably the best network for anyone doing affiliate marketing without a website
  • Their top-tier programs average out at about $50 per sale
  • You’ll have lots of opportunities to promote programs with recurring commission
  • Most of the pre-selling is done for you by the merchant’s landing page
  • Digital products can work hand-in-hand with email marketing/social media
  • Creating your affiliate link is super easy

Cons

  • The Marketplace hasn’t changed one bit in 19 years – it’s functional but very dated
  • Certain programs can result in very high refund rates

5. Rakuten Advertising

You might not have heard of Rakuten, but they’re an absolutely Japanese affiliate marketing service provider.

They put their foot in the door of the affiliate marketing scene when they acquired LinkShare back in 2005.

Since then they’ve taken the Rakuten Linkshare platform from being a presence in the market to winning awards most years.

So….is it suitable for beginner affiliates?

The short answer is “Yes”, but let me elaborate:

  1. The interface is pretty similar to most other affiliate networks
  2. They represent 1,000+ brands and businesses
  3. Their merchants supply everything from gifts and flowers through to consumer electronics and office supplies.

The only potential downside is that Rakuten is a serious player on the affiliate marketing scene, so the approval process can be slow, especially if your site has little or no traffic.

With that being said, Rakuten is a sleeping giant most newbie affiliates don’t pay enough attention to.

Some affiliates have implied this network is slow to pay out, but I’ve never had an issue with them.

URL: Rakuten affiliate program

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

Best suited to: Affiliates who want to broaden their horizons beyond Amazon and eBay.

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 30

Pros

  • Lots of big brand affiliate programs live here
  • Reasonably intuitive interface – it gets the job done
  • Handles over US$100 million in sales transactions each year
  • One of the oldest affiliate networks there is

Cons

  • An interface that’s so dated it makes me look young
  • The lack of metrics data gives me stomach ache

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