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Affiliate meaning

If Madonna doesn’t start playing in your head when reading that headline, you’re much younger than me. But more importantly, the word “affiliate” should send your mind scrambling as we all try to adeptly learn the ins and outs of affiliate marketing in today’s publishing world.

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Affiliate marketing is a payout to affiliates, generally influencers or media that promote your brand or product with a unique link that tracks their contribution to your sales. When a sale is made from their link, they earn a commission, generally 5%-10% of the product cost.


You can think about affiliates, also known as publishers, as external salespeople for your brand — they essentially market your product, whether consumer packaged goods, consumer electronics or pretty much anything else you can physically sell.

As a communications executive, the first media outlet I really saw put affiliate deals to works was Wirecutter, a product reviews site that was quick to monetize and today sits within The New York Times Company. This new model was a critical development for publishers because media outlets struggled to make up for declining ad sales. Today, most media outlets have commerce teams that handle their affiliate programs. Transparency is critical, so most publish their terms to explain the separation of editorial content from affiliate programs.

Most influencers also leverage affiliate programs today. They use their personal brand equity and channels to endorse and promote products, with affiliate revenue often representing their largest stream of income.

The adoption of affiliate marketing today is incredible: 81% of brands and 84% of publishers leverage it, with spend increasing 10% a year, expected to reach $6.8 billion in 2020.

Today, an entire industry has popped up to broker affiliate deals, working with both brands and publishers to set up programs, including SkimLinks, CJ Affiliate, Share a Sale and Rakuten. Behemoth Amazon runs its own affiliate program. And while the company recently cut its affiliate rates dramatically, Amazon’s sheer size will continue to drive a massive volume of affiliate sales and commissions.

Making Affiliate Marketing Work For Your Brand

As PR practitioners, we are seeing more media connect us to their commerce editors, and more influencers request either that we provide an Amazon link or details of our affiliate program. We also have media tell us who they work with, and we find CJ Affiliate and SkimLinks to be the most common, with CJ claiming Buzzfeed, CNN, Time and Wirecutter as a few of many publishing partners, and SkimLinks claiming Condé Nast, Gizmodo, Hearst and HuffPost.

Brands today should have affiliate programs, and if not, they should make their products available on Amazon. When pitching a product to media, including an Amazon link or an FYI link to the brand’s affiliate program is common practice for PR practitioners.

What is affiliate marketing?

Let’s cover the basics first. Affiliate marketing is simply the process of promoting (a.k.a. marketing) the products or services of other people’s businesses in return for a cut of the revenue. For example, if Company A sells video games at $30 each and has an affiliate program, in which an affiliate marketer gets 5% for any sale, then an affiliate marketer would get $1.50 for every $30 sale.

While $1.50 may not seem like much, affiliate marketing can be done at scale. If you drove 1,000 people to the site in a week, and 10% made a purchase, you’d make $150. If you set up a website that converts them for you, then this happens week on week without your input.

With thousands of affiliate program now available to choose from, affiliate networks play an important role in this process as well. To find the most success with affiliate programs and networks, make sure you pay attention to ones with higher commission rates and who their target audiences are.

What is media buying? 

Media buying is the process of purchasing ad space to promote your message. It’s essentially buying paid traffic for exposure for your brand. In relation to affiliate marketing, it is often understood as someone who buys ads to drive to an affiliate link that gives them commission.

Essentially, the difference between affiliate marketing and media buying is that the affiliate marketer focuses on creating great content to attract organic traffic for their affiliate links, while the media buyer buys ad space and drives traffic that way.

When considering any type of media buying with affiliate marketing, there are many different approaches to weigh. Depending on your ad spend, market and timeline, each one should be considered.

How do I combine both for the best ROI?

The best thing about affiliate marketing and media buying is that they are essentially two sides of the same coin and aren’t mutually exclusive. While some people get heavily into building up organic traffic that can drive people to their sites — for free — for years to come, some become experts in media buying and use the power of ads to make money.

When you master the art of paid ads, you can essentially pump money into the system and get money out. For example, you could know that spending $200 in ads a day gets you a return of $400, leaving you with $200 a day in profit.

Now, if you combine both of these, you have the opportunity to benefit from both to maximize your ROI. So, how can you do this?

Consider integrating landing pages into your site.

If you’re an affiliate marketer who focuses on integrating affiliate links into helpful content, consider using landing pages, too. The articles will continue to pull in organic traffic, and you can use your landing pages to convert your paid traffic. At the bottom of your landing page, you can send those who haven’t converted back to your site to get more information, which may help save a lost lead.

Use media buying when you have a successful product.

If you find a product that converts your organic traffic like crazy, you can see if the same happens for you via media buying – the likelihood is you’ll see the same results. Try to translate what makes the product convert so well into a one-page landing page, and drive ads to it.

Work on multiple projects.

When you’re waiting to see if an ad is effective before tweaking it, you’ll have a few days to a week in which you’ll have some time on your hands — unless you have unlimited money to continue setting up new ads. This means you could work on another affiliate marketing project funded by your own efforts that starts to gain organic traffic and then sales. As this happens, you’ll hit your stride with your media buying projects, and both will become profitable. You can even start this process over when both are working effectively to increase your revenue further.


Marketers should take the time to connect with commerce editors to understand the unique programs and policies for their key outlets. The brave new affiliate world we live in is not going away, and being able to navigate it expertly is critical to a brand’s success.

Share your experience with affiliate marketing in the comments section! will be very grateful to help you.

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