Ever considered how shopping habits have changed during the past few years? Today’s expectation is to see online links to products when scrolling through social media posts, blog posts, or web pages. Consumers increasingly use these referral links, or affiliate links, to shop—especially when they come from trusted companies, creators, and brands.
The affiliate marketing industry is projected to reach $15.7 billion by 2024. Here’s how you can unleash the benefits of affiliate links in your own marketing efforts. Learn how to create affiliate links, the benefits of using them for your brand, and real examples of links in the wild.
What is an affiliate link?
An affiliate link is a URL with a unique ID that allows brands to attribute traffic and conversions for the purpose of paying commission to marketing partners.
When an affiliate partner—that is, the website owner, content creator, or influencer posting the link—signs up for a brand’s affiliate marketing program, they receive a unique link to the brand’s website or product pages. These links contain the affiliate partner’s unique ID, to enable the tracking of conversions.
When a potential customer clicks on the link, it’s attributed to the affiliate, allowing the brand to record the source of the traffic. If someone buys a product using an affiliate link, the brand will pay the affiliate marketer commission on the sale.
Affiliate link examples
Creator and affiliate marketer @nailsbyalsn creates content using the affiliate products she promotes. In the caption, she encourages her followers to use her unique coupon code to purchase from Le Mini Macaron.
When Alison’s followers navigate to her profile, they can click on her link in bio to open a stack of affiliate links.
Clicking on the Le Mini Macron link opens the brand’s website.
If you look in the browser bar after clicking, you will see that the link contains tracking information using UTM parameters. Alison’s affiliate link for Le Mini Macaron looks like this:
The details here indicate the affiliate has a unique code (dt_id=526842) and that the affiliate was sourced using Shopify Collabs (utm_campaign=shopifycollabs).
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a referral marketing technique in which affiliate partners earn a commission by promoting a product or service for a business—typically a retailer—through affiliate links.
The company rewards the affiliate partner with a payout for providing specific results, like clicks and conversions (e.g., when website visitors sign up for a newsletter or become paying customers). Affiliate marketing can occur through various channels including TikTok video content, email marketing, blogs, and podcasts.
What is an example of affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing can take many forms, but it is generally a partnership between a brand and a creator, tracked using unique affiliate links to promo codes.
In this example from TikTok influencer Valerie Sanders, her bio link directs to clothing rental brand Haverdash. It’s a tracked affiliate link that credits Valerie with the sale if potential buyers complete a purchase through that link. Valierie would then make a predetermined commission, usually a percentage of the sale price of the item or order.
The tracked affiliate link looks like this and includes a unique code to identify Valerie for attribution:
And, to push her followers toward the affiliate link, Valerie promotes the brand in video content like this:
@valerie_sanders AD I’ve been renting clothes through @Haverdash and I’m obsessed! I love having an endless amount of different styles and pieces to choose from! You can try it free for 30 days at the 🔗 in bio! #Haverdash ♬ Da Girls (Girls Mix) [feat. Lola Brooke & Lady London] – Ciara & Lola Brooke & Lady London
In another example, the affiliate marketer and Instagram user @weimaraner_blue_est2020 uses a unique promo code to promote a product. This is an alternative to using an affiliate link.
6 benefits of using affiliate links
- Increased authenticity
- Projected growth of affiliate marketing
- Added accountability
- Opportunity for relationship building
- Ease of use and efficiency
- SEO improvements
Brands use affiliate marketing as a way to strategically and organically expand their customer base. Potential benefits to your brand in using affiliate links include:
1. Improved authenticity
Affiliate marketing can feel authentic to your customers because they’re likely clicking on an affiliate link through a website or source they already trust. Therefore, affiliate marketing typically reduces the time it takes to build customer loyalty, since there’s already a mutual relationship—with the affiliate partner.
2. Projected growth of affiliate marketing
Affiliate sales numbers are likely to experience continued growth that benefit brands. US spending on affiliate marketing increased from $5.4 billion in 2017 to $8.2 billion in 2022. A 2021 Awin study found that in 2020, the percentage of shoppers making purchases from new brands through affiliate links consistently stayed above 30%. Meanwhile, in a separate study, more than 80% of large US companies used affiliate marketing for product promotion.
3. Added accountability
Working with affiliate partners can provide access to sales metrics and data. Brands can capture sales analytics data from their affiliates through a variety of tracking methods, including cookies, pixels, and postback URLs that track conversions. This information can help brands refine their marketing campaigns based on what works and what doesn’t.
4. Opportunity for relationship building
Making the decision to use affiliate links in affiliate marketing is beneficial for affiliates and brands alike. It allows businesses and affiliate marketers to build revenue—the business benefits from increased traffic, while the affiliate marketer earns money through commission. This helps strengthen your relationship with valuable brand partners.
5. Ease of use and efficiency
Upfront costs associated with affiliate marketing are low, making the potential return on investment (ROI) high. There’s no need to hire an advertising firm or purchase advertising space. Instead, you can rely on your affiliate partners to market your physical products or services for you—and you only pay your affiliate partners a percentage of sales when they successfully direct consumers to purchase your product or service.
6. SEO improvements
Using affiliate links boosts your search engine optimization (SEO) since other websites link to yours. This sends a positive signal to Google about your site’s relevance and rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). In turn, increased search traffic can drive more people to your brand’s website. Established affiliate partners are in the business of generating current, easy-to-find content, and likely know how to rank highly on search engines—an important part of a successful marketing strategy.
Find influencers to drive sales with Shopify Collabs
Shopify Collabs makes it easy to partner with creators, promote your products, reach new customers, grow your sales, and track affiliate campaign performance all from Shopify admin.
How to make affiliate links
- Log into your affiliate dashboard
- Add affiliates
- Create an affiliate link
- Customize the URL
- Define the promotion
Leveraging affiliate links can increase your business’s visibility and help generate new revenue. Here’s how to make your own affiliate links in a few key steps:
1. Log into your affiliate tool
Log into your affiliate management app or tool. This is where you track your affiliates and their performance. If you use an affiliate management platform, you’ll use the dashboard to post information about your affiliates’ sales, products, and affiliate campaigns. Here, you’ll also generate links, find new affiliates to work with, and study metrics and data.
2. Add affiliates
Add new affiliates to your affiliate program. Affiliate management platforms can provide large affiliate networks, which you can browse to find new partners. Search by name and market niche to select affiliates you think are suitable ambassadors for your products or services. The affiliates you choose to work with have access to an affiliate dashboard to keep both parties aligned on your affiliate marketing strategy.
3. Create an affiliate link
Visit your affiliate dashboard to create unique affiliate links for all your affiliates. Give your links descriptive names according to the product or service you’re advertising. Some affiliate platforms let you create SubIDs—customized link elements that direct customers to specific features or places on your website—such as custom-designed landing pages. Each affiliate link is associated with a cookie (internet name tags that allow websites to recognize you), which can be traced back to the associated affiliate.
4. Customize the URL
Many affiliate platforms allow you to customize your affiliate link URLs. Most auto-generated URLs are random strings of letters and numbers. Customizing your affiliate links means you can make them more memorable for customers (and less complex). For example, the Amazon affiliate program generates a custom URL product link for each affiliate in its program. While this isn’t a necessary step, it can be a nice touch for your affiliates and their readers.
5. Define the promotion
Define the promotional structure that best motivates your affiliates and your potential customers. This could include:
- Tying links to promo discounts or giveaways
- Deciding which channels are high-priority for the campaign
- Determining if the campaign is evergreen or time-based (for example, campaigns that run for a limited time only might create a sense of urgency to click on affiliate links)
Experiment with your commission structure to find the proper return on your investment. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires affiliate partners to disclose their connection to your product or service.
💡Tip: If you don’t have the time or capacity to manage your own affiliate program, consider hiring an affiliate manager to oversee your affiliate campaigns. They can recruit new affiliates, manage onboarding, and provide customer service on your behalf.
Your business needs an affiliate program
Your business needs an affiliate program because it’s an effective way to drive ecommerce traffic, grow sales, support your marketing campaigns, and increase awareness for your brand. With little to no overhead costs for marketing, it’s relatively easy to start an affiliate program.
Key steps include identifying your niche market, researching affiliates that are the best fit your brand (or collaborate with an affiliate network), and creating affiliate links to help your business build revenue and your affiliates earn commissions.
Making affiliate links FAQ
Can anyone create affiliate links?
Anyone with an affiliate program can create affiliate links. You can use affiliate platforms such as Refersion, ClickBank (which seamlessly integrates with Shopify), Rakuten, and Amazon Associates to help build out your program. These platforms include helpful tools to help you track your affiliates and their performance.
How much do affiliate programs cost?
The marketing of your program can be free, but initial startup costs for joining an existing affiliate network or subscribing to an affiliate management app can range from free services to set up fees that can run up to $2,000, depending on the network size. Networks also generally charge a transaction fee based on a monthly minimum number of transactions.
How much do affiliate links pay publishers?
Affiliate marketing programs vary in the incentives offered to their affiliate partners. Some pay a specific dollar amount per sale; others provide a percentage. There are also affiliate programs that only compensate with free or discounted products. For example, Amazon affiliates typically earn a commission of 1% to 20% per sale, depending on product category.
Do affiliate links pay per click?
Affiliate links may use payment models such as pay per click (PPC), pay per action (PPA) (such as subscribing to a newsletter), and pay per lead (PPL), where payout is based on every lead generated through the affiliate’s platform. Still, the most popular compensation structure is the commission-based pay per sale, in which a percentage payout or commission fee is paid for every affiliate link that results in a sale.
Why engage in affiliate marketing?
You should consider engaging in affiliate marketing to create an additional avenue to increasing online sales for your products or services, and strengthening brand awareness.