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What are Affiliate Links? A Guide to Using Affiliate Links on Your Site

Today, we will be answering a basic affiliate marketing question: what are affiliate links? Read on to learn our best advice for using affiliate links effectively on your site.

Why Do Affiliate Links Matter?

You might be wondering why it matters how an affiliate link works. It should be as simple as copying and pasting on to your site, and you can keep your hands off until you start making money, right?

Not so fast. It is important to understand the basics of affiliate links so that you can make sure you are using them properly and effectively.

We want you to consider this article as a guide that you can refer back to as you build your affiliate site.

Most importantly, this is an article for all affiliate marketers.

If this is one of the first times that you are hearing about affiliate links, start by referring back to our article on how to start affiliate marketing.

Do you already have an active affiliate marketing site that is generating income? Try auditing your affiliate links using this guide to ensure they are being optimized.

Read on to learn more about affiliate links and how to use them effectively.

What Are Affiliate Links: The Term Defined

Let’s start by nailing down the basics of what an affiliate link is.

Any affiliate program will have an affiliate link. It is a simple yet effective way for your affiliate partner to measure how many of their sales come from your efforts.

The affiliate link is a unique URL that your affiliate partner (who we can also refer to as the merchant) assigns to you.

Let’s say that you run a successful blog about apparel and gear for hunting. You apply to be an affiliate partner with a merchant, an online hunting equipment retailer.

The merchant gets in touch with some good news: you have been accepted as a new affiliate!

They will now send you your unique URL, for you to place in your next article about the season’s newest camouflage hunting vests. When your readers click on the link, visit your partner’s site, and later make a purchase, you will earn a commission from the sale.

Parts of an Affiliate Link

Let’s dive deeper into the specifics of an affiliate link. To do this, we will need to understand the parts of a URL.

Note: We refer to affiliate links and URLs throughout this article, but keep in mind that the term hyperlink means the same thing as URL.

We will use the following link as an example to show you the parts of an affiliate link.

https://www.affiliatemerchant.com/?affiliate=100

Seller URL 

This is the part of the affiliate link that contains your affiliate partner’s URL. In this example, the Seller URL is

https://www.affiliatemerchant.com/

Tracking Parameter

An affiliate partner will use this part of the link to signify that it is a link from any affiliate. This is the part that appears directly after the “?” in the link, or “?affiliate” in this example.

Unique Affiliate ID

At the very end of the URL is your unique affiliate ID. This appears after the “=” in the link. Our link shows that we are affiliate number 100.

Cookies

When you are browsing affiliate programs, you will notice that all of them mention “cookie” or “cookie length.”

These cookies allow affiliate partners to track how and most importantly when business is coming from your site.

In our example of the hunting vests, the merchant needs to be able to track how many sales are coming from the affiliate. They also need to be able to tell whether you can be directly responsible for converting the sale.

If the sale happens two months after the customer clicked through from your blog, there is a chance that other factors may have influenced their decision.

This is why merchants set different cookie lengths or cookie periods depending on the kind of product that they are selling.

Cookie periods vary a lot. Here are a few basic types that you will see:

Session Only

This cookie will only last the length of the session, which is the time spent on a website until a visitor leaves. It can be difficult to make a sale in a tight window like this.

Fixed Length 

This is the most common cookie length. As long as a customer makes a purchase within a certain number of days after coming from your site, you will make a commission on the sale.

Affiliate Lock-In

This method is less common. Merchants offer an affiliate a commission as long as a customer remains a customer. You will earn on every purchase that the customer makes during their lifetime.

War on Cookies

If you stay up to date with technology or web development, you might have an objection in mind when we mention using cookies to track affiliate sales.

Don’t plenty of people block cookies on their computer? What’s the point of going through all this work if I can’t track my sales anyways?

This is a great question. To answer it we only need to look to a similar example: ad blocking.

Ad blockers remove display ads, Google Ads, and plenty of others that a lot of internet users don’t want to see. People don’t like being sold to every minute of the day, and many enjoy how pages load much faster without ads.

According to Statista, 25.8% of users in the United States use ad blockers in 2020. This is a large chunk, but it has yet to trigger a decrease in online advertising spending.

Similar changes are happening with cookies. Many users block cookies, and Google recently announced they intend to phase out third-party cookies within two years.

However, this isn’t a significant threat to affiliate marketers. It will result in changes to how merchants track affiliate success.

We don’t know exactly how this looks yet, but it will result in new and innovative data sourcing methods.

So what about the lost revenue from blocked cookies and ads? Just remember that all affiliate marketers are playing with these same rules, and are still making money.

Focus instead on our tips in this article about how to optimize your affiliate links to increase your earnings.

First Click / Last Click

Now that we understand the basics of affiliate links, you may have realized that there are some potential sources of confusion.

Let’s take the following example:

You have used an affiliate link on an article, and someone clicks through to buy on the merchant’s site. Shortly after, they get sidetracked and leave the site to browse the web for something else.

Later on that day, they are reading someone else’s blog about the same product that you linked to. They then click through that affiliate link and this time they make the purchase.

So, who gets the commission from this sale?

This scenario happens all the time, and it’s hard to imagine that merchants would want to pay out double the commission.

The answer is that affiliate programs will credit either the first click or last click for the sale. The specifics of this are in your affiliate agreement, which most programs should have available when you sign up.

Affiliate Agreements

Unfortunately, sometimes it isn’t simple to know how you can use your affiliate links once you are ready to start referring. This is where you will need to check out your affiliate agreement.

The details of how to use your affiliate link, cookie length, and other important factors are found in the affiliate agreement.

It is a good idea to compare competing affiliates by the benefits of their agreements. Our article showcasing the best affiliate programs is a great place to compare programs for popular niches.

Using Affiliate Links

We hope you have learned everything you need to know (and then some more) about what an affiliate link is. Now it’s time to talk about how to use these links to make money.

This is probably the reason that you are here, right?

First of all, here’s a reminder that we recently released an article on how to promote affiliate links.

Read this article if you are looking for a comprehensive list of creative ways you can use your affiliate links. We will list some of our favorite methods in this article too, especially those that are popular and effective today.

Affiliate Link Strategy

So, you have your affiliate link and you are ready to share it with the world and start earning money.

This is a great time to establish your affiliate link strategy, which will guide how you use links in the future. Don’t just sprinkle your link throughout your content and expect it to result in sales.

In fact, link over-saturation can make your site visitors leave faster, without ever buying anything.

So, what does having an affiliate link strategy actually mean? Here are some things you should be doing to ensure that your links are working for you:

  • Use a tool like LinkTrackr to track the performance of your links, as well as each method you are using to promote them.
  • Drive traffic to your links from multiple sources. Strong organic search ranking is great, but it can be rendered meaningless by the next Google update. Treat your traffic like an investment portfolio, and ensure that it is being driven from several sustainable sources.
  • Plan ahead for seasonal changes in search volume with Google Trends.

Now, we will go in depth about how to use your affiliate links effectively.

Affiliate Link Disclosures

Affiliate link disclosures are an essential part of using affiliate links. We aren’t just saying that because we think it’s a good idea – they are mandated by the FTC.

Failing to disclose that you are using links that may result in commission is not only a bad practice, it could put your entire affiliate site at risk.

First, an affiliate link disclosure is a statement that shows that some of the links on your site are a result of affiliate partnerships.

affiliate link disclosure statement example

A great example of an affiliate disclosure statement on a men’s clothing blog

You can use a resource like TermsFeed to find disclosure templates. You can also modify one from a reputable affiliate site.

Try to stick to the following best practices when using affiliate link disclosure statements:

  • Place disclosures in obvious areas, like the top of a blog post. You can also refer back to your statement with an asterisk when you are inputting affiliate links.
  • Use direct, clean language to disclose your relationship with the brand.
  • When in doubt, disclose. Statements can be used for links on any post or part of your site if you are being paid.
  • Be honest. A statement like “I only link to products that I use and recommend to friends” can go a long way toward building trust with your audience.

Link Shortening

The annoying thing about a lot of affiliate programs is that the links that you receive are often long and cumbersome.

Let’s go back to our example affiliate link from earlier.

https://www.affiliatemerchant.com/?affiliate=100

Long, cumbersome links look bad on web pages. And if you are using methods like video, podcasts, or other forms of media to promote your blog, it will be much harder to use this link.

We recommend using a link shortening tool to create custom links that are much shorter and easier to remember. You can display these custom links (often called anchor text) with a link like this:

www.affiliate/link

You can also use a contextual anchor, to make your link appear in the text just like this.

Our favorite tool is PrettyLinks, a WordPress plugin that allows you to create custom URLs for your links. This tool also gives you some basic link performance tracking functionality.

Nofollow Affiliate Links

When using WordPress, it’s easy to add a “nofollow attribute” to your affiliate links. You might be wondering what the heck this is, but don’t worry, we won’t go too far into the weeds with this strategy.

To put it simply, a nofollow link has a label that tells search engines like Google to ignore them. Usually it is good for SEO for an article to use links to direct readers to other sites, and different parts of your site to find information.

However, having too many affiliate links on your site can hurt its organic site rankings.

Making this change is relatively simple to do when you make new blog posts.

How to add nofollow attribute to affiliate links:

  1. Go to your new post in the WordPress menu.
  2. Switch to HTML view by clicking the Text tab.
  3. Find your affiliate links (use ⌘G).
  4. And just add rel=”nofollow” within the “a” tag.

We can do the same thing with the practice we were using earlier.

First, here’s how the link looks in the HTML view on WordPress.

affiliate marketing nofollow link

When you’re all done, your link should look just like this:

affiliate link no follow

You can then save your changes. Congrats! You have just added your first nofollow link.

Link Frequency

Throughout this article, we have mentioned that less is more when using affiliate links. But this may leave you wondering, how much is “just right?”

We recommend following either of these two strategies:

  • Include one affiliate link per content piece (blog post, video, etc.)
  • Include one affiliate link per every 1000 words

Resist the urge to use more than this, even if you have multiple products that can bring value to your readers.

The reasoning behind this is twofold.

First, you don’t want to damage the user experience of your site and turn visitors away.

Second, this can lead to SEO benefits for your content. Google’s algorithm benefits sites that link out to other useful sites, but too many of these links can have a negative impact on your rankings.

Link Security

This last topic deals with something that doesn’t happen often, but we would be remiss if we didn’t bring it up and share the best ways to ensure that your links remain secure.

Link hijacking is when someone is able to steal your commission by replacing your affiliate ID with their own. This is something that affiliate marketers should be aware of, but luckily it is straightforward to make sure that this doesn’t happen.

The only way that someone could hijack your link is by gaining access to your website, or any other platform that you use to promote your links.

This could include social media or email marketing software.

We recommend using a managed hosting provider like Siteground or WP Engine. Conduct regular security checks and use a plugin like Sucuri to monitor possible security breaches.

For the rest of your accounts, a password management tool like LastPass can do a lot to protect you from potential breaches.

Treat your website like anything valuable on your computer. Keep it secure and conduct regular backups to protect yourself just in case.

How to Get Your Links Clicked

Where and how you place your affiliate links is going to have a huge effect on whether site visitors click through and later make purchases.

The most important thing to remember here is to always consider the end-user when placing your affiliate links.

You are placing the link because you have given them information that clarifies a problem that they are having. Clicking through the link and making a purchase will help them solve it.

Here are a few of the best places to put affiliate links on your website:

Blog Posts

This is by far the most common place to find affiliate links. It is also an affiliate link promotion strategy that can backfire – a blog post full of links can be a dead ringer for a reader that they are being sold to.

Remember to use your links where they will have tangible benefits for your readers. If you can solve a problem that someone is having by directing them to another reputable site, then you are doing affiliate link strategy right.

Resource Page

A resource page is a great way to supplement other forms of media that you may be using with your site, like podcasts, ebooks, or video content.

The purpose of a resource page is to keep all the useful tools and links you promote in one convenient place.

This is a great way to manage a long list of affiliate links. If your links change, you won’t need to scour your site for all the times that you stuck them in blog posts so you can change them.

Instead, you can make the switch on your resource page. Now you have more time to create good content.

Social Media

Depending on your niche, you may have decided to build a following on a social media platform. You can use affiliate links on social media, but moderation is key.

The tough part about social media is that people are becoming tired of being sold to every minute of the day. The flip side is that many people are online (what seems like) every minute of every day.

Social media is a great place to find new members of your audience and to amplify your reach. Use an affiliate link when you are sure that it can solve people’s problems.

And don’t forget, the affiliate disclosure statement is just as important here! Failing to do so can result in your account getting shut down in the blink of an eye.

Graphics and Visuals

Did you know that you can make your visuals clickable? It’s fairly easy to do using the WordPress CMS by following these simple steps:

  1. Upload an image to your blog using the media uploader.
  2. Click on the image to find the “Image Details” menu. From here, find the “Display Settings” section.
  3. Select the “Link to Custom URL” option under this menu, and paste your affiliate URL into the “URL” field.

This function works for single images. You can do the same thing for gallery images by downloading the Gallery Custom Links plugin.

Just follow the steps outlined in this article.

Graphics, infographics, and GIFs are great ways to keep your readers engaged and break up long segments of text.

If you are writing a product review, you can direct users to a merchant’s product page when they click on the image of the item you are reviewing.

This is a great tactic because it makes the affiliate link seem less obvious and makes it easy for your reader to explore the topic you are writing about.

What Are Affiliate Links Wrap-Up

Now, we hope that we have answered the question “what are affiliate links?”, and that you are ready to put some of these strategies into action with your website!

Remember to keep track of your links and periodically check in with how they are contributing to your overall strategy.

If you don’t stay organized, it can be really hard to know where most of your money is coming from, and that might mean you’re wasting your time and energy on ineffective strategies or tactics.

Still have questions about the specifics of affiliate links or your affiliate marketing goals?

Sign up for a slot for our 1-on-1 Coaching Calls with experienced affiliate marketers who can help you hone your website strategy.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for upcoming blog posts to keep you informed on your affiliate marketing journey!

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