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The beginner’s guide to affiliate marketing

Dave Hayes

By Dave Hayes



Affiliate marketing is a type of performance marketing where brands pay for results, not traffic.

Pay for conversions, not clicks with affiliate marketing

The economics of advertising are shifting. The groundswell of online consumer privacy, including GDPR, has changed how advertisers target customers; advertisers have to be smarter with their marketing resources because there is less ad inventory and fewer targeting options available.

Advertisers are tired of paying for vanity metrics that don’t convert. Consumers are tired of irrelevant ads disrupting their user experience.

In addition, the cost of creating content continues to rise, and brands need an efficient, scalable way to compete. Advertisers can’t rely on a brute force approach to content creation or throw money at ad spend.

The hidden cost of cost-per-click advertising

Effort-based marketing is paid for by cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-impression (CPM). This means not only do advertisers have to pay for traffic, regardless of whether or not it converts, but you’re also in the inevitable position of figuring out just how effective your efforts were. And while CPC and CPL advertising is still a viable strategy for some advertisers, many are turning to affiliate marketing as they see rising costs using CPC and CPL to target the right people.

Vanity metrics

What are you measuring? Does it matter? These are two important questions anyone who is serious about improving conversion rates should ask.

We measure numbers that sound big and make us feel good, but when it comes down to it, are they contributing to conversion?

The answer, in most cases, is no. So stop measuring meaningless clicks, and start measuring what matters: conversion.


The GDPR has changed how advertisers can target customers, which means advertisers have to be smarter with where and how they invest their marketing resources because there is less ad inventory and reduced targeting efficacy.

The solution already exists: affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is your performance-based solution to stop paying for clicks and start paying for conversions.

Whether you’re a seasoned marketer squeezing every drop of Return on Investment (ROI) out of your budget or a CEO trying to figure out what your marketing team’s report means, there’s a better way.

Affiliate marketing lets advertisers pay for results, not traffic.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a type of performance marketing where brands pay for results, not traffic.

That means instead of trying to bridge the gap from cost-per-impression to cost-per-click to cost-per-lead to the average lead conversion rate for a total customer acquisition cost, you only pay for conversions and the conversions are tracked.

Relevant content converts

We’ve all been there—the totally off-topic, off-brand ad interrupting what would otherwise be a great piece of content.

Consumers are tired of irrelevant ads. When advertisers partner with the right publisher affiliates, their content becomes relevant because the publisher affiliate’s platform pairs with their product.

Because publishers are incentivized by conversions, they have to be strategic about the products and services they promote or they’ll lose their audience.

Are affiliate marketing and performance marketing the same thing?

Affiliate marketing falls under the umbrella of performance marketing.

Sometimes it’s called partner marketing, sometimes it’s called performance marketing. It means the same thing: affiliate publishers are paid based on the actual sales they drive so the better a publisher performs, the more money they make, and in turn, the more money a brand makes.

How does affiliate marketing work?

Skip right over vanity metrics like cost-per-impression or cost-per-click and cut straight to the sale. Said otherwise, you only pay for what converts.

There are four key players: the Advertiser, the Network, the Publisher, and the Customer. Networks pair Advertisers with Publishers who have a content platform so that the Publishers can make money by promoting the Advertiser's products and services. Networks manage the monetary relationship between the Advertiser and the Publishers. When there’s a sale through a Publisher’s platform, the Publisher gets paid by the Advertiser through the Network. 

  • The Advertiser: Advertisers partner with Publishers and a Network when they decide they want to stop paying for clicks and start paying for conversions. If you’re looking to start an affiliate program, this is you!
  • The Network: There are a lot of affiliate networks, and it’s important to choose a good partner when it comes to selecting a Network (more on that later). Networks help connect advertisers with publishers and manage payment.
  • The Publisher: Think of an affiliate as a publisher or influencer. Publishers are incentivized to create quality content. It’s what they do, they’re content creators with existing audiences that already know and trust them to provide meaningful content. Publishers partner with Advertisers to promote relevant content on their platforms to their audiences.
  • The Customer: The person who clicks the link and buys! It’s important to know your customers. When you know your customers, you’ll know where and how to reach them and choose affiliates who are connected to your customers.

Is Affiliate Marketing Right for You?

Affiliate marketing is a great solution for retail, travel, entertainment, fashion, e-commerce, and anyone who is tired of paying for clicks and impressions without knowing when (or even if) they convert.

Effort-based marketing is paid for by cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-impression (CPM), and it’s expensive. As it becomes increasingly difficult to afford brute-force content marketing and ad spend; why not dial it in with affiliate marketing?

Is content too expensive?

Content is an amazing investment that can drive both organic and paid traffic and lead to excellent conversions. But creating that content can carry a heavy price tag.

The beauty of affiliate marketing is that your brand gets to partner with a publisher who’s already creating compelling and trusted content.

Is advertising on existing digital platforms expensive?

Platforms like Facebook and Instagram can change their algorithms, features, and behavior without notice, leaving your ad spend and campaign efficacy in the lurch.

With the ever-changing rules, increasing costs of advertising on social and digital platforms, and lackluster results, you know in your gut there’s got to be a better way! Affiliates! You’ll get tired of hearing us say it, but it’s true.

Publishers are incentivized by conversions, so they must have quality content. Consumers like and trust the content, which leads to sales. So, making money is about partnering the right brands with the right publishers, it’s that simple.

Do you struggle to reach your audience?

Do you get really excited about what you sell and how it could solve someone’s problems, but struggle to reach the right audience?

Affiliate marketing is a great solution because affiliates have targeted audiences who trust them and are likely to follow their recommendation, and then click and convert when it comes to product recommendations.

Are you B2B, B2C, or D2C?

Yes? We’re not throwing everyone together, but it really can work for all of you!

If you have a product or service for a specific audience, affiliate marketing makes so much sense.

Affiliate marketing is one of the fastest-growing marketing channels for a reason, it works. It gets your product in front of highly motivated people, in context, so you’re actually helping people find what they need.

If you’re looking for a way to decrease your ad spend, increase and automate your content production, hone in your messaging, and reach your audience, affiliate marketing is the right next step for you.

Choosing the right affiliate network

When it comes to choosing an affiliate network/provider, there are several things to take into consideration.

You’re looking for a partner to help pair you with the right type of affiliates. They’ll also manage your financial relationship with the affiliates, so you want to partner with someone who will care for your affiliates' financial well-being.

There’s a lot of different things to think about but here are some of the most important things to think through:

  • What’s your budget? When you know your budget, you can prioritize what offerings you’re looking for and find a partner who meets your needs and fits your budget.
  • Does the network have affiliates that connect with your audience? This is where it’s important to know your audience. You’ll want to partner with a network that understands your audiences and knows how to find the right publishers that will help you reach your audience. Some networks specialize in fashion and e-commerce, while others specialize in tech. It’s important to find a network that partners with publishers that are relevant to your audience.
  • What solutions do you need? Are you going to be running an international affiliate program? You’ll need a network that is able to work with international affiliates. Will you be paying for specific types of conversions (downloads, email sign-ups, etc.) Then your network will need to be able to measure different types of conversions.
  • What level of service are you looking for? There are a lot of factors that influence the level of service you need, but you may be a small start-up who just needs someone to handle the payments—or you may be a fortune 500 company that has an ever-changing inventory, that needs to connect with various types of publishers, in multiple countries, that speak different languages. You each will need different types of service.

When you know the answers to these questions, you'll be able to find the right affiliate network for your business. 

The Tools You Need to Succeed

Growing brands know affiliate marketing is a powerful way to convert business. But so many affiliate programs struggle to keep up with the demand of numerous assets that their affiliates need.

And let’s face it—while affiliates are amazing audience builders, they often don’t have the luxury of advanced degrees or experience in marketing, analytics, or the other skills necessary for creating ads made to convert.

Affiliate Ad Network

That’s why Assemble created the Affiliate Ad Network. Our platform acts as the glue between the Publishers, Advertisers, and Networks; we make affiliate marketing work and make it work well.

Our platform efficiently creates quality ads, has full-featured campaign management, and produces robust analytics.

Quality, scalable, brand-safe ads

Publishers can get quality ads that convert. We worked with advertisers to build a platform to provide their publisher affiliates with on-brand ads that convert.

With our tools, Advertisers can create custom messages at scale with brand, product, and inventory assets, which are connected to analytics.

And to top it all off, ads never go stale or get “lost in the wild” because there is a link to every ad placed by publishers. Need to update your logo? You can update all the ads instantly. Need to replace an ad? Again this can be done instantly.

Effective campaign management

Advertisers can run multiple campaigns that can be configured to specific windows of time, product collections, select publishers, curated ad types, layouts, and color themes. Want to run a Black Friday campaign? You can set that up in September and run it in November.

Analytics that drive action

Analytics allow advertisers to improve their assets over time and the overall effectiveness of their affiliate program.

Publishers can choose the assets that best fit their content, resulting in personalized ads that inspire customers and lead to conversions.

Let’s get started

Brands who partner with Assemble see greater ROI in their affiliate marketing programs because their publishers have quick and easy access to ads and tools that help them automate and optimize their promotion of your products and services.

Consumers see the right thing in the right place at the right time, leading to a conversion resulting in a happy customer, a paycheck for the publisher, and an increased ROI for the advertiser.

Request a demo