The best affiliate programs for beginners have (most of) the following characteristics:
- They have products in niches which aren’t insanely competitive
- You don’t have to offer the moon on a stick in order to join them
- They cover many products in the niche so you don’t have to sign up to a million different in-house affiliate programs (more on why this is important later)
- They’re easy to use
- They’ve got a good support team
Not every affiliate program in this overview is a winner in each of these characteristics, but all in all most of them come pretty close.
Let’s jump right into it.
The best affiliate marketing programs for beginners
- Amazon Associates
- Impact Affiliate Program
- Commission Junction (CJ Affiliate)
- Rakuten Advertising
- eBay Partner Network
Amazon Associates is the oldest and by far the biggest affiliate program in the world.
I don’t have to tell you that Amazon sells everything under the sun. As an affiliate, you’re able to promote every single product they’ve got on offer and get a piece of the action.
- An incredible number of products of offer. Amazon is the biggest ecommerce store in the world and there are almost no product categories they don’t cover.
- They convert well. Everyone knows Amazon and (nearly) everyone has an Amazon account. This means conversion rates are higher than with a less-known ecommerce platform.
- You’ll take a cut from any purchase your visitors make. Not just the product you’re promoting. If someone clicks your Amazon affiliate link and buys something totally unrelated (within 24 hours), you’ll get paid for that too.
- Strict rules and regulations. Amazon has some pretty strict rules and regulations. You can easily break them inadvertently if you’re not careful. This can lead to your Amazon account getting terminated.
- Commission rates have been steadily dropping over the years. Some Amazon-reliant affiliate marketers saw their income drop by half after Amazon slashed their commissions. Given how low their current rates are you’d think they have hit rock bottom, but who knows.
Impact Affiliate Program
The Impact Affiliate Program is a force of nature.
Not only do they contain some of the biggest software products like Shopify, but they also work with brands and companies like HSBC, Lenovo and Levi’s. The sheer breadth of companies that work with them is almost overwhelming.
- Stunning range of brands. The supply is nearly endless including big brands and products like Adidas, Shopify, Canva and HubSpot.
- Lots of software products with low competition. Promoting a juggernaut like Shopify is tough for newbies (and even seasoned affiliate marketers), but there are plenty of (largely unknown) software product in more obscure niches.
- High pay-outs (when picking software). Comes with the territory. Promoting software is lucrative.
- Their dashboard is brutal. After a year of using it (not too regularly), I still find it very hard to find what I’m looking for.
- Some brands have much stricter requirements than others. You have to apply to each brand separately.
- Draconian account security. Once I changed my phone number and got locked out of my account (they force 2FA upon you). Took me a full week and sending passport scans in order to get back in.
ShareASale is perhaps not the most well-known affiliate network out there. But it covers 5000 brands – some of which have payouts in the $300+ range. Many of these brands are not well-known but can be the perfect fit for the right niche.
- Incredible range of products and services. Many of them are unknown and you won’t find them on any other affiliate program.
- Payouts are (relatively) fast. You don’t need to wait for several months.
- Their systems work well. Finding brands for instance is a really straightforward process.
- The interface looks prehistoric. I mean, it’s functional, but it could definitely use a refresh.
- Lacks brands with name-value. Has less popular brands than, for instance, Impact.
Commission Junction (CJ Affiliate)
CJ Affiliate (previously Commission Junction) has been around since 2002, making it one of the oldest affiliate programs out there.
It has over 2000 affiliate programs and works with companies such as Zappos, HelloFresh and Barnes & Noble.
It covers a great many brands that you won’t find anywhere else.
- Reliable and clear reporting. Easy to see if an affiliate campaign is profitable or not.
- Covers a ton of massive brands. And of quite a different kind than competing affiliate programs do.
- User-friendly dashboard. Super easy to use for beginners.
- Account can be deactivated for inactivity. So make sure to only apply after you have some traction.
- There’s a relatively high brand turnover. A brand that you’re promoting the one day, might not be available the next.
Rakuten, as the name somewhat suggests, is a Japanese affiliate marketing program. They acquired LinkShare back in 2005, making them one of the biggest affiliate programs on the planet.
They have a global network of advertisers, so the exact brands may vary based on your location and the specific affiliate program you join.
Some of the more well-known brands in their stable include Walmart, Best Buy, JCPenney and Dell.
- Global reach. You can find brands for nearly every part of the world. Great if your site has an international focus.
- Solid interface. Not the prettiest, but it’s easy to use.
- Quality of tools. The platform offers advanced tracking systems and detailed reporting and analytics tools. This makes it easy to monitor your campaigns effectively, understand your audience’s behavior and optimize your strategy.
- Infrequent payout schedule: The platform pays on a quarterly basis, which is way less frequent compared to many other affiliate programs that typically pay monthly.
- Inactive accounts. If your account remains inactive for a long time (i.e., you don’t generate any sales), Rakuten may close your account.
A recurring theme in this overview is that most of these affiliate programs are ancient. ClickBank, having been around since 1998, isn’t any different.
They focus on digital products. Examples include online weight loss courses, online communities and online courses on how to manage your personal finances.
If you ask me, some if these products border on scam territory. I’ll let you be the judge:
“The product aims to show people how to use these numbers to attract or manifest more money into their lives. It promises abundance and meaning to the people who follow its teachings, along with the material success that will yield things like vacations to exotic places, mansions, and wealth.”
But there are plenty of good-value products they have on offer as well.
- High commission rates: digital products tend to have have lower overhead costs than physical products. This allows for high commission rates (up to 75%).
- Vast product selection: ClickBank hosts a multitude of products across various niches, giving you a massive range of items to promote.
- Flexible payment schedule: ClickBank offers weekly or bi-weekly payments, which is much more frequent than most affiliate programs.
- Product quality and poor reputation. ClickBank has been known to host a number of low-quality or questionable products. Due to this its reputation isn’t the best. Carefully vet any product from them that you’re looking to promote.
- Certain programs have very high refund numbers. These are usually the worst products however, ones that shouldn’t be promoted in the first place.
Awin boasts some impressive numbers: 25.000+ advertisers, 270.000+ active publishers and $200 million generated in sales in 2022. This puts them at or near the top of the heap when it comes to affiliate program size.
Among the many, many brands it works with are AliExpress, HP, Hyatt and Under Armour.
- Massive range of advertisers. We’re talking about a global network with thousands of advertisers across many sectors here (travel, retail, tech).
- User-friendly platform. Awin’s platform is really easy to use for beginners.
- Real-time teporting. Awin offers real-time reporting, which allows you to track your progress and make adjustments to your strategy on the fly.
- Fee to apply. Unlike many other affiliate networks, Awin charges a $5 fee to apply to their network. This fee is refunded in your first payment however.
- Approval process. Some affiliates find it challenging to get accepted by advertisers on Awin. Some advertisers can be selective and it might take some time to get approved.
eBay Partner Network
eBay is a juggernaut. Odds are that you yourself have used it one time (or two), and they aren’t many people in the West who have never heard of it.
One thing you might be less aware of is that it’s not only worn down, secondhand products that are getting sold on eBay. In fact, eBay claims that 80% of all sold items are brand-new.
It’s a solid place to consider when you’re new to affiliate marketing.
- Trusted brand. eBay is a well-known and trusted brand, which is good for conversion rates.
- Huge product range. eBay is a massive online marketplace with millions of products across a variety of categories.
- Low barrier to entry. Getting approved is a breeze.
- Complex commission Structure. eBay’s commission structure is based on a number of factors, including the product category, the quality of the buyer, and the type of auction. This can make it difficult to predict your potential earnings.
- Short Cookie Duration: eBay uses a 24-hour cookie so that’s your window to earn after someone clicks your link. This is shorter than many other affiliate programs.
If you’re just starting out, here’s what to look for when joining a affiliate program
As a beginner, it’s important to consider the following when joining an affiliate program.
It has products in a niche where you’ve got a shot at ranking
Not all niches are created equal. In some niches (such as VPNs) the competition is so stiff that even the most seasoned affiliate marketers don’t bother with them anymore.
An affiliate marketing program can be great on all points below. But if it only offers products in niches which for you will be nearly impossible to rank in, then joining it is a waste of time. It would be like taking on the final boss in an open-world videogame while you haven’t gotten any XP or fancy weapons yet (to throw in a nerdy metaphor).
Of course, as your affiliate experience and income grow, you can start taking aim at niches and product categories which as a newb were once out of your league.
Easy to join
You want to join an affiliate program where the barrier to entry is low. For instance, Canva has a pretty solid affiliate program, but these days they’re only looking for content creators with a social following of at least a 1000 people. On top of that, they want you to dedicate new content to them on a monthly basis.
If you neglect to do this, they will kick you out of their program.
As a beginner, the only thing these kind of programs do is cause you stress and grief. Start with affiliate programs which don’t ask for the moon on a stick.
It covers many products in the niche
This saves you from having to sign up for many different affiliate programs. You might wonder – as did I many years ago – what exactly is the problem with signing up to a bunch of different affiliate programs. After all, it’s free right?
Well, the main downside has to with an overwhelming amount of admin work it requires. Each affiliate program has its own rules, payment schedules, and reporting system. Managing many different programs can be time-consuming and complex and can ultimately lead to missed revenue opportunities.
Smaller programs might change their program completely which means the affiliate links won’t work anymore. It’s easy to miss this if the affiliate program only lands you a sale every few months.
Accounting becomes also much harder because instead of dealing with a few big chunks of money every month, you’ll now have to track many small payments.
Bottom line, there are many downsides to signing up to many individual program which only go away once certain products start generating a ton of sales.
Easy-to-use through a well-designed affiliate dashboard
Some affiliate dashboards are pure pain. Many of them were probably designed by engineers – not user experience experts.
This means that navigating them takes you much more time than it should. Also, you’ll feel less inclined to start setting up special tracking IDs to analyze your affiliate efforts more effectively (as you’ll basically want to stay away from them as much as possible).
Truth be told, some of the affiliate programs I use have a horrific dashboard, but unfortunately, they don’t have an alternative. In case there is, and all else is more or less equal, pick the affiliate program with the better dashboard.
There are several things that make good support important for an affiliate program:
- As an affiliate marketer you may run into issues such as tracking errors, late payments, broken links, etc. Having a responsive support team ensures that these issues can be solved promptly.
- Support can guide you on how to make more sales. With all their publishing partners, they know what works.
- Good support keeps you updated around any program updates that may arise. This tends to happen pretty often: for instance around commissions, requirements and payment dates.
When you should start looking at in-house affiliate programs
The main advantage of going to a merchant directly and using an in-house affiliate program is that payouts tend to be higher.
It makes sense to join one of these right away if your affiliate site will be revolving about 1 or just a few products.
But if you’re promoting many different products, you might want to hold off for a bit. In this case, you’ll probably want to swap once the extra earnings make the effort of managing an additional affiliate program worthwhile.
This of course is a personal consideration. It all depends on how much your time is worth to you.
As a fledgling affiliate marketer the sheer choice of affiliate programs can be overwhelming. With this article it should be a lot easier to pick the right one(s) for your business.
If you need any help or further insights, leave a comment below.
Are you looking to get started with affiliate but are you unsure how to begin? Then check out my affiliate handbook for beginners which shows the entire process step-by-step.