How Do Affiliate Links Work (And How to Use Them Like a Pro)

Affiliate marketing offers a way to make money by promoting other people’s products. And, not only products but also by promoting services, memberships, events, and more.

Here’s the crazy thing about affiliate marketing:

If you’ve got a website, email list, or strong social following, then you’re in business! You don’t even need a website when you get down to it.

It all starts with something… and that’s learning the answer to how do affiliate links work. That’s what we’re getting into in this article. Plus, a quick primer on putting them to use to build an online income stream.

The Anatomy of an Affiliate Link

There is no affiliate marketing without the affiliate link. Your unique link and affiliate ID is what tracks your promotions and conversions. 

Here is an example of an affiliate link:

Obviously, this isn’t a real affiliate link otherwise it would take you to a live page. But, it gives us a good example to learn its basics. The string after the “?” would include a random or set affiliate ID given to you upon joining a program.

What they’re doing is setting up tracking using UTM parameters.

Cloaking Links

Sometimes you’ll see affiliate links using cloaking, too.

Cloaking involves dressing up a link so it looks nice. The affiliate link follows the same URL structure and format as your website. Some cloaking services include bonus tools and resources for tracking and reporting.

An example of a cloaked link could look like:

The webmaster may use “recommends” or “go” in the URL string. Or, whatever /word/ they’d like. The affiliate ID and string now looks part of the regular site’s linking scheme. 

Link Variations

You may also see affiliate links using domain and URL variations.

The variants could include:

  • subdomain + domain + ID
  • short domain + extension

This is kind of the same as cloaking affiliate links. Except, the affiliate provider is doing the work for you either to keep tracking simple or as a courtesy. 

After the Affiliate Link Click

So, what happens when someone clicks on an affiliate link?

This is super simplified but:

  1. The lead lands on the offer page
  2. A tracking cookie gets saved to the session
  3. The person buys an item or something on the site
  4. The sale gets logged, verified, and a commission gets paid
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The tracking cooking is as important as the affiliate link. This is what pairs the affiliate ID to the session and makes tracking possible.

Affiliate cookies often last 1-day, 30-days, or up to 90-days. Some last way longer depending on the affiliate program. Yet, these cookies can/will get erased if the person clears their session. Or, it’s overridden by another affiliate ID.

Read this article if you want to get further into affiliate marketing. And, really get to understand how everything works from programs to getting paid. It’ll all make sense once you get the “big picture”.

How to Use Affiliate Links (The Right Way)

The best way to learn how affiliate links work is in practice. So, sign up to an affiliate program, grab your link, and follow along!

Start with an Affiliate Disclaimer

The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has strict guidelines covering endorsements. This includes your use of affiliate links and how they’re presented.

Here is the simplified version of the rules:

  1. Put a disclaimer in a visible area that’s not buried on a separate page
  2. Tell people your intent and association in easy-to-understand language

A page’s introduction is the best place for the affiliate disclaimer.

Your goal is providing transparency to visitors. You’re not trying to bury your association to a brand. Nor are you deceitful even if it wasn’t intended as such.

Here is something interesting:

Being up-front with your affiliate disclosure is beneficial. Many may see the blurb and decide your truthfulness warrants them using your link as support.

Respect the Program’s Guidelines

When in doubt: ask your affiliate manager.

Many affiliate programs and platforms dictate how you can use your link. This may include where it’s placed and how it’s promoted. 

Disobeying guidelines could result in a ban from the program or platform. You don’t want to forfeit affiliate earnings by abusing affiliate links!

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Place and Share Your Affiliate Link

There are several places where you could place an affiliate link on a website:

  • Within the body content of a post
  • On a page sharing recommendations and resources
  • Listed in the sidebar or part of an ad/recommendation pack
  • Embedded as media such as product photos or screenshots

Your affiliate link fits anywhere a normal link does. Except, don’t go overboard because being too spammy can irk visitors. Too many links may give visitors the sense you’re only interested in getting their money.

You can share your links other platforms and places, too, like:

  • Social or owned profiles on online platforms
  • Single landing pages attached to an ad campaign
  • Text and instant messaging, live chat, and other comms

Again, treat it as you would promoting a product you owned. You’re linking your brand to the promo, after all, so stand behind your recommendation!

Promote What You Stand Behind

This isn’t really a technical thing — it’s more about the ethics.

  • Recommend products you’ve used or wholeheartedly back
  • Show if you can otherwise give as much detail as possible

You’ll find including affiliate links way easier when you believe in the promo. So, promote only what you think is best for the community.

It is also best to keep the links relevant to your site. For example, if you have a site about health, try to stick to health related affiliate programs.

Go Beyond Asking How Do Affiliate Links Work

Asking how do affiliate links work scratches the surface of affiliate marketing. There is so much more to explore.

Affiliate marketing is like unlocking every business type.

If you’re great at finding hot products you’re starting off well. Mix in clever marketing and you’ve got what’s needed to make money. Pair with a great affiliate program and you’ve got an incredible business.

Where do you go from this basic post? Well, the sky is the limit!

Check out some of our extensive money making tips and strategies. And, support these efforts with our guides on traffic, branding, and more!