Want to learn how to create an affiliate link? This blog post explains it all, plus the best practices when creating and using affiliate links.
Affiliate marketing is a big deal. According to Statista, the affiliate marketing market value reached 8.2 billion dollars in 2022. This is probably because the strategy allows companies to do marketing with relatively low risk and effort while taking advantage of benefits like a high return on investment and increased brand awareness.
Affiliate marketing relies on affiliates promoting your products to their audience. This helps you reach a wider audience and get more traffic to your website. And your affiliates earn a commission on each conversion they help you make.
If you want to set up your own affiliate program, the first thing you have to do is understand how to create an affiliate link. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about affiliate links and how to create them.
What is an affiliate link?
An affiliate link is a URL that tracks where conversions come from. Each affiliate link is unique so that you are able to see clearly which affiliate brings in which conversions.
An affiliate link includes your root domain plus some tracking parameters. The tracking parameters are the unique part, and they’ll change for each affiliate. An affiliate link could look like this: www.yourdomain.com/ref=Xyv.
You can generate affiliate links a few different ways, but the most common is through an affiliate program. When affiliates join your program, they automatically receive their unique affiliate link.
The affiliate then publishes these links on their blogs, websites, email campaigns, or social media profiles. They’ll usually create some type of content to house the link and explain what the linked product or service does and what its benefits are.
When users in their audience click your links, these clicks are tracked. If the user converts—by subscribing to your software service, for example—these conversions are also tracked. The affiliate responsible for bringing you the conversion then earns a commission.
The definition of conversion depends on the agreement you strike up with your affiliate. The most common type of conversion in affiliate marketing is sales, but some affiliates get paid just for bringing in leads. This is up to your brand and depends on its current goals at the moment.
Commissions also depend on the agreement in place. They may be a fixed fee per conversion (i.e. $5 for each sale) or a variable (i.e. 5% of each conversion, whether its value is $5 or $50). Most affiliate programs include payouts once per month, usually at the end of each month.
Goals of affiliate links
As I briefly mentioned above, the goals of affiliate links can vary depending on your company and its objectives. A few common goals of affiliate links are the following.
Some affiliates get paid simply for generating clicks. In this model, the user doesn’t have to do any follow-up action. Simply clicking is enough to trigger the commission. The idea is that these clicks will bring in new traffic that leads to brand awareness and hopefully conversion.
For clicks, affiliates usually only earn a few cents. But you can imagine how, for high-traffic websites, those cents can add up. If you want to use this model, you should set up some failsafe to make sure you don’t end up paying for clicks that the affiliate generates themself through bots or having their team repeatedly click your link.
In marketing, impressions mean views. With this affiliate model, affiliates get paid for the views they generate of your company’s ads on their website.
Other affiliates get paid for leads they bring you. In order to qualify someone as a lead, you need some type of information from them so that you can contact them. In digital marketing, this will most likely be an email address, though some companies still do telephone marketing, too.
Leads are valuable because the user has shown enough interest in your company to relinquish a piece of their personal information. How you qualify a lead is up to you, so be sure to tell your affiliate what information they need to get you in order to earn commissions.
Sales is another common goal for affiliate marketing. It’s used by all types of businesses: e-commerce, SaaS (software-as-a-service) companies, app developers, and so on.
You’ve no doubt seen examples of affiliate marketing for sales around the Internet. Remember when you googled “what to pack for my trip to Greece” and found a great blog post with recommendations for the best swimsuits, sunscreen, and travel accessories? Chances are the recommended products were linked via affiliate links, and that blogger earned a commission on the ones you purchased.
Styles of affiliate links
Not all affiliate links look the same. Let’s look at a few different styles of links so you can choose to create the type that’s best for you.
These are also known as redirect links. Without getting too technical, what these links do is redirect the user from the unique affiliate link to a regular URL hosted on your website.
For example, when the user clicks the link, they’ll click something like this: www.yourdomain.com/click.php?a_aid=refid&a_bid=24e752g4. But in an instant, before they can even notice, that link will redirect to www.yourdomain.com.
These are easy to track, but they’re not great for your site’s SEO, or for the aesthetic of your pages.
This is the most common type of affiliate link used today. Unlike old-style links, new-style links contain the tracking parameters directly in the final URL. This means the user clicks the link and goes to that link without any redirection to another URL.
These links use anchor text to mask the URL that the user clicks. So instead of seeing something like www.yourdomain.com/ref=24e752g4, the user sees clickable text that says Your Domain, with the link attached to it.
Anchor links are helpful to SEO because they take advantage of the text shown on your site. They help you work links into your content more easily without disrupting the meaning that the user (or Google) takes from it. They also look less spammy in general, so users will be more likely to click them.
Direct links allow affiliate tracking without containing unique parameters in the URL. They’re especially useful in niches where users may not want to click links that have visible tracking parameters.
This is the most advanced type of affiliate tracking, and the tracking information comes directly from the browser. They’re also great for SEO, as they don’t require you to publish links with long strings of parameters to your pages.
How to create affiliate links
Now, how to create an affiliate link? I’ve outlined the steps below to show you exactly how to do it.
Step 1: Choose your affiliate marketing platform
The best way to manage an affiliate marketing program is by using specialized affiliate software designed to do this.
Although you can DIY affiliate marketing using free tools like Google Campaign URL Builder for creating links and Google Analytics for tracking, it’s going to be pretty labor-intensive and you’ll probably miss something.
It will be much easier to track clicks and conversions and issue payouts if you use an affiliate marketing platform to do this. I’ve listed a few popular ones below.
- Refersion is oriented towards e-commerce, especially Amazon Marketplace and Shopify. Pricing starts at $99/month.
- First Promoter is specifically designed for SaaS companies with monthly subscriptions. Pricing starts at $49/month.
- PartnerStack specializes in affiliate tracking for B2B brands. To get pricing details, speak with their Sales team.
- Everflow calls itself a partner marketing platform and focuses on the relationship management angle of affiliate marketing. Pricing starts at $750/month.
- Heepsy is designed for influencer marketing, but you can generate trackable links for influencer affiliates and pay them through the platform. Free plan available.
These are just a few of the platforms available. If none of these are right for you, a Google search will reveal loads more.
Step 2: Create a new affiliate campaign
Creating an affiliate link starts with creating a new affiliate campaign (also called an affiliate program). The campaign will usually have a common goal, attribute, or incentive involved. A campaign might be United States affiliates 20% commission or Bloggers 15% commission.
This step will differ a bit depending on which affiliate platform you’re using. But generally, you’ll have to set up some basic info that includes:
- The campaign name
- The conversion that triggers the commission
- The commission value
- Whether you want a public sign-up page for your affiliate program or not (and if so, the URL where it’s hosted)
- The affiliates that are included in the campaign
This last point can happen two different ways. You could generate a public URL, where people can apply to be your affiliate. Or, you can manually input your affiliates. If you go the public route, make sure you properly configure the sign-up page according to your branding and affiliate terms.
Step 3: Design your affiliate link and customize your URL
The next thing to do is set up the affiliate link itself. Decide which URL you want your affiliate to promote. Depending on the campaign, this could be your homepage, a landing page, a specific product page, or whatever fits with your affiliate goals.
With most affiliate platforms, you set the base URL and the software then generates the unique tracking links for each affiliate. This then gets sent to the affiliate so that they know which specific URL to share in order to have their commissions tracked.
Some programs also let you upload assets to use with your link. You might be able to add an advertisement or a banner that affiliates can post to their websites to encourage clicks.
In most cases, you’ll also be able to customize the individual affiliate links created by the software. So, you could customize something like www.yourdomain.com/ref=24e752g4 so that it looks like www.yourdomain.com/affiliate1. This second option is cleaner than the first, better for SEO, and appears more trustworthy to users.
Another way to customize links is by passing it through a link shortener like Bitly. A Bitly link will look like http://www.bit.ly/7xILeQOS. We commonly see these links on social media where character count is limited.
Step 4: Agree on affiliate terms and set your affiliates up for success
Now that your affiliates can log into the affiliate dashboard and grab their links, you want to make sure they’re successful when promoting your brand. You may want to specify how they can use their links depending on what you’re interested in.
For example, you may want to tell them that they can only post your link a maximum number of times across their domain so that Google doesn’t think you’re trying any illicit link-building strategies.
Or, you may offer your affiliates a discount code for their users, too. This is commonly seen in influencer affiliate campaigns. Not only does the influencer earn a commission for each sale they bring in, but they’re able to offer their audience a discount on those sales.
A post shared by Jessie and Sully's Adventures (@jessiethechocolatelab19)
An example of a discount code on Instagram. Best practices encourage using all capital letters to make codes stand out.
You also want to provide your affiliates with the information and content they need to make successful conversions. This could include visual assets like banners, logos, or images and videos that show how your product works. It could also include written materials like summaries, quotes from your founder, or testimonials from existing customers.
Consider creating an affiliate pack or presentation to send to new affiliates when they join your program.
Best practices to keep in mind when using affiliate links
There are a few other important things to take into account when creating and using affiliate links. You should discuss these best practices with your affiliates when creating links for them.
Use anchors and clean up your affiliate URLs
Anchor text is the best way to keep your affiliate links user- and SEO-friendly. Anchor text should be descriptive of what the user can expect to find by clicking that link. If you’re an e-commerce selling sneakers, your affiliates might want to put anchor links like “Check out the newest sneakers” or “Buy sneakers with 15% off.”
Also, clean up your affiliate URLs wherever possible. Having a shorter, cleaner affiliate URL will look more trustworthy than something with a long string of parameters, which to the average person looks like nonsense or spam.
Balance link density and relevancy
You want to avoid situations where your affiliates post your link on every page of their website. When there are too many links pointing from one website to another, this raises red flags for search engines. And this can negatively affect your SEO positioning.
Relevancy is equally important. Google is smart, and it can tell when links are added for the sake of adding them. In a blog post about coffee, it doesn’t make too much sense to have a link to a website that sells sneakers, right? Make sure that your affiliates understand that affiliate links should only be placed when relevant to the content of the page.
Notify users of cookies policies
A common way to do this is with a popup where the user can accept or deny cookies.
Disclose when links are affiliate links
Finally, it’s a good practice for your affiliates to disclose when a link may earn them a commission. They can let the audience know that they’re affiliates of your brand for a reason—because they love your products, and therefore may earn a commission on any sales.
An affiliate disclosure from Chasing the Donkey in its blog post "Greece Packing List. "
This promotes transparency and builds trust with the audience. Being open with people can help them make decisions with all the relevant information without feeling like they’ve been cheated or manipulated.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to promote your products or services. But in order to have a successful affiliate strategy, you need to know how to create an affiliate link.
Today we’ve reviewed how to do this in 4 steps:
- Choose your affiliate platform
- Create your affiliate program and add participants
- Design your affiliate link and customize it when you can
- Agree on your terms and set up your affiliates for success
Keep these in mind when creating your affiliate links. And remember to monitor your affiliate program over time, so you can identify which affiliates make the best partners, which traffic sources convert best, and other criteria to help you optimize your affiliate campaigns.