I’m a Canadian affiliate marketing veteran, having started in the late 90’s. That means I was there when huge affiliate networks like Commission Junction and Clickbank were born in 1998, and I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of many other well-known networks. I was one of the first members of many of those networks and I evolved with them over time. We all used websites and newsletters back then and nobody knew what a blog or social media was.
Rules? What rules? There were no guidelines or laws, no panic about complying with the FTC disclosure guidelines, and certainly no applicable restrictions in Canada. It would be ten years before compliance and disclosures became the law in some countries. Today, affiliate marketing is much more civilized. While it certainly didn’t happen overnight, I continue to earn most of my income from affiliate advertising.
Canada has the third largest number of affiliate marketers, although we’re still far behind the US in terms of both promoting affiliate programs and the number of merchants who offer them. This business offers many benefits and the average Canadian can make a comfortable living with it, once they get going.
- Inexpensive to start and run.
- Manageable learning curve (if you can use Facebook, you have the tech capacity to run this online business).
- Your market can be as small or as large as you want it to be.
- You can work with advertisers from all over the world or focus on Canadian advertisers.
- It’s easy and safer to try selling as many different products as you like.
- You have full control over how many hours you work and when you do it. It can be a full time job or a side hustle.
- You don’t have to deal directly with customers.
- Eventually, you’ll have a source of (somewhat) passive income.
- Most advertisers pay in US funds, resulting in a big bonus for Canadians.
- If you don’t want to do it all yourself you can easily hire virtual assistants and freelancers, allowing you to focus on what you’re good at.
- The income potential is limited only by your strategy, the amount of work you are willing to do, how much value you provide to your visitors and how honest you are with them.
How to Start Affiliate Marketing in Canada
Don’t be concerned if I talk about things here that you don’t yet understand. This guide will help you determine what you need to study further and once you’ve identified it, you can easily research the topic. We have included links to more detailed posts on this site, and you’re encouraged to do some reading with other reputable sites or books.
When you have a firm grasp on one topic, come back to this article and research the next question you have. When you can read through this post and understand the basics of it all, you’re ready to make money with affiliate marketing in Canada or at a global level.
What’s it all About?
Typically, affiliate programs allow you to advertise for a company and earn a percentage of the sales you generate for them. You (the publisher) become a middleman of sorts, between the advertiser and consumers.
You have to apply to become a partner for individual affiliate programs. Some advertisers will have their program set up to automatically approve affiliates, which allows you to start promoting them immediately. Others review each applicant and will let you know if you’re in.
Affiliate networks facilitate connections between publishers (website or blog owners) and advertisers. They handle everything from tracking to payments. You’ll also encounter many in-house partner programs that you can sign up for.
Affiliate networks are a good place to start for most publishers because you can find and receive commissions from many advertisers, all in one place. Since the commissions will come in more slowly at first, the opportunity to combine the commissions from several advertisers means you’ll meet the payment threshold faster than if you were only working with one advertiser. Virtually all affiliate programs and networks have payment thresholds that you have to reach before being paid.
Most affiliate networks have tutorials to help guide you through the set up and implementation process. Some are better for Canadian bloggers than others, which you can learn more about in the post, The Best Affiliate Program Networks for Canadians.
You don’t have to worry about anything except generating a sale or lead. The follow-through is up to the merchant, from payment processing to customer support. The only ongoing concern is advertisers may cancel their affiliate program or change their links. However, if you use a link management plugin, you can easily change the merchants you promote if one isn’t converting well, or the program shuts down, etc.
There are countless merchants out there with affiliate programs, and a growing portion are Canadian (or they serve Canadians from other countries). You’ll also find many of the bigger brands offer affiliate programs for their Canadian arm, such as Walmart.ca. If your readership is primarily Canadian, read How to Find Canadian Affiliate Programs for further guidance.
After you join an affiliate program (also known as a referral program or partner program), you’ll usually begin by placing an ad on your website. Your visitor clicks on the text link or banner, which takes them to the advertiser’s site via your tracking link. If the visitor makes a purchase or otherwise fulfills the conversion requirements, you’ll earn an agreed-upon amount.
How do they know when you’ve referred someone to them? Tracking is usually done with “cookies”. You’re probably familiar with cookies in general so I’ll spare you the technical details. There’s lots of info about them online if you want to dig into it further.
Once you’ve signed up and receive approval, you’ll be able to sign into your account and view all kinds of data regarding your clicks and conversions. Most advertisers will pay commissions monthly to affiliates who have met their payment thresholds (minimum). There is usually a holding period to allow for product returns.
To make a decent amount of money with affiliate marketing, you’ll need an awesome website or blog. This will be your home base for everything from building a mailing list to social media promotion. To ensure compliance with Canadian privacy laws, we recommend hosting your website on Canadian servers.
Choose a niche that offers plenty of opportunities to promote products or services, while inspiring a virtually endless supply of unique content. A great place to start are large affiliate networks like Share-A-Sale. You can go through their advertisers and gather data to help you evaluate the niche profit potential.
If you’re still looking for a niche, read:
How to Choose the Best Products to Sell Online in Canada
10 Hot Product Niches to Sell Online in Canada
Domain registration and selecting a website host are two of the most important steps you’ll take when starting an online business in Canada. We have unique requirements and legal concerns in this country that many newcomers are unaware of, resulting in mistakes that waste both time and money. Go through our checklist for choosing a website host to ensure you choose the best host for your Canadian business. We use GreenGeeks’ Canadian servers to host our sites.
Many hosting packages come with free registration of your domain name (website address/URL). Therefore, you may want to choose your host before registering a domain name. It also might be wise to hold off on registering your business name in Canada, until you’re sure you can match it up with an available domain name.
Once your hosting is in place, you’ll probably want to choose a content management platform (such as WordPress). Most hosts now offer popular free platforms and feature easy installation. We use WordPress for all of our sites because it’s the most versatile and reliable.
At this point, give some thought to what type of affiliate website you want.
Some of the most popular types of sites for affiliate marketing include:
- Sharing information or your expertise through a blog/website
- Entertaining with a blog
- Product reviews
- Product comparisons
- Traditional offline media or brand trying to diversify advertising income with website monetization
- Any combination of the above… or what have you
I’ve had the most success by combining different types of posts in blog format, usually with the underlying goal of sharing expertise. Affiliate marketing can be combined with other methods of blog monetization, which you can learn more about in How to Make Money Blogging in Canada: The Ultimate Guide.
Hire a website designer or start the learning process if you want to design the site yourself. Many website hosts, eCommerce platforms and information managers have a wonderful selection of templates and are made specifically for people who have little technical knowledge. Keep it simple. The more complicated your design is, the more you’ll have to learn or pay someone to do it for you. That applies to both the initial design process and ongoing updates or maintenance.
If you need more guidance, have a look at our Checklist: How to Start an Online Business in Canada. It covers everything from business registration to taxes.
Content is crucial to attract customers to your website and for organic search engine optimization (SEO). It will also establish your level of expertise and reflect the quality of the products or services you recommend. You’ll need to write or acquire high-quality content from day one. Freelancer is popular site for finding freelance writers/bloggers to help you.
Types of content to consider are reviews, product comparisons, news/trends, interviews, gift guides, and general information related to your niche. “Evergreen” content that will be useful for a long period of time will serve you best. Try to choose topics that will have ongoing appeal. Get good at spotting new products or brands to bring to your readers. Most affiliate networks have lists of their newest partners for you to check. As you gain more experience, you may find some affiliate programs are worth a more concentrated effort, inspiring you to create landing pages, webinars, tutorials etc.
You can extend the usefulness of trending news items to grab both immediate traffic and more visitors down the road, by expanding on the topic to include the product your promoting.
For example, you might find a news release about scientific research that indicates seaweed is good for dogs who have cancer. You can write about the research and promote a trusted advertiser’s seaweed pet supplement at the same time. Round out the information by explaining how it works or find other studies to include. Now you have an “evergreen” article that will appeal to your target audience over the long term, as well as a trending topic.
- Present a problem
- Dig into the cause
- Offer a solution from one of your advertisers
You should see far better results with this type of content than, say, a simple news or review post.
You may offer information in text, video, podcast, graphics (infographics, memes, etc.) or any combination thereof. If you use video or podcasting, post it on your website as well as other platforms like YouTube. Transcribe the content into text and you’ll get the best of both worlds from a usability angle and in regards to SEO.
Writing exceptional content that subtly sells isn’t all that difficult, but it does demand time and effort. You can do most of your research online, or use your local library or Kindle Unlimited subscription to borrow books on the topic.
Basic Components of a Blog Post That Sells:
- A concise, descriptive headline will help draw in readers.
- Hook them in your first paragraph by providing a brief overview of what will follow, touching on the most intriguing information. If applicable, state the problem you’re solving and how it will benefit the reader.
- Next, expand on the problem you’re about to solve (or the goal you’ll help readers reach).
- Offer solutions that feature your affiliate product(s). Back them with your experience, social proof, solid information sources and case studies when applicable.
- What benefits will the reader enjoy by applying these solutions? How will it improve their life? What has it done for you that it may also do for them?
- Subtley address any known sales objections (such as price, for which you would emphasize the value and ROI).
- Relay your enthusiasm, but be careful to not sound too “salesy”.
- Go back and format your article for readability, including headings and bullet points.
- Go over what you’ve written and LIGHTLY optimize for search engines, including keywords/phrases based on your research.
- Keep your ideal target market firmly in mind as you write.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to end with a ‘call to action’ to make the sale. In fact, I usually discourage that with a few exceptions. I often end with a question to encourage engagement. Engaging your reader should be a key factor in your content, be it on your website, in your newsletter, or on social media.
Your link to the offer should look so natural that it doesn’t feel like a push for a sale at all. Like the Folgers coffee in a Hallmark movie, it’s just there. You’re offering a helpful solution or resource that will benefit the reader.
How to Choose an Affiliate Program
If you’re working with an affiliate network, a big advantage you’ll have are merchant sales statistics. Most networks show how successful each program is, revealing their conversion rate, earnings, return rate, average order size, their reputation as a partner, which countries they serve, and so on. That information can be a key factor in selecting profitable affiliate programs.
When selecting advertisers to work with, it’s wise to consider more than just how much their commissions are. You’ll make more money from a popular product that pays 10% per sale, than you will from one paying 50% per sale that rarely converts. Make sure their products will appeal to your ideal visitor and are relevant to your niche. It’s best to focus on a few great offers, at least in the beginning. Once you learn the ropes you can diversify.
Additionally, the amount you’ll earn will vary according to industry. Consumer retail (like clothing) has notoriously low commission rates. The margins in consumer retail are razor thin to begin with, so they can only offer so much to affiliates. However, the sales conversions may be higher so you’ll still do well with them. Other industries are highly competitive and will offer higher commission rates, such as finance.
Another consideration is how much the item sells for. High end items may offer less than 5% commissions, but if you can make sales you’ll earn as much from them as you would for multiple cheaper items. As your traffic increases, you can negotiate higher commissions from most merchants.
Visit the merchant’s website before applying. You need to ensure they’re a good fit for you and your audience. Check the products, site design & security, and customer reviews. Look into their reputation online by searching for their brand name and checking their Better Business Bureau rating. Once you’ve learned more about the company and its products, ask yourself if you’d buy something from them. If you have any questions, contact the affiliate manager or someone else who possesses the knowledge you seek.
Carefully read the terms and conditions of each affiliate program. Following are a few things to check.
- Commission amount per sale, payment per lead, etc. (this may be negotiable once you start sending consistent sales to them)
- Payment threshold
- How long commissions are held back
- How long will you be held responsible for cancellations/returns. Some advertisers are terrible for clawing back commissions, even if the return happens months after the sale. I recommend avoiding these advertisers entirely. Our job is to bring them a customer. Holding onto those customers is up to them. We shouldn’t be held responsible for their inability to do so.
- How payments are made (PayPal, auto-deposit, cheque, etc.)
- Rules & guidelines regarding advertising, placement, etc.
You may want to vary the type of offers you have, in order to maximize your content. For example, you can sell physical products related to your niche, services or digital products like related eBooks. Whatever your visitor is looking for in your niche will then be covered.
We have some great tips for you in How to Choose the Best Products to Sell or Drop Ship Online in Canada.
How to Add an Affiliate Link to Your Website
When you sign up for an affiliate program, either directly with the advertiser or through an affiliate network, you’ll be assigned a special tracking number or name. That tracking ID will be part of a special URL link.
Most merchants provide you with more than one type of link to choose from. The most common are text links and banners (display ads). Every website or blogging platform is different, but the basics are the same. You’ll either need to place the HTML code they provide into your post or website html, and/or use the platform’s tools to link text. Directions for how to add HTML and create text links should be included in the platform Help section. It sounds more difficult than it is. Once you’ve done it a couple of times you won’t give it a second thought.
I recommend using a link management plugin if any are available for your specific platform. It makes it easy to generate an attractive link, that can be easily changed throughout your website by updating it only once. WordPress has many options, both free (ThirstyAffiliates) and paid (PrettyLinks), depending on what features you require.
Less is more: Whether it’s text links, popups or flashing banner ads, you must resist the urge to plaster them everywhere. You will not make more money and will probably make less. Google hates it, your visitors hate it, and you’ll come to hate it too. Promote a limited number of products or services in each post. Text links are most effective. Banners should be used VERY sparingly. Most of today’s browsers block them anyway.
How to Increase Your Conversions (Sales)
- Promote products that you’ve used, love and know inside and out. Show readers how you’ve benefited from them and share any tips you’ve learned. Demonstrate the product on a webinar or in a video, if you’re so inclined. Familiarity is comforting, even if the reader is only living vicariously through you initially.
- Even if you’re not demonstrating the product personally, consider making a video, webinar or podcast featuring it.
- Offer a related bonus, such as an exclusive discount/rebate, digital product or coaching session.
- Deep linking allows you to choose any page on an advertiser’s website to promote, then create a custom link with your affiliate ID. It’s a critical option for linking directly to a certain product, but it has uses beyond that. For example, if the merchant’s platform offers deep linking, drive traffic to their content (such as a blog post). You’ll send people to their site by sharing a quality resource and receive commissions for anything they buy. The merchant’s content is designed to convert and you can use it to your advantage.
- You CAN promote products that your expertise allows you to evaluate without actually using the item. For example, if you’re an expert at appliance repair you can easily review toaster features and specs to determine which models are best. An accountant could easily select the best accounting software for small businesses, without trying them all. You don’t have to actually use a product to recommend it, but you should be qualified to make that recommendation.
- Up-sell and cross-sell related products.
- Watch for exceptional deals being offered by merchants and share them with your followers.
- Regularly check for broken links.
Successful affiliate marketing demands a lot of effort overall, but much of it becomes quite passive eventually. There really isn’t much of a learning curve and it’s easy to learn what you do need to know. Once you’ve established an engaged following, both on your website and in newsletter subscribers, it will become easier to earn more.
Traffic is Key
With few exceptions, the more accurately-targeted traffic you have, the more money you’ll make. Traffic volume is important, but it will only benefit you if the people who visit your website get what they were looking for. They’re most likely to click on your affiliate links too. You could end up making more money than a website that has twice as much traffic as you, but isn’t attracting their ideal audience.
The most important considerations in converting traffic to sales are:
A) Focusing your marketing strictly on your niche to attract your ideal buyer.
B) Bringing that ideal buyer to your website.
C) Bringing that ideal buyer BACK to your website.
Beyond that, high-quality, engaging content and trust are keys to increasing your bottom line. It’s just that easy and just that hard.
Most advertisers have rules against affiliates advertising with search engines like Google. Consequently, we rely heavily on organic search engine optimization (SEO).
Start your organic traffic plan from day one:
- Incorporate Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for organic traffic. Organic traffic is sent by search engines through free search engine results or from other free traffic sources, such as social media.
- Set up business social media accounts on the networks used most by your target market and start to build a following.
- Use images/infographics/memes to encourage social media sharing.
- Build legitimate backlinks (inbound links) to increase your search engine rank.
- Post high-quality, engaging content as frequently as you can.
- Join online communities that attract your ideal target market (check their rules about promotion).
- Consider starting your own group
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) starts with keyword research, which is much easier with keyword research and competitive intelligence tools. Once you identify your top keywords and phrases, you can start working them (lightly) into your content. “Keyword stuffing” will have the opposite effect, so make sure you only use keywords and phrases where they fit naturally, without making the post annoying or awkward to read.
Your job doesn’t stop with publishing a website and generating traffic, however, you’ll need to track, analyze and adjust your strategy based on the data generated. The sooner you start tracking and testing, the sooner and faster your sales and traffic will grow. Use the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools that come with your information management or eCommerce platform, and set up Google Analytics. Track important social media data using tools like Canada’s Hootsuite.
From advertising to organic SEO, testing and tracking are a big part of success for super-affiliates. Test your content, keywords, advertising, and the success of the affiliate programs you’re promoting. You can gather relevant data from your advertisers or affiliate networks, Google Analytics, and social media. If an affiliate offer you’re promoting isn’t converting, drop it and try another one.
With practice, you’ll pick more and more winners that will make money for you right out of the gate. Software and services have been developed to make this easier for you. My favourite is the Click Magick affiliate management system, which allows me to track and optimize all of my affiliate marketing in one place and generate more revenue.
You can establish your expertise and build your brand by producing your own information products, which can also produce traffic to your website and your affiliate programs and grow your email list.
Don’t be shy about contacting the program affiliate manager about samples for you to review or products to give away. They won’t always work with you in this manner, but if you have some enticing traffic and a high-quality website they just might. If not, you may want to consider purchasing the product and building your own giveaway around it, using your affiliate link. It should be something that is especially suitable for your target market so you can bring in traffic and make sales.
Affiliate Marketing on Social Media
You can directly promote your affiliated merchants on some social media networks. However, make sure you’re in compliance with Canadian laws and the rules of individual networks. For starters, full disclosure is required in each post you make that promotes your affiliate partners. Most affiliate marketers use hashtags in their post disclosure, such as #ad or #affiliate.
Personally, I prefer to use social media to build traffic to the content, where I promote our partners. It brings more traffic to my site where I can, ideally, convert more offers. I can do the same thing by directing them to my email list or start them through a sales funnel. It allows me to control the process and further leverage an engaged visitor. It eliminates the risk being kicked off social networks. I promote the occasional affiliate offer directly on social media, but it has to be something special and relevant.
You’ll have to join each network and build a following. Don’t be tempted to buy followers or use other tricks. If your audience isn’t natural and engaged, you won’t generate sales. Publish engaging posts that aren’t too “salesy” for the best results, and tailor the message for each network when applicable.
Of course, you’ll also be promoting your website content and email list on your social media accounts, and vice-versa.
Read How to Become an Online Influencer in Canada and Beyond to learn more about working with brands on social media.
Affiliate Marketing Via Email
You may have heard successful online marketers proclaim, “the money is in the list.” There’s a few reasons for that.
- Your email list won’t disappear like social networks can.
- You can provide value to subscribers, establish your expertise and build trust.
- Your emails bring visitors and buyers back to your website.
- Provides another platform for promoting affiliate offers. Note that Amazon.ca prohibits the use of their affiliate links in emails.
- You can have news and new offers in front of subscribers instantly.
- It’s a key component to a successful sales funnel.
- You can use “auto-responders” to take subscribers through any process, from a designated set of emails for new subscribers to email courses.
- Emails can be forwarded by subscribers to their friends, family or colleagues.
Try to find newsletter software (email platform or campaign management software) that’s especially-suited for affiliate marketing (such as Constant Contact or Aweber). They can save you a lot of time and spare you many headaches.
Once you have your email platform up & running, add sign-up forms to your website or blog. They should be easy to find and simple to fill out. All you really need is an email address. Place the sign-up form in highly-visible areas and/or use a plugin to have the form pop up at a specific point in a visitor’s journey.
I don’t recommend the big, in-your-face popups that everyone despises. Some information suggests this type of popup increases subscriber rates, but at what cost? Of all the moods I want you to be in when you arrive on my website, “annoyed” isn’t one of them. That’s why I’ve never used any type of popup on my websites. They’re tacky and they interfere with the user experience to a point of irritation and frustration. Additionally, most browsers now block popups and Google isn’t fond of them either, especially for mobile devices.
Add a sign-up form to highly visible areas instead, such as within each post (there are plugins that will do that for you too). Post forms are the most likely to be seen by mobile users. Be clear and concise about how the visitor will benefit from signing up, focusing on what would appeal to your ideal target market.
Use your sign-up link anywhere, including your social media profiles, guest post bio, and so on.
You can (and should) promote your ‘newsletter’ as a separate entity, which is easily accomplished by building a landing page (also known as a “squeeze” or lead page) on your website. Many marketers offer a freebie of some sort to encourage sign-ups and push subscribers into a sales funnel or other series of auto-responders. There are tools and templates available for the easy design of landing pages that convert well, such as the popular Shortstack. These tools are specifically designed to be user-friendly, even if you’re a beginner.
If your niche attracts more than one distinct group of visitors, consider having multiple email lists with landing pages designed for each. For example, you could have one list for consumers and one list for businesses, or one list for general health and one for physical fitness enthusiasts. Don’t go crazy and create dozens of email lists or you’ll spend all of your time on emails, but breaking down your niche can be worthwhile when indicated. It allows you to better engage subscribers and push appropriate offers that are more likely to convert.
This is where many “gurus” will tell you to send an email to your list daily (or even more often). I don’t recommend that. There are some niches where this works well, but most people don’t want email that often. You’ll lose subscribers or your open rate will suffer. A couple of times/week is the upper limit for the vast majority of subscribers, unless they signed up for more.
Remember to comply with Canadian anti-spam legislation (CASL), along with the laws of any other countries your target audience lives in. Basically, you need to make sure your list management software can be set to “double opt-in”. That means the person signs up and then has to confirm the subscription from their email. Doing so will protect you in the event that someone accuses you of spamming them. Never add people to your list without their permission.
Manage your finances from day one. It’s critical in order to become and remain profitable. Plus, it will save you money and spare you from headaches at tax time. User-friendly accounting software is worth its weight in gold, such as the popular TurboTax Canada.
Next, outline your budget and determine exactly how much you need to earn in order to be profitable and pay the bills. Remember to track expenses, and set aside part of your commissions for marketing.
How much money will you make?
There are too many variables to answer this question, but I can tell you what will result in you making the most money from affiliate marketing in Canada.
- WORK & a manageable work schedule
- Product selection & market demand
- Trust & influence
Hire people to help with the workload if you can, or partner with someone. Content creation and marketing are common jobs that super-affiliates outsource to a Virtual Assistant (VA) or other contractor. A partner who has skills that compliment yours is ideal.
Is Affiliate Marketing Legal in Canada?
Absolutely! There are laws and guidelines that apply to affiliate marketing in Canada, but it is a 100 percent legitimate way to earn money and it’s a legal business. Using paid promotional links of any kind comes with the same disclosure obligations as sponsored “influencer” content, however, and Google has some rules too.
The Competition Bureau of Canada has strict requirements for posting reviews and opinions on social media. In the U.S., the Competition Bureau’s counterpart is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If your readers are in the US, you must comply with FTC guidelines. If your readers are outside of North America, you’ll have to research each country’s laws to ensure you’re in compliance.
For Google search compliance, all sponsored or affiliate links must be HTML tagged rel=”nofollow” to let Google know they should not count the link as natural (not compensated).
Keep Your Finger on the Pulse
Affiliate marketing has evolved along with online marketing in general. The same old strategies that worked well back in the day, need to be updated to work with today’s online shopper. You’ll need to follow digital marketing in general to keep up, then adjust what you’ve learned so it applies to affiliate marketing. That’s what will help you be successful and put you ahead of your competitors.
Now Go Forth and Prosper
Affiliate marketing is one of the most lucrative home-based businesses in Canada for those who do it well, and there’s very little risk involved or investment required. Sweat equity is definitely a necessity, but the growing results from your effort will keep you motivated. Now that you know how to start affiliate marketing in Canada, you’re one step closer to making money online.
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