AdvertisingAffiliate Marketing

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Affiliate Marketing

affiliate marketing beginners guide

This post is also available in: PT ES

Please mind that this material was posted on June, 23, 2020 and updated on June 23, 2023 for accuracy reasons.

How to start making money with affiliate marketing?

Whether you are planning affiliate marketing to become your side hustle or a major source of income, it’s crucial to know your basics.

Using our years of experience in affiliate marketing (we’ve been in the business for 12 years, after all), we’ve put together the ultimate list of tips and resources – articles, ebooks, webinars, etc. – all designed to equip you with the essential knowledge of how things really work.

So without further ado, buckle up and get ready to LEARN.

How do I earn in affiliate marketing?

In simple terms, affiliate marketing is about promoting third-party products/services in return for a commission. The more people you can refer to, the more money you can make.


So, as an affiliate, you are finding the best ways to promote the product (we’ll refer to it as a “CPA offer.” CPA means “Cost per action”), and that includes: finding the right message, banners (aka “Creatives”), making converting landing pages, testing traffic sources, and setting up the most effective user flow. And for all that work, you’re rewarded with money.

In return, this 3rd party (“Advertiser”) is able to cut his costs for lead acquisition: basically, advertisers simply provide affiliates with a list of requirements and then check the quality of the leads. Convenient? Absolutely!


Read also: How affiliates get paid

Is an affiliate’s life easy?

Affiliate marketing is one of the oldest forms of marketing, and despite its “respectable” age, to date, it remains extremely profitable…and challenging.

What I’m conveying here is: apart from the heavy competition in the market, there are other variables in the equation too, such as how “fresh” is the CPA offer, how suitable is the ad format and how converting traffic is. Is that it? Not even close; you need to test creatives, manage your budget, and keep an eye on trends.

All in all, you need to be prepared to survive in the market: know how the whole ecosystem works, and, more importantly, you need to be mentally prepared.

Step by step: How do you become an affiliate? 

Obviously, to become an affiliate, you need to have something to promote, be it a product or a service – what we’ll call a CPA Offer (CPA means “Cost per action”). Where to find these offers?

Time to read our complete guide to finding high-converting CPA offers, where we explain in-depth what CPA offers are, which types of CPA offers exist, how affiliate networks function, provide you with a list of the best CPA networks out there and, finally, clarify what the criteria of a great offer are. Also, we recommend reading about CPA offers aggregators.

Now that you know where to find the offers and how to choose the ones with the best conditions, let’s talk about Verticals. Verticals (also known as “offer categories”) are a niche or industry to which a particular offer belongs.

Some of the most popular verticals are Social (Dating), iGaming, Gaming, eCommerce, Utilities/Software, Sweepstakes, Finance, Mobile Content, etc.

According to our Analytics team, the best verticals for beginners are Utilities/Software, Sweepstakes, and Mobile Content. They are known for being no too competitive and relatively easy to promote.

Moving forward, you decided on the vertical and the offer, but you still have to select a CPA network and get approved in this CPA Network. How can that be done if you have little to no experience?

And the final part here is money. I bet it’s hard to surprise anyone with the fact that you should have a certain amount of money for initial investments. But what kind of sums are we talking about?

Your toolkit 

To succeed in affiliate marketing, you need to have the right tools. Over the years, we reviewed dozens of instruments and made an all-encompassing list of them, so you can skip the trial-and-error process.

Here are the basic instruments:

Within PropellerAds, we also have some handy tools, which we recommend using. You can check them out here:


Launching your first campaign

If you’re looking for a quick dive into our platform, we suggest checking this short onboarding video-tour, where we’ll cover some basics.

Getting into more detail, let’s move to the ad formats. You may start with these ultimate video guides for all formats.

What Ad Format to choose? 


First, let’s review the ad formats you can play around with in PropellerAds:

Ad FormatShort Info
Push NotificationsOne of our top formats, Push notification, is a short alert message with an icon that appears in your client’s browser or a mobile device.

You can find all the materials dedicated to this format here. Besides that, you can check this detailed guide on Push notifications and this FAQ!
Push Badges: CTR-boosting feature in action
– How Not To Screw Up Launching Push Campaigns: Part I (Setup)
– How Not To Screw Up Launching Push Campaigns: Part II (Optimization)
In-Page PushIn-Page Push is a traffic type, similar to traditional Push Notifications, albeit allowing you to target iOS and appearing on a webpage.

Here are some useful articles about this traffic type:
Detailed FAQ on In-Page Push
– How the In-Page Push Format Developed in a Year
How In-Page Push Skins Boost Performance
– What is In-Page page Push
In-Page Push Tricks to Use in 2024
Onclick/PopunderOnclick ads (appear under the browser window) provide massive reach at the lowest cost. You can get guaranteed visits and generate fast conversions.

Articles to read about Popunder:
Burning Questions: Popunder FAQ
– Webinar: How to Convert Popunder Traffic Like a Pro        
– The Beginner’s Guide to Running Popunder Campaigns in 2021
Probably More than You Want to Know About Popunder: Questions Answered
InterstitialsInterstitials are full-screen ads that offer great CTR and extremely customizable look. We recommend reading about interstitial animated templates. Plus:
– Templates for Your Interstitial Ads to Make Them Even More Clickable
Survey ExitThis exclusive format gives you access to the most engaged users ever: they are redirected to your offer page right after they finish a survey on the same or similar topic.
Here we explained it in more detail:
How does Survey Exit work?
Top offers and verticals for Survey Exit + Case Study
What to choose: Survey Exit vs Push vs Onclick

Do I need to use tracking?    

Glad you asked! Measuring your results is an absolute must – it allows you to spend your money effectively. And you should start with this video-guide to S2S tracking and check this article to avoid common tracking mistakes.

As with everything in affiliate marketing, you need to approach this issue in a systematic manner. If you’re a complete newbie, the PropellerAds internal tracker will be more than enough – it has full functionality, including the viewability pixel.

We suggest reading our Complete Introduction to Conversion Tracking which covers the most general terms such as conversion rate and conversion, as well as a comparison of conversion tracking types and tips on how to optimize your campaigns based on your conversion rate.


What if the number of clicks, impressions, and conversions that you see on different platforms varies?

This phenomenon is called Discrepancy, and here’s thorough research on what it is, what discrepancy is considered to be normal, and some recommendations from our tech team. Discrepancy: Where Does It Come From And What to Do About It? [+EXPERIMENT]


Money: How to set the bid and not overspend?

The crucial thing to bear in mind is that your affiliate business must be profitable; therefore, managing your finance comes to center stage. First of all, consider using CPA Goal pricing model for automated budget management and read more articles on this topic:


How to target the right audience?

Targeting is not as straightforward a process as most of us would like it to be; in fact, it’s somewhere near being an art. We have spent a great deal of our time preparing guides on how to become a targeting guru and reach the right audience every time.

The very first tool for precise targeting to consider definitely is Demographics and Interests Targeting.

Here’s an exhaustive list of topics we’ve researched over the years:


Timing: When should you launch campaigns?

Clearly, you can run campaigns at any time you like, but considering timing is a much more sensible approach.

Let’s start with our big and super-profound article on ad frequency and scheduling:

How to Manage Your Ad Frequency and Ad Schedule? Learn why you should manage ad frequency, how to monitor the effectiveness of your ad formats, and gauge the traffic quality. Besides that, we discuss what days of the week you can target and how to analyze the stats.

Okay, we also talked about seasonality. Why should you care? As well as helping you identify the best creative, paying attention to the time of year will also tell you whether the offers you’re promoting are actually converting.

Planning for Success: It’s All About Seasonality for Affiliates – how does seasonality affect various verticals, GEOs, and finally, many-many examples.

But what about special events? The Subtle Art of Event Targeting [+Real Case] – we’ll take a look at the subtle art of event targeting, give you tips on how to take advantage of it, and share a real success story from one of our affiliates.

Plus, check this sports digest, where you will find numerous materials to guide you through event-targeting specifics.

Another aspect we should discuss is running campaigns on weekends. Rumour has it that weekends can be profitable too. Is it so?


What are the best ways to test my affiliate marketing campaigns?

Before you move further with optimization, you need to have reliable data on how your campaigns are performing. That’s where testing comes in handy. It may sound like campaign testing is a super sophisticated process, not so much beginner-friendly.

So what to test and how to test?

Start by testing your CPA offer, because if the offer is a no-go, you have no chance of success. And yes, testing is not something you do only once, so you will also need retesting to find the way to constant improvement.

We’ve asked professional affiliates (who actually make a living from affiliate marketing) how they test CPA offers. Seriously, how do you know it’s not going to work?

Certainly, there are pitfalls. Ha-ha, you didn’t think every test goes smooth as butter, right? Here you go, the biggest mistakes you should avoid while testing CPA offers:

Everything you should avoid and/or keep an eye on. The good part, these mistakes are not that many. Check out the BIGGEST mistakes and ways not to fail your campaign based on real affiliate marketing cases.

Okay, we are done with testing the offer. Finally, right? Time to A/B test the angles, approaches = ads. Check out the basic principles of A/B testing:

For all those Push fans out there, we’ve also compiled a guide on testing Push creatives:

Our affiliate expert is back to share his expertise on the order in which he tests creatives. Read about his signature three-step approach, starting with the icon and moving through to the ad copy. How to Test Ad Creatives for Push Notifications         

How do you analyze and optimize campaigns?

Studying to analyze and optimize takes time, but you can speed up the process by learning from the leading affiliate experts.

Prior to optimizing, you should review your campaigns based on the data. Okay, but which data is important? If you open any tracker, you will see dashboards full of numbers. Frustrating!

Let’s carry on with optimization. We suggest two possible strategies: one is suitable for beginners, the other one will work for more seasoned affiliates.

2 Campaign Optimization Strategies: What Route is Best for You? We’ll go over two different campaign optimization techniques that can help you improve the performance of your ad and create a better experience for your audience.        

Additionally, you can go through these topics:

And read these case studies on careful testing and optimization:

Which creatives convert?

You don’t have to be a world-famous artist or a connoisseur of the human mind to design high-converting ads. What if I tell you that you don’t even have to know Photoshop?

At the heart of any great affiliate campaign is an understanding of people’s problems. If you get it right, you have a real chance of making good money.

Now we need to find images, and it would be great if those images were free, right? We’ve carefully selected free stock images that look ‘real’. Remember that although your images need to be high quality, they still need to look realistic. Have a look at these stocks: Where to find FREE images?

You’ve selected the images that you consider would do the job, let’s double check that: 5 Tips on How to Make Your Ad Banners More Clickable.

Time to work on your ad copy. Here are some articles that might help:

Also, keep in mind to optimize your creatives for various devices, so they look great on both mobile and desktop: How to Optimize Landing Pages for Mobile.    

What’s the psychology behind creatives?

Finally, we can talk about psychology and tricks that experienced marketers use to boost their conversion rate.

The anchoring effect
Image source

Guides to affiliate marketing verticals

Now let’s switch to more specific materials. We’ve prepared guides for the majority of the popular affiliate verticals: from choosing a CPA offer to crafting creatives. Enjoy!

VerticalUseful links
iGamingHow to Make Your iGaming Creatives Strike
Masters of iGaming [Interview with Jon, a Professional Media Buyer]
Propeller On Air #8: How to champion iGaming campaigns this summer? [Live Podcast]
Advertising During the Champions League Final 2022-23: Statistics and Insights

From the archive:

Sports Campaigns Full Digest: Affiliates Wealth of Knowledge
World Cup Jackpot: A Guide to Betting Offers for Affiliates
The Complete eSports Betting Guide for Affiliates: Basics, Tips, and GEOs
[Stats] Super Bowl Campaigns: What works & What doesn’t
[FREE PDF] An Advertiser’s Guide to iGaming Offers
[FREE Webinar] Event Targeting Master Plan for Sports Betting
DatingSummer Rush: Choosing a Perfect Dating Offer
[FREE PDF] An Advertiser’s Guide to Dating Campaigns
[WEBINAR] Creative Strategies for Dating Offers: Perfect Match Found!
– [Podcast] Propeller On Air #6: Dating Campaigns for Alpha Affiliates
Dating Webinar: Get Your Answers
Dating case studies
Finance & CryptoWhat’s Happening to Finance Vertical in 2022? [Stats, GEOs, Creatives]
[FREE PDF] An Advertiser’s Guide to Financial Offers
4 Don’ts When Promoting Trading Offers with Push Notifications
Financial case studies
What Is an ICO and How to Promote it with Paid Traffic?
GamingHack This Game: How to Work with Gaming Offers?
Affiliate Insider: 3 Steps to Finding a Superb Gaming Offer   
The Power of Psychology: How to Craft Gaming Creatives that Work 
NutraNutra Success: How to Choose a Health & Beauty Offer
Nutra Pre-Landers: Sure-Fire Ways to Convert 
[FREE PDF]An Advertiser’s Guide to Nutra Offers
[Webinar] How to Run Nutra Campaigns with Native Ads?
Nutra case studies
SweepstakesSweepstakes Offer + ProPush Tag: An Easy Way to Get Extra 30% to Your Profit [Case Study]
How to Choose a Sweepstake Offer: The Complete Checklist
Sweepstakes: How To Profit From People’s Love For Free Stuff
[FREE Webinar] Sweepstakes: How to win with this vertical
[FREE PDF] An Advertiser’s Guide to Sweepstake Offers
Online Sweepstakes: Keeping Your Promotions Legal
Sweepstake case studies
Video and Streaming
How to Tame the Streaming & Video-on-Demand Verticals?
eCommerceWhat’s Wrong with Your eCommerce Landing Page?
[FREE Webinar] eCommerce: How to Earn BIG with Holiday Season
Seasonal Advertising 101: Optimizing Your Campaign for Easter eCommerce Success

+ Good reads 

What should you read and watch to keep up with all the trends in affiliate marketing? It’s great if you want to develop your skills.

One of the best ways to expand your knowledge is to absorb the wisdom of your fellow affiliates. For example, here are the Top 4 Affiliate Marketing Podcasts. Propeller Blog also runs podcasts (actually, cool one), where we invite super-affiliates and let them reveal their secrets – PropellerOnAir – affiliate marketing podcast.

Next, it’s always good to read about what’s happening with the world of affiliate marketing – we have a dedicated section for that, called Ad Trends.

We also encourage you to read the posts by guest experts we invite from time to time.

The Final Challenge

Read everything? Well done, now you can test your knowledge with our affiliate marketing quiz. Not the easiest one, but you can do it!

Can You Crush This Affiliate Marketing Quiz?

Let’s keep in touch! Join our Telegram Chat that never sleeps!


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