Back to Basics: Affiliate Marketing

What is affiliate marketing?

At its core, affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a publisher links to a merchant’s (the brand) products or services, and in return, the publisher receives a commission for referring that sale. For me, this is one of the simplest concepts in business, let alone marketing, i.e. you’re trading a successful sale for a fee.

As it stands, we have:

  • The Merchant (aka Client or Brand)

  • The Publisher (aka Affiliate)

In order to track and manage payments, we need a third party, which in this case is the affiliate network. For simplicity, my reference to an affiliate network is for both a managed network (Awin, CJ, Webgains etc.) and Software as a Service (SaaS) providers (Performance Horizon, Impact Radius).

  • Affiliate Network’s sit between the Merchant and the Publisher, and help facilitate the relationships, track sales, and manage payments.

  • The Merchant (aka Client, Brand)

  • Affiliate Network

  • The Publisher (aka Affiliate)

As an agency, we manage all the relationships and oversee all the activity.

Tracking and the User Journey

The user journey remains simple. Let’s use a sunglasses company as an example:

A user is on a blog reading about the timeless style of the Aviator and decides to purchase. The user clicks through a link (be it a banner or a text link) and gets directed to the sunglasses site where they go on to complete the purchase. As a result, the customer receives their new Aviator sunglasses, loves and decides to wear them for their upcoming beach holiday. As the sale was completed, and not returned, the blog receives commission on the sale. The key part for marketers happens seamlessly between blog and the sunglasses website.

The owner of the blog already has a relationship, through the affiliate network, with the sunglasses brand and have decided that they want to promote the  product on their site. The publisher or blog owner then takes a unique URL from the network and places this onsite. When the user clicks through the link, a cookie gets dropped by the network (to track the sale), and the user is redirected to the destination URL, which in this instance is the sunglasses website.

Of course, there is much more to the tracking and tagging of sites for monitoring sales but for the sake of keeping this simple, we’ll dig in to that in another future post.


  • Three key players (Merchant, Network, Publisher) and a fourth for added management, which is the Agency

  • Simple unaffected user journey

  • Publishers earn commission on completed and validated sales