A beginner's guide to affiliate schemes

If you're looking to make money out of your blog, affiliate schemes are probably not the way to go about it. The amount you may earn is very small, although it can help bring in some pocket money and takes very little effort. I've been using affiliate links for a few months now, but really focusing on them over the past few weeks, and have used what I've learned to write this post:

Affiliates for dummies


Affiliate schemes are, in the simplest terms, platforms to earn commission. Let's say you find a dress you love in Topshop. Using the Topshop affiliate scheme (it's on Affiliate Window, for future reference), you paste the dress URL into a form and it generates a special link- an affiliate link- that is unique to you. Add this link to a blog post about the dress as you usually would and it tracks any clicks through. If somebody clicks on your unique link and then buys anything from Topshop within a certain period of time, you get a percentage of that sale. In other words- If someone buys something from a shop you recommend, you get a cut. Happy days!


Some people get confused about affiliate schemes because there are so many confusing terms thrown around. Cookies and validation and returns... It all gets a bit overwhelming! So consider this your affiliate dictionary:

Cookie Window: The cookie window, sometimes called cookie period, is the period of time that your affiliate link is valid for. The Topshop cookie window is 30 days. This means if somebody buys something from Topshop within 30 days of clicking your link, you get a percentage. If they buy something after that period, whether they clicked through your link or not, you won't get a cut. Some brands, like Amazon, have really short cookie windows (24 hours!), whereas others have much longer ones so it's worth checking when you sign up.

Percentage: A lot of the time, a brand will just state something like "8% for new customers" or "10% for electrical goods", without explaining what this percentage actually is. It's simply the amount you will earn from each sale. With Topshop, you earn 8% if it's a new customer, and 6% for existing customers. If the dress if £50 and somebody who has never ordered from Topshop before buys it, you'll earn back £3 (See what I mean about not earning much?). Again, percentages vary wildly from brand to brand so make sure you check them before signing up. The percentage may also be called commission structure

Approval Rate: Not all sales will be valid. Some brands will have conditions applied. For example, with department stores such as House of Fraser, they state that sales of MAC products are not valid, as MAC haven't agreed to be part of the affiliate scheme. If someone clicked through a link to House of Fraser and then bought a MAC lipstick, this sale would be discounted. Another example is that they need to check the item was not returned, otherwise you could just get your friends to buy loads of stuff and send it back. If the Topshop dress was returned by the buyer, you wouldn't earn that commission. The approval rate is the percentage of sales that were valid. Brands with a high approval rate are best for bloggers, as it means the traffic you drive is more likely to be valid and, therefore, earn you money. 

Conversion Rate: This isn't something you need to know but it's an interesting statistic- the conversion rate is the percentage of people who bought something after clicking on links to that site. Example: The Topshop conversion rate is 0.74% which means that out of all the people who have ever clicked on a Topshop affiliate link, 0.74% have bought something. On the other hand, Topman has a 3.42% conversion rate so is, in theory, more likely to earn money. 

Validation Period: As I explained with the approval rate, the brands need to validate sales before you can earn commission from them. The time it takes to check sales is called the validation period. After your hypothetical reader bought your Topshop dress, it would take them 68 days to confirm the sale and for the funds to reach your affilate account.

Payout/ Payment Threshold: The amount of money you need to earn before the money is sent to you. This varies from scheme to scheme, but is usually around £20- £50.


Usually the scheme will have a form where you can paste in the URL and it generates a unique link that you can insert into your posts as usual. Other schemes, such as Amazon, will create an HTML code that you insert into your post. If you prefer to use other methods, most brands will have banners of varying sizes that you can insert into your sidebar and work in the same way as a link- you will earn commission on any sales created as a result of a buyer clicking on the ad. 


Matt Cutts, head of Google's spam team, has said that Google will usually deal with affiliate links automatically so you don't have to no-follow them. However, since it won't hurt your site at all, it's worth marking them as no-follow just to be safe.


Each scheme works differently but most of them will have a payout threshold. After the validation period is complete, the money will be sent to your account but it will sit there until you earn the threshold. After that, you'll usually be paid monthly- or sometimes fortnightly- by bank account transfer. Some schemes have other payment methods, such as PayPal, but, again, it varies from platform to platform.


Most brands are found on an affiliate scheme such as Affiliate Window, LinkShare or RewardStyle. (I can fully recommend the first two- Affiliate Window requires a £5 deposit that is paid back to you on your first payout. RewardStyle has been validating my account for weeks now so I can't testify to that one!) Others, such as eBay and Amazon, have their own scheme. If there is a particular brand you want to sign up with, Google "[brand] affiliate" and it will usually bring up a result. Unfortunately some brands aren't part of any affiliate scheme. I'm pretty sure I'd be a millionaire if Lush did one! 


If you're featuring a specific item, like our Topshop dress example, you obviously don't have a choice and this makes things nice and easy. However, if your items is available from several retailers, it gets a bit more tricky as you need to decide which brand will be most beneficial (well, you don't need to, of course, but you may want to). In this case, I recommend using the site that is used most frequently. For example, I always use Amazon for my book links. It might have a shockingly short cookie window, but it's used so frequently that I've still earned a bit from it. 

If there are several options, and no obvious forerunner, you may prefer to choose the one with the highest percentage and longest cookie window. Of course, this is personal choice and it's worth considering the validation rate too, to make sure you're likely to receive commission from the sales you bring in. 

There are so many different affiliate schemes that it can be confusing trying to decide which to use. In a couple of weeks, I'll have a round up of the best schemes for bloggers, along with the pros and cons of each, so look out for that! 


Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Laws and guidelines around disclosures are so murky in the UK that it's always worth disclosing everything, just to be safe. A little line at the bottom of your post to explain you've used affiliate links should be enough (as always, I'm not a lawyer so don't quote me on this!) I'm personally not a fan of the generic "This post may contain some affiliate links" signature whacked on the bottom of every single post. It doesn't take 5 seconds to add a disclaimer at the bottom of the posts where you have used them (see the bottom of this post for an example). On social media, it gets a little more tricky, but a comment or additional tweet to let your followers know you've used an affiliate is transparent and honest. Your readers aren't stupid- They know when you've used an affiliate and most won't mind (some will, admittedly) as long as you're honest about it. 


Phew! I think- think- I've covered everything but I'm willing to bet I've missed something out! If you have any questions, let me know in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter (link below). Remember I'll have a post comparing the different affiliate schemes soon so keep an eye out!

Affiliate links have been used in this post. (There's that disclaimer I talked about. Wasn't so hard, right?)

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  1. This was really helpful, I now understand affiliate links! Thanks Becky :)
    Liv x

  2. Should affiliate links be no follow? This confuses me!

    1. Thank you for asking this- I knew I'd forgotten something! Basically, Google have said that they can usually spot affiliate links and deal with them appropriately automatically, so although don't *have* to no-follow them but it's worth doing just in case. I've updated the post with more information :)

  3. Oh my. I thougt google adsense was scary but now i realise that affilates are even whorse. Good thing then that I don't have to worry abut it right now at least.
    Thanks for this really informative post. It might come in handy in the future. /love Ida

  4. This is a really useful post! I've never used any affiliate links yet, but have been looking into it. At the moment I think I'll skip them, but its great to have all the info! x

    NINEGRANDSTUDENT: A Student Lifestyle Blog

  5. Such a handy post, Becky! Hopefully I can get round to using these one day x

    Martha Jane |

  6. Super helpful post. I've been registered with Affiliate Window for some time now but I wasn't sure of how it worked so I just kept going in circles without having a clue of what I was doing. Thanks for sharing <3

  7. Your guides are always so helpful! Really interesting to read, thanks!

  8. I was recently reading through Twitters spamming rules when I'm was trying to work out how to report somebody for offensive tweets and discovered that it's actually against Twitters rules to use affiliate links within a tweet. I was quite surprised by this as I've used them in tweets before. I was also surprised to find out things like following and unfollowing repeatedly are also against their rules, rather than just annoying! x

    Becky @ The Little Blog of Beauty

  9. amazing post! Well done for explaining everything in such an easy way, I am a total newbie in the blogging world and this is super easy to understand!
    I still have one question though, I don't really get the UNFOLLOW thing(I saw the previous comment and followed the link as well, for the article), but still don't get it, if you could possibly explain that again, it would be very helpful!
    Thanks so much! x


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