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3 Types of Affiliate Marketing Explained—and The One I Profit From

3 Types of Affiliate Marketing Explained—and The One I Profit From

Affiliate marketing is a large part of the Smart Passive Income business. I'm here to share the three types of affiliate marketing t have worked for me the best.

Pat Flynn
3 Types of Affiliate Marketing Explained—and The One I Profit From

Update (February 2016): Hey guys! In November 2015, I did something here on SPI called Affiliate Marketing Month. During this time, I wrote a bunch of posts that might be really helpful to you as you explore the world of affiliate marketing.

Those posts are:

I hope you enjoy!


In my latest monthly income report, you may have noticed that my affiliate income had surpassed my direct income from the electronic products that I sell online. I received a lot of comments, asking me to explain more about where my affiliate income comes from and how it works.

Instead of just breaking down where it all came from—how much this and how much that—I decided to turn this post into something a little bit more useful that would do more than just tell you how much I earned. Again, I’m not here to show you the money I make online, I’m here to show you how I make money online, and what I’ve learned along the way.

When thinking specifically about affiliate income, I determined that I could divide how people earn money as an affiliate into three primary categories: Unattached, Related, and Involved. These terms represent how we are associated with the product or products we may be an affiliate for.

Unattached Affiliate Marketing

These are your basic pay-per-click affiliate marketing campaigns where you have no presence and no authority in the niche of the product you’re promoting. There’s no connection between you and the end consumer, and all you’re doing is putting an affiliate link in front of someone via Google Adwords, Facebook ads, etc. in the hopes that they’ll click on your link, buy the product, and earn a commission.

The reason why this type of affiliate marketing is so attractive to many is because no presence or authority is needed! It takes time to build up a reputation and trust with certain groups of people online, and many people are just too scared to commit to working on a blog or website, or just don’t have the time. For many, this is their only option.

Personally, I don’t like this business model because to me, this is not a business model. It’s an income generating model, yes, but is it a business model where I can build relationships with the end user? No. With PPC affiliate marketing, you become a behind-the-scenes middle man.

And that’s not for me.

If you dabble in PPC affiliate marketing and it’s working for you, I applaud you and wish you continued success. It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds, so props to those of you finding success with it.

Related Affiliate Marketing

Another form of affiliate marketing is what I like to call related affiliate marketing. This is where you have some sort of presence online, whether it’s through a blog, a podcast, videos, or whatever—and you have affiliate links to products related to your niche, but they’re for products you don’t actually use.

Back when text link ads were a big deal, I remember seeing every single “make money online” website with a 125 x 125 pixel advertisement for text link ads. Most of these sites did not actually use the text link ad service on their own sites. On many personal finance blogs, you’ll see a lot of different affiliate advertisements for things like ING, Everbank, LendingClub, and numerous other financial institutions.

I doubt that every person who places one of those links on their blog actually uses each of those products and services. And that’s okay. Placing affiliate links on your site that are related to your niche is a great strategy to earn extra income. Whether it’s in the sidebar in banner form, or in a text link at the bottom of your blog post, because you have a website and some authority, people will trust you and your decision to place the ad on your site.

In my early days, I used to have a few of these links scattered throughout SPI—for example, an ad for a “How to Make an iPhone App” product. Many of you know I do have a few iPhone apps that generate an income for me each month, but I did not use this product. I do, however, personally know the owner, which is why I trust him and decided to place that ad there at the time.

Related affiliate marketing is great, but I can tell you that 95 percent of my affiliate marketing comes from the last type of affiliate marketing I’d like to talk about:

Involved Affiliate Marketing

Involved affiliate marketing is where you’ve used a product or service, truly believe in it, and personally recommend it to your audience. Not in a banner ad or somewhere that says “recommended resources,” but within your content, as part of your life and strategy for whatever it is you’re talking about. The product almost becomes something people “have to have,” because it’s part of the process.

It’s your involvement and experience with the product that makes that offer so attractive.

There is, however, a level of responsibility that you have to uphold while making these kinds of recommendations, especially if you have a lot of authority and influence over your followers. This is something I take very seriously. If it were up to me, this is the only way affiliate marketing would be done, because to me it’s the most honest and most helpful.

This is the complete opposite of PPC, where you’re not even seen by the consumer in order for the transaction to take place. Instead, this is you talking directly to those who may need a product that you’re offering, who have their ears and eyes on you. This is not using your money in order to make money, like with PPC. It’s using your reputation, trust, and authority in order to get others to take your recommendation, use it and pay you something in return in the form of a commission.

My Affiliate Income

Last month, I made $5,023.33 in affiliate sales, and like I said, about 95 percent of that came from offering products I’ve used and put my word behind.

Most of it comes from my LEED website. I do sell my own study guides, as you know, but I am also an affiliate for a company who sells practice exams as well. I thought about creating practice exams of my own, but this company is so good at what they do (I used their practice exams to help me pass my test back in March 2008), that it wouldn’t be fair to my customers if I tried to take their money by creating my own practice exams and kept them from this wonderful resource.

So, instead of creating my own, I have a page on my blog that recommends these exams, and within my ebooks, I talk about how I didn’t include practice exams because the best ones are available from this company, which I’ve personally used to help me pass. Of course, I put an affiliate link within the ebook, which is something you can’t do with a hardcopy book (unless you buy a domain that redirects to an affiliate link, which you can mention in that hardcopy).

I even go into tips for taking practice exams within my ebook, but again—I don’t include them, but I offer the affiliate link to where you can get them. Taking practice exams is part of the process that many people feel is necessary to achieve a higher score, and I offer my recommendation through an affiliate link to fulfill that need.

On this blog, I’m sure you’ve seen me personally recommend the Internet Business Mastery Academy (full disclosure – I earn a commission if you purchase) before, and I do that because they helped my Internet business get to that next level when I was starting out. I’m still a member today, and I truly believe in the program. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]

So, to conclude, I would say that you can choose which kind of affiliate marketing works best for you—Unattached, Related, or Involved—but in my experience, using your authority and presence in a niche to recommend products that you’ve used and have benefited you in some way is the best way to go.

I think people will feel more comfortable investing in products recommended in this way because:

  1. They have some kind of proof that it works.
  2. They have a resource to go to for help.
  3. They know who to blame if it doesn’t work.

Be as involved as you can with the affiliate marketing process, and you’ll see success with your affiliate income.

Thanks everyone!


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