Affiliate Email Marketing: Passive Income Through Personalization

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Phil Grossman

30 Sep, 2019

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When most people think of affiliate marketing, they think blogs, YouTube, and social media. However, there’s an often overlooked marketing channel that gets far less attention but is no less viable: email. 

Although email marketing is often overshadowed with social media marketing, it’s actually one of the most effective marketing channels around. In fact, every dollar you spend on email marketing will return you $38 on average — that’s a 3,800% ROI. What’s more: over 59% of all marketers said that email represented their biggest ROI, period. 

Putting one of the best ways to make passive income together with one of the most effective marketing channels is a winning combination. But figuring out how to take the first step and enter the affiliate marketing sphere can be a daunting prospect. 

To smooth the transition, we’ve put together this guide on affiliate email marketing. Here, we’ll go over how it works, who should try it, how to find products to market, and how to make your affiliate marketing emails as effective as possible. 

How does it work?

On the surface, affiliate marketing is very similar to conventional sales. Traditionally, a salesperson would work for a seller and earn a commission for each sale they make. Affiliate marketing works in much the same way but leverages the power of the Internet to operate on a larger scale.

Affiliate marketers attempt to make sales by grabbing organic search traffic or marketing to their pre-existing email lists, social media following, or other leads. If someone ends up making a purchase based on their marketing efforts, the affiliate gets a commission. 

While a traditional salesperson can only actively work on one sale at a time, an affiliate marketer can craft content that will stay online for years, passively generating thousands or millions of sales over its lifetime. Clearly, the potential is huge, and it’s estimated that 15% of all digital revenue comes from affiliate marketing alone. 

Affiliate email marketing is simply the application of this business model to email. Instead of focusing on making sales through organic search traffic or social media content, affiliate email marketers concentrate on using their email lists to market affiliate products to their audience. 

It’s important to note that not all affiliate marketing revenue is purely based on sales. Sometimes a company will pay an affiliate every time a lead clicks their link (cost per click) or every time someone completes a specific action like joining an email list (cost per lead), regardless of whether a purchase is ultimately made. 


Is affiliate marketing legal?

As long as you don’t violate any spam laws, affiliate marketing is 100% legal. Just ensure that everyone on your list has consented to receiving marketing materials, has the ability to opt-out, and can clearly identify your emails as ads. If you follow these rules, you shouldn’t run into any problems.

If you want a full list of current email marketing laws, read through our article on spam

That said, if you send out an email promoting an affiliate product, it’s generally a good idea to include a disclosure somewhere in the body of your email stating that you have an affiliate agreement with the brand. Many social media platforms like Instagram actually require you to clearly mark affiliate posts as advertisements. Doing so even when it’s not explicitly required (like in emails or on your website) helps to foster trust between you and your audience.

Related: How to Become a Paid Influencer through Affiliate Marketing on Instagram

Benefits of affiliate email marketing

Despite the rise of social media and SEO marketing, email remains one of the most effective ways to reach your audience. In fact, 99% of consumers check their email every single day, and 50% of participants in a survey on US consumer habits reported that they check their inboxes more than ten times a day. That’s a lot of opportunities to make a sale. 

Email gives you direct and personalized access to your audience, and 59% of respondents to a recent survey noted that email marketing influences their purchasing decisions. A good affiliate email campaign can not only efficiently get a product in front of your audience, but it can also effectively push them to make a purchase.

Who should try it?

Although affiliate marketing is hot these days, not every business should invest time or money into it. Affiliate marketing is best suited to influencers and businesses focused on forming personal connections. 

Part of the reason affiliate marketing works so well is because people are more likely to pay attention to recommendations made by personalities they trust and respect. If you’re a huge Kanye fan, having Yeezy himself send you an email saying he only uses Old Spice body wash will have you ditching your bar soap in a second. Disclaimer: we don’t actually have any insider access to Kanye’s showering routine. Our guess is as good as yours.

However, not all businesses have that personal touch, and in many cases that’s ok, it just means they shouldn’t be engaging in affiliate marketing. If Joe, the owner of your local used car dealership, sent you a similar email saying how much he likes to shower with Old Spice body wash, you’d probably be creeped out, and you’d likely unsubscribe. 

That said, even if your business isn’t in the influencer space, there may be opportunities to make some extra revenue from affiliate marketing. Any brand that thrives off a casual and personal connection can usually make it work, you just have to make sure you pick a product that fits. It wouldn’t be out of place at all for a hair salon to run an affiliate campaign for a beauty product, for example. Hair salons are often very casual, and the product would be of interest to the clientele. 

All in all, context is key in affiliate marketing. Unless you are currently branded as an individual or your business has a very casual brand and it wouldn’t be out of place to make personal recommendations, you should probably stay clear of most forms of affiliate marketing. Sorry, Joe. 

However, even if your business isn’t very personal, you can always forge an affiliate partnership with a related business. A backpack company could form an affiliate partnership with an airline, for example. We’ll talk more about that in our next section.

Where to find products to market

Finding the right product to market can often be one of the hardest parts of affiliate marketing. To start, it’s a good idea to think of products that you genuinely like and look into whether or not there are already affiliate programs for them. 

According to AffStat, most affiliate marketers (42.17%) prefer to promote 1-10 products. Once you get beyond 10 products, the numbers start to dwindle: only 23.18% promote 11-20 products, and 14.19% promote 21-50 products. 

In short: don’t go crazy looking for tons of products to promote. Start with a few and focus on getting better at selling them until you’re ready to bring on more products. Quality over quantity, as they always say.

Here are two of the most popular ways to go about finding products to market.


There are several major websites and networks that help connect sellers with businesses interested in affiliate marketing. The most famous include ShareASale, Amazon Associates, and ClickBank. On each of these sites, you can browse through merchants and products that need affiliate marketers. If you find a product you like, you can sign up as an affiliate and begin promotions. 

Out of these three major players, ShareASale and Amazon have the most well-known and easy-to-promote products. A few examples of businesses with affiliate programs on ShareASale include Grammarly, Weebly, Sears Direct, and Zazzle. 

ShareASale's affiliate products featured in their website

Amazon Associates is arguably the easiest to find a suitable product on because it gives you access to the entire Amazon catalog. If a product is sold through Amazon, you can start promoting it and earning commission right away. 

Amazon's catalog with discount offers for the users

ClickBank is pretty well-known but focuses on ebooks. Taking a quick look through their website will show you hundreds of low-budget weight loss, self-help, and spirituality ebooks that give off a less-than-reputable vibe. Overall, we’d recommend staying away from this network and focusing on others. 

ClickBank showing their featured products and ebooks in the homepage of their website

You can also find private networks, but these are usually harder to become a part of. That said, commission rates are also higher. For most people just starting out, your best bet will be to stick with public networks like Amazon or ShareASale.


Earlier on we said that affiliate marketing is usually best for businesses with a personal touch. This is true, but only for the most popular types of affiliate marketing — i.e. finding a product on Amazon and marketing it to your base. This is what most people imagine when they think of affiliate marketing, but it isn’t the only way. 

If you’re a more traditional business, you can still forge affiliate partnerships directly with other businesses. For example, if you’re a protein powder brand, partnering with a running shoe company could be very beneficial to both of you. You’d promote their shoes, and they’d promote your protein powder. Since there’s a large audience crossover, it would make sense for each of you to promote the other and to earn a commission for each referral or sale. 

To go down this path, you’ll have to look into specific businesses that you’d be interested in partnering with and reach out to them personally. This isn’t as simple as signing up with a public affiliate network, but it can greatly expand your business’s reach and earn you some extra revenue at the same time. 

How to do it right

Once you’ve found some products to market, it’s time to execute your strategy. Here are some tips to make things go smoothly.

Segment your email list

Not everyone on your email list should get every piece of marketing material you send out — in fact, that can often lead to your audience viewing you as overly promotional. 

Instead, it’s better to split your list into different segments based on interests, behaviors, location, or any other criteria you can think of. You can do this either immediately when they signup (ask them what types of emails they’re interested in receiving, for example) or later on based on links they click in your emails or data you’ve gathered on them — which they’ve consented to submitting, of course. 

This can save your audience a lot of precious time. For example, if your list is split 50/50 between male and female subscribers, and you’ve decided to become an affiliate with a maternity dress company, you’ll get better results sending those promotions only to the female part of your list. 

Use website triggers

Website triggers are lines of code on a website that carry out actions when certain conditions are met. For example, if someone visits your site three times, you could trigger an automatic email that offers a coupon or product.

This technique can also be useful for affiliate email marketing. If you have a way to link your already registered web visitors to their emails, you can trigger emails (or segment your list) based on their browsing behavior. 

Running with the maternity example from earlier, you could set up a website trigger that will send a promotional email to every registered user that read your site’s recent article on newborn care. 

Personalize your emails and build a relationship

According to Campaign Monitor, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. When it comes to affiliate marketing, that personalization goes much farther than just the open rate — it helps you build a deeper relationship with your audience. 

Related: 40 Email Marketing Statistics that Are Shaping the Future

Affiliate marketing is all about fostering trust and a relationship between you and your base. The more your list trusts you, the more likely they are to take your recommendations to heart. Crafting emails that are as personalized as possible will go along way towards making you seem more like a helpful friend and less like a salesperson. 

What a good affiliate email looks like

All in all, effective affiliate emails shouldn’t really look like much. Generally, effective marketing emails look more like emails from friends than emails from large companies. That means they should be largely text based and personal in nature. 

Images can definitely help, but don’t overload your reader with them. Focus on writing a recommendation just like you would to a friend. Keep paragraphs to a maximum of five sentences and use simple language. 

Let’s look at a few examples:

An affiliate email from Authority Hacker

This is an email from a website reviews and promotes marketing tactics and tools – it has a great subject line hook with the time element and I was genuinely curious what tool they were talking about.

The message itself is short and sweet with the obvious purpose of driving readers to the website for the full review and is a great example of being brief when the conversion is going to happen elsewhere – a longer email runs the risk of losing the reader’s attention and click.

An affiliate marketing email template with a big announcement

This message is a classic presale email with a twist – Robbie leads with with a new (and super relevant) blog post and then eases into his new course.  

While not technically affiliate marketing as he runs the course, it would be easy to follow this format with a course or program that you’re promoting – start with a relevant piece of content and then tease a course so the reader knows to expect more on the topic over the coming days.

These presale emails are a great way to warm up your list and can really help boost the open rates of subsequent emails.

Writing effective emails is going to take some trial and error, so try out some split testing. That means sending out two emails that are slightly different and seeing which one converts better. Sometimes really small changes can make a huge difference — one company found that simply including the words “hell yeah” in their emails increased opens by 23.88%. When you’ve identified the better-performing email, repeat the process until you’ve got your copy down to a science. 

At the end of the day, staying genuine is the best way to go about affiliate marketing. Find products you truly believe in, promote them to people who you think will benefit from them, and the rest will follow. 

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