How Affiliate Marketing Works – A Step by Step Visual

Recently I’ve been doing some articles aimed at the beginner affiliate – like how you can avoid affiliate marketing scams and how you can find reputable affiliate programs to promote.

Q&AAfter spending over a decade in the Internet marketing industry, I think I often forget – and have failed to address – the most obvious question most folks new to the industry have about affiliate marketing.

When I appeared as a guest on Weapons of Mass Marketing earlier this week to discuss the topic of marketing affiliate programs, the hosts evidenced the importance of the often overlooked question by leading off their interview with a variation of it…

“How does affiliate marketing work?”

So with the help of (and payment to) a very talented designer I was able to develop a clear, step by step graphic of how basic affiliate marketing works (click on the image below for a larger version):

How Affiliate Marketing Works

Spread the word!

You’re welcome to use the above graphic on your own website, providing you credit me ( as the source and do not alter the image. Below is HTML code below to easily embed the graphic on your blog or website:

Get the poster!

The infographic above is available in high quality poster format via Zazzle for $25. Why such a high price? Because all proceeds from the poster sales go to the Stroke Walk to help fight childhood stroke. Get it now!

Getting started in affiliate marketing…

Now that you know WHAT affiliate marketing is, find out how you can take a stab at it.

Me? I plan to distribute this to family and friends so they might actually understand what I do for a living. ;-)


About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:


  1. Nathan OLeary says:

    Great visual of how affiliate marketing works! I will be sure to share this with my new affiliates when they sign up. Many of them sign up because they know they want to be an affiliate marketer but still don’t know what it actually is.

  2. Nice graph. Easy and simple for everyone. What I like more though is the link with the “affiliate marketing blog” anchor at the html code. Nice move to get a little bit more link juice. Kudos

  3. Andy Hayes says:

    Wow – great infographic! I love it. I’m trying to think of any examples that don’t use cookies but can’t think of one off the top of my head.

  4. Debbie Summers says:

    Love the graphic! Haven’t seen a better explanation of how affiliate marketing works.

  5. Nikki Pilkington says:

    Thanks Rae – have posted this on my blog and made a note to send everyone who asks me about affiliate marketing a link :)

  6. thanks for the infographic!
    I work at a digital marketing agency and not all my colleagues uderstand affiliate mkt fully (it will depend on the department they work in), so I printed it out and passed it around the office and shall be recommending your articles to them. Thanks!

  7. Karen Young says:

    This is the first time to your site and I am delighted I found you. I am an article writer that has written so much about affiliate marketing, network marketing and all aspects of IM, I decided to start my own website to try and help those who are new to the business.

    I am definitely going to be using your network marketing diagram for my site and I will be back often! Thank you.

  8. Duran seo says:

    i think that the biggest problem in affiliate marketing is that not many companies give really good accessories such as lead forms, buy now buttons ETC, that people can plant in their sites.

    The affiliate links usually cause a big drop in conversion rates.
    if more companies invested in their tools, i believe that it would come out as bigger income for both sides.

    meanwhile there are a few companies that even offer a white label which in my opinion is the most powerful way for the highest conversion rates.

  9. Hmmmmm….what a means of driving home the teaching, info-graphic indeed. You are a genius, keep it up.

  10. This was the best post on how affilliate marketeing is working!

    Thanx for sharing!
    Especially the picture!

    It will help me explaining it to my friends….

  11. Thanks so much for the information. I am just starting out and you made what affiliate marketing is easy to understand

  12. Camille says:

    Many people have their systems set to not allow cookies…. How does that affect things?

    • Rae Hoffman says:

      The number I’ve heard has always been closer to 30% overall (some browsers are higher, some lower) and this refers to THIRD party cookies. When a user sees your affiliate link and clicks on it, the cookie that is set is a FIRST party cookie, which is different.

  13. Oliver Carlin says:

    Love the image explain affiliate marketing Rae! I think I will take you up on it and make a post with that image in it.

    It’s good to understand how affiliate marketing works. Most people don’t realize that a lot of people actually make more money with this than with network marketing.

    Great work!

  14. davy pelssers says:

    great post / great explanation, but what I miss in the picture is the potentially involved BROKER or advertising company like clickbank/commission junction that also are often involved in the affiliate marketing process and usually take a commission in this whole affiliate marketing process.

    I will be using your picture but add that fourth party in the picture to be more complete :-)

    nice blog ! will be back


    • Rae Hoffman says:

      To me, the network is the same as software running an affiliate program in the above. Their just a method within the process – if that makes sense?

  15. Marisa Dana says:

    Great graphic!! There is an online affliate marketing business opportunity that seems to be pretty comprehensive. They manage all of the affliate merchants for me and I leverage an online portal to send customers through. And I can link that portal to my blogs, facebook page, twitter, etc. They manager over 3,000 partner stores and it seems to be growing everyday. Pretty cool so far. I love to shop online so this was a great business opportunity for me. And they have their own brokered products too. I think affliate marketing is just going to keep growing as businesses go from brick and mortar to click and order!

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