While affiliate businesses have many moving parts, a key for their success is the selection of the right affiliate marketing tools — from web hosting to high-converting WordPress themes to email marketing platforms to opt-in popups, landing pages and sales funnels.
In this article, you're going to find the best 115 tools for affiliate marketers in 23 categories covering all three required tech stacks:
- Your marketing stack
- Your website stack
- Your online revenue stack
In other words, you’re going to find the solution for every possible technological need you may encounter as an affiliate marketer.
To make your selection 100% worry-free, each category will show you the top 5 tools on the market right now.
What Are the Best Tools for Affiliate Marketers in 2021?
Disclosure: Although I receive affiliate compensation for some of the links below at no additional cost to you that compensation in no way influences my recommendations, which are strictly informed by my years of digital marketing experience working with clients large and small. My aim is to always recommend tools that will offer you the best return on investment.
The Marketing Stack:
Bulk Email Services
Bulk email services are a key component of a well-oiled affiliate marketing engine.
A properly executed email campaign will turbo charge your online revenue — in fact, over time your growing email list will become a marketing asset that can easily replace the income from a day job.
Now, there are lots of mass email services competing for your attention, yet many are missing key features that are critical for your success.
The best bulk email services will allow you to track, trace, measure and act on virtually anything your subscribers do online.
For example, you want to be able to:
- Learn when they open an email (how long after receiving it and how many times)
- Learn when they click on any links inside (using traceable link triggers)
- Learn when they visit a page on your website (what specific pages and how often)
- Learn when they read a blog post (which ones and how often)
- Find out what part of the world they come from (country and time zone)
- Receive a notification whenever something you deem significant happens (e.g. a subscriber reads one of your “money” posts)
- Seamlessly integrate the email service to your website builder (e.g. Wix), content management system (e.g. WordPress) or eCommerce platform (e.g. Shopify)
So, without further ado, here are the best solutions for your bulk emailing needs:
Mailchimp is a marketing automation platform that allows you to build email lists and send email campaigns based on pre-programmed logic.
You can target specific groups, customize your content based on user behavior in the campaign, set up drip campaigns for nurturing customers through their journey and more.
The Mailchimp platform lets users create an unlimited number of lead magnets with drag-and-drop tools as well as design templates — perfect for affiliate marketers who want to use personalization but don't have time or expertise designing complex HTML-based emails.
You'll also find some great features like A/B testing which help you improve your open rates and your conversions.
AWeber is the original innovator that brought us the autoresponder over 20 years ago, a central feature in the world of email marketing.
Being one of the oldest services in the field, they have impeccable email deliverability stats, possibly the best in the industry for mass email delivery.
Another benefit of longevity is that AWeber boasts one of the largest sets of templates and several hundred integrations with other platforms including WordPress as well as website builders like Wix.
But where they really shine is in their customer support. AWeber has been the recipient of multiple customer-service awards with its phone support, 24/7 live chat, and high email response rates.
Although this bulk email service is newer than the above, they have been able to develop a loyal following that swears by them.
One of their distinguishing features is that in a relatively short amount of time, they’ve been able to develop best-in-class email deliverability stats.
Another distinguishing feature is the freshness of their UI and its ease of use for beginners. Their form and landing page editor is consistently rated as one of the best out there.
Like AWeber, they also have a great support team with friendly staff manning their phone lines and live chat tool.
This bulk email service has the most generous free tier in the space, with high deliverability and 200+ responsive email templates.
For example, You may host an unlimited number of contacts and even run unlimited automations for up to 2,000 subscribers for free. The downside is that you can only send out a maximum of 300 emails per day in this tier.
You also have access to a great drag and drop email editor, A/B testing, email segmentation and even marketing automation. And just for fun, they even offer a basic CRM (although it’s fairly limited in functionality).
All in all, a good choice if you just want to get your feet wet with email marketing and don’t want to commit $$ until you’re sure it works for you.
Over the past few years, GetResponse has been out-innovating its competitors. This reasonably priced tool is jam-packed with email marketing features others charge you a lot more for.
For example, it allows you to score your email content using a spam index to make sure you minimize the chances of your emails ending up in spam folders.
It even packs a conversion funnel feature usually found in much more expensive packages and a landing page editor, plus you can even host live and on demand webinars right from within the platform.
Marketing Automation Tools
Developing a growing and thriving email list of followers is key to earning sustained online income. What’s not clear to many is the true reason why this happens.
Many people think that the money lies in the size of your email list — the bigger your list, the more money you'll make.
In reality, many huge lists generate pennies on the dollar while there are small lists that generates thousands of dollars every month.
Why is that? Because the money is not on the email list itself, but in the relationship of trust that you develop with your subscribers.
And in order to build this relationship in a way that can scale your affiliate income, you’ll need to arm yourself with marketing automation tools like the ones recommended below.
When it comes to offering the best set of marketing automation features for affiliate marketers building a profitable online side hustle, Drip wins the race by a long shot.
Aside from easy integration to the most popular platforms used to generate online income and a proven record of email deliverability, Drip offers advanced marketing automation tools at a very reasonable cost.
Drip's powerful marketing automation allow you to intuitively program the tool to implement a virtually unlimited number of lead qualifying, nurturing and conversion strategies that can quickly multiply your online income.
2. Active Campaign
Active Campaign has a terrific graphical workflow automation interface that’s super flexible and it’s as feature rich as Drip's when it comes to what’s essential if you want to create a profitable online side hustle.
Like Drip, it is a solid, easy to use solution for email marketing, advanced marketing automation, behavioral automation, tagging and audience segmentation, and more.
Their graphical workflow automation interface is user-friendly and they offer an extensive library of pre-built workflow automations to get you going quickly.
Active Campaign also offers lead scoring as well as A/B testing at the workflow level.
In addition to offering bulk email services, GetResponse is also a great marketing automation tool that's very reasonably priced.
In fact, their graphical workflow automation feature is pretty close to what you get with a much more expensive enterprise system.
This feature allows you to nurture your subscribers based on actions that they take online, from visiting your money posts, to navigating your affiliate website to clicking specific links in your nurturing emails.
Although not as sophisticated as the above two choices, GetResponse is a powerful yet reasonably priced marketing automation tool that allows you perform most lead nurturing tasks you'll need in a fully automated way.
MailerLite offers some of the same powerful features Drip uses to qualify and nurture your leads, but with a more limited choice of triggers.
This is not meant to discourage you from using it because it’s a great product with many devoted fans. Just be aware that you'll pay less but also get less choice.
However, what they do provide will be sufficient to support your affiliate marketing business with more than adequate lead nurturing capabilities when you’re just getting started.
If you’re just starting and don’t want to commit to a monthly charge from the get go, Omnisend allows you to start for free with a cap of 15,000 emails per month (no cap on the size of your email list).
Now, as they say, there’s no free lunch. For this “free” introductory rate, you don’t have access to email automations, A/B testing, you’re limited to five subscriber segments and you have to pay for any third-party platform integrations.
But at least, you can get your feet wet at no cost so that you can test out your messaging. If you want to upgrade to the first paid tier in order to have access to workflow automations, your cost will be slightly lower than Drip’s, but you’ll have to add a separate monthly fee to pay for your integrations.
Marketing Funnel Software
One of the most effective ways to monetize your affiliate website visitors is through the creation of landing pages using funnel software tools.
A funnel is a marketing device that's used to guide visitors through a series of pages with sales copy intended to convert prospects into customers.
Unlike an opt-in page, where your goal is to exchange your visitor's email address for your lead magnet, a funnel is structured to convince your visitor why this is the perfect time to take action to purchase your product by making an offer they can’t refuse.
Below, you find the best tools on the market for online affiliate marketers.
Leadpages is the #1 funnel page and landing page builder for online marketers.
It boasts over 150 high-quality templates that produce fully customizable funnels with one-click upsells, downsells and order bumps.
Also, all of their funnel page templates are mobile responsive and offer a handy wizard to get you going if you’re a beginner and feel a bit lost with so much choice.
They have their own checkout feature to collect payments that works with Stripe and PayPal, but also allow you to integrate with third-party checkout tools and eCommerce sites if that's your preference.
2. Thrive Leads
Thrive Leads is the most cost-effective and flexible option for creating high-converting funnels, but it’s limited to WordPress and it does require a minimum level of technical proficiency since you’ll need to integrate it with an eCommerce engine to process payments.
But once you’ve done that, it’ll produce fully customizable funnels with one-click upsells, downsells and order bumps.
In the not too distant past, you had to be locked into pretty pricey third-party services to do all of the above, and if you stopped your subscriptions, you would have to walk away from all your hard work.
With Thrive Leads, you can now own and control your entire funnel stack right from within your site.
3. Click Funnels
A properly set-up online funnel system has many moving parts: it needs to integrate its landing page creator with a checkout page, a payment processor and an email marketing platform, and all pieces must communicate seamlessly for the funnel to operate.
While all this integration work will be easy to implement if you’re technically savvy, it’ll be problematic if you’re not.
This is where Click Funnels comes in. This tool was designed from the ground up for users who are not technically inclined and want a simple solution that does it all.
They have an easy to use page builder with an intuitive drag and drop editor that allows you to create simple or complex funnels using a graphical interface, without having to master complex marketing technologies.
This is a great WordPress plugin that's designed to piggyback on WooCommerce to produce a powerful funnel creation tool with one-click upsells, downsells and order bumps.
Cartflows allows you to create an unlimited number of funnel pages, upsell pages and downsell pages plus it has a powerful A/B testing feature where you can have two versions of every page in your funnel to find out which one converts better.
However, note that while you can create funnels that can take payments with the free version (in conjunction with the free version of WooCommerce), you'll need the paid version of CartFlows to add one-click upsell, downsell and order bump functionality.
CartFlows has many high-quality templates to choose from so you don’t have to build your funnel pages from scratch.
And the best part is that unlike many of its competitors, you get to build, host, control, customize and fully own the entire funnel stack from your WordPress server.
OptinMonster is very easy to use, allowing you to create beautiful landing page funnels from scratch or from templates that can be structured to seamlessly fit into your marketing strategy.
They also offer great A/B test functionality, where you can compare two versions of the same funnel page, or even test one type (say, a welcome mat) vs. another (say, a lightbox).
Finally, OptinMonster is a cloud application that links to your WordPress site via plugin, so if you manage multiple affiliate websites you can access all your funnel designs and analytics through a single portal.
Lead Generation Tools
Getting traffic to your affiliate website is half the battle. The other half is monetizing it with lead generation software.
Once you get a steady stream of visitors you'll need to entice them to become leads, and there are no better tools to do that than landing page and opt-in builders.
These lead generation tools allow you to present visitors with landing pages or opt-in popups that entice them with the offer of a free lead magnet in exchange for their email address.
What's a lead magnet? It could be anything that's low cost and high value, from a free eBook, a white paper, a valuable checklist, and so on.
Once visitors request your lead magnet, they’ll be entered into a campaign in your bulk email service or marketing automation platform as a new lead. Your job then will be to send them regular emails with more valuable free information in order to build a relationship of trust.
Once your leads get to know you, like you and trust you, they’ll be ready to buy from you as well, and you’ll be ready to move on to your monetization strategies.
Leadpages is the #1 funnel page and landing page builder for affiliate marketers.
It boasts over 150 high-quality templates that produce fully customizable funnels with one-click upsells, downsells and order bumps.
Also, all of their funnel page templates are mobile responsive and offer a handy wizard to get you going if you’re a beginner and feel a bit lost with so much choice.
They have their own checkout feature to collect payments that works with Stripe and PayPal, but also allow you to integrate with third-party checkout tools and eCommerce sites if that's your preference.
2. Thrive Leads
Thrive Leads is one of the best opt-in building solutions for WordPress, allowing you to create and support unlimited opt-ins for a one-time plugin cost.
Thrive leads offers:
- A/B testing
- 35+ integrations with the most popular bulk email systems and marketing automation platforms
- Detailed analytics reports
- Multiple styles of forms available (lightbox, ribbon, in-content, slide-in, screen filler, scroll mat, widget)
- Asset delivery, which allows you to deliver a file with your lead magnet to your subscribers from within the plugin
- 2-step opt-in forms that require email confirmation
Thrive Leads lets own and control all your opt-in pages right from within your site.
Unbounce has one of most intuitive and flexible landing page builders in the industry, giving you graphic control of your design down to the pixel level while offering mobile responsive pages and unlimited A/B testing.
They're also fully compliant with GDPR rules right out of the box, so you won't need to purchase an external plugin.
Unbounce offers a 30-day free trial so you can kick the tires, but it caps traffic and conversions during the trial. So to create landing pages that work in a production environment you’ll need to upgrade to the paid product.
If you’re looking for a free lead generation tool, this WordPress plugin definitely punches above its weight.
Although not nearly as sophisticated and feature-rich as its paid cousins, it’s good enough for simple opt-in conversion applications.
The choice of templates is minimal, but you can still create useful opt-ins that integrate with many popular email marketing platforms.
OptinMonster is very easy to use, allowing you to create beautiful opt-in forms from scratch or from templates that can be structured to seamlessly fit into your marketing strategy.
For example, you can display opt-in forms as a:
- Lightbox popup
- Slide-in popup
- Welcome mat
- Full screen
- Floating bar
- Sidebar widget
- In content form
With so much flexibility, OptinMonster will definitely become a great tool in your affiliate monetization strategy.
When it comes to SEO advice, you'll likely be bombarded with a thousand and one suggestions that you should follow to succeed at the search engine game — from fine tuning the tiniest of details (e.g. the length of your meta title) to the macro level (e.g. doing a full site audit).
But at the end of the day, there's only one thing that really matters in SEO: having your affiliate posts appear on the first page of search results.
Below, you’ll find the best SEO tools to help you get there quickly, skipping all the bells and whistles.
1. Surfer SEO
This is the most advanced and easy to use on-page SEO tool currently available, in my opinion.
While there are other tools that do some of what Surfer SEO does, they don’t come even close to the way this tool manages to reverse engineer Google’s search algorithm when it comes to on-page optimization.
Surfer SEO allows you to audit your page against your competitors in the first page of search results for your chosen keyword, and shows you how you compare through the lens of over 500 signals that Google’s algorithm uses to rank your page on search results.
But what it lacks in on-page SEO sophistication, it more than makes up with the massive dataset of competitive information they’ve managed to compile over time, including:
- 20 Billion keywords
- 812 million domains
- 31 trillion backlinks
In addition to competitive analysis, you can also do excellent backlink analysis and keyword research.
SEMRush has an excellent site audit tool to help you correct any errors that may be impacting your overall ranking, and it also has a rank tracker so that you can assess your progress over time as you optimize your website.
Ahrefs is a powerful piece of SEO software for affiliate marketers. It can give you a deep understanding of your competition, their backlinks and the keywords they rank for in search engines and all in a matter of minutes.
It offers a comprehensive suite of tools that will help you do keyword research, analyze the search volume and competition level for keywords on Google SERPs, find affiliate products to promote to your audience, track competitor websites' backlinks with ease and more.
It also provides detailed reports about every site's traffic levels in terms of visitors per month as well as how much revenue it could potentially be making from affiliate sources each month.
This budget SEO tool doesn't have the ability to do on-page optimization, but it does have an excellent site audit feature that packs as much punch as other tools that cost two or three times more.
Ubersuggest is backed by Neil Patel, one of the industry’s most prolific SEO bloggers and a large agency owner. He has a tremendous amount of experience helping clients rank high on search engine results and has automated much of his knowledge in this powerful tool.
By simply entering your domain name into the tool and running a site audit, Ubersuggest will crawl all of your pages in real time no matter the size of your site and show you site audit results against a 44-point SEO checklist, broken down into critical errors, warnings and recommendations.
5. SEO Quake
If you are absolutely on a tight budget and are looking for the best, most reliable — and free — SEO solution, this free browser extension brought to you by none other than the folks at SEMRush, packs a lot of power.
Since the data is served by SEMRush, you can count on its reliability and accuracy.
Now, being free to use, you’re not going to find the range of features you'll find in any of the above tools. However, the on-page and domain SEO information it’s able to unearth is quite impressive.
Once installed on your browser, all you have to do is to visit a page (yours or your competitor's), click on its browser extension icon on the top menu bar and you’ll immediately see a wealth of SEO information.
Keyword Research Tools
It is estimated that there are 4.5 billion Google searches every day.
In order to monetize your affiliate site, your goal is to appear on the first page of search results as much as possible for any searches that are relevant to your business.
Here’s the problem: in order to land on the first page of search results you’ll need to knock someone else off it, and the chances of knocking out someone who's been busy blogging for years when you're just starting out are next to nil.
However, with billions of daily searches, there are bound to be search terms that are missed by experienced bloggers (these are called “content gaps”) and the great news is: there are millions of them that can land new affiliate marketers like yourself on the first page of results!
Your job is to find them and that’s exactly what the keyword research tools recommended below will help you achieve.
KWFinder is a simple yet powerful keyword research tool that beats its competitors for one simple reason: all they do is keyword research and they do it better than everybody else, who tend to clutter you with additional data you don’t need.
In fact, KWFinder provides exactly the information that you need to succeed without taking you on twelve different tangents.
Once you enter a group of seed keywords, KWFinder will generate a large list of suggestions, autocomplete keywords (harvested from Google’s autocomplete feature) and keywords phrased as a question (harvested from Google's “People also ask” section).
Then, KWFinder will show you the three critical pieces of information you need to land you on page one of search results: the monthly search volume, the organic keyword difficulty and the paid difficulty.
In addition to helping you with SEO, Ubersuggest is also an excellent keyword research tool that helps you generate long-tail keyword phrases for affiliate marketing.
With Ubersuggest, you can enter a seed word and it will show you hundreds of semantically related keywords to target in your content and campaigns.
In addition, it generates new keyword ideas plus it offers suggestions based on Google autocomplete and People Also Ask questions.
You can even export your list of long tail keywords as a spreadsheet for further sorting.
SEMRush is a great keyword research tool that is very popular with many affiliate marketers.
It is very easy to use, and it quickly identifies information on low competition keywords that have high ad spend potential, which is great for identifying affiliate marketing opportunities.
They boast one of the largest keyword datasets in the industry so that you can find more opportunities for affiliate marketing revenue generation.
If you're looking for a 100% free tool to help you do a reasonable job with your keyword research, look no further than KW Surfer, from the developers of the top of the line on-page SEO Surfer SEO.
Now, keep in mind that being a free extension you'll only be able to obtain the monthly search volume for each keyword but you'll be missing the organic keyword difficulty and paid difficulty numbers.
But at least, you'll have a good set of keyword ideas to work with as a base. Beyond that, you'll have to use an alternate mechanism to figure out the difficulty metrics.
If you’re working on a budget, SpyFu is the perfect solution for you. While not as feature-rich as SE Ranking, it still manages to punch above its weight.
One of the features that makes it stand out is that even though it provides you with a smaller data set, it doesn’t cap your searches.
For example, you can spy on an unlimited number of domains, keywords and backlinks and you can export unlimited data as well. In contrast, many competitors impose monthly caps.
While more pricey competitors tend to offer a more complete approach to SEO (along the lines of an SEO "Swiss army knife"), SpyFu specializes just in competitive analysis SEO.
The Website Stack:
Web Hosting platforms
If you want to host an online business that will scale with your revenue, you’ll need total freedom.
The freedom to increase your traffic without hitting artificially imposed caps or experiencing a degradation in performance as you grow (these are common issues with website builders).
The freedom to constantly add new functionality to your site to multiply your revenue streams. The freedom to integrate with any third-party system under the sun that can funnel more cash into your bank account.
In short, what you need is the technology that powers 35% of the Internet: a self-hosted WordPress website.
1. A2 Hosting
When it comes to self-hosting your affiliate website, performance is key: search engines are known for penalizing slow websites because of their poor user experience.
Although most self-hosted platforms have good page loading speeds, there’s one that always manages to come up at the top of most benchmarks: A2 Hosting.
This platform consistently delivers the fastest WordPress websites, and is one of the few that have a published uptime guarantee (99.9%).
It’s also one of the few that offers real-time 24/7 support via live chat or phone call with reasonably short waiting times (although the pandemic has caused some extra delays).
The base plans are already screaming fast, powered by 100% solid state drives, but the higher end packages take speed to the next level (up to 20 times faster) using industry-leading NVME drive arrays (non-volatile memory express) which approximate the insane speeds of flash memory.
This self-hosting service is great if you’re budget conscious. While it’s not as complete or fast as A2 Hosting, it’s still great value for the money.
This is a great budget option for websites that are more informational in nature, without a lot of complexity that demands expensive add-ons.
In fact, the main reason that iPage can keep its costs so low is by removing free add-ons and charging you for them instead. So, as long as you don’t require a lot of additional functionality, you’ll be able to keep costs to a minimum.
Bluehost is a web hosting service that offers shared hosting, dedicated servers and WordPress-optimized hosts.
Bluehost is a solid option for affiliate marketers that are not super tech savvy because of its ease-of-use.
Setting up WordPress sites from scratch can be quite overwhelming for beginners and they've done a great job simplifying the end-to-end set up process, allowing you to go live quickly without drama.
If you need more firepower, they also offer virtual private servers so you don't have to timeshare server resources with any other sites.
They offer unlimited bandwidth and live customer support via chat, allowing affiliate marketers to focus on developing their business instead of wasting time trying to troubleshooting technical issues on their own.
DreamHost has a generous (and rather peculiar) money-back guarantee: instead of the typical 30-day period, theirs is 97 days!
Hostinger is another one of the leading web hosting providers, which although not as fast as A2 Hosting or DreamHost, offers competitive prices and reliable hosting services for affiliate marketing sites.
They offer a number of affordable plan options ranging from shared hosting to dedicated servers as well as domain registration for one-stop shopping.
Without a doubt, the transition to a digitalized consumer world, where people search for product information and then make purchases online, has accelerated exponentially over the last several years.
An affiliate website can definitely become your gateway to this profitable multi-trillion dollar world.
But what if you’re not tech savvy and you don’t have the funds to hire an expert to help you with the technical issues related to hosting your own website?
This is a problem that has a very elegant, practical and cost-effective solution: Website Builders.
Wix is the most widely used website builder in the world, with over 180 million users in 190 countries.
With size come some benefits (e.g. lots of resources to constantly develop better and cooler features) and some limitations (e.g. lack of real-time support except for their most expensive package).
Wix offers the largest variety of website templates available out there, with over 800 designer-made templates supporting a multitude of industries and niches.
Another differentiating feature that's a direct consequence of Wix's size is the vast number of apps in their app store (250+). You’ll pretty much find an app for every possible affiliate marketing need.
This website builder offers a great solution for those who are budget conscious. Weebly is owned by Square, the merchant services giant (both for eCommerce and brick-and-mortar stores).
While it doesn’t have the number of templates available from Wix, it does have great perks, like unlimited bandwidth and file storage for all plans.
Weebly has by far the most user friendly and intuitive graphical editor of all the big players, although this ease of use comes with a trade off — it's not as flexible as Wix’s.
Weebly is also membership friendly, allowing you to offer paid subscribers with access to exclusive pages protected by a login screen.
Squarespace is renowned for having the most stunningly beautiful templates in the industry right out of the box.
Although it doesn't have as many as Wix (Squarespace has 100+ templates compared to 800+), it claims to prioritize quality over quantity.
If you want your website to visually impress (say you're a photographer or a visual artist) you can’t go wrong with Squarespace. This builder also comes with a decent eCommerce engine that works quite well for most simple applications.
Squarespace also has built a reputation for being the ideal website builder for bloggers. It boasts the most complete set of blogging features and tools outside WordPress.org (a self-hosted, more technically demanding solution).
If you’re bootstrapping and want to get started with a fremium approach, Webnode is the website builder for you. While it's not as feature rich as the above three, it’s perfectly good for most simple applications.
Once you cut your teeth with Webnode, you can always move up to a more developed builder.
While it doesn’t offer advanced eCommerce functionality, it does have the ability to create a simple online store.
It also supports paid memberships with member-only access to exclusive username and password protected areas of your website.
Shopify is a web builder that's optimized for ecommerce.
It is built around an easy to use drag and drop interface that makes it really easy to set up an affiliate website that looks professional from the get go with just a few clicks.
If you want to add a strong ecommerce component to your affiliate site, Shopify is definitely the way to go.
WordPress is without a doubt the most popular content management system (CMS) in use right now, estimated to power 35% of all websites worldwide.
But having a place to manage your content is just the beginning, you also need the means to display it, be it through pages, blog posts, headers, footers, sidebars, widgets, a search page, a 404 page, and so on.
In short, you need to create all the bits and pieces that make an affiliate website look professional. And if you’re like most of us (i.e. not IT pros) you'll want to achieve all of the above without having to write a single line of code.
This is where WordPress themes come to the rescue.
1. Thrive Themes
Without a doubt, the current reigning champion of WordPress themes is Thrive Themes (e.g. this website was built using this theme).
In the past, Elegant Themes (#2 on the list) was in the lead, but since the launch of the Thrive Theme Builder in March 2020, they managed to leap-frog their way to the top.
What makes Thrive Themes unique is that it’s not just a theme, it’s an entire conversion-driven ecosystem that includes:
- A powerful graphical page editor (Thrive Architect) that allows you to edit all page elements down to the pixel level
- A best-in-class opt-in builder (Thrive Leads)
- An headline A/B testing plugin (Thrive Headline Optimizer) that allows you to test blog post headlines, keeping track of the winners and losers in real-time
- A best-in-class page-level A/B testing plugin (Thrive Optimize) that allows you to A/B test entire pages (e.g. different versions of a landing page triggered by an opt-in popup)
- A Learning Management System (Thrive Apprentice) that easily integrates with the most popular membership plugins to drip content to paid subscribers
- A scarcity-marketing plugin (Thrive Ultimatum) that allows you to introduce offers with countdown timers that lock down your offer after a specific duration
- A testimonial-management plugin (Thrive Ovation) that allows you to convert comments to testimonials and gather social-media testimonials automatically
- A powerful quiz plugin (Thrive Quiz Builder) that allows you to incorporate a gamification strategy to your lead generation mix to maximize conversions
- An enhanced commenting plugin (Thrive Comments) that builds on top of the default WordPress commenting feature, allowing you to gamify the process by adding up and down votes and badges
- A smart widget plugin (Thrive Clever Widgets) that allows you to include or exclude widgets from specific pages, posts, categories and tags
With all this functionality under one roof, you're getting all your really need to develop and launch a solid affiliate site very cost-effectively.
2. Elegant Themes
This is a powerful theme that has been adopted broadly in the WordPress community. Elegant’s top product is the Divi theme with its Divi page builder (similar to Thrive Architect). They also have a secondary theme called Extra, geared to online magazines and news sites.
In terms of customization and flexible design, Divi is comparable to Thrive. Elegant Themes currently offers 3 plugins as part of their product mix: Divi Builder, Bloom Email Opt-in and Monark Social Media.
Both Divi's and Extra's website templates are high quality. They currently offer 100+ complete website packs that can be imported into WordPress to get you going fast.
If you’re on a budget, Astra may be the best WordPress theme for you. Designed with simplicity in mind—perfect for beginners—this theme is also lightweight and super fast to load.
Astra is designed to seamlessly integrate with popular page builders such as Elementor and Beaver Builder, to bring you a high level of customization down to the pixel level.
While Astra is ideal for beginners, it’s fully customizable if you're more experienced in WordPress. You can customize colors, page layouts, footers, headers, backgrounds, fonts, etc. and its designs are responsive for mobile devices.
If you’re looking for a free WordPress theme that's actually worth installing, look no further than Customify.
Although they do have a paid version, if you have a simple website and you don’t require advanced marketing conversion functionality, Customify punches way above their weight.
In addition, the free version is WooCommerce compatible and has social linking included, which usually requires a separate plugin.
OceanWP is an intuitive WordPress theme that's designed to help you build a slick affiliate website quickly. It’s also very light, which makes it blazing fast.
It's designed for those who want to develop an affiliate site that looks professional and modern without a lot of bells and whistles.
When it comes to security, the Internet is like the wild west.
The arteries of the World Wide Web are jam packed with bad actors with malicious intent, whether it's to commandeer your server and your email to spread spam to unsuspecting visitors, inject malware on their computers, steal your affiliate links, or anything else under the sun that has malicious intent.
A website firewall is a utility that helps to protect your affiliate site from these intruders. It provides a level of protection that is a must for affiliate marketers sites, where your income depends on the health of your site.
Firewall tools do their job by scanning incoming requests for suspicious activity like port scans, probing packets and brute force login attempts before allowing those connections through to the site.
They can also block outbound traffic generated by malicious programs that managed to infect your site (say, through a vulnerable plugin update).
Sucuri is the best globally-recognized security outfit for WordPress, and for good reason.
For a very reasonable price, they will protect your website with a unique approach: they will route the entirety of your traffic to themselves, making it go through a cloudproxy firewall first.
This acts as a digital sieve that filters out all the bad actors before they even reach your server, sending your way only legitimate visitors.
In doing so, not only do they protect your website, but also they increase the speed and performance of your server because it no longer has to handle spurious traffic.
Wordfence is one of the most popular online security and firewall tools on the market today.
It's a WordPress plugin that blocks malicious bots, spambots, login attacks, brute-force attempts as well as provides general protection for your site against malware infections.
Wordfence also contains a malware scanner that can check your entire WordPress site and all files on your server.
Jetpack is a website security plugin that is owned by WordPress.com and is one of the most popular security plugins for WordPress sites as it comes pre-installed with many hosting services.
It's a great alternative to other website security plugins and also offers other important features, like site backup services, virus scanning and a CDN (Content Delivery Network.)
Jetpack is free when first signing up with WordPress but it offers paid upgrades with premium features that may become necessary as your needs change over time.
This service is very popular with bloggers and small businesses because they offer both a firewall as well as a content delivery network.
Security features include protection from DDoS attacks, malware and powerful spam filtering, plus they offer live phone and chat support to quickly restore your site if you become a victim of a hacker intrusion.
Stackpath is another great security solution plus CDN, offering an easy to use interface, full integration into WordPress and excellent 24/7 live support.
In order to make it easier to evaluate they offer a 30-day free trial, which surprisingly includes their live support.
Like Sucuri, they also filter your traffic through their servers before it’s forwarded to your affiliate site, reducing your server load.
Once you get your WordPress website up and running and you begin to get traffic, you’ll soon come to the realization that the Internet is infested with spam-bots clogging the arteries of engagement with visitors, specifically:
- Comment sections
- Contact forms
- Account creation
- Orders, etc.
Here’s is a list of the most popular anti spam plugins for affiliate marketers:
CleanTalk Anti Spam does away with the need for captchas by using sophisticated algorithms to filter spammy user-supplied information on the fly against a massive database of spambots that they keep on the cloud.
They also use this algorithm to filter manually inputted spam based on aggregated information from the almost half a million client websites.
CleanTalk offers a 7-day free trial and claims 100% protection against spambots.
Akismet is the most popular anti-spam plugin on the market, likely because it’s owned by the folks that created WordPress, so it always shows up first on plugin searches.
They claim to block 99% of comment and contact form spam and only throw a small amount of false positives compared to their competitors.
3. AntiSpam Bee
Antispam Bee is a free anti-spam WordPress plugin that's very easy to configure, so if you are looking for affiliate marketing tools that don't add to your ongoing tech costs this could be a good choice.
The installation process takes less than 30 seconds and most settings have default values that make it very powerful right out of the box. You can also configure the plugin manually through the WordPress admin panel.
4. Titan Anti Spam
Titan Antispam is another popular WordPress plugin for preventing spam in your comments section. It is easy to use and has a wide range of features that prevent the most common spamming techniques.
Titan Antispam's developers update the plugin regularly to make sure they stay ahead of new spambot techniques while still maintaining ease of use so you don’t have to mess around with its settings.
5. WP Bruiser
WP Bruiser is another free anti-spam WordPress plugin that helps you to eliminate spam comments and contact form submissions with the need to use a captcha riddle or check.
Although not as sophisticated as its above competitors, it's still a good solution overall (and certainly better than no protection at all.)
Page Caching Tools
Page caching plugins allow you to cache (or “store”) a static version of your content so that users can load your pages quicker without having to connect repeatedly with your server.
This reduces your page loading times dramatically, which is an important search engine ranking signal.
Here are the most popular choices for caching plugins for WordPress:
1. WP Rocket
WP Rocket is one of the fastest caching plugins on the market. They also have one of the most intuitive user interfaces making it beginner friendly.
They achieve top loading speeds with minimal user input by pre-configuring their settings to make them work right out of the box.
Many of its competitors have screen fulls of settings that must be manually configured by the user before they become as effective, making WP Rocket a top choice among affiliate marketers.
2. W3 Total Cache
W3 Total Cache is a great option to speed up your WordPress website, with more than 1 million active installations.
It not only maximizes the performance of your web pages but also offers a content delivery network, which distributes static versions of your content to multiple data centers around the world.
3.WP Super Cache
WP Super Cache is a competitive WordPress caching plugin that stores pages of your site in an effort to reduce load time for your website visitors.
While WP Super Cache is not as fast as WP Rocket, it offers a free plan that’s quite excellent for most affiliate websites (Unfortunately, WP Rocket has no free version available.)
4. WP Fastest Cache
WP Fastest Cache is another caching plugin that offers a free version, which is a great choice for affiliate marketers on a budget.
It offers defaults values for most settings but also allows you to customize all settings manually so you can have full control over every aspect of page caching, from image compression settings to code minification.
5. Hyper Cache
Finally, Hyper cache is a caching plugin for WordPress that enhances site performance by caching and compressing the pages you have on your affiliate website.
Hyper Cache manages to punch well above its weight in speed delivery and yet it’s completely free. Definitely worth trying if you're on a tight budget.
Content Delivery Networks
Page loading speeds is one of the most important search ranking signals for affiliate websites (we covered that in the caching section above).
But if you’re hosting your website from the U.S., it may load fast for visitors in North America, but it’ll be slow as molasses for visitors in Australia, and your caching plugin won't be able to help them much if at all.
What’s the solution? Signing up with a Content Delivery Network that can cache your pages across multiple data centers distributed around the world.
Let's look at the best CDN choices for affiliate marketers:
This service is great for first-time affiliate sites because they have a free-forever tier that doesn't force you to upgrade to their paid plans.
In fact, Cloudflare's free tier offers you the same great performance as their paid plans, including unlimited bandwidth.
The trade off is that you don’t get security features in the free plan (e.g. DDoS, malware and spam protection). What you do get is great performance in line with their paid counterparts.
Cloudflare offers the best free plan in the CDN industry and it's perfect if you have no budget set aside for performance improvements.
Stackpath is the most popular WordPress CDN on the market. With lightning fast speeds, 45 data centers around the world and an affordable monthly charge, this is the go-to service for a lot of online earners.
With an easy to use interface, full integration into WordPress and excellent 24/7 live support, you can’t go wrong with this CDN.
They also offer a free shared SSL certificate so you have secure HTTPS access to your website from anywhere around the world.
KeyCDN offers some of the lowest costs in the industry with its pay-as-you-go business model.
This is a great solution if you’re just starting up and your traffic is low to medium. However, KeyCDN can get pricey if your traffic begins to spike.
KeyCDN integrates nicely with WordPress, it’s easy to set up and it includes DDoS protection and free SSL security.
In addition to having one of the most complete security suites for WordPress users, Sucuri also offers CDN services.
The advantage of this solution is that you get the increased performance of a worldwide CDN plus the benefits of enhanced security features, like protection against DDoS attacks, protection against malware injections and protection against spammers.
CloudFront is the content delivery network offered by Amazon AWS. In fact, it is the CDN of choice for many cost-conscious affiliate marketers due to its great pricing model.
The only caveat is that you'll need to first set up your affiliate site with AWS, which can be challenging if you're not technically proficient.
Data Backup Tools
A data backup WordPress plugin will generate, save and store backups of your entire affiliate site across different locations, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, AWS, etc. in addition to local copies on your own server.
This tool is a must-have to protect your site from catastrophic failure should your files be deleted by accident or corrupted when upgrading various plugins or even WordPress itself.
Here are the best choices of data backup plugins for affiliates marketers:
Your affiliate website is your primary online asset and doing regular scheduled backups of all your files and databases automatically is like taking out an insurance policy.
If something catastrophic happens to your affiliate site, UpdraftPlus will have you covered, and best of all, they offer a generous free version that'll take care of most of your needs.
Jetpack is a free, easy to use plugin that can be installed in minutes and will back up your entire website automatically.
You'll have the option of backing up just posts/pages or all content including media files and database files if you choose so.
In addition Jetpack offers features such as on-demand backups, incremental backups and scheduled automatic backups at preset intervals.
BackupBuddy is a plugin offers a variety of backup options for WordPress websites: local backups, remote database backups, offsite storage as well as one-click automatic backups.
The BackupBuddy software is easy enough for anyone to use but powerful enough to provide security against accidental file deletion or a catastrohpic failure of your entire site.
BlogVault is another data backup WordPress plugin that backs up all your user data and server files.
It'll save all your WordPress files internally and externally including all your databases, all your media (images, video and documents), plugins, themes, pages and posts.
BackWPup is a free backup plugin used by over 600,000 websites that'll create local backups of your entire WordPress site and all its databases, files and directories inside it.
The paid version adds priority support and the ability to store your backups externally on Google Drive.
The Online Revenue Stack:
Ecommerce platforms allow you to easily create an online store to sell your own products, which could be a nice complement to your affiliate revenue.
Most platforms offer plug and play modules that allow you to create fairly sophisticated ecommerce sites with little or no coding required.
They also integrated with a number of important affiliate revenue building blocks, like email marketing platforms and payment processors.
The ecommerce platforms below are a perfect fit for affiliate marketers:
Hosting an online store on your WordPress website is one of the most profitable ways to monetize your visitors.
Whether you are planning to sell digital products to be downloaded, physical products to be shipped or monthly memberships, you need an eCommerce solution that:
- Is super secure for your customers so they can trust to purchase from you (e.g. it's PCI compliant, has built-in fraud protection, stores customer payment information in a highly secured back-end and not on your own self-hosting server, etc.)
- Works fast enough that you won’t lose customers in the middle of a transaction
- Is easy to customize, so you can make your shopping pages match the look and feel of your website
- Has access to a large selection of payment gateways, so you’re not stuck with two or three expensive options
- Has strong built-in analytics so that you know where shoppers are coming from, how much they are spending on average, when was the last time they made a purchase, and so on
- Is designed to be mobile responsive and is SEO friendly
BigCommerce checks all the above boxes.
WooCommerce is the largest ecommerce plugin in WordPress, which hosts over 30% of all websites worldwide.
It's free to use for its basic functionality, including integration with most popular payment processors, such as Stripe and PayPal, and only requires paid extensions for more advanced features.
This allows you to set up your first ecommerce site and begin to generate revenue with virtually no upfront cost.
Shopify is a very popular ecommerce platform used by millions of sellers all over the world to set up online stores.
One of the main reasons why it's so popular is because Shopify has a super intuitive interface that makes setting up your ecommerce site really easy even if you are not particularly tech savvy.
Shopify's user experience ranks among one of the best out there, with customer support available 24/7 by email, live chat and phone.
4. Adobe Commerce
Adobe Commerce (formerly known as Magento) is another popular ecommerce platform and is a bit more complex than Shopify, so it might not be the best choice for beginners but it's offers much more flexibility.
It tends to cater to more mature affiliate sites that begin to reach the limits of Shopify and are looking for an open-source solution that allows them to customize their stores by creating their own code.
Squarespace offers a beginner-friendly ecommerce solution for those affiliates that are just starting out.
The platform offers a range of templates for your ecommerce store that you can easily customize to match your brand. You can also create custom layouts as well.
Squarespace integrates with many third party apps including Mailchimp for email marketing and Stripe for payment processing, but its ecommerce solution is much more limited in functionality than the above choices.
One of the most profitable forms of affiliate website monetization is a recurring payment model, like a subscription or a membership.
If you create content that can be dripped on a regular basis, say monthly, you’ll be able to generate a consistent stream of recurring revenue in the long haul.
While you’ll experience some churn, or a small number of people cancelling their subscription in a given month, you’ll more than make up for that by building a growing pipeline of new subscribers.
How do you manage such a profitable business model? With a WordPress membership/subscription plugin, like one of the choices below:
MemberPress is one of the most popular WordPress plugins for creating and managing membership subscriptions.
It’s very easy to use due to its intuitive user interface while it offers a multitude of options that allow you to create simple membership sites all the way to intricate ones, with sophisticated dripped content access rules.
With MemberPress, you can offer multiple membership levels (e.g. gold, silver and bronze) and apply access restrictions down to the page level.
Membermouse is a WordPress membership plugin that allows you to easily add a membership program to your site. You can create different levels of access for members and easily integrate it with popular payment solutions.
Membermouse's key strength is that, unlike many of its competitors, it lives inside your own server giving you full ownership over your membership data at all times.
3. WooCommerce Memberships
WooCommerce has a great membership extension that allows you to create your own subscriptions at an affordable price. Like Membermouse, you own all your membership data at all times since it's always stored locally.
Since this is a WooCommerce extension, it integrates seamlessly into the WooCommerce ecommerce ecosystem, giving you a tremendous amount of flexibility by working hand in hand with the biggest ecommerce engine in WordPress.
4. WP Members
WP Members is another WordPress plugin that allows you to add membership revenue to your affiliate marketing strategy. It's extremely easy to configure and required a minimal learning curve.
This plugin offers you a complete membership site solution right out of the box in just minutes, including protected pages, download buttons, dripped content and easy integration with numerous payment gateways.
Finally, MagicMembers is another great membership plugin choice for WordPress affiliate sites, and as an added bonus for cost-conscious affiliate marketers, you can get it for a one-time price.
This WordPress plugin allows you to create a simple or a complex membership site without any coding required and easily manage all your subscribers from a powerful dashboard.
Among its many features, You can offer multiple memberships to the same client, offer drip content, widgets, premium memberships, coupons and much more.
Online Course Creation
Online course platforms are one of the fastest growing segments for internet-based income generation.
They allow people to learn new information and skills at their own pace from the comfort of their own homes.
Online courses can be delivered in full or dripped over time, creating a nice stream of recurring revenue via monthly memberships or subscriptions.
As an affiliate marketer selling your own digital products, the type of features you’re looking for from an course platform are attractive templates, email marketing integration and upselling options with a built-in payment processing.
Below you'll find the best online course creation platforms available today for affiliate marketers:
This is the only platform with a truly usable free plan that can be used long term without being forced into an upgrade path, provided that you create no more than three courses in total.
This free plan is great if you're bootstrapping because it doesn’t impose transaction fees and it comes loaded with premium features.
Thinkific has more customization options than any other learning platform by a long shot. You can fully brand your storefront and your courses to match exactly your own affiliate site.
In addition, their free plan allows you to offer quizzes, surveys, student discussions, offer completion certificates, make sales right out of the platform as well as collecting payments.
In every industry there's a market leader, and in the online learning platform world Teachable is the one to beat.
If you’re planning to make online course delivery a central part of your monetization strategy, this platform will give everything you need to succeed:
- A solid, reliable and well supported platform
- Intuitive course creation tools with a clean interface
- A well designed, highly customizable sales funnel (sales, checkout, and thank you pages)
- Ability to brand your Online Learning Center inside Teachable to match your own website
- A built-in payment system
- Ability to sell your courses with multiple payment tiers (like SaaS tools), a subscription system, and even a payment plan feature (e.g. “pay in 3 installments of x dollars)
- Ability to set up your own affiliate network to enlist affiliates to sell on your behalf and use Teachable to manage course sales and payouts
Clearly, this is a well-thought out platform that gives you all of the tools necessary to create, market and sell your online courses without hassle.
This platform chose to go the plugin route instead of hosting their courses on the cloud.
In fact, LearnDash is the leading WordPress online course plugin, allowing you to sell and manage online courses on a self-hosted platform where you retain full control of your content and delivery.
A neat feature missing from many of its competitors is the ability to reuse lessons across different courses, saving you a tremendous amount of course creation time.
It also has a really good setup for your students, where they have access to personal profile pages where, among other things, they can see what courses they’re signed up to and track their own progress.
LearnDash allows you to create an unlimited number of courses and offers powerful reporting and administrative tools right out of the box.
This is another cloud-based platform that has a strong set of features plus beautiful professional-looking templates, a modular page builder, automated certificates and advanced analytics so you can easily assess the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
LearnWorlds is designed to provide your students with a rich multimedia experience, including interactive videos and eBooks. It supports quizzes, learning paths, question banks and certificates of completion.
In terms of monetization, LearnWorlds offers robust affiliate marketing tools and it has built-in eCommerce capabilities so you can sell courses, bundles and memberships.
Kajabi is another leading online course platform that offers a beautiful, intuitive interface for building courses step-by-step, as well as an extensive library of professionally designed course templates.
Kajabi’s drag-and-drop editor lets you easily add text boxes, images or videos anywhere on the page; it even has helpful prompts which guide you through how to create each element, reducing your learning curve.
You can also customize your branding by customizing fonts, colors and logos to match your affiliate website.
Affiliate websites are one of the most profitable online businesses and have boast of the highest margins in the online income-generation space.
Pure affiliate sites don’t even need to deal with customer service since they only act as lead-feeders to other vendors, who take full care of the customer.
One of the most popular affiliate programs for online earners is Amazon Associates, which focuses primarily on physical products (with a nearly unlimited choice), but they're by no means the only game in town, nor do they pay particularly high commissions.
In fact, there are many other affiliate networks that host tens of thousands of merchants willing to pay you a commission for any leads that you send their way, and many of them pay out at much higher rates than Amazon.
In the end, it’s always a good idea to have a mix of affiliate networks in the bag since you don't want to depend on a single one.
If you put all your eggs in a single basket and your relationship sours for some reason, you run the risk of being kicked out of the network with your revenue going to zero from one day to the next.
But if you cater to merchants from a mix of affiliate networks, then you’ll always have revenue coming your way, and should your relationship go south with any one of them, you can at least replace them while experiencing only a temporary dip in your overall earnings.
Now, not all affiliate networks are created equal. Some networks are legit and some are very shady.
The shady ones don’t report all sales and pocket the unreported commissions and many delay payments unnecessarily compromising your income continuity.
For this reason, I’ve created a list of the top 5 affiliate networks who always pay on time, offer competitive commissions and will never (ever) pocket one penny that belongs to you.
ShareASale is a leader in the industry, providing affiliate partners with a wide range of training seminars, merchant recommendations and marketing classes to help you grow your affiliate business.
Although they don’t offer as many big-brand names as their competitors, they do host over 4,500 small and medium-size merchants, including Thinkific, WPEngine, and Masterclass.
Where they truly excel is in the merchant search capabilities. For example you can easily find your ideal candidates by filtering their merchant database by EPC, start date, alphabetical appearance, commission amounts and cookie length, among other options.
They have a simple sign up process, easy to use affiliate link creation tools, and excellent reporting.
Awin is an award-winning global affiliate marketplace with over 13,000 merchants in 180 countries. Big brands include: AliExpress, ETSY, HP, Lonely Planet and Hotels.com.
They are a leading affiliate network in the U.K., Europe and the U.S. and provide excellent support through trouble tickets, phone and an extensive wiki support site.
Their approval process is straightforward, but you’ll also need to be approved by individual merchants, which can sometimes delay your affiliate links a little bit.
Awin has created a powerful search tool to make it easier for you to select from among 4 million products to promote. More importantly, they created a powerful algorithm to identify the best-performing merchant programs across their network.
To simplify the creation of affiliate links, they’ve developed a WordPress plugin that automatically converts product links into trackable links with a single click.
3. Amazon Associates
Without a doubt, Amazon Associates is perhaps the most popular affiliate program on the land. Why are they not number one on this list? Because their commission rates are extremely low compared to the competition.
While Amazon Associates has by far the largest suite of products to promote compared to any other network, they do pay mere cents on the dollar (e.g. a huge chuck of their inventory pays out 1-2% commissions).
Having said that, they do have the highest conversion rates of all networks, simply because Amazon is a master at converting visitors into cash. Have you ever visited Amazon when you were looking for something and not purchase it?
In fact, when someone visits Amazon through one of your affiliate links, there’s a good chance they'll end up buying a lot more than what you have on offer—and you’ll get a commission for the entire purchase!
So, as long as you have a well put-together affiliate site with decent traffic, there’s a good chance you’ll always make decent money with Amazon, and this consistency is definitely a plus.
However, you should also complement it with other affiliate networks to round out your online affiliate income.
4. CJ Affiliates
One of the oldest affiliate networks, CJ Affiliates processes over $15 billion in annual sales with over $1.8 billion paid out annually to affiliate partners.
They have a straight forward signup process and have over 2,800 brands in their roster, including big brands like GoPro, Lowes, Zappos and Verizon, plus a huge number of smaller brands.
The signup process is straightforward and they offer support through an extensive knowledge base and live chat (no phone support).
They also offer excellent real-time reporting and reliable monthly payments.
In addition to affiliate links, they also allow you to create a number of product widgets, like slideshows, collages and a grid featuring products from multiple vendors.
Finally, they give you the ability to offer ad space on your site for merchants on the network.
With about 1,000 merchants, including big-name brands like Microsoft, Nvidia, NordVPN and JetBlue, Rakuten is the smallest of our top-rated affiliate networks but definitely manage to punch above their weight.
Their platform is really easy to use so it’s great for beginners, they have high-quality tutorial videos and excellent reporting tools that tell you where every penny comes from at all times.
In addition to affiliate commissions they also allow you to monetize visitors by placing banners (i.e. traditional advertising). They can also pay you per sale as well as per lead (keep in mind that per-sale commissions are dramatically higher than per-lead.)
Rakuten has excellent 24/7 support and a good knowledge base. They offer phone support only in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Everywhere else, they offer live chat and email support.
The sign-up process is quick and easy, and the affiliate link creation process is straight forward.
There are two main ways ad platforms operate. While they'll all compensate you on an ad revenue share basis, some will pay you based on people clicking on ads while others will pay you based on ad impressions (i.e. people seeing the ads, whether they click on them or not).
Networks that pay based on clicks (e.g. Google AdSense and Infolinks) can afford to play the “long-tail game,” that is, signing millions of low traffic websites because they charge advertisers for clicks so it doesn’t really matter to them where the click comes from.
Because these cost-per-click networks handle such a large volume of websites, they cannot afford the cost and complexity of providing live support, so you’ll basically be on your own when it comes to optimizing the ads for conversions.
But those networks that pay on the basis of cost per thousands of impressions (e.g. Monumetric, Mediavine and AdThrive) require a lot of specialized conversion expertise to generate good results, so they need a large staff of account managers to set up each website individually.
Therefore they can't really afford to sign up millions of low-traffic websites and need to focus instead on fewer high-traffic sites for their business model to work.
To better illustrate the two different ad sharing models (cost-per-click and cost-per-thousand-impressions), here are the traffic criteria you’ll need to meet in order to be accepted into the ad networks in this article:
- Google AdSense (pays per click): No traffic requirements
- Infolinks (pays per click): No traffic requirements
- Monumetric (pays per impression): 10,000 monthly pageviews min
- Mediavine (pays per impression): 50,000 monthly sessions min
- AdThrive (pays per impression): 100,000 monthly sessions min
Now, having ad revenue is clearly tempting for a website owner because it becomes passive income you don't need to work to get (obviously you need to work on generating traffic, but you have to do this anyway whether you display ads or not).
But here's an important caveat: if you run a highly profitable affiliate website, every time visitors click on your ads they're taken away from your site and many don't return, potentially impacting your affiliate revenue.
Here's an example. Say, your affiliate commissions generate $3,000/month and your ad network ads $1,500 to your bank account, but makes you lose $1,000 in affiliate commissions, then you're up $500 net compared to not running ads.
But, if serving ads reduces your monthly affiliate commissions by $2,000, then you'll be down $500 and be better off without showing ads. So, make sure you take this into account before signing up with an ad network.
Alright, let's begin! I’ve written this article to provide an ad revenue path of growth from beginner websites with little traffic to established websites with a large following.
All five networks that I recommend below are at the top of their field, they are highly reliable, and most importantly, they pay on time.
1. Google AdSense
While Google AdSense does not require a traffic minimum, they do have requirements that you need to fulfill in order to be approved:
- You'll need an Informational website with over 30 pages of unique content that's already generating traffic (so if your site is under construction, don’t apply until it's been live for a couple of months to generate some initial statistics)
- Your website must be 100% mobile friendly since a significant portion of AdSense ad revenue originates from mobile devices
- Content must not be offensive or violate in any way Google AdSense's terms and conditions
Other than that you’re good to go. Now, acceptance into the program is not automatic. In fact, if you have a brand new website, it may take you several tries to get in. My opinion is that Google first wants to confirm that you’re making a concerted effort to promote your website.
If every time you apply your traffic goes up, there’s a good change that at one point you’ll pass that filter and get accepted.
Google AdSense is one of the biggest, if not the biggest cost per click ad network in the world and as a result it’s a very popular destination for websites that want to monetize their visitors through advertising.
But not everything is peaches and cream. They are known for being one of the lowest paying ad networks and also they have one of the smallest revenue share percentages at 65%. Larger networks like Mediavine and AdThrive share upwards of 75% of their ad revenue.
Having said that, the last two are not an option for new websites because of their high traffic requirements for entry.
So, the question is then, is it worth it to join Google AdSense if they’ll only pay pennies on the dollar? The short answer is yes, because you’ll be able to use them as a stepping stone to better paying networks later on.
For example, Monumetric, Mediavine and AdThrive are all Google Certified Partners, which means that if you’re already a member of Google AdSense and you fulfill their traffic criteria, you’ll be accepted much faster than if you have no prior history with advertising networks.
Infolinks is a competitor of Google AdSense at the low end of traffic. Like Google, they have no minimum traffic requirement and they also charge advertisers a cost per click.
The main difference between the two networks, and the claim to fame for Infolinks, is that as its name suggests, they pioneered the “link-driven ad.”
Although they support standard banner display ads, their primary ad mode is to place a link with a double underline on certain keywords on your pages which click through to an ad that’s contextual with those keywords.
In fact, this network can work in conjunction with Google AdSense (i.e. through a combination of banner ads and link ads) thus allowing you to monetize visitors through both platforms concurrently.
Something else Infolinks is known for is their quick approval. While a Google AdSense's account approval may take you several weeks, Infolinks prides itself in having a 72-hour approval process.
Once your traffic reaches 10,000 pageviews per month, you'll begin to gain access to cost-per-impression ad networks. These companies take a much different approach to ad revenue generation.
They show their ads through websites that already have a consistently large following, so by working with a much smaller client base of publishers, they can budget dedicated resources to optimize your site to maximize revenue.
So, as soon as you’re approved, Monumetric will assign an account manager for your website who will talk to you to learn about your niche and business model and discuss your revenue goals.
Once the interview phase is complete, they'll access your website to lay out their code where it’s needed in order to display ads that convert.
This personalized approach makes a huge difference in the final results, as website owners consistently attest that their revenue increases five or six fold when they switch from Google AdSense to Monumetric all things being equal.
They also take a slightly different approach to serving ads. While Google AdSense serves static ads, Monumetric has the ability to rotate their ads in the same spot while the visitor is still on the page, increasing the number of impressions and therefore your payout.
In terms of requirements, in addition to a traffic floor of 10,000 pageviews per month, over 50% of this traffic must originate in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia/New Zealand. Also, in some cases your website needs to be approved by individual merchants before their ads can be shown.
Finally, compared to cost-per-click networks that tend to operate a self-serve mode for customer support, Monumetric’s personalized support gets rave reviews from website owners.
Once you’ve achieved entry into the world of cost-per-impression ad networks with Monumetric, you’ll start finding a lot of reviews from website owners stating that after about two years they traded up to Mediavine and they're now making even more money per impression.
Although Mediavine pays more on average than Monumetric, they have a huge barrier to entry: your website must have at least 50,000 monthly sessions just to get in the door.
At these elevated traffic levels, two things happen: 1- you get an even more dedicated team working with you to constantly optimize your website to maximize ad revenue and 2- Mediavine can leverage their massive aggregated traffic to attract merchants with much deeper pockets.
The end result is that Mediavine has become the de-facto upgrade path of website owners as they grow their traffic over time.
Like Monumetric, Mediavine has a reputation for excellent customer service and for working with you and your website to get the best possible financial results.
However, Mediavine does not have a referral program and if you get approved to their network you’ll need to commit to a minimum stay of three months.
The final best player in the ad network industry (and one of the highest paying) is AdThrive, one of the largest programmatic ad networks in the world.
The challenge for newer online solopreneurs is that it’s very difficult to get accepted into AdThrive because of their massive barrier to entry: 100,000 monthly sessions—that's twice Mediavine's already sky-high requirements!
Their secret sauce is their use of proprietary software algorithms that match the ideal viewer with the ideal ad at the ideal time of day on the ideal site to get the best possible results for their merchants (and you by extension!).
Before serving ads on your site, they'll use advanced tools to analyze your traffic patterns to find the ideal candidates from their gigantic pool of ad inventory. This is one of the main reasons they require websites with huge traffic, because the bigger the dataset the more accurate the results.
In terms of logistics, AdThrive is very similar to Monumetric and Mediavine, although they have better payment terms: the pay on net 45 days instead of 60 (Monumetric) and 65 (Mediavine).
Your Lead Acquisition Stack:
Landing Page Builders
Landing page builders allow you to make web pages for capturing leads, running affiliate promotions or selling your own digital products.
They're a lot like WordPress themes in that they let you customize the color scheme and layout of your landing pages with drag-and-drop functionality.
The best landing page builder plugins will offer lots of templates to choose from, great design customization tools and easy integration with other affiliate marketing tools such as email automation platforms and payment processors.
Here are the best landing page builders for affiliate marketers:
Unbounce was one of the early full-featured landing page builders in the industry and it hasn't stopped innovating ever since.
It still commands a devoted following of users that swear about their versatility and feature set, which includes A/B testing with built-in analytics, security features like SSL and GDPR compliance available in all plans.
Unbounce offers a 30-day free trial.
Leadpages boasts over 150 landing-page templates, it integrates with popular self-hosted platforms like WordPress as well as website builders like Wix, email marketing platforms and payment processors.
All of their templates are mobile responsive and they offer a handy wizard to get you going fast if you’re a beginner and feel a bit overwhelmed with so much choice.
Instapage is another leading landing page builder that's easy to use and does not require any coding to set up.
It has an intuitive drag and drop interface which makes it ideal to create pixel-perfect landing pages even if you're not technically savvy.
You can create landing pages for your affiliate site from scratch, by choosing pre-made templates from Instapage's library or by starting with an existing template and customizing it to your needs and branding.
Landingi makes it really easy to build landing pages fast with its intuitive drag-and-drop editor plus over 300 great-looking landing page templates.
In addition to landing pages, you can also create popups taking advantage of their 100+ popup templates and seemless integration with popular email marketing platforms, CRMs and payment processors.
Wishpond is a landing page builder that's a bit different from its competition in that it comes with built-in marketing features so you are not forced to integrate with third-party tools.
For example, it allows you to build landing pages and popups that can send drip email natively and it also offers some basic marketing automation features so that you can nurture your leads from within the platform.
However, it also allows you to ingrate popular marketing tools if you're already using them.
Opt-in page builders are plugins that allow you to create lead-capture forms on your WordPress site.
In affiliate marketing, you can use opt-in pages to capture leads from visitors by sending them an email with access to a unique lead magnet after they enter their name and contact details.
Here are the most popular opt-in page builders for affiliate marketers:
OptinMonster is the market leader in the opt-in space. With their easy to use software, you can create beautiful opt-in forms from scratch or from templates that can be designed to match your affiliate site branding.
OptinMonster has great A/B test functionality where you can compare two versions of the same opt-in, or even test one type of popup (say, a welcome mat) vs. another type (say, a lightbox).
Also, OptinMonster is a cloud application that links to your WordPress site via a plugin, so if you have multiple websites you can access all your opt-in designs and analytics through a single portal.
2. Thrive Leads
Thrive Leads is an opt-in builder that's hosted natively on your WordPress site via plugin, so you get to own and control all or your opt-in creatives without relying on third party platforms.
It offers one of the most complete A/B testing engines in the industry with detailed analytics reports so that you can see how many visitors are clicking on your opt-ins and how many of them are converting into leads.
It also offers a lot of opt-in trigger options, like time-based, percent scroll based, paragraph based and exit intent based.
ConvertPro is allows you to quickly and easily create professional looking opt-ins for your affiliate site.
It has an easy to use drag-and-drop builder that allows you to completely customize of every aspect of your opt-in page, from colors to fonts to images to backgrounds, all down to the pixel level.
ConvertPro also integrates with a large number of third-party tools like bulk email services, marketing automation platforms and popular CRMs.
ConvertBox uses a lightly different approach to opt-in presentation, in that it uses lead behavior signals from your email service or CRM to personalize the content of your opt-ins.
Foe example, you can segment your leads with relevant multiple-choice questions audience that will trigger opt-in marketing messages that align best with their goals and interests.
ConvertBox is currently in private beta, but they're allowing users to request early access to their platform for testing.
5. WP Subscribe
WP Subscribe is WordPress native opt-in tool that's lightweight, so it runs blazing fast. Instead of using a drag and drop editor, it configures your opt-ins via dashboard, so you get less functionality but faster implementation.
The opt-in forms a mobile responsive and it offers most basic triggers, like exit intent. It also ingrates with most popular email marketing automation platforms.
Webinar Hosting Platforms
Webinars are one of the most effective marketing tools for online marketers because of the long viewer attention span they command.
On average, a well executed webinar will have a conversion rate upwards of 20%, which is quite amazing compared to other marketing channels.
Although at a minimum there are many things you should expect from a good webinar platform, from viewer-engagement features to HD video and sound quality, you also want to make sure it offers:
An abundance of sales & marketing features to maximize viewer monetization
Solid reliability (many slick-looking inexpensive platforms appear to work great for a while and then one day out of nowhere they crash in the middle of a live webinar with 150 people watching!)
Responsive support in case you get stuck during setup or are trying to get critical third-party integrations to work.
The webinar hosting platforms below are the best in class that check all of the above boxes.
This is one of the most feature-rich platforms out there, providing both beginners and experts alike with what they need to market and host their webinars trouble-free.
WebinarJam is easy to use and offers great training videos for every step of the way in addition to live 24/7 support. All plans support HD video and sound and offer one-click registration to minimize sign-up friction with viewers.
In addition, it’s jam-packed with marketing features to help you increase your profit per webinar, including the ability to present popup buttons and offers with countdowns to your attendees to create urgency and scarcity.
You can customize the landing pages of your sales funnels to match the look and feel of your website and brand, as well as customize your viewer registration forms.
When it comes to audience monetization, WebinarJam allows you to introduce offers during the webinar and have registrants accept your offers while watching with clear and compelling calls to action.
If you are on a budget, Demio is a great option. It’s very easy to use for both creators as well as attendees. Demio is a reliable platform that offers solid analytics so that you can assess key performance metrics like average watch time and the attendance/signup rate.
Demio also allows you to customize your user registration forms and your webinar and marketing pages to match your website's look and brand.
Like WebinarJam, it automatically records all webinars and then allows you to access the replays on its own platform, YouTube or your website, for those who missed the original webinar airing.
Demio bills itself as a webinar platform built for marketing. For example, it allows you to brand the entire stack, from your registration pages to your slides, email notifications, landing pages on your funnels, replay pages, and so on.
Its “featured actions” can link your attendees with special offers, freebies, coupons, signup pages or any URL of your choosing for further marketing.
Finally, Demio is well known for their excellent customer support and for their rock-solid reliability (read: lack of system crashes).
3. Webinar Ninja
WebinarNinja is another popular webinar hosting platform with an intuitive interface.
A distinguishing feature that's very handy is the use of separate areas for chat messaging and questions, so that the latter are clutter free and easy to get to during busy webinar sessions.
As all other competitors, Webinar Ninja automatically records webinars and makes the replays available in a "replay room." It also integrates with popular email marketing services and marketing automation platforms.
When it comes to webinar hosting platforms, you won’t find much out there that's free to use (at least anything that lasts longer than a year or two). The reason is that video streaming is very resource intensive, and unless you are a massive giant like Zoom, you can’t afford to do a freemium model at scale.
Now, although Zoom does have a paid webinar offering, what I’m suggesting here is that you use the regular free Zoom service, which although it doesn’t have any marketing features, it does offer you the ability to do a live webinar of 40 minutes max with up to 100 participants.
While this is not a long-term solution, it’s great if you want to hone in your webinar chops without having to pay upfront monthly fees.
With Zoom you can record your broadcasts (locally, not on the cloud) and you have access to an intuitive user interface with great features.
LiveStorm is a webinar creation and hosting platform design to operate entirely via browser. That means that it won't require your viewers to download any software to their computers or devices.
The tradeoff is that speed can on occasion become an issue if users have a lot of windows and tabs open on their devices, which is something outside of your control.
Other than that, it offers the same feature-rich experience as its popular competitors, including user engagement tools like chat, lopps and surveys, registration pages, automated reminders and on-demand webinars.
Podcast Hosting Platforms
There's a growing market of people who prefer to consume information while they're involved in an activity, like driving, jogging, working out, doing yard work, etc.
This is where podcast hosting platforms come into the picture. In fact, podcasts have gained tremendously in popularity over the past decade.
Ten years ago, only 25% of people in North America knew what a podcast was, right now this number is 70%.
If you’d like to take advantage of this popular medium to market your online business, you’ll need to set up an account on a podcast hosting platform.
Now, given the growing popularity of podcasts, the podcast hosting space has become crowded with many new entrants offering amazing deals.
However, before you jump in, keep in mind that if these outfits ever go out of business (and many do because their business models are just not sustainable) so will your podcast and all of your hard work.
So make sure to choose a platform that's been around for a while and that best fits your needs.
Here are the podcasting platforms I recommend for online solopreneurs.
With over 250,000 podcasts hosted since its inception in 2006, PodBean is recognized as one of the most user-friendly, feature-rich and dependable podcast hosting platforms.
PodBean has proven with its longevity and popularity that they're here to stay.
Their user interface is simple yet powerful, which makes it ideal for beginners. They offer excellent analytics to help you understand your listeners better and improve your marketing (paid plans only).
PodBean's plans are very affordable and even include a Patreon-like feature to help you monetize your podcasts through member contributions.
On the money side of things, once you get to a significant amount of listeners, they will connect you with their network of advertisers via their dedicated sponsorship marketplace.
If you’re looking for a budget option, I’m going to take you down a different route than hosted platforms. Instead I'll suggest a great podcast player that allows you to host your own podcast on your WordPress site.
While this is not something I recommend for podcasts with a reasonably large audience due to storage and bandwidth server costs, this is a perfectly good approach for most beginners.
You can always switch to a hosted service when your audience grows.
When it comes to self-hosted podcasts, you can't beat the value in Fusebox.fm.
This is a versatile and highly customizable podcast player that plugs into your WordPress site, enhancing the user experience for your visitors.
For example, you can set up this player so that your visitors can listen to one or several of your podcast episodes while they browse your site.
You can also embed a single track player (i.e. single episode) on any page where there’s relevant content.
It even offers an email-capture form that easily integrates with popular email marketing platforms so you can build an email list.
Fusebox.fm also loads really fast, is mobile responsive and is designed to play on all types of devices.
With Transistor.fm you can host unlimited episodes, manage multiple users per account and even create multiple podcasts in one account.
They also offer a handy migration feature to move your podcasts from competing hosting services.
Their analytics dashboard and features are excellent (one of the best among competitors, in fact) and offer wide distribution for your podcast to the most popular sites and apps (e.g. Apple, Google, SoundCloud, Spotify, etc.).
The best part is that all of their plans give you access to all features.
The only difference between plans is the number of members that can access you account for collaborative projects, the number of downloads per month you're allowed and the number of private (premium) podcasts and subscribers you’re allowed to host.
Buzzsprout is a great platform for beginners, because they're easy to use and have a generous free plan. It includes a step-by-step guide that makes the entire setup process a breeze, all the way from uploading your episodes to distributing them to all the popular sites.
On the monetization front, they’ve created an innovative affiliate marketplace where they can connect you with brands to earn commissions from their affiliate programs (so far they have a limited number of brands in their program, but it’s growing day by day).
SimpleCast is an affordable podcast hosting platform that's been around since 2012 and since then has gained a devoted user base. It offers unlimited uploads and unlimited storage space on all plans.
It also allows you to customize your show website to match your brand and use your own customer domain. It also offers an embedable player so you can show a single episode on any webpage.
Wrapping Things Up
When it comes to building an affiliate business, you need to budget your time wisely so you spend it on those activities that'll put money in your pocket and not on reading dozens and dozens of software review sites.
Now that you have the most complete list of affiliate marketing tools ever assembled in a single place, use it as you one-stop-shop for finding the perfect solution for your every affiliate tech need.
Then, sign up for free trials and start building your affiliate tech stack with the confidence that you'll be using the best tools available today for every step of the way.