The Best Affiliate Programs for Bloggers: A Guide

Whether you’re a new blogger or a seasoned pro, one of the most common ways to monetize your site is through affiliate links. But what are the best affiliate programs for bloggers? And what is an affiliate link, exactly?

In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know, including:

Whether you’re a fashion blogger, beauty blogger, lifestyle blogger, or parenting blogger, we’ve got you covered.

Before we dive into the absolute best affiliate programs for bloggers, let’s quickly discuss how affiliate links work.


There are two ways to earn money from affiliate links:

  • Cost per acquisition (CPA) affiliate links
  • Pay per click (PPC) affiliate links

For the majority of top affiliate programs for bloggers, CPA links are the preferred model.

COST PER ACQUISITION (CPA) LINKS


When a reader clicks on a CPA affiliate link, it stores a cookie into the reader’s browser. The cookie tracks whether the reader goes on to make a purchase—whether the exact item you linked to, or any other product on the site.

If the reader makes a purchase within a set time frame—called the cookie window—you earn a commission based on a percentage of the total purchase.

Here are the factors that determine how much you get paid with this type of affiliate link:

  • commission rate
  • how long the cookie window is open
  • how long it takes for your sale/commission to close

Let’s look at each of these in greater detail.

Commission Rates

Retailers in your affiliate network will offer different commission rates. If you join more than one affiliate network, you may notice rates vary for that same retailer from network to network.

Because commission rates vary between retailers, you can use this to your advantage and strategize which retailer to affiliate link to, since brands distribute their products across many retailers. For example, a luxury night cream available at Sephora might also be available at Nordstrom and even on Amazon!

For example…

Shoe Shop A offers affiliates 8% commission, and Shoe Shop B offers 15%. Both shops are selling the same pair of boots from Steve Madden. If both Shoe Shops are reputable and align with your brand, you’re better off affiliate linking to Shoe Shop B, since sales from their site will give you a higher commission.

Cookie Windows

Affiliate links all have a cookie window. This means the cookie embedded in the reader’s browser is only valid for a certain amount of time. The amount of time the cookie remains varies from retailer to retailer.

Your cookie windows will also be erased and replaced by competing affiliate links your readers click on. So, if a reader clicks on your affiliate link to Sephora, but the next day, that same reader clicks on another blogger’s affiliate link to Sephora and makes a purchase, that other blogger would receive the commission, not you.

HEADS UP! WHY COOKIES CAN COST YOU REVENUE

Where users read your content matters for cookies. In fact, the type of browser a reader uses impacts if an affiliate link cookie is stored in a web browser at all, and for how long. Two ways that cookies will impact your affiliate link revenue are:

  • Your readers are browsing in Instagram.  It’s common for influencers to use affiliate links in Instagram stories, or their Instagram profile link. Most cookies from affiliate links opened with Instagram’s native browser are only active for the duration of the user’s session in the browser, regardless of cookie window. Read more about cookies in Instagram.
  • Your readers are browsing privately.  If a reader is using a private browsing mode, such as Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode, or Safari’s Private Browsing mode, they’re browsing privately. With these browsers, once the reader clicks on an affiliate link, the cookie is only stored for that single browsing session. After the browser tab is closed or they navigate to another site, the cookie data is not stored. So, if the reader does not purchase something immediately in the session after their initial click, you would not receive a commission, regardless of the retailer’s cookie window.

Commission Windows

Once earned, commissions remain open for a set amount of time. This means that even once a purchase is made, you don’t automatically receive commission payments. Instead, commissions stay open anywhere from 60-120 days. After the commission window closes, you receive your payout.

Keep in mind that if a reader returns their purchase within that time frame, your commission is likely to be zeroed out.

For example:

A reader purchases a $100 cashmere sweater from Brand X Sweaters through your affiliate link. Since Brand X Sweaters offers 10% commission rates, a 30-day cookie window, and a 60-day commission window, you’d receive $10 in commission if the reader purchased within 30 days of clicking on your link. But you won’t receive your $10 commission until 2 months after the purchase date because of the 60-day comission window.

However, if they return the sweater before your 60-day commission window closed, you will not receive the $10 commission.

PAY PER CLICK (PPC) LINKS


PPC links are less common these days, but worth mentioning so you’re familiar with them. When a PPC link is clicked, it results in a small payment to you. The more clicks driven, the more revenue you generate.

Most PPC models generate very little money per click, so if you’re on a platform that uses them, click volume is extremely important.

But don’t stress too much—the major affiliate networks we discuss below all use a CPA model, not PPC!


How to pick the right affiliate program for your blog

There are several factors to consider when choosing an affiliate program for your blog:

  • Is it easy to join?
  • Do they offer tools to help you promote your links?
  • Will it be difficult to manage your affiliate links and data?
  • Do they help you secure sponsorships?
  • Are the commission rates competitive?

Let’s dive into each of these a little more.

Is the affiliate program easy to join?

Some affiliate networks have no requirements to join—simply fill out a form, and you’re ready to go. Others, like the popular rewardStyle and ShopStyle Collective platforms, require you to apply. And, they may have minimum requirements in terms of your monthly site pageviews, Instagram followers, or following on similar social media platforms.

If you get rejected from rewardStyle or ShopStyle, don’t stress. Many bloggers work on building a following, then apply again!

Do they offer tools to help you promote your affiliate links?

Visuals matter! The most popular affiliate platforms for bloggers offer product widget builders, which help you create interactive, visual shopping carousels or grids that feature product images. Showcasing these product image thumbnails can encourage your readers to click on your links and shop.

Here are some examples of these widgets in action:

↑ In this EmPress themes demo, we’ve integrated a rewardStyle Boutiques widget directly onto a page. You can also integrate the rewardStyle Boutiques widget within our Boutiques plugin, which offers a filter menu at the top.

↑ In our EmPress Hayes theme, check out how we’ve integrated a ShopStyle Looks widget at the top of this Boutiques plugin page. The ShopStyle Looks widget allows you to upload your own images, then attach affiliate links via product thumbnails, for easy shopping.

↑ Another great widget example is a carousel product widget. Both rewardStyle and Shopstyle offer these. These types of widgets can be integrated directly into your blog post content for easy shopping, and many themes will allow you to feature them at the close of a post, as well as on other pages (such as your Home Page or category archival pages).

Will it be difficult to manage your affiliate links and data?

As we’ll discuss in the next section, each affiliate network features different retailers. Depending on which brands you link to regularly, you may need to sign up for multiple networks in order to have access to affiliate links for all of them.

It can be annoying having to bounce between platforms to generate your links, so be sure to choose a platform that features the highest number of retailers you can see yourself linking to.

Additionally, some networks have poorly designed dashboards that make it hard to analyze what links are working, what sold, and how much you’re making. It’s a small consideration, but how the affiliate network dashboard is designed might influence your choice of one over another.

Do they help you secure sponsorships?

If you’re interested in growing your site into a serious, revenue-generating business, it’s helpful to choose an affiliate platform that offers collaboration opportunities beyond affiliate links.

These platforms will bring you paid collaborations from top brands. If you’ve ever seen a “Sponsored by ShopStyle and Brand X” call out within a post, you’ve seen one of these collaborations in action.

Are the commission rates competitive?

Commission rates through the big affiliate networks tend to be far lower compared to rewardStyle and ShopStyle—sometimes by as much as 15-20% more, according to ShopStyle. We’ve noted commission rates with Nordstrom as much as 8-10% higher on rewardStyle versus Rakuten.


The best affiliate networks for new bloggers

While many major retailers are part of rewardStyle and ShopStyle, they also run their own individual affiliate programs through large affiliate networks. Four large affiliate networks include:

By joining one of these networks, you don’t need to sign up for an individual retailer’s affiliate program. Instead, you can simply join one of these larger networks to gain access to multiple brands.

For example, if you want to join the Nordstrom affiliate program, or the Shopbop affiliate program, you might notice the applications on their websites link directly to Rakuten. That’s because Rakuten is managing their affiliate program on their behalf! So, once you join Rakuten, you’d have access to both Nordstrom and Shopbop affiliate links.

HOW TO JOIN THESE AFFILIATE NETWORKS


Simply navigate to their website using the links above, and apply! Typically, each requires that you fill out a simple form to create an account.

Pros of joining these affiliate networks

  • Great for all types of blogs: Whether you’re a style blogger, mom blogger, fitness blogger, or menswear blogger, because so many retailers are included, there’s something for everyone.
  • Easy to join: If you have a brand new blog and aren’t able to get approved to join rewardStyle or ShopStyle, these networks are a great option, since they still offer the largest and most popular brands, and anyone can join.
  • Access to lots of retailers: Virtually all the big name brands in the fashion and beauty world have an account with at least one major affiliate network.

Cons of joining these affiliate networks

  • Harder to manage: You’ll likely need to manage multiple affiliate accounts, because different brands will join different affiliate networks. So while the Sephora affiliate program is on Rakuten, the Everlane affiliate program runs through PepperJam. If you wanted to feature affiliate links from both places, you would need to create an account on both Rakuten and PepperJam.
  • Lower commission rates: Commission rates through the big affiliate networks tend to be far lower than with rewardStyle and ShopStyle—sometimes by as much as 15-20% more, according to ShopStyle.
  • Few tools to help you promote your links: Most affiliate networks only provide affiliate links themselves, for embedding into text. Few affiliate networks offer product widgets you can embed on your blog. However, Rakuten is one that does offer a widget product. Learn more about Rakuten Curate.

AMAZON ASSOCIATES


How to join Amazon Associates

Apply for Amazon Associates. Then, after joining, simply use your Amazon Associates links in place of a normal Amazon URL. Your specific links generate revenue when readers make purchases on any product on Amazon.

Pros of joining Amazon Associates

  • Great for: Beauty blogs, book bloggers, lifestyle blogs, parenting blogs.
  • Easy to join: You only need an Amazon account to sign up. Amazon Associates is so popular, that many influencers join either rewardStyle or ShopStyle, as well as Amazon Associates!
  • High commission rates for beauty blogs: Commission rates on Amazon vary depending on the item, but they can be as high as 10%. However, because Amazon pays high commissions on luxury beauty items, it’s one of the best beauty affiliate programs for beauty blogs.
  • High conversion rates: Because so many people shop on Amazon, it’s common for readers to purchase something once they’re on the site, even if it’s not the exact item you linked to.

Cons of joining Amazon Associates

  • Shorter cookie windows: The Amazon Associates cookie window is only 24 hours. Readers must click on your link and make a purchase within 24 hours in order for you to earn a commission.
  • Do not offer easy to use widgets: As of publication, Amazon Affiliates no longer offers shopping widget carousels. Most of their widget products are focused on ads, with options for banners and native shopping ads.

Best affiliate networks for established bloggers

The most well-known affiliate networks in the fashion blog, style blog, and influencer arena are rewardStyle and ShopStyle Collective. These top affiliate programs for bloggers offer access to numerous retailers, all from one single portal or dashboard.

Let’s take a look at both of these popular affiliate programs for bloggers:

REWARDSTYLE


rewardStyle is one of the top affiliate programs for bloggers, with a targeted focus towards fashion affiliate programs. They also feature major retailers in the home decor, beauty, menswear, and parenting spaces (and even travel booking sites, too!).

How to join rewardStyle

Click to fill out the rewardStyle application.

How to get accepted to rewardStyle

According to the rewardStyle applications team, as of 2020:

Intent and drive is very important when accepting rewardStyle influencers. Be sure to diversify your [Instagram] feed in terms of background and style, and focus on content quality. A little bit of extra effort goes a long way in terms of quality, and having a friend or family member photograph your look is a great way to improve quality. Check out our Instagram handle @liketoknowit for inspiration from some of our top-performing influencers!

Pros of joining rewardStyle

  • Great for: Fashion, Style, Beauty, Interior Design, Menswear, Parenting, Travel, and Lifestyle blogs
  • Offer many tools to help you promote links: rewardStyle offers a comprehensive suite of product widgets to help you promote your links. Their Shop the Post widget, Boutique widget, Lookbook widget, and LiketoKnow.it widget are all great options to showcase product thumbnails and encourage reader clicks.
  • Easy-to-use and manage: rewardStyle’s dashboard is simple and easy to navigate. As one of the most popular affiliate networks for bloggers, they also feature nearly every retailer you’d ever want to link to.
  • Offer additional sponsorship opportunities: rewardStyle features an influencer agency, which works directly with brands to bring collaborations to members in their network. This creates opportunities for you to produce sponsored content.
  • Higher commission rates: Compared to other affiliate networks like Rakuten or Share-A-Sale, rewardStyle’s commission rates are generally higher across all retailers. Commissions usually close within 90-120 days, according to rewardStyle.
  • Gain access to LiketoKnow.it app: rewardStyle is well-known for their shopping app, LiketoKnow.it, with influencers often cross-publishing images there and on Instagram. Followers can screenshot LiketoKnow.it enabled images to automatically shop featured products (with your affiliate links attached!) within the LiketoKnow.it app.

Cons of joining rewardStyle

  • Harder to join: rewardStyle will look for an engaged following on social media, as well as consistent, well-produced blog content with a clear topic focus. If you’re starting out and don’t blog often, don’t feature imagery, or are still growing your social media following, it is harder to get accepted.

SHOPSTYLE COLLECTIVE


ShopStyle Collective was originally an affiliate network born out of the ShopStyle.com shopping platform. In recent years, it has changed from a Pay-Per-Click affiliate model to Cost-Per-Acquisition—and also grown into an influencer-loved powerhouse.  It is one of the top affiliate programs for bloggers, and preferred by many fashion and lifestyle bloggers.

How to join ShopStyle Collective

Click to fill out the ShopStyle Collective application.

Pros of joining ShopStyle Collective

  • Great for: Fashion, Style, Beauty, Interior Design, Menswear, Parenting and Lifestyle blogs.
  • Easier to join than rewardStyle: If you are looking for a clothing affiliate program and joining your first affiliate network, ShopStyle may be preferable. Many bloggers report that it is easier to join than rewardStyle.
  • Easy to use: If you’re a ShopStyle affiliate, you’ll have access to similar retailers as rewardStyle, and will not need to join multiple networks. ShopStyle is constantly improving their user dashboard experience too, making it easy to track your earnings and analyze your link data.
  • Offer many tools to help you promote links: ShopStyle also offers a growing suite of product widgets to help you promote your links. Examples include their Product Widget (allows you to create a widget with a group of products), Look Widget (allows you to tag products within a single image), and the Collection Widget (which allows you to create a collection of Look widgets).
  • Offer additional sponsorship opportunities: ShopStyle offers collaboration opportunities. As a member of their network, you’re eligible for brand partnerships that would result in a paid sponsored post. Here’s an example of a ShopStyle collaboration.
  • Higher commission rates: ShopStyle reports their commission rates are 15-20% higher than affiliate networks. Commissions usually close within 60-90 days.

Cons of joining ShopStyle Collective

  • Widgets a little harder to use: We personally find ShopStyle’s product widgets more difficult to create. However, their widgets are highly versatile and can be embedded easily into posts and pages. ShopStyle also outputs their widget code in HTML, which isn’t as fast to load or as lightweight compared to WordPress shortcodes. However, these are very small negatives—overall, ShopStyle is a great program!

The best affiliate tools for WordPress

You’ve mastered how affiliate platforms generate money, and joined your favorite program. But what about actually getting those links and product widgets onto your WordPress blog?

Below, we’ll take a look at the features you should consider integrating into your site as you begin to work with affiliates.

BEST AFFILIATE THEMES FOR WORDPRESS


When searching for an affiliate template for WordPress, keep an eye out for themes that offer easily shoppable features directly on the Home Page.

At EmPress, many of our premium WordPress themes offer extra Home Page content features, and all are packaged with unique, customizable widgets. Combining the two allows you to easily upload product images and link externally with your preferred affiliate links.

Here are a few examples:

↑ In this demo of our Pearl theme, we’ve used a Pearl: Shop widget in the second interstitial content block—it’s the pink block titled “This Month’s Reader Faves.” Each of these products could link to an affiliate link!

↑ In this demo of our Presidio theme, we added a Presidio: Shop widget to the sidebar and featured a perfume and facial mask, allowing readers to sample a brief snippet of this blogger’s recent favorite items. Again, each item can link to an affiliate link.

↑ In this version of our Hayes theme, we used our Pearl: Social Feed widget to mix lifestyle imagery alongside products featured in each photo in the “Shop by Post” interstitial. It’s an immersive way to showcase your content, and also promote affiliate links, too!

↑ In this version of our Miramar theme, we embedded a rewardStyle Shop the Post widget directly into the theme-enabled Shopping Widget space. The product carousel slider appears directly under the first two posts, with the title “Current Must Haves.”


Best Affiliate WordPress Plugins

Look for plugins that help you integrate product widgets from your affiliate network directly into your theme. Here at EmPress, we’ve built a few different affiliate WordPress plugins which do exactly that:

SHOP THE POST PLUGIN


Our Shop the Post plugin displays rewardStyle or ShopStyle shopping widgets in posts on the Home Page. By doing this, readers can see and interact with your widgets from the Home Page, without having to click into posts!

↑ View an example: In our Hayes theme, the shopping widget you see under the first post, “Two Weeks in Greece,” relies on the Shop the Post plugin to add your affiliate widget code to the Home Page, so readers can see it without clicking into the post.

BOUTIQUES PLUGIN


Boutiques is a WordPress affiliate store plugin that can be paired with rewardStyle, ShopStyle, or Rakuten widgets. With the Boutiques plugin, you can integrate these affiliate platform widgets:

  • rewardStyle Boutiques widgets
  • ShopStyle Product widgets
  • Rakuten Curate widgets

Use the Boutiques plugin to assign up to 5 tabs for each boutique shopping widget, so that users can shop multiple widgets, all on the same page.

View an example: In our Rania theme, we added a version of the EmPress Boutiques plugin to this page, which features a list of retailer affiliate links at the top, plus 5 different rewardStyle boutiques widgets at the bottom.

GRID PLUGIN


Our Grid plugin provides an alternate layout for your categorical archives, and, when used in conjunction with our Shop the Post plugin, it also displays rewardStyle or ShopStyle widgets on these pages, for easy shopping!

View an example: In our Hayes theme, we’ve applied Grid to the Recipes category page, which allows users to easily drill down into sub-categories. However, note that some post images feature a small shopping bag icon over them. These posts have also taken advantage of the Shop the Post plugin, making access to affiliate links easy sitewide.

LINK IN PROFILE PLUGIN


With our Link in Profile plugin, create a customized Instagram profile link which features content and buttons that get followers to the right place. Link in Profile includes:

  • Option to automatically feature your most recent blog post
  • Space for 6 image thumbnails and captions
  • Space to embed a rewardStyle, LiketoKnow.it, or ShopStyle shopping widget. This makes it easy to promote your favorite products and affiliate links, directly on Instagram.

View an example: In this example of Link in Profile used on the Presidio theme, we’ve embedded a rewardStyle Shop the Post widget, as well as uploaded our own product thumbnails to link to our preferred affiliate links. Another great use for Link in Profile is to showcase product images next to lifestyle imagery, and link both to affiliate links.


We hope this has given you some insight into the best affiliate programs for bloggers! Do you have any questions about affiliate platforms? Be sure to leave them in the comments below. And, don’t forget to shop our full suite of affiliate-ready WordPress themes and plugins.

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