Affiliate programs are one of the most popular ways of earning money online; whether it is as a nice side-hustle for a little extra cash or the backbone of a five-figure a month income, they provide a way to earn revenue while doing the things you are already doing.
They can invisibly add additional revenue streams that, in some cases, can even add value for your viewers.
With all of this in mind, it is natural to wonder; does YouTube have an affiliate program of their own.
After all, being profitable is a serious concern for the platform, not to mention the added incentive it would give to content creators.
Does YouTube have an affiliate program? – No, YouTube does not have an affiliate program, but you can monetize your channel with the Partnership Program if/when you meet the 1K subscribers and 4K hours of watch time requirements. However you can still use external affiliate programs to make money on YouTube with click through traffic.
Through using YouTube marketing for your channel, you can grow awareness and drive traffic to your affiliate account.
We’re about to take an in-depth look at affiliate programs and how you can use them on YouTube, so let’s get comfortable.
What is an Affiliate Program?
If you’ve made it this far into the post without knowing what an affiliate program is, don’t worry; we’ve got your back. An affiliate program is a system whereby you can earn a fee in exchange for actions taken by your viewers. With the most popular forms of affiliate programs, this fee often comes in the form a commission of a product or service sale. In some cases, it can be a fixed fee in exchange for a user signing up to something.
By far, the most popular affiliate program for individual YouTubers—and many other content creators—is the Amazon Affiliate program, which allows you to generate a unique link for any product on the Amazon marketplace. If one of your viewers clicks through your link and buys something, you earn a small percentage of the sale.
The other way in which affiliate programs are typically run is when a service that is looking for members will reward people who refer new users to them. Fiverr is an excellent example of this with its affiliate program explicitly designed to reward people for driving traffic to their service.
If you want a hugely in-depth deep dive into how to get started with affiliate marketing, best ways to leverage affiliate marketing and my 10+ years of experience in generating income with affiliate marketing – check out my Affiliate Marketing for Beginners blog post.
Why YouTube Doesn’t Have an Affiliate Program
Once you understand how affiliate programs work, it should be easy to understand why YouTube doesn’t have one.
First of all, they don’t sell any products, so they can’t offer a commission on the sale of those products. But secondly, there is no paid service to subsidise a traffic-driving affiliate program like the one Fiverr has. Granted, there is YouTube Premium, but that is a very narrowly focussed product that would not have much re-use value for any given YouTuber.
With a platform like Fiverr, there are dozens and dozens of different services available, so one person could theoretically want to keep going back, which in turn means there are far more ways in which an affiliate link can be worked into the content that is being created.
As for the non-YouTube Premium content, it doesn’t make much sense for YouTube to incentivise people to drive traffic to their platform, given the sheer number of people who are on that platform attempting to drive to traffic to their own videos already.
YouTube is all about retention—once a new person lands on their site, they aim to keep them there as long as possible, and they’ve gotten very good at that over the years.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a popular YouTube who drives millions of unique views a day to the site, or an unknown YouTuber who is just starting out who might bring three new sets of eyeballs to the platform, YouTube will work to keep those people on the site viewing videos, and that retention just as valuable—if not more so—than bringing in new viewers who might not be so interested in sticking around.
Tips for Using Affiliate Marketing with your YouTube Channel
So, YouTube doesn’t have an affiliate marketing program, that much we’ve made clear.
But what we also made clear was the fact that this doesn’t stop you from running affiliate marketing programs through your YouTube channel in order to increase your revenue, so let’s talk about that.
The strength of affiliate marketing lies in invisibility—when you can provide a link to a service or product that fits seamlessly into your content and provides your viewers with something of value to them, you are on to a winner.
To help you achieve affiliate success, we’ve put together some of our top tips for using affiliate programs in your videos and on your channel.
We live in a cynical age, borne of many web services and content creators taking advantage of their audience, more and more people assume that anytime something is hidden from them, it is for negative reasons.
To that end, you should always be upfront about any affiliate links you use, even if all you do is put “(PAID)” next to the link in your description. YouTube viewers are generally accepting of the fact that their content creators need to make money somehow, and will not go out of their way to stop that from happening.
But including affiliate links without disclosing this fact can breed bad blood with your audience—especially if you are reviewing a product or service that you are linking out to through an affiliate program.
Keep it in Context
Google puts a lot of time and effort into figuring out the best ads to show a particular individual at any given time.
This is because merely showing the ad is only part of the battle—if nobody ever clicked those ads, advertisers would stop paying for them.
The same approach should be taken for affiliate links. There is no sense in making a video about guitar building and then including an affiliate link to an eBook on making money online.
Sure, some of the viewers of that video might be interested in the eBook, but it is such a shot in the dark, it would hardly be worth the effort of typing the link.
While we’re not saying there is never a good time for an out of context affiliate link, the best use of these links is within the context of your video. If you are doing a video on the top five sports cameras, have affiliate links to each of the cameras on Amazon in your description. The people watching that video are far more likely to be in the market for a new sports camera than viewers on other videos, and your video might just be the thing that pushes them to pull the trigger.
By including a link to the product, you are saving them the effort of going off and searching for it themselves.
And, as affiliate programmes are almost never more expensive—if anything you can often get a better deal through affiliate links—you are not inconveniencing your viewers in any way.
As an additional note, being in context doesn’t necessarily mean the product or service relates to the subject matter of the video directly. A
s an example, a channel whose content is primarily about how to make better YouTube videos might list off the equipment they use in the description, along with affiliate links to where that gear can be bought. This is useful to that channel’s viewers since “what equipment do you use” is one of the most commonly asked questions that successful YouTubers get asked.
Pick Something you Believe In
I am a huge fan of services like Rev – They help me add captions and foreign language subtitles to my youtube videos at a time fee per minute. I use them personally so I know they are good and that is why I promote them using an affiliate program. It is this personal edge that helps my audience understand that if I use it, its a god product and not just a huge list of products you could grab from Amazon in a blind blog post.
Not every channel creates videos of the top ten latest gadgets that can be easily linked to on Amazon, but that doesn’t mean those channels should miss out on the affiliate marketing train.
Firstly, remember that Amazon—and direct product sales in general—are not the only options when it comes to affiliate marketing. Many digital products and services have affiliate marketing options attached to them. Indeed, services like Clickbank specialise in finding digital products that can be marketed through affiliate linking. There are also services, such as Fiverr, as we mentioned earlier.
Ultimately, if there are no affiliate products or services that you can tie into your content directly, you could go on the hunt for a product or service that you truly believe will be beneficial for your viewers, and promote that instead. For example, for a programming channel, you could promote an ergonomic desk chair. For a yoga channel, you could promote a particular type of yoga mat.
It’s a little like being sponsored by that product, only the people behind the product are not involved. And on that note, you should be careful not imply that you are sponsored, as that can cause problems with the company behind the product or service.
The important thing here is that the product or service you are promoting has some usefulness to your audience, even if it doesn’t directly relate to the content of your video. Again, you might find some people in the audience of a fishing channel who are interested in a mechanical keyboard, but it would be blind luck, and that’s no way to run a business.
Don’t go Overboard
Regardless of the exact method of incorporating affiliate links into your content you choose, it is a universal truth across all mediums that overdoing it will have negative results.
This can be because your affiliate content is overwhelming your actual content, or simply because your audience feels it’s a bit crass.
But, whatever the reason, if you stack your description full of affiliate links and hand out promo codes every two minutes in your video, you’ll almost certainly turn large portions of your audience off.
And affiliate programmes only work when you have an audience to click those links.
Will Affiliate Links Harm my Video?
To answer this question, we first need to understand a few things about the way YouTube works.
Firstly, affiliate links are very much allowed by YouTube, which is one of the main concerns YouTubers tend to have when first venturing into the world of affiliate marketing.
However, merely being allowed to do something does not mean it can’t have negative effects on your channel.
As we touched on above, YouTube is very concerned with viewer retention. Now, we’re not saying they have no interest in bringing new eyeballs to the platform, but they are more concerned with keeping those eyeballs on YouTube once they are there. This is why average watch time is one of the most crucial metrics of a video’s success in the eyes of YouTube because more watch time means that people are spending longer on the site because of that video.
With that in mind, there is no direct association that YouTube will admit to between external links—affiliate or not—and the YouTube algorithm deciding to recommend a video less often. But there may be an indirect association.
YouTube wants people to stay on the site as long as possible. The longer a viewer is on YouTube, the more chance there is to serve them ads, and the more money YouTube can make. But if a lot of users are coming to your video and then leaving the platform altogether and not coming back, that will reflect negatively in the eyes of the algorithm.
It’s something of a catch 22—you need plenty of viewers for your affiliate links to be useful, but if your affiliate links are too effective, YouTube might see that as users coming to your video and then leaving YouTube, which may lead them to recommend your video less, which means fewer viewers to click your affiliate links. Unfortunately, there is no way around this problem, and YouTube is typically quiet about the exact way that they handle things like this.
That being said, affiliate marketing is a game of percentages—you bank on a large enough percentage of your viewers clicking your affiliate links to make it worthwhile while accepting that the overwhelming majority of them won’t.
Many YouTubers have had a great deal of success through affiliate marketing on YouTube, so there’s no reason that you can’t, too. Just remember not to overdo it, and keep the subject of your affiliates in line with the content of your videos.