How Affiliate Programs Work

Affliliate Linking Methods

An affiliate can link to a merchant site in a number of ways. The best link choice depends on the nature of the affiliate and the nature of the merchant. Each kind of link is specially suited for particular purposes. Common types of links include:

  • Text links: If you've read How Web Pages Works, then you already know how to make a basic text link. The blue writing in the previous sentence is an example of one. If you click on the text 'How a Web Page Works,' your browser will bring up the Web page containing the introduction to the HowStuffWorks article explaining Web pages. The advantage of text links in an affiliate program is they are ingrained in the content of your site and so don't look so much like advertisements. For a lot of affiliate sites, this is the most natural way to link to the merchant site.
  • Banner links: These links appear as boxes, usually containing words and some sort of graphic element. They may be the best choice when you think a text link doesn't do enough to attract visitors.
  • Search box: This type of link allows visitors to search an online database on another site. The results of the search are links to other pages on the site.

There are several ways affiliate programs use these links:


  • Link to the home page: This is a straight-forward link to the merchant's home page. If an affiliate wants to introduce visitors to the merchant site in general, this is the best way to link.
  • Product-specific link: If an affiliate Web site wants to sell only a specific product, they can link to that product's page on the merchant Web site. This makes things easier for the customer and simplifies the affiliate program process.
  • Storefronts: If an affiliate Web site wants to expose visitors to a variety of products, they can link to a storefront. Prefabricated storefronts are maintained by the merchant Web site. The merchant can change what products are on display, but it keeps the URL the same so that the affiliate doesn't have to change any coding. Some merchants also maintain storefront pages the affiliate can customize, so that they display the most relevant products.
  • Co-branding: In some affiliate programs, affiliates can maintain their Web site identity even after a customer links to the merchant Web site. The merchant Web site will handle all the sales, and will usually host the page, but will configure the page so that it appears as though it's still part of the affiliate Web site (by including the affiliate Web site's logo, for example). Unless the user examines the URL displayed by his browser, he probably won't even know he has linked to another site.
  • Registration: An affiliate can link directly to a registration form on the merchant site. If a visitor would have to register to use the merchant's Web site, this link is a good time-saver.