Wouldn’t you agree that affiliate marketing programs sound like the best deal ever?
"Hey, just give me a shoutout, and I'll pay you for every sale I make."
You basically get paid for being someone's digital hype man.
A select few make a lot of money this way — affiliates in the US alone are set to make $6.8 billion (with a b) in commissions in 2020.
But most affiliates fail to earn even their very first commission.
Many beginners choose a program and tactic that’s wrong for their skill level and background and end up never seeing a dime in return.
They fail before they even begin.
In this article, we'll highlight the top paying affiliate programs and show you how to find suitable programs for your experience and situation.
Top Paying Affiliate Programs: Total Yearly Payouts
In this section, we’ll cover the affiliate programs that pay the highest total amount to their army of affiliates each year.
This is often a good sign that it’s an easy offer to promote and close on a blog or in a video.
All of these programs pay millions to their affiliates every year.
ClickFunnels: $11,000,000+ in a Single Year
ClickFunnels is one of the more talked about affiliate programs on the web, with gaudy yearly conferences showcasing their top earning affiliates.
In 2018 (the last official announcement), ClickFunnels paid out over 11 million dollars to their affiliates.
That’s easily one of the largest yearly affiliate payouts ever.
ClickFunnels offers up to 40% commissions, provided you have at least 40 confirmed referred clients at any given time.
- Earn up to 40% recurring commission on subscriptions that cost up to $300 a month.
- 30-day cookie duration.
- Good customer reputation (4.6 TrustPilot rating).
- Internet marketing is a competitive niche.
- You have to compete with other top affiliates for each commission (thousands of affiliates and the cookie is last-touch attribution).
- Somewhat hard-to-sell product ($97/month for a landing page and sales funnel builder in a world of Wix and Squarespace).
- Promote ClickFunnels offer by consulting for small businesses on how to improve their digital marketing and sales funnels (this could add hundreds of dollars of revenue for each client).
- Review and compare email marketing tools on a blog or YouTube channel.
Bluehost: $5,000,000+ Per Year
The Bluehost affiliate program is one of the most popular on the internet, promoted by thousands of bloggers, marketers, and influencers.
Over 56,000 different websites link to and promote Bluehost’s services, mostly affiliates.
As a result, the program generated and paid out over $5,000,000 in commissions last year.
- The affiliate offer ($3 a month hosting) is easy to promote.
- Digital product, so it's easy to create original promotional materials. (Just take screenshots or screen capture video. No camera or professional lighting gear necessary.)
- Relatively high commissions $65 (higher than the selling price of the affiliate product itself).
- Very saturated in the marketplace (thousands of other blogs and influencers promote this).
- Does not have the greatest customer reputation (1.6 rating on TrustPilot).
- No recurring commission.
Envato Market: $3,000,000+ Per Year
If you don’t know, Envato Market is the company behind digital marketplaces like ThemeForest and CodeCanyon.
They offer thousands of different plugins, themes, templates, and graphics throughout their network of sites.
Since the program has a much wider range of digital products, you can find your own niche and gain success even as a beginner.
They pay over $3,000,000 per year to their affiliates.
- Thousands of affiliate products to choose from.
- Commissions starting at 30% with 60 to 90-day cookie duration.
- Digital products (no shipping, easy to promote).
- Competitive niches (WordPress, web design, and more).
- Need a technical background to efficiently review code quality, etc.
- No recurring commission, you can only promote one-time product sales.
- Implement, test, and review ThemeForest WordPress themes and CodeCanyon plugins on a YouTube channel.
- Create pages targeting “best WordPress themes for X” keywords on Google.
Skylum: $2,000,000+ Per Year
Skylum is a company that develops and sells the easier-to-use Photoshop alternative Luminar 4.
Skylum isn’t shy of their total affiliate payouts, plastering them at the very top of their affiliate program’s landing page.
In less than four years, affiliates have earned over $7 million from their affiliate program.
With more and more people interested in photography and investing in expensive cameras, it’s a growing niche, but it’s extremely competitive.
- Offer (an easier alternative to PS) is easy to promote.
- Digital product, so it's easy to create original promotional materials.
- Has a great customer reputation (4.7 on TrustPilot).
- Quite saturated in the marketplace, promoted on most photo editing blogs and YouTube channels.
- Very competitive niche.
- Commissions start at 20% per sale ($19.99) and aren’t recurring.
- Create Luminar 4 vs. Photoshop (and other alternatives) comparison posts or videos.
- Create a course on photo editing for beginners, and make Luminar 4 an integral part.
Zoro (Top Payout Volume on CJ Affiliate Network)
Zoro is an interesting eCommerce store (and affiliate program) focused on supplying tools, safety equipment, and other products to SMBs.
Zoro is the web-based store for Granger, a leading industrial supply company.
With top-ranked network earnings for CJ Affiliate, the largest affiliate network on the web affiliates likely earn millions of dollars per year.
There are many programs to choose from at this level beyond just Zoro, including Zappos, Wayfair, and many more.
- Thousands of available affiliate products to sell, with prices of up to thousands of dollars.
- 30-day cookie duration
- Free shipping on orders above $25 helps increase average order value.
- Physical products can be harder to create unique promotional material for.
- 5% commission rate.
- Mixed customer reputation (3.3 rating by TrustPilot).
- Start a niche site teaching other people how to establish an SMB, for example, home renovation, and promote relevant Zoro products.
- Start a how-to YouTube channel for home and garden improvement, and use (and link to) Zoro products wherever possible.
Honorable mention: Amazon Associates
They don’t release public numbers, but with millions of affiliates and hundreds of thousands of dedicated niche sites, it’s very likely the top paying affiliate program on earth, year after year.
Should You Join The Most Popular Affiliate Programs?
In essence, the top annual affiliate payouts point to one thing above all else: popularity.
The upside is that there’s definite 100% proof that the products can and will sell.
The downside is that you may have to compete with half the internet for a piece of the pie.
As a result, there’s no simple yes or no answer; it depends on your targeted niche and experience level.
Instead of the highest overall payouts, let’s take a closer look at the programs with the highest single commission.
Top Paying Affiliate Programs: Highest Single Commission
If you’re not looking for the most popular, easiest to sell offer, but rather the single highest paying one, look no further.
In this section, we only cover affiliate programs where a single referred sale can net you $1,000 or more.
Hammacher Schlemmer: 8% on products up to $125,000
Hammacher Schlemmer, a mail-order retailer, gone digital, offers an affiliate program on its entire catalog of products.
With up to 8% commissions and products that cost up to thousands of dollars, you could earn hefty commissions.
Just take a look at this mini monster truck, clocking in at a whopping $125,000 price tag. If you refer a single sale, you could earn yourself over $15,000 in commissions.
Although finding parents willing to drop over a hundred thousand dollars on their child probably isn’t the easiest task.
- Earn up to $15,000 for a single referred sale.
- Thousands of products to promote, including hundreds of unique luxury items.
- Recognizable brand name with a 172-year history.
- Mixed customer reputation, generally positive for catalog, but 2.2 TrustPilot rating for its online store.
- Higher-priced products can be extremely niche and hard to promote and sell.
- No clear niche to establish a site and brand around.
- Build a niche site dedicated to unique children’s toys (for wealthy parents) and review and promote the strange catalog of products.
Liquid Web: Up to $7,000 Per sale
Liquid Web is a reputable web host with one of the highest paying affiliate programs around.
But you can only cash out their highest commission, $7,000 when someone buys a costly dedicated hosting plan.
Unless your target audience is growing tech startups, you’re unlikely to sell the highest-tier plans.
But for a single low-tier WordPress hosting customer, you’ll still earn a flat $150.
- Promote a range of hosting plans where the customer can choose the right one for their budget.
- Digital product: no shipping or inventory issues, easier to promote.
- Good customer reputation (4.7 TrustPilot score).
- No recurring commission even though it’s a recurring service.
- Hard to earn the top-tier commissions.
- Tough niche to compete in, with thousands of other Liquid Web affiliates.
- Start a niche site about small business websites, help companies establish their first one (with Liquid Host as an option), or move to a higher quality host for better page loading speeds.
Shopify: Up to $2,000
At this point, who hasn’t heard of Shopify?
What you might not know is that the most popular eCommerce platform on the planet has a highly lucrative affiliate program.
You could earn up to two thousand dollars from a single affiliate commission.
But note that this is only from referring new Shopify Plus members, not a regular Shopify store customer.
- A strong brand, recognized as the industry leader.
- Good product and easy to sell (free trial available).
- Can target a lot of different niches of people, from aspiring dropshippers to SMBs who want to expand their business online.
- A Shopify Plus subscription costs $2,000 per month, making it a challenge to sell.
- eCommerce is an incredibly competitive niche with thousands of bloggers and influencers.
- Beginners often react poorly if they fail to make money with their first store.
- Create a niche site dedicated to helping brick and mortar local stores start selling online, and promote Shopify (and Shopify Plus) as the ideal solution.
Improvely: Up to $1,400
Improvely is a website testing and analytics platform aimed at agencies, affiliate marketers, and eCommerce entrepreneurs.
The affiliate program offers 50% on the first month and a 10% recurring commission for the first year. The program is managed through ShareASale, one of the most reliable affiliate networks.
If you refer a customer with their most expensive agency plan, that could mean $1,400 from a single sale.
- Stellar customer reputation (4.7 on TrustPilot).
- Includes a variety of plans potential customers can choose from.
- A high-quality product that’s easy to promote and sell (with a free trial).
- Highly technical target market. It can be hard to gain traction without hands-on experience or expertise.
- Unlikely to make many high-tier sales and commissions.
- It’s difficult to establish.
- Create a case study where you use Improvely to improve your own (or a client’s) conversion rates and bottom line.
HubSpot: Up to $1,000
HubSpot doesn’t just offer a 100% free CRM or great marketing advice on their blog.
They have a powerful suite of marketing tools with different plans for freelancers, SMBs, and enterprises.
Referring a single enterprise customer will earn you a cold $1,000 commission.
- A single suite solution for SMB marketing and sales needs, easier to sell than promoting a whole host of different ones.
- Entirely different plans designed for different target markets.
- Their affiliate cookie lasts for 3 months (90 whole days).
- Mixed customer reputation (3.4 on TrustPilot).
- HubSpot is a serious content marketer and is a top competitor for most relevant organic keywords.
- Complicated target market (SMBs) that often need a hands-on approach to finish a sale.
For more ideas, read our dedicated post on 20+ more high-ticket affiliate programs.
- Create a niche site focused on digital marketing for SMBs, and promote HubSpot as a solution for simplifying their marketing and sales with a single solution.
Is Chasing the Highest Commission Worth It?
Sure, these programs could theoretically pay you a monthly salary based on a single referred sale.
But many of the highest paying offers are difficult to promote, either due to high prices, restrictive niche markets, or negative customer reputations.
If you are building a brand as a trusted authority, whether through a niche site or social media platform like YouTube, you can’t promote a product carelessly. It doesn’t matter if the commission is high.
Recommending high-quality products that you use personally is the best way forward.
If you’re creating a niche-specific review (or other user-generated content) site, populating it with content will be a giant challenge for more obscure, expensive products.
But if you can successfully target a niche of high-income individuals (or successful businesses), these programs are definitely worth it.
Top Paying Affiliate Programs(Highest Lifetime Earnings Potential)
But maybe you don’t think short term. A savvy affiliate marketer doesn’t make that mistake.
You’re not looking for the biggest one-off commission, but rather, the highest lifetime earnings from a single sale.
Let’s dive right in.
Instapage: 50% First year, Then 30% Recurring On $149+ Per Month
Instapage is one of the leading landing page builders on the internet, with advanced AI-based personalization tools.
But the real game-changer is its affiliate program, which offers a complete 50/50 revenue share for the first year.
To make things even better, their plans start at $149 per month, guaranteeing you a minimum of $74.50 in monthly commissions for every customer.
You also earn half of any custom enterprise plans that go beyond the basics.
- 50% recurring commission for the first 12 months.
- Minimum $74.50 recurring per customer in the first year.
- Unheard of 120-day cookie duration.
- Mixed customer reputation (2.7 stars on TrustPilot, 4.5 on Capterra).
- Starting plan is much more expensive than other landing page builders.
- Technical/professional target market. You need the expertise to build trust and sell.
- Create in-depth blog posts and YouTube video guides on creating high-converting landing pages, and showcase how Instapage makes it easy even as a non-designer.
ConvertKit: 30% Recurring on up to $3,999 per Month
ConvertKit is a relatively new email marketing platform focused on content creators and influencers.
With a great product, reputation, and 30% recurring revenue share, the affiliate program is a no brainer for anyone even close to the niche.
With recurring commission on scalable plans, email marketing is definitely one of the most lucrative niches for affiliate marketers.
- Earn up to $1,333 per month from a single referral.
- Great customer reputation (4.4 on G2, 4.7 on Capterra).
- 60-day cookie duration.
- Limited advanced features to promote to potential agency/enterprise customers.
- Competing against a number of super affiliates (including Pat Flynn).
- Most marketers already use an email marketing service (you need to convince them to switch).
- Create a niche site where you teach creatives how to build their very first email list through their blog (or other platforms like social media or Medium).
- Write autoresponder comparison posts like “Mailchimp vs. ConvertKit” and more.
GetResponse: 33% Recurring on up to $580+
GetResponse is another email marketing platform with a great affiliate program.
You can choose between earning a flat $100 upfront for every sale or 33% recurring for everyone you refer to.
The bounty program only makes sense if the vast majority choose the cheapest plan at 15$ per month.
- Earn $191 or more per month from a single referral.
- Difficult niche to get established in.
- Most marketers already use an email marketing service (you need to convince them to switch).
- Mixed customer reputation (1.9 on TrustPilot and 4.1 on Capterra).
- Difficult niche to get established in.
- Most marketers already use an email marketing service (you need to convince them to switch).
- Create a niche site where you teach SMBs how to build their very first email list through their blog (or other platforms like social media or Medium).
- Write autoresponder comparison posts like “Mailchimp vs. GetResponse” and more.
SEMrush: 40% Recurring for up to $399.95
SEMrush’s affiliate program, BeRush, is another great way to earn money as an affiliate, with a recurring commission of up to 40%.
Membership starts at $99.95 per month, so your minimum earnings will be $39.98 per month for referring a single customer.
The business plan costs $399.95 per month, so you can make up to $159.98 monthly for every referral.
But what makes it stand out more than anything, is a cookie with a ridiculous 10-year lifespan. A customer could click your affiliate link now, purchase in 2030, and you’d still get paid.
- Earn up to $159.98 monthly per referral.
- First-touch cookie with an unprecedented 10-year lifespan.
- Get paid twice a month as long as you pass a minimum threshold.
- Initially, the first-touch model can block a lot of your potential sales.
- Very technical niche (SEO).
- Very high competition for all relevant organic keywords.
- Create a niche site, use SEMrush to build your organic traffic, and create a detailed, step-by-step case study before and after results.
- Create a beginner’s course to SEO on a popular learning platform, and promote SEMrush as the main tool.
Ontraport: 25% Recurring of up to $497 or More
Ontraport is another all-in-one marketing solution targeted at medium and small businesses.
Its affiliate marketing program provides a 25% share of monthly fees between $79 and $497.
While recurring monthly prices of up to $497 might seem like a hard sell, it’s not. You can promote a CRM, email, and SMS marketing platform, landing page builder, and eCommerce platform all in one.
- Promote a single high-paying affiliate offer rather than multiple solutions.
- 30-day cookie duration.
- Good customer reputation (4.1 stars on Capterra, 4.2 on G2).
- Target market (SMBs) usually involve a longer sales cycle.
- Reviewing this category of software (CRM) can be difficult and expensive.
- Highly competitive industry and niche.
- Create a dedicated Ontraport site and YouTube channel, answering all common beginner questions like “How much does Ontraport cost?” and other Google PAAs.
How to Find the Top Paying Affiliate Programs for Beginners
What if you are a complete beginner affiliate marketer? What if you just started your website, blog, or YouTube channel?
In that case, it’s not enough to search for the highest commissions on the block. You need to figure out which one will work best for you.
There are plenty of barriers before you can ever make your first dollar. Let’s cover them one by one.
Barrier 1. Getting Accepted
The first barrier to making your first dollar on affiliate marketing is getting your foot in the door — successfully joining a program so you can promote affiliate products.
Many affiliate programs have a fairly lax review process, which means anyone can get started, even if you’re a complete beginner.
But some have manual reviews where a person will check your site/platform for relevance and size.
If you want to pass a manual review, make sure that:
- Your site design looks as professional as possible (use a theme or template, and invest in a logo).
- Your site content is directly related to the affiliate program that you apply to.
Of course, even if you do both these things, you can still end up getting denied. But if the reason is traffic or brand power, all you have to do is keep working.
As a beginner with a minimal (or non-existent) platform, you can’t rely on exclusive affiliate programs with long manual review processes.
Instead, it would help if you focused on programs that will basically give anyone a go.
Barrier 2. Low Website Traffic
When you first start, you’re not going to get thousands or tens of thousands of visitors per month.
Instead, you might not even break a hundred visitors per week.
When you have a limited audience, you can’t just promote any product and expect to make a sale.
The products must be:
- Relevant to your visitors.
- Easy to promote and sell.
- Pay high commissions.
If they don’t meet these criteria, you’ll struggle for months or even years to scrape together your first hundred bucks.
Barrier 3. Limited Budget
The third and final barrier is that you likely have a minimal budget.
Most people who start an online business feel like they’re done investing after purchasing a domain and hosting.
If you don’t have a big budget to spend, the products you choose must meet at least some of the criteria below:
- Free trials available (test it and write a unique, high-quality review for zero cost).
- High-quality marketing materials available for use.
- Easy/free to create unique content (no need for expensive photo studio equipment).
A fast-paced payment schedule (like SEMrush’s twice a week) will allow you to invest money back into your business quickly.
If you play your cards right, a limited budget won’t even come close to stopping you from earning your first commission.
The Answer: Digital Products with High Commission
The easiest way for a beginner to start earning serious money is to promote digital products with high commissions.
Why should beginner affiliates promote digital products?
In essence, they help you overcome every barrier to earning your first commission mentioned above.
Often you can sign-up without any form of manual review.
Just verify that you own your site/social media, and you’re good to go (in most cases).
- They often have disproportionately high commissions (recurring or 100-200% of the first monthly fees).
- Many digital products often have free trials, great onboarding processes, and are easy to sell.
- There are no potential handling or shipping issues (easier to trust and do business with unknown vendors).
- Longer cookie lifespans mean a click can drive a sale a week or month later.
- There’s usually a free (or reduced price) trial period for you to test products (without going broke).
- You can easily create unique promotional content without pro equipment (hello print screen).
- Payments are processed much faster (rather than the typical 60 to a 90-day waiting period for physical products).
Focusing on high-paying digital products can be almost frighteningly effective.
In under two years, blogger Adam Energy has reached a monthly affiliate income of over $60,000 by focusing on these products.
And he’s not the only example. Just Google “affiliate earnings report,” and you’ll see a pattern emerge.
A few examples of affiliate programs you could promote:
How to Find Top Paying Affiliate Programs for Intermediates
Are you a somewhat experienced affiliate marketer?
If you’ve already established a niche site, an audience, and you’re making some money, don’t worry.
We’ve got you covered as well.
We’ll explain how you can expand your income without alienating your budding audience (by plastering AdSense ads everywhere).
Find the Best Product Category-Specific Commission Rates
The first step towards better monetization is ensuring that you’re getting the best rates for promoting the products you already promote.
For example, if you’re already a successful Amazon affiliate, compare it to other options.
After the recent changes to Amazon’s rates, it’s no longer the best place to be a retail affiliate partner. In many categories, you can now make better money elsewhere.
You might find that the Target affiliate program, or other alternatives, actually offer better rates.
For example, look at the categories of furniture and apparel, two major product categories for many affiliate marketers.
If they offer many of the same products, boosting your income can be as easy as changing a few affiliate links—a little copy and paste.
It all adds up. If you go from making 3% to 6% on sales of a $500 sofa, that’s an extra $15 for every single referred sale.
Of course, there are also categories where Amazon or your current network will offer the best rates, where you don’t need to make any changes.
If this doesn’t apply to you, don’t worry. It isn’t the only way you can make more money from an existing site.
Expand to Include Niche-Specific Affiliate Programs
Another way to expand your income is to look for niche-specific affiliate programs surrounding your topics.
For example, in the world of golf, there are plenty of niche-specific programs that you should focus on, rather than scouring the Amazon catalog for new products.
For example, you could join the TeeOff affiliate program and add an affiliate link to every golf course review on your site. (If you don’t have any, what a great excuse to travel and visit more of them).
Once you have an audience and a base of organic traffic, it’s worth it to sign up for affiliate programs, even if you’ll only promote a single product.
Make More with Existing Products: Create an Undeniable Affiliate Incentive
Of course, switching programs isn’t the only way to make more money as an affiliate.
Instead, you can double down and expand the sales of your biggest earners. There’s no better way to promote affiliate offers than to sweeten the pot.
If your deal is the best around, every prospective buyer that comes through your site will be driven to take action.
A great example is how some web hosting affiliates offer free WordPress blog setup — but only for customers who sign up through their link.
You don’t have to offer a manual service. You can also create a digital, step-by-step course that helps affiliate customers use a product that you recommend.
- 10 quick Improvely tests to help you boost your conversion rates.
- 5 intense 30-minute workouts for the Brand-X Pro rowing machine.
As long as the incentive offers real value to your potential customers, it will work.
If you promote a large catalog of different products, single out pillar products by examining earnings and traffic reports, product price, and more.
By doing this, you can turn your current program into the top paying, bill-paying foundation of your business.
Finding Top Paying Affiliate Programs for Influencers
If your YouTube channel or Instagram account is dedicated to a single niche, then the advice from the previous section applies to you too.
Just switching out every affiliate link in your most popular videos (for the highest rate) can make a huge difference to your monthly income.
But if your channel is focused on a broad range of topics, like a general education or entertainment channel, then you’re in a different situation.
Even if you’re covering a general topic or something that doesn’t lend itself that well to minor affiliates, like gaming or music, you can still promote affiliate products.
And you don’t have to “sell out” to do it.
Your viewers are invested in your life and journey most often because they relate to you. That means they’re probably struggling with many of the same things that you are.
Promote products that honestly impact your life in some way.
The easiest way is to do most of your shopping through sites with affiliate programs.
For example, Home Depot, Target, Wayfair, Amazon, etc.
That way, once you actually like a product, and it positively impacts your life, you can include a link.
A cutting-edge product that you want to promote doesn’t have an affiliate program.
And you’re not a big enough influencer that they want to pay you for “exposure.”
So what do you do?
Even if your platform isn’t large enough for companies to reach out to you, it doesn’t mean you don’t have leverage.
You are an influencer. Use that influence.
Even retailers and companies with no affiliate programs will often make exceptions for social media influencers.
Plus, once you prove yourself, they may come on as a steady sponsor.
Advanced: Negotiate Special Discounts for Your Audience
Do you already have tens of thousands of subscribers or followers, and a high level of engagement?
Are you already making thousands of dollars through one or more affiliate programs?
Instead of looking for new programs and products, you can increase your revenue by focusing on your audience.
If you can negotiate a special discount for your subs, that’s a much stronger incentive to finally follow through and purchase a product you’ve recommended multiple times already.
Linus Tech Tips promotes a unique discount for the GlassWire personal network monitor and firewall in the example above.
- The top-paying affiliate program for you depends on your niche, experience level, and other factors.
- Beginners should focus on high-paying affiliate programs for digital products to negate low traffic and limited budget issues.
- Established marketers should find the best rates for individual product categories, niche down, and use incentives to make more from their current programs.
- Social media influencers should leverage their position to get performance-based deals or even special discounts for their followers.
Just because an affiliate program has the highest historical payouts, or offers the largest commissions, doesn’t mean it will be the top earner for you.
That all depends on your unique situation.
To identify the right program for your site, test multiple offers overtime and double down on the ones that resonate with your audience.
Are you currently making money with affiliate marketing programs? What is the top-performing program for you?
Let us know.