Wherever there’s an audience, there’s an opportunity to sell. On TV. At entertainment venues. At train stations. In magazines. And, of course, on YouTube.

Great YouTube content is more than just a chance to showcase expertise and build brand awareness: It’s also an opportunity to earn some cash by marketing on another company’s behalf.

Let’s dive in.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is where you promote a product or service in your content in exchange for a commission.

YouTube affiliate marketing is the same thing, but specific to YouTube.

The video-streaming platform is the second-largest search engine on the web. Hundreds of thousands of videos are viewed every second. The audience is enormous, and that means ample opportunity to make some money with affiliate marketing.

How does it work?

It’s not like you can just start linking to products in your YouTube video description and expect to get paid each time that leads to a sale.

You first have to get set up with an affiliate marketing program.

Tons of businesses have affiliate programs – from Nordstrom to Target, Microsoft, Amazon and many others. Once you’ve signed up, they will give you an affiliate link. This is a unique URL that you include in your content. It helps merchants keep track of the sales that come directly from your content. Each time a click on your unique affiliate link leads to a purchase, you get a commission, usually in the form of a percent of the sale.

You could also look at larger affiliate marketing networks such as Impact, Clickfunnels and Affiliaxe. These networks connect you with merchants who are willing to pay a commission each time your content helps them get a sale.

Obviously, the bigger your audience, the better the odds that your affiliate links will get clicked on and lead to a sale. It’s also worth noting that there’s an art to affiliate marketing. You have to choose the products and services that you’ll promote carefully. They need to be relevant to your niche and the type of content you create.

If for instance, you make unboxing videos of consumer electronics, you wouldn’t want to be an affiliate marketer for gardening tools.

Why be a YouTube affiliate marketer?

Great question.

Affiliate marketing is a really easy way for YouTube content creators to monetize their videos.

Think of it as a form of influencer marketing. Once you’ve built up a solid audience that trusts you and will keep coming back for your content, you can find creative ways to pepper in references to products or services that you would vouch for.

Affiliate marketing can be a useful side quest, so to speak, for B2B and B2C Youtube marketers.

Yes, your No. 1 goal at the end of the day is to sell your products and services. But sometimes, the journey to getting there entails talking about someone else’s product or service. Case in point, we wrote a review of KWFinder – a keyword research tool – on our blog that includes an affiliate link.

With that having been said, the last thing you want to do is lead your audience astray. If you include affiliate links in any of your content, make sure it’s for a product or service that you think actually has value to your audience.

Because when all is said and done, their trust is more valuable than any commission you might earn from an affiliate link.

Who benefits from affiliate marketing?

Everyone, basically.

The content publisher benefits since they get a cut of the sale value. The viewer or consumer benefits because they get the added value of the content publisher’s commentary at no extra cost. The company that wins the sale gets, well, a sale.

It’s a win win win.

Types of affiliate ads on YouTube

So how and where exactly should you include affiliate links?

On YouTube, you have two main options, and they work best when used together:

1. The description

Always, always include your affiliate link in the description. There are in-video elements, such as YouTube cards that let you plug your link, but the viewer can miss it or just ignore it.

Not only should you include the link in your description, but you should also encourage users to actually look at the description at some point in your video – ideally, multiple points if possible.

You need to think like a content marketer here – not a salesperson. Let’s say a particular tool you’re using to demonstrate how to fix a car engine is one of your affiliate products. You’ll want to say something like: “You’ll need a weighted tension wrench for this part of the process; if you don’t already have one, I’ve included a link in the video description to one that I trust.”

2. YouTube cards

Source: backlinko.com.

YouTube cards are something to include in addition to linking to the affiliate product in the description. They replaced annotations a little ways back. They’re non-intrusive notifications that appear in the top right corner of the video player. When the viewer clicks, they can see additional information, such as a link or a poll.

Rather than explain how to add YouTube cards, here’s a short and swee video that makes it simple for you:

Remember: The affiliate link is everything. You only get your cut of the money if your unique URL was the path to purchase.

Some best practices at a glance:

  • Provide an affiliate disclaimer. The FTC recommends including something as simple as “I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.”
  • Include an affiliate link in your video description.
  • Include a call to action in your video to check out the video description.
  • Share your video on social media.
  • Consider promoting it on your blog as well.
  • Don’t be overly salesy.
  • If you review products or make them the focal point of your video content, make sure you’ve done a lot of homework. The competition is stiff; you’re competing with a lot of really talented YouTubers for views.

About optimizing your video to perform in search …

As we said earlier, YouTube is a massive search engine. If you want to increase the odds of your video being found, you’ll need to optimize it to rank, same as you would a website that you wish to rank for Google.

We’ve already discussed the ins and outs of posting and optimizing YouTube videos, so we won’t go into too much depth here. Instead, we’ll just provide some of the basics in a tidy list:

  • Target specific keywords: You can identify keywords with strong search volume using Ahrefs, TubeBuddy, Keywordtool.io and other YouTube keyword tools.
  • Include your main keywords in your title, description and file name.
  • Keep all text original: Don’t copy and paste your title and/or description from elsewhere on the web, even if it is from your own website.
  • Include the right tags: Tags help YouTube know what your video is about. You can include up to 400 characters worth of tags. Five to eight tags total tends to be the sweet spot. If you need help deciding what tags to include, check out Chrome extensions like TubeBuddy.
  • Set up an in-video “Subscribe” button: YouTube favors videos that drive new subscriptions; make it easy for viewers to subscribe to your channel.
  • Promote your content well: Share it on social media, email the links out, embed it in your blog posts, on your website, etc.
  • Create playlists: Themed playlists are great for keeping viewers on your YouTube channel, and that’s good for your overall channel performance.
  • Make great content: Engagement is super important for YouTube search, so it’s crucial that you get viewers to watch your content all the way through. This requires really strong scriptwriting, visual aids and an engaging screen presence.
  • Enable (and edit) closed captions: YouTube has its own closed caption too, but it isn’t perfect. Below is a video that shows how to use closed captions on YouTube and how to manually correct any errors in the subtitles:

And in case you were wondering how to set up a subscription button, here’s a nice little tutorial:


To close out this post, we figured we might show you a few examples of YouTube videos with affiliate links.


Cast Iron Restoration, Seasoning, Cleaning & Cooking

Why it works: This is a great example of someone organically working a product into their area of expertise. It’s also highly engaging (Luke of the Outdoor Boys does some proper science here).

Canon EOS R Hands-on Review

Why it works: This is a masterclass in selecting great settings for your video. It’s also an exceptionally thorough review complete with pros, cons, caveats, techniques, add-ons and more. Also, it includes a good mix of voiceover narration and man-on-the-street style riffing that keeps the viewer engaged. No sleepy narration here. Overall, 10 out of 10.

Leatherman Skeletool CX Multi Tool – Unboxing and Review

Why it works: It’s a no-nonsense (mostly), to the point unboxing video that anyone in the market for a multi-tool could appreciate. Sometimes that’s what your viewer needs.

Easy Homemade Sourdough Bread | A Basic No Knead Recipe That Gives Amazing Results Every Time

Why it works: There’s plenty of notes and instructions in the product description (also, notice the disclaimer?) which is good for search, but it also gives a viewer key notes to refer back to without having to rewatch the video.

Now go monetize some video content

If you already have a relatively successful YouTube channel, you’re about halfway there.

And if you don’t, that’s fine too, because you don’t necessarily need a specific amount of clout to do affiliate marketing. It just means you won’t make as much money. At least not at first.

But affiliate marketing is just like anything else in life. Practice makes perfect – or at least a little bit of money.

Dominick Sorrentino, Brafton's Brand & Product Manager, is based in Portland, ME. He likes language, playing guitar, birding, taking his dog on scenic strolls, traveling, and a good conversation over a great cup of coffee. He promises he's not as pretentious as he sounds.