Because of its recurring subscription fee model, your membership website can provide a consistent flow of income – as long as you can reliably make conversions and grow memberships.

That’s far easier said than done, though.

A membership business needs adequate time and resources to attract members and convince them to stay. 

But what if you could harness trusted voices to do that for you?

A membership site affiliate program lets you do just that. It’s an ideal way to promote and accelerate your site’s growth, thanks to the power of content creators’ recommendations. 

In this article, we cover the following; 

  • The basics of membership affiliate programs and how they can speed your site’s growth
  • Benefits of affiliate marketing for membership websites 
  • How to tell whether an affiliate marketing program will work for your membership site  
  • Best practices for creating and launching a membership site affiliate program
A membership site is any website that requires members to pay a subscription fee to gain access to exclusive digital content, such as live webinars, podcasts, ebooks, articles, newsletters, or other digital products.

Does your site fit this definition? Read on to learn how a membership site affiliate program can work for you.

What is a membership site affiliate program? 

An affiliate program is a type of partner program where you form partnerships with content creators.

This digital marketing strategy allows you to recruit bloggers, website owners, social media influencers, and other entrepreneurs to promote your membership site on their own platforms. 

These content creators, known as affiliates, place text links (affiliate links) on their channels that send people to your website or landing page. 

When someone sees your brand or product on an affiliate’s site, clicks on the affiliate link, and becomes your paying subscriber, that affiliate earns a commission – usually a small percentage of the sale. 

Affiliates earn passive income by promoting your membership site. In turn, you gain access to a larger audience, generate more leads, gain new customers (subscribers), and grow your revenue. It’s a win-win!

In most cases, the best affiliates for your membership site are content creators who are also existing members. They are already very familiar with the benefits of signing up for a membership, so they are most equipped to promote your membership site authentically.

Benefits of starting a membership site affiliate program

Affiliate marketing is becoming an increasingly popular way for many online businesses, like membership sites, to promote and expand their digital marketing. 

Below are the many benefits of starting an affiliate program for your membership website: 

  • Builds brand awareness among a targeted audience: Affiliates already have an established audience base, which makes them an excellent source to build brand awareness. They can share your membership site’s offerings to a new and larger audience that closely matches your own. 
  • Creates authentic promotion of your membership site: A membership affiliate program gives people a look into the best parts of your membership experience. What makes this promotion particularly effective is the fact that it comes from the perspective of your existing members. 
  • Harnesses audience trust: Each affiliate’s audience is made up of people who already trust and value the affiliate’s recommendations. Thanks to this earned trust, an affiliate’s promotion is much more likely to result in a purchase. 
  • Provides cost-effective results compared to other forms of marketing: Recruiting affiliates is less expensive than using other paid marketing techniques, particularly PPC (pay-per-click or search engine ads). It also costs less than hiring a marketing agency to run your marketing campaigns. You can easily do this by investing in an Applicant Tracking System.
  • Is a low-risk investment: Another reason membership affiliate programs are ideal for your business is you only pay affiliates a commission after they’ve already helped you secure a sale. There’s no money spent upfront when you recruit affiliates, which makes it a low-risk marketing technique. 
  • Enables easy tracking of affiliate sales and ROI: Tracking the performance of ad campaigns is never a walk in the park. But tracking affiliate sales isn’t daunting at all, thanks to creating affiliate links that make it easier to track your ROI. 
  • Increases your website traffic, leads, and sales: As affiliates recommend your membership site to their audiences, you will naturally generate more traffic and leads to your website. And since an affiliate’s recommendation is also a form of social proof, these leads are more likely to convert and result in increased membership sales. 

Before you start: Is an affiliate program right for your membership site? 

To start a successful membership site affiliate program, you must first meet the following requirements: 

  • Have a healthy base of members who love your site: To get value from your membership site affiliate program, it’s important to have a passionate base of members who really love your site. How can you tell? Look at your member retention rates to see how long your existing members are sticking with your site. 
  • Confirm that some members create content and share an audience with yours: At least some of your members need to be content creators and, most importantly, have audiences similar to your business. 
  • Know your profit margins: Your membership site has to be willing and able to pay commissions – in cash –  on every affiliate-driven sale.  You have to be aware of your profit margins to determine if you can still earn enough after paying an affiliate’s commission. In most cases, an affiliate program works best when your profit margin is high (which is usually the case for most membership subscription businesses). 
Not sure if you’re ready for a membership affiliate program? A membership referral program may be a better fit. In this program, you leverage the recommendations of all your members, not just select creators.

How to launch an affiliate program for your membership site?

Create the best affiliate program for your membership site using the following steps: 

  • Set measurable goals for your membership affiliate program 
  • Use affiliate marketing software to set up your program
  • Reach out to existing site members and recruit them as affiliates 
  • Set the right commissions
  • Create an affiliate marketing agreement
  • Communicate regularly with affiliates
  • Keep affiliates motivated with program variety
  • Track affiliate sales
If your membership site is an online course platform, check out our dedicated guide to affiliate programs for online courses.

Set measurable goals for your membership affiliate program 

Any effective marketing strategy will need clearly defined goals so you can gauge performance. Your membership affiliate program is no different – it’s important to set specific and measurable goals bound by a given timeframe. 

For instance, how much revenue do you want to generate per quarter or year? Or what’s your ideal conversion rate for membership sales within a specific timeframe? 

Use affiliate marketing software to set up your program

Affiliate software makes it easy to track all the traffic and sales that come from your program. By using a single platform, you’ll immediately know which affiliates are responsible for which new members, and which affiliates are performing best in your program. 

Plus, affiliate marketing software automatically pays out any commissions, which is crucial to keeping your affiliates happy. And thanks to integrations, it seamlessly connects with other favorite marketing tools that you already use.

Affiliate software is also far better for membership sites than relying on a third-party affiliate network. 

  • You retain the freedom to handpick affiliates from your own member base
  • You don’t have to pay extra fees to use an affiliate network (Networks typically charge a finders’ fee, on top of the commission you pay affiliates.) 
  • You have full control of all your affiliate program data, and all other aspects of running your program, so you can customize your program as you see fit.

Looking for the right affiliate program software for your membership site? Learn how Referral Rock affiliate software can help you accelerate your membership growth. 

Reach out to existing site members and recruit them as affiliates 

Why is it best for membership sites to take this approach, instead of opening an application to the public? The reason is obvious. 

Existing members already know the benefits of your subscription or membership; therefore, they can authentically communicate these benefits to their audiences. 

There are two ways you can select affiliates from your member base. 

First, you can handpick content creators who’ve been members for the longest period. This should be based on the level of trust they’ve built with their audiences, not the number of followers they have. 

Alternatively, you can open an affiliate application to all members, then screen and approve the best ones as your affiliates. Again, this should be based on their content creation skills and connection with their audiences, rather than their follower numbers. 

These affiliates will be happy to promote your affiliate program with their audience, since you’re rewarding their efforts with an affiliate commission. 

Personally reach out to each potential affiliate, thank them for their loyalty, and invite them to become an affiliate.

Pro tip: Membership site affiliates don’t have to be existing members of your site, as long as their content is of high-quality and they’ve built trust with an audience that matches yours. 

But if they aren’t already members, you’ll need to offer them free membership for a time, so they can authentically communicate the benefits of your membership to their audience. 

Set the right commissions 

The type of affiliate commission that’s most attractive is cash-based. The commission can be a flat rate fee or a percentage of each membership fee, and is typically paid only after a subscription is purchased. 

It’s best if your commission payout is more attractive than other competing membership sites. But keep in mind, when deciding on your commission structure, it’s also important to account for your pricing, member acquisition costs, retention rates, and average customer lifetime value. 

Pro tip: Since memberships and subscriptions are naturally recurring, it’s also best to offer recurring commissions (sometimes called lifetime commissions) on renewals. A recurring payment structure might mean setting a lower commission rate, especially if your membership uses a monthly subscription model. 

How does this work? If someone signs up for a membership via a given affiliate’s link, and they renew their membership, the affiliate is rewarded with another commission payment. 

Create an affiliate marketing agreement 

An affiliate marketing agreement defines the working relationship between your membership site and the affiliate. It contains all the essential details of your program, protects your brand in case any affiliate engages in unethical activities, and puts everything in writing for both parties to review and sign.

For example, an affiliate marketing agreement typically includes:

  • What affiliates can and cannot do to promote your membership business
  • How commissions are earned
  • The responsibilities of each party
  • Any other terms or expectations of the affiliate relationship 

Here’s everything you need to know about creating an affiliate marketing agreement.

Pro tip: Make sure your agreement includes tracking cookie conditions and details how long an affiliate is eligible to earn a commission after someone clicks their link.

Communicate regularly with affiliates 

You need to regularly interact with your affiliate partners and give them updated assets and marketing materials, so they can better promote your membership site. The best approach is to train them on how best to promote your membership, and then give them space to share their personal member experiences with their audiences. 

Keep affiliates informed of any updates with your membership site and affiliate program. And make sure they know how to reach your affiliate manager with any concerns, whether that’s through email, direct messaging, or an online feedback platform. 

Pro tip: Training doesn’t stop after onboarding. Regular affiliate webinars are a great and personal way to update affiliates, answer questions, and foster community among your affiliates. 

Keep affiliates motivated with program variety 

It’s important to keep your affiliates motivated. Consider increasing commissions as affiliates make more sales, or awarding special incentives to the top-performing affiliates for the month or year. 

You could also run contests to encourage affiliates to bring in the most new memberships in a given timeframe, or temporarily increase commission rates during limited periods throughout the year. 

Even simple gestures, like sending congratulatory and appreciation messages whenever they secure a new subscription, can also help keep your affiliates motivated. 

Track affiliate sales 

Affiliate software will automatically track all the steps in your program. This software gives you full control over all program data and the ability to monitor your total affiliate sales.

Use the data that software collects wisely. It is vital for determining whether your membership affiliate program is meeting your program goals, or needs to be further improved. This way, you can stick with the strategies that work and refine the parts of the program that aren’t running as expected. 

Start an affiliate program that works for your business

As you’ve seen, membership affiliate marketing is a great addition to your overall membership site marketing strategy. Aside from increasing your audience reach, an affiliate program brings several benefits for your membership site, including increased conversions and long-term relationships with your existing members. 

If you’re ready to start your membership site affiliate program, consider using our affiliate marketing software that can be easily customized to meet your specific site needs.