Heights Platform A Complete Guide on How to Launch an Affiliate Program to Promote Your Online Course

A Complete Guide on How to Launch an Affiliate Program to Promote Your Online Course

13 minute read

Are you looking for a great way to promote your new online course without investing money upfront?

Then you are in the right place.

Marketing your online course can be time-consuming and expensive. Word of mouth marketing can be very powerful, especially when you are starting out as a course creator. Launching an affiliate program for your online course helps incentivize your customers to tell their friends and colleagues about you!

In this article, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to set up your affiliate program and acquire new students through referrals. Here is what you will learn:

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing involves providing your partners or customers with a unique affiliate link to promoting a product or service. Once someone clicks on the link and purchases your product, the affiliate will receive a commission from the sale.

As an online course creator, all you need is software that can create a special link for you to hand out to your affiliates and be able to track their referrals with. They will start promoting your program, and once someone purchases your online course through that link, you’ll pay a commission of the sale to the affiliate.

Affiliate marketing can be compared to word-of-mouth marketing, where new customers purchase a product as a result of a recommendation from a friend or family member. Nowadays, the digital consumer reserves very little trust for products sold online, whereas a recommendation from a friend - or someone they value - can significantly impact their buying decision.

Affiliate marketing works in a similar way, except that the “referrer” gets a commission of the sale, which further incentives them to promote your product as much as possible. So overall is a “win-win-win” situation for both you, your affiliate, and the customer.

Let’s see all the benefits of launching your affiliate program.

The Benefits of Affiliate Marketing

Here are a few statistics about affiliate programs in 2021:

  • More than 80% of brands have affiliate programs.
  • Affiliate marketing is responsible for 16% of global e-commerce sales.

Those are fantastic numbers, but not for nothing. Here is why affiliate marketing is so effective.

  1. It helps you increase your sales and revenue

    As with any marketing strategy, an affiliate program will help you increase the number of sales and grow your revenue.

    The sky's the limit with affiliate marketing. As there are no upfront costs, you can share as many affiliate links as you like, significantly increasing your chances of getting new sales.

  2. No upfront costs

    Affiliate marketing is easy: you only pay a commission of your earnings once someone refers a new customer to you.

    There are zero upfront costs with this marketing strategy unless you decide to promote the affiliate program itself with paid ads.

    You only pay the affiliate after receiving the sale, eliminating any risk of losing money in ads that don’t convert.

  3. Increase visibility and SEO

    You’ll gain tons of backlinks to your website with affiliate marketing. The more affiliates you take on, the more links to your online course will be spread around the internet, making your website SEO-friendly.

    As affiliate marketing is a win-win situation for both you and your affiliates, they’ll be incentivized to share your link as much as possible, resulting in a better Google ranking and higher visibility overall.

  4. Stronger social proof

    Skepticism consumers feel towards paid advertising can make it harder for you to promote your online course to a cold audience.

    With affiliate marketing, you’ll create a referral system that can improve your social proof and overall trust towards your program.

    Suppose your affiliates have a large following and are trusted by their audience. In that case, potential customers will be more likely to purchase your course as a result of the affiliate recommendation rather than by seeing an ad on social media.

    In other words, affiliate marketing can be compared to word-of-mouth advertising, as consumers tend to trust recommendations from friends or their favorite influencer (who could be your affiliate) more than paid advertising.

  5. No hard work involved

    The beauty of affiliate marketing is the ease of use.

    There is no hard work involved: the time and effort you would spend promoting your online course on social media through a blog or with paid ads, is all done by your affiliates.

    All you need to do is generate a special link and share it with the affiliates. We’ll get into more details about how to do this later; however, if you use Heights Platform to host your online course, even this is done for you. (link to jump to the last session)

more than 80 of brands have affiliate programs

How to Attract Affiliates for your Online Course

Now that we have walked you through the benefits of launching an affiliate program, let’s see how to find and attract those people who will be the advocates of your online course.

1. Ask your students

Your current and past students are the perfect supporters of your program, especially if they benefited from it.

Who can promote your course better than someone who has actually experienced your teachings?

So let your students know about your affiliate program and the opportunity to gain a commission.

Your affiliates do not necessarily have to be influencers with thousands of followers, as long as they can share your online course within their circle and increase your visibility. Plus, what makes your students the perfect advocates for your program is that they can provide a positive review and real insights about your online course.

2. Share your affiliate program on social media.

As you probably are already posting about your online course on social media, why not promote your affiliate program as well?

The people who follow you on social media are most likely interested in your course or in your niche, so they will be incentivized to join your affiliate program.

A great way to attract affiliates through social media is by joining groups dedicated to your niche or affiliate marketing and share the news there.

3. Promote your affiliate program through a blog or newsletter

Another way you can inform potential affiliates about your program is through your blog and newsletter.

If you already have an existing blog, you can repurpose content or add a section about your affiliate program.

You can also mention it in your newsletter to current and past subscribers, as they are people interested in your teachings and focused on the same niche.

In general, every marketing strategy you know or are currently using can be applied to promote your affiliate program. Learn more about the different ways to promote your online course (and your affiliate program) in this article from our blog: A Complete Guide on How to Promote Your Online Course and Boost Sales

Make your Affiliate Program Irresistible

There are thousands of brands out there with an affiliate program. To secure the highest number of affiliates, the reward should be worth their efforts.

In other words, your affiliates should be able to profit from promoting your link.

You can make your affiliate program appealing by giving out a high commission. Generally, most affiliate programs allow a 20% commission for each sale. If you wish to leverage your affiliate program as an effective marketing strategy, we recommend choosing a higher commission, which incentivizes people to promote your online course.

A 30% or higher commission can be a good incentive for affiliates to choose your program over another.

Think this is too high?

Let’s see why YOU - not only your affiliates - will profit more by giving out a high commission:

  1. Think about the CPA (cost per acquisition) you would spend by using other marketing strategies. If you were to use Paid Ads instead of affiliate marketing, the cost of advertising would be much higher - and the ROI very low. Not to mention that you would have to invest all this capital upfront, while with affiliate marketing, you only pay once you have secured a sale.

    As an example, let’s say that you are selling a $200 online course, and you offer a 30% commission to your affiliates. If you get five new sales from your affiliate marketing promotion, you’ll have to pay $300 in total commissions (30% of 200 is $60, times 5), and you’ll end up with $750 in revenue (200 x 5 - 300).

    With paid ads, the amount you invest upfront will be much higher. Let’s say that the CPA (advertisement cost you need to spend to get one new sale) is around $150, a good case scenario for a $200 course.

    To get the same five new sales, you’ll have to invest much more. Ultimately, you’ll end up with $250 in revenue, a $500 difference from the revenue with the affiliate marketing example.

    net revenue per sale after paying referral commissions to affiliates illustration versus running paid advertising

    We are not saying that you should avoid paid advertising. Paid ads can help you scale your business. However, in terms of initial investment, time, and resources spent, affiliate marketing has more immediate benefits, especially if you are on a tight budget or just starting out as a creator.

    Not to mention that with paid advertising, you’ll have to put in a significant amount of time before your ads start converting. Finding the right target market that responds well to your ads is a constant ongoing project of testing, tweaking, and adjusting the ads according to your audience preferences. With affiliate marketing, all of this is done for you by your affiliates.

  2. Your affiliates are educating potential customers about your product. They turn cold audiences into people who are familiar with your course and may purchase it. But they will not go through all this effort for a low commission. Marketing takes time, so the incentive for your affiliates should be high enough for them to invest their own resources into promoting you. So offering a good incentive will pay off in the long run, and you will be able to secure more advocates for your course.

If you own a membership site or offer an installed-based payment plan to your students, consider providing a recurring commission to your affiliates.

Let’s say that your students pay you a monthly fee to access your content. In this case, you would pay a monthly commission to your affiliates as well.

Another way to increase the chances of attracting affiliates is to lower the threshold for payout. If you plan to pay your affiliate only once they reach a certain amount in commissions earned, a low threshold could provide a further incentive.

For instance, if your agreement states that affiliates can be paid only once they reach $100 in commissions, they will be more willing to choose your program by lowering the minimum required amount to, let’s say, $70.

Try to find the right balance between spending a considerable amount of time to pay out all those small commissions and making sure that the payout threshold is low enough that your affiliates feel confident to reach it.

That said, the best strategy to attract affiliates highly depends on your business and should be tailored to your specific needs.

Here are a few things to consider before deciding on your commission and affiliate program:

  1. What is the price of your online course? If you are selling your course at a premium price, you will be able to attract affiliates even with a relatively low commission percentage. At the same time, a high selling price will give you a higher margin for investing in promoting your online course.
  2. Who are your affiliates? If you are looking for influencers or affiliates with a large following to promote your online course, you should offer a high incentive in return. You may want to consider segmenting your affiliates and offering different commission percentages depending on their audiences. For instance, you could offer a 30% or even 40% commission to one specific affiliate who has a large following in your same niche while setting a 20% standard commission for anyone else.

Empower Your Students to Promote You

So affiliate marketing is pretty easy, right? You just sit back, relax and let your affiliates do the hard work for you!


If you want your affiliates to be successful, you should make it easy for them to promote your online course.

This means empowering them to promote you by providing all the necessary resources and information to help them succeed.

Let’s see exactly what you should do to facilitate their job:

  1. Educate your affiliates about your products: how can they promote your product if they know nothing about it? If your students are also your affiliates, this should not be a problem, as they are familiar with your online course by experiencing it firsthand.

    But what if your affiliates are external to your program? Try to educate them about everything they need to know about your course: record an explanatory video, have a meeting with them to answer any questions, send them resources explaining all the benefits of your online program.

    If your affiliates are doing a good job promoting you, chances are that potential customers may contact them with possible questions about your program. They need to be prepared and make a successful sales pitch to convince people to buy your product.

  2. Provide the necessary resources: send your affiliates a media kit with pictures, video, and other materials they can use freely to promote your online course. If they don’t have any resources available, it will be harder for them to bring you new students.
  3. Keep in touch: if you are like many other course creators, you are constantly changing and tweaking your online course. You should treat your affiliate as your own personal marketing team and let them know about any updates or new releases within your program.

The above steps may not be necessary if your affiliate program is small and dedicated only to your students or friends and family. However, if you wish to attract professional affiliates who have the capability of significantly increasing your sales, consider investing time into making sure your affiliates have all the resources needed to succeed.

What to Include in your Affiliate Agreement

If you are thinking of launching an affiliate program for your online course, having an affiliate agreement that protects you and your promoters is a must.

Depending on your needs and the size of your business, your affiliate agreement may include different sections. Let’s see below some of the most important ones.

1. Payout information

Your affiliate agreement should include a section about payment to inform affiliates about all the payout details and avoid possible disputes. A few things to include in this section:

  • Commission: you should specify the commission percentage affiliates will be entitled to after each referral.
  • Threshold amount: the payout threshold is a set amount that an affiliate has to earn before receiving payment. If it’s set to $50, you’ll pay the affiliate only once the commission earned equals or exceeds that amount.
  • Payment date or time window: if you don’t wish to pay each affiliate immediately after each referral, you should decide on a specific payment date or time window. For instance, you could say that payments will only occur on the 1st of each month or that payments can occur within a window of 30 days after each sale - assuming the threshold amount is reached. You’ll want to make sure that you don’t pay your affiliate for a referral until after the refund period for the referral has passed. Otherwise, you could risk paying an affiliate for a referral that ended up refunding their purchase.
  • Payment method: if you prefer a payment method over another, you should specify this on the agreement. Most companies use Paypal to transfer money safely without storing credit card information and because it is widely used around the world.
  • Preferred currency: specify the currency you prefer to use when paying your affiliates. Generally, this should be the same currency you are selling your online course or digital product.

2. Attribution and Referral Tracking

This section should specify how you track each referral and attribute it to your affiliates. Depending on the system you use for your affiliate program, the information included here might change.

If you are a creator with Heights Platform, you can access our built-in affiliate program, which uses cookies to track each referral, and can track a sale for up to 90 days.

For instance, if a new sale does not come directly from an affiliate link, but that person visited the affiliate link in the previous 90 days, the sale will still be attributed to the affiliate.

You may also wish to clarify the type of attribution your affiliate program uses. For example, Heights Platform’s affiliate program feature uses “last-click attribution,” meaning the most recent affiliate link that the consumer clicked will get a commission for the referral.

Last click attribution is generally seen as the fairest model for business owners and affiliates. It helps ensure that the affiliate that actually does the job of convincing your prospect to buy is the one who gets the commission, rather than the loudest affiliate who simply tries to get the most clicks without educating or providing value to your potential customers.

3. Affiliate Promotion Rules

This is a critical section to include in your affiliate agreement, as it regulates how your affiliates can promote your business.

Depending on your online course and preferences, what you include here may vary. However, let’s see what your affiliates can and should do:

  • Promote your product in all legal ways through a blog, website, social media accounts related to your niche.
  • Use your logo and other authorized materials to promote your product.
  • Always clarify their position as affiliates to their audience by specifying the nature of their promotion.

Let’s see now what they should not do:

  • Promote your online course illegally or in a spam way.
  • Promote your online course with paid ads competing against your own ads. (Otherwise, affiliates could hijack clicks for traffic that you have already warmed up, or bid against your own ad spending, effectively causing you to have to pay more for every sale.)
  • Distribute, copy, reverse engineer, resell, or otherwise tamper with or reproduce your product.
  • If you have any trademarks, your affiliates should not use those in their promotion efforts unless you allow them to use them in a specific way.
  • Offer monetary incentives in exchange for response to their advertisement. (It’s common and fair to offer other non-monetary incentives, such as the situation where another course creator might promote you and say, “get my mini-course free if you purchase this creator’s course via my link.”)

4. Independent Contractor Clause

Depending on your local laws, you might wish to include a section where you specify that your company does not hire affiliates as employees, but they act solely as independent contractors.

This way, you won’t have to worry about legal implications linked to your affiliate program, and the affiliates will have to take care of paying taxes on their earnings if they need to.

(We cannot provide advice on how this might work for your specific business, but in general, it is good to be clear about how the business relationship would work between your business and an experienced affiliate marketer who is planning to put significant effort into promoting you.)

5. Terms and Termination

This clause should inform your affiliates about how to terminate the agreement. Depending on how you wish to handle your relationship with the affiliates, you should specify it in this agreement section.

Launch Your Affiliate Program with Heights Platform

Setting up your affiliate program is easy, but not if you have to build it yourself and develop it from scratch!

Fortunately, if you are a creator with Heights Platform, all of this is already done for you.

We offer the possibility to launch your affiliate program from any Heights pricing plan, and it’s absolutely free if you already have an account!

With Heights, your students (but not only) can quickly become the advocates of your online course.

Through our built-in program, you’ll have access to real-time data about your affiliate’s referral, lists of affiliates, commissions left to pay, and much more!

Heights Platforms online course creation software has a complete built-in affiliate feature
Heights Platform's online course creation software has a complete built-in affiliate program feature, making it easy for creators to promote their online courses and digital products with affiliate marketing.

You can set up your preferred commission percentage, decide if you want to pay recurring commissions or not, set a payout threshold, and so on.

Launch Your Affiliate Program

To learn more about how the affiliate program within Heights Platform works, check out this page: Student Affiliate Program.

We also have an affiliate program for creators, so you can earn money by referring Heights to other creators! All of this is built-in in your platform, where you can easily manage your online course and affiliate program all from one place.

Heights affiliate program dashboard
Heights Platform also offers creators the ability to be affiliates themselves and refer other creators to Heights Platform.

If you were to do this without Heights Platform, you would have to either:

  1. Hire a developer to build the affiliate program for you, or
  2. Use a paid service that charges a monthly fee, sets integration requirements, or might charge a percentage of your sales

By joining Heights, you can create fantastic online courses and have your own affiliate program for free.

So what are you waiting for? Start your 30-day free trial of Heights Platform now. We don’t even ask for a credit card!

Create Your Online Course Today