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How to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS

Course creators have many options for marketing their online courses. You can use email marketing, set up social media ads, and create a blog — all of which can easily be done through a learning management system (LMS). However,  one of the most effective ways to market and generate more revenue from online courses is by learning how to create an affiliate program. 

Through affiliate marketing, other people help you sell your knowledge. As you may already know, these programs are based on performance, so you need to pay your affiliates a percentage of sales that you can afford and are OK with.

This is a win-win situation for all involved. On the one hand, there’s a large pool of online influencers who would like to promote your online courses and earn a commission. However, affiliate marketing is distinct from influencer marketing, so you can simply ask some of your current learners to share their affiliate links with their friends — no need for them to have a huge following. On the other hand, you earn money by choosing the right partners. It’s no wonder that almost 79% of marketers use affiliate marketing to engage existing customers. 

Those numbers should be encouraging enough to convince you to try it out. First, we’ll have a look at the advantages of using affiliate programs. Finally, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step approach on how to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS. 

What are the benefits of learning how to create an affiliate program for your online courses?

Setting up an affiliate marketing program doesn’t require previous experience or a significant investment. A good affiliate program allows you to simultaneously promote your online courses and sell them, working well together with other marketing strategies, such as social media and content marketing.

Let’s have a look at some of the biggest benefits of creating an affiliate program for your online courses: 

  • Boost traffic and increase sales: The more affiliate links you create, the more reach and visibility your courses get. In the long run, more traffic to your website means more course enrollments; 
  • Give authentic insights: potential customers are more likely to buy your online courses if they see genuine endorsements from people they know and trust. If your affiliates are also happy customers, it’s easier for them to convince others;
  • Cost-effective: affiliate marketing is cheaper than PPC (pay per click) ads, and it produces excellent results. Since you only pay affiliates when they generate a course enrollment, you don’t have to invest in different campaigns if you don’t have the resources to do so;
  • Build brand awareness: as a bonus, affiliate marketing programs are also great for brand awareness, especially if you’re at the beginning of your journey and trying to make a name for yourself;
  • Easily track affiliate sales: sophisticated LMS affiliate marketing features give you insights into how well your affiliates are doing. This gives you a clear idea of how much you’ve earned over a period of time, but it also helps you make better business decisions (i.e., look for more affiliates who perform just as well). 

Read more: Why you need to master affiliate marketing

How to create an affiliate program using your LMS

It only makes sense to set up an affiliate program through the same learning platform you use to sell online courses. Let’s go through an example and see how you can create the best affiliate program for your business: 

  1. Make sure your catalog and portal look great 

    Before adding affiliate partners and giving them referral links, it’s important to note that your website needs to make a good first impression. So this means having a conversion-focused website design. It also means that you already have something in your catalog to sell, at least an online course published, digital downloads such as e-books available and maybe a subscription plan. 

    Make sure your catalog and portal look great _How to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS

    Once visitors arrive on your website, you need to take it from there with a conversion-focused design.

  2. Configure the Affiliates feature

    Before you start thinking about the commission percentage scheme, it’s important to configure your REST API app on PayPal. When doing that, you’ll get a client ID that you’ll need to use for the next steps. 

    Configure the affiliates feature_How to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS

    Once everything is set in PayPal, you can return to your LMS and configure the Affiliates app. For this instance, you’ll need a Client ID, a Client Secret and then you’ll be able to enable your affiliates to get a commission once a user purchases a course via their link. 

  3. Set up affiliate tiers

    The Tiers tab helps you keep everything organized. Here you see an overview of all the tiers you could set up, and you can always add new tiers or edit existing ones. There is also an option to select the default one. 

    Set up tiers_.How to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS

    Set up different tier groups for affiliate partners.

    To make things easy, you can start with a single tier. Since you’re a course content creator, this could include influencers, bloggers, and enthusiasts (current learners that really like your products). The commission percentage can be updated after a while, depending on how well they perform and other factors. For instance, you can modify the commission if you plan to raise your online course price

    Read more: How to raise your online course price without feeling like you’re selling out

  4. Add new affiliates

    Adding new affiliates is simple, and you can accomplish that through email invitations. On this page, you have a clear view of everyone involved in promoting your online courses. Therefore, it’s easy to message them and keep in contact to see how they are doing, answer questions, etc. 

    Add new affiliates_How to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS

    You can send email invitations and your partners will be able to set up an affiliate account.

    You can see how many purchases are associated with each of your affiliates, pending and approved/rejected referrals. Additionally, if you go to Details, you can see which learners purchased a course through their referral link and the name of the course. 

  5. Approve or reject referrals 

    It’s good to know that affiliates won’t get commissions automatically once they generate referrals. You need to accept those referrals to make the payment. This can be done in bulk or individually. 

    Approve or reject referrals _How to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS

    Have complete control over the referral process by approving or rejecting referrals.

    There are instances where a referral can’t be approved for several reasons, there was a payment error on the buyers’ side, etc. This ensures that you have complete control over the referral process. 

  6. Affiliate view 

    Affiliates have control over a few items. Once they log into the platform, they can see their dashboard and go to the Affiliate view to access their referral link, no need for you to send emails or messages to each of them.  Partners can use the link in their blog posts, YouTube videos, share it with friends, social media, etc. 

    Affiliate view_How to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS 

    Affiliate partners can see an overview of their activities on their dashboards.

    The same view gives them details on the Affiliate tier that they’re a part of (bloggers, influencers, etc.), the visits their followers have made so far, how many purchases they made, and their approved commission. 

    It’s good for them to check this window periodically just so they know where they stand and whether they should share the link more often, etc.

    Read more: How to use affiliate marketing to promote your online course

  7. Affiliate reports 

    To ensure that your efforts are paying off, the LMS makes it easy to keep track of everything that’s happening in the affiliate program. From the moment you set up referral links and get in touch with affiliates, it’s good to schedule automatic reports. 

    These reports can also be generated one time, but it’s recommended to have recurring daily, weekly or monthly ones. It doesn't take much of your time to monitor the affiliate program and you can easily establish whether you want to continue working with a group of affiliates, reward the ones who perform really well, etc. 

    Affiliate reports_How to create an affiliate program for online courses in your LMS 

    Schedule periodical affiliate reports and monitor the process for best results.

    The detailed analytics inform you which affiliates are bringing the most sales. This is also a good time to check out the conversion rates, the revenue you generate, and unique sales. If your program is not performing well enough, it might be time to look for other influencers or tweak your commission structure. 

    Read more: 5 LMS analytics for a successful online course business

Back to you 

Now that you know what steps you need to take to launch a successful affiliate program for online courses in your LMS, it’s time to take action. First, make sure that the visitor portal looks sharp and it provides enough quality content for your potential customers. Next, make sure you find the right partners, whether they are influencers such as bloggers or YouTubers or your current learners, and ensure that their message will resonate with your audience. Lastly, don’t forget to monitor your affiliates’ activity and make changes when needed. 

As you can tell from the steps mentioned above, creating an affiliate program for your online course is not difficult, and it should be an essential part of your online marketing strategy.