Is it really possible to make big money online?
Let's start out with a few words of reassurance - this site wouldn't exist if we didn't believe it was possible to earn online!
That said, are the huge amounts of money many say they make fact or fiction? Or is most online marketing simply a scam?
With so many different claims, it's important to to get a real sense of what internet marketing can offer - particularly if you're considering joining affiliate programs for the first time.
Get rich quick?
So firstly - those 'get rich quick' claims. Is it really possible to make thousands of dollars through internet affiliate advertising?
Well, like any business, it's certainly true that some do very well indeed. So-called 'super-affiliates' earn several thousand dollars a week - possibly more - through their use of referral programs or cost per click advertising.
But if we're talking figures, it's important to consider some statistics, too. Because although there are hundreds of thousand of internet affiliates marketing online, as few as 2 per cent belong in the top earning league. What's more, this 2 per cent probably accounts for as much as 60 per cent of ALL cash-earning affiliate traffic. Which is precisely why they're earning mega-bucks in the first place.
So where does that leave the rest of us?
What's your traffic?
Clearly, if you're going to earn well, traffic is crucial - the more visitors to your site, the more likely it is that someone will purchase a referral product or click an advert.
But unless you're very lucky indeed, achieving high volumes of traffic takes hard work as well as time.
In other words, the 'quick' side of that get rich quick ideal is pretty unlikely to happen. You're simply not going to become a high earning affiliate in a matter of weeks or even months (remember, too, that most of the web's top earning affiliates have been online for quite some time and started marketing when things were a lot less competitive).
Copy and paste the code into your pages - easy!
What kind of traffic volumes are we talking about?
To put things into perspective, if we accept the usual estimate that just one in every 100 visitors is likely to click an ad, 10,000 unique visits a day will result in approximately 100 clicks.
If each of these clicks pays you 10 cents, that's 10 dollars a day, £70 dollars a week - which certainly isn't going to make you a millionaire.
What's more, although 10,000 visitors is just a fraction of the traffic popular sites receive daily, it's definitely a lot more than many affiliates - especially newer start-ups - can dream of receiving.
However, it's also true that several factors can vary that $70 considerably.
If, for example, you choose a Cost Per Action (CPA) product sales system rather than a Pay Per Click online advertising program, your profits could go up considerably.
Making sales is generally much harder than getting clicks, but CPA pays you a percentage of the price of products sold via your site.
If you choose the right items (often easier said than done) you should be able to sell relatively well - and depending on the purchase price, will make subtantially more per sale than you would per click.
And even if you stick with CPC, keywords determine the click price you are paid - meaning that you could easily receive more than the 10 cents used in the example above (or indeed, less).
Be aware, however, that you're unlikely to ever make more than a few dollars per click at most.
A lot has been written online about super high-paying keywords of $10 or so, but these - when they occur - have generally been associated with highly specialised content.
(If you're unsure how keywords work, we've got more information about keyword use here.
Extra money anyone can earn
But having looked at some of the factors involved, let's look at that figure of $70 from another point of view.
If you've been led to believe that online marketing is going to turn your world around in a couple of months, that's clearly not the case. What's more, since $70 per week affiliate earnings relies on substantial traffic, you'll be making just a fraction of that amount for quite some time.
So don't give up the day job straight away to become an online marketer.
But what if your affiliate marketing is a sideline, something you choose to work at in your free time?
In that case, a few hundred dollars a month can seem like a very welcome supplement to your standard income. And if things start to really take off, that's when you can make the decision to spend more time working on your web marketing.
And yes, internet marketing is something you'll need to work at. Whatever anyone tries to tell you, those online earnings aren't simply going to fall into your lap. You'll need to spend time and effort updating your site or blog, committing yourself to marketing efforts and generally driving traffic your way.
In fact, if you fail to treat your venture like a serious part-time job, it's highly unlikely you'll succeed - although there are definitely ways to optimize and reduce the time spent on affiliate marketing essentials.
But all the difficulties aside, one of the things that's really great about internet marketing is that there's very little or even no outlay involved.
Any worthwhile affiliate scheme should be free to join; it's possible to create completely free sites and online promotions, and even if you set up your site or blog independently, hosting costs are low (although be aware that as that traffic goes up, so will extra bandwidth fees).
All of which means that anyone can have a go at affiliate marketing.
Big money online? A lucky few have managed it, and no doubt more will hit the online jackpot - but extra money is something many, many people are making online, and it costs little but time and effort to find out if you can, too.