One of the first and most ubiquitous marketing affiliate programs was developed by Amazon.com in 1996 called "Amazon Associates," where anyone with a website can make commissions off of Amazon products sold through links on their sites.
A good example of a successful Amazon Associate is Digital Photography School, a photography review and tip site run by Darren Rowse. He earned almost $120,000 from 2003 to 2009 with $15,000 earned in the first half of 2009 alone.
Digital Photography School (DPS) is a website that fosters a community of users interested in digital photography. The site houses forums for users to discuss various topics, reviews of cameras and camera equipment and tips on digital photography in general. Since DPS deals with a specific kind of community, it easily tailors its keywords and meta tags for search engine optimization.
A Google search for "digital photography" shows the website as the second listed, meaning more visibility and more traffic. More traffic to the website leads to more users clicking on content and potentially buying products linked to Amazon.
DPS is a content-based site that has minimal advertising and focuses purely on the subject of digital photography. Users are more likely to buy reviewed products through the site's links because of the relationship the writers developed through the community. There's a higher degree of trust and less feeling that the site exists only to make money off of its users.
One of the main affiliate features of the site is a quarterly post titled "Popular Digital Cameras and Gear" which is positioned prominently on the site's homepage. The entry itself is simply a top 10 list of the most popular cameras and equipment with links driving traffic to the Amazon product listings. This shows users what is popular within their community and encourages users to purchase through Amazon, resulting in commissions for Rowse.
DPS can earn up to 15 percent of products sold through Amazon and since the equipment listed is in a higher price range, the potential for high commissions is a lot more likely due to the nature of the products being sold.
Another extremely creative content feature that drove a lot of traffic to Amazon products was a post Rowse wrote asking users what they would purchase if given $1,000 to shop for camera equipment at Amazon. Not only did this grow his community--it garnered over 350 comments--but he also revealed on his professional blog that it generated quite a bit of Amazon purchases.
Patience is key
It takes time to start generating considerable revenue through an affiliate program. Rowse mentioned on his professional blog that though being an Amazon Affiliate wasn't his primary income stream, a traffic upswing over a 12-month period in 2009 earned him half of his total commissions from Amazon. In that post he details the keys to his success—generating traffic, developing a bond with readers and getting them to return to the blog, and offering relevant products to readers.