I earn my living from both display ads (i.e. AdSense) and affiliate marketing.
Currently I earn a bit more with display ads, but in the past I earned more with affiliate marketing. You can see a recent breakdown in my income reports. Please keep in mind my income reports do not include MyPerfectBlog.com income, which does earn affiliate commissions so my income reports a bit skewed in favor of display ads.
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Which is the better – AdSense ads or affiliate marketing?
You know what I’m going to say.
My answer: both.
The point of this article is to set out pros and cons of each.
Each are not without risks.
In fact, until late last year, I didn’t realize there were significant risks with affiliate marketing until I suffered a big blow. Then a couple of months ago I suffered a second big affiliate marketing blow. I explain these below.
That’s not to say I haven’t been kicked in the teeth relying on display ads. I have.
It’s interesting how the disasters resonate in our minds more clearly and for longer than successes. I guess pain is a stronger emotion than pleasure.
Below I set out pros and cons of each. You decide what’s right for you.
Over the last year, I had a recurring commission merchant cut my commission from 35% to 20%. That was a huge recurring commission haircut (about $4,000 per month).
Then another merchant went bankrupt. I was earning $2,000 per month passively promoting them. The company was bought and I’m told the buyer will set up its own affiliate program, but until then, I’m out $2K per month. I published a lot of content promoting this product. While there are substitutes, the commission isn’t nearly as high (I guess perhaps that’s one reason they went bankrupt to begin with).
Great for email
Being able to personally recommend products with affiliate products in an email is very powerful. Fortunes are earned with this form of affiliate marketing. While Amazon doesn’t permit it, most merchants do.
Higher RPM for buyer intent keywords
When you rank for a buyer intent keyword, you can achieve fabulous RPM numbers… $75 RPM+. This is very unlikely with display ads.
Recurring revenue possibility
Sell once, earn for months or years. That’s the power of recurring commissions. You don’t earn recurring revenue from display ads, but you can with certain products.
Use on social media channels
You can promote products with affiliate links on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. While I don’t do this much, you can and you may just make it pay. It’s nice to have additional promotion opportunities.
You have no control over commission rates. In 2017 Amazon chopped its commissions. Merchants cut commissions all the time. You set up a huge promotional campaign earning $X amount and then out of nowhere your revenue decreases. It’s not fun.
You’re not going to sell products consistently with an article such as “7 Reasons Hollywood Rejected X Actor”. Only buyer intent content will successfully promote products with affiliate links. This means you have less content options and much of it is more competitive.
If you write content yourself, it gets pretty boring writing product oriented content day-in and day-out. I’d much rather research and write an article such as “AdSense vs. Affiliate Marketing” which to me is fun to think about and write even though there’s no real affiliate marketing opportunity.
Merchants file bankruptcy leaving you with ziltch
This happened to me. It’s an unlikely scenario, but it happens. I’m owed $16,000. I have no idea if I’ll get it.
Affiliate programs terminated
Out of nowhere affiliate merchants can end affiliate programs rendering your affiliate links across content worthless.
If you operate in a seasonal niche, there may be months you earn very little because your audience doesn’t buy the stuff during those months.
AdSense (Display Ads)
Publish on any topic (as long not in violation of TOS – still leaves a lot of options)
This is my favorite, number 1 reason for using display ads. I love being able to publish interesting, fun, helpful content even if there’s no opportunity to promote products. This also opens up a massive vault of long tail, low competition keywords that with ads can earn money in the long run. Even if each piece of content only earns a tiny bit each month, together all the content can earn very good revenue.
No concern over conversions
With ads I don’t have to worry about sales conversions. But, I do worry about and test ad placements which is the same thing. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time testing ad placements and it makes a huge difference. But, once you have a good formulation, it’s set it and forget it. Just crank out killer content daily.
Nothing is easier than finding a competition-free keyword with some search volume and then getting search traffic to it. Once traffic arrives, it earns on auto-pilot with ads. On its own it won’t earn a fortune, but it trickles in the pennies… with enough pennies trickling in you can build up a sizeable revenue.
Get paid like clockwork
If you use AdSense, unless you get banned, you can count on getting paid like clockwork. Unfortunately, publishers do get banned, which is a risk, but at least you don’t have to chase Google for money. Most ad networks pay on time. Only once did I suffer a payment delay. Otherwise, all ad networks I’ve used paid me on time.
Less vulnerability to seasonality
While ad revenue does fluctuate throughout the year, and worse in some niches than others, the volatility is less than seasonal affiliate offers.
You’re not going to earn $50 RPM with an article about the cast of Growing Pains TV show. But you can earn $50 RPM with a sneaker article. You need more traffic with display ads to make a good living.
Risk losing ad network account
This is particularly true with AdSense. AdSense bans publishers and keeps the accrued revenue. A ban renders your site worthless and of course kills a great revenue stream. It’s a real risk you need to be aware of. To avoid a ban, pay attention to AdSense TOS.
Can’t use in email newsletters
You cannot put AdSense ads in an email newsletter (unfortunately). However, there are ad networks that do permit ads in emails… they just don’t pay as well as AdSense.
Can’t use on social media
I was thinking today how awesome it would be if Pinterest gave us the option to embed our AdSense code into our pins. Imagine being able to put our own ads in pins. Given I get 9.3 million monthly impressions on Pinterest, that would be some serious revenue.
Sadly, neither Pinterest nor AdSense permits this, while Pinterest and merchants do permit affiliate links.
Compromises website attractiveness
Ads don’t look good on sites. That’s the price visitor pay. They’re intrusive and ugly. Affiliate links, on the other hand, don’t look so bad; they’re just links.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.