The website monetization method that grabbed me by throat way back when was affiliate marketing.
I loved the concept of being rewarded for my efforts without having to come up with a product to sell and all the hassles that come with that.
While I knew little about website traffic and conversion, I knew the concept could work for me. More importantly, I was excited about the potential to scale enjoying part of the profits.
Like most people getting started online, it was slow-going at first. Painfully slow. Frustratingly slow. And then I earned my first $10 affiliate commission. That was huge. I knew then I could make an online niche business work.
I jumped in full tilt with building affiliate sites. From the day I earned that first $10 commission, it didn’t take me long to get to low five figures per month with affiliate commissions.
While affiliate marketing seems simple, it’s not always easy.
There are many potential problems that can arise. I’ve suffered many of them now that I’m a veteran affiliate marketer. It’s part of the biz.
Many of the pitfalls I did not know about when starting out. Even if I did, I don’t think it would have changed my decision to pursue affiliate marketing. In fact, despite recently being adversely affected by one significant pitfall, I still incorporate affiliate marketing in my business. I have no plans to change.
Also, if you’re an experienced affiliate marketer, you’re no doubt well aware about everything I set out below. This post is geared for the beginner just so you know that while affiliate marketing sounds like the greatest business opportunity ever, it’s not without potential problems.
Table of Contents
- Here are 10 affiliate marketing pitfalls you need to know about
- 1. Affiliate program/product discontinued
- 2. Change affiliate platform requiring you to change out the links
- 3. Product discontinued or out-of-stock
- 4. Social media platforms change their affiliate link policies
- 5. Affiliate program changes permitted promotional strategies
- 6. Traffic, hence revenue plummets
- 7. Can make bad recommendations
- 8. You can lose money
- 9. It can take a long time to make decent money
- 10. Commission rate changes (for the worse)
- Moral of this post
Here are 10 affiliate marketing pitfalls you need to know about
1. Affiliate program/product discontinued
While I’ve been an affiliate for affiliate programs that have ended, it’s never significantly hurt me because it just so happened I never generated much revenue for those merchants.
However, this can be a devastating occurrence for any affiliate marketer who is earning significant revenue promoting a particular company who then discontinues their affiliate program.
This is doubly so if commissions are earned directly from a web page that is written in a way that substituting the product is difficult. A particular product review, for example, would be difficult to change to promote another product. Not impossible, but difficult to at least be as effective in converting.
It’s also a considerable blow if there are not any alternative products to promote. While it’s rare that there is only one product to promote as an affiliate in any given industry, it can happen. It can also be the case where there are alternatives, but they don’t pay nearly as well as the discontinued program.
The point is to understand that a merchant or brand or company can discontinue its affiliate program at any time, which means that’s the end of all that content and promotional efforts in place earning you revenue.
This really annoys me. Obviously not as much as a product or company discontinuing its program, but for some reason companies switch affiliate platforms which means I must change out my affiliate links.
If I have affiliate links on 20 pages of a website that’s a big job. While I use Thirsty Affiliates which makes managing/changing links easier for one product companies, but I also promote companies with hundreds and thousands of products. For some merchants, I have several hundreds affiliate links promoting a variety of products throughout my sites. Changing out all those links to all those products is a massive headache.
For example, if you have an Amazon niche site, it’s very easy to have 400 affiliate links promoting 30, 40, 50+ products. Even if you use an affiliate link management plugin or tool, that’s still a lot of useless work.
3. Product discontinued or out-of-stock
This problem is similar to the affiliate program ending, but for massive ecommerce stores such as Amazon, is a common occurrence. While the affiliate program remains in place, products are discontinued all the time. You could have the unfortunate luck of a product you promote successfully being discontinued.
If you promote large ecommerce stores, expect this to happen.
During Pinterest’s early days, they let pinners put affiliate links as the link for their pins to various merchants and products. This earned some pinners a lot of money. I suspect some earned a good chunk of their online revenue from Pinterest.
Then Pinterest changed their policy forbidding affiliate links. That’s a tough nut to swallow.
Fortunately, Pinterest reversed their affiliate policy yet again about a year or so ago, but some social media platforms or any platform from which you promote products may never reverse a decision to forbid affiliate links.
The moral of this story is to not get overly dependant on any 3rd party platform.
5. Affiliate program changes permitted promotional strategies
Just as social media and other 3rd party platforms can change their affiliate policies, so too can a company or brand change its policies. Often the change revolves around traffic sources.
For example, many merchants forbid promoting their products via email. The referring link must be located on a web page.
If you’ve built up a successful email marketing funnel because you could promote via email and then that company forbids email, that leaves you out in the cold. You need to either find an alternative merchant or set up a landing page to direct email traffic to which inevitably can hurt commissions (but landing pages can help if you have a knack for copwriting).
6. Traffic, hence revenue plummets
There are few veteran affiliate marketers out there who hasn’t suffered a plummet in traffic to their affiliate offers or their web pages that start the funnel.
Social media organic reach can drop. Search engine traffic to specific pages or entire sites can drop.
This is one of those perils of online marketing. It’s a fact of life.
This is one strong argument for incorporating the following strategies into your affiliate marketing business:
Email marketing: Build lists when possible. It’s not conducive for all niches, but great when it is.
Multiple websites: If you’re doing aggressive SEO for traffic, you need to diversify with more than one site that is in no way tied to other sites. This is very difficult to do, but it’s a good strategy so that if one site goes down, you still have revenue and potential to grow existing assets.
I would suggest multiple traffic sources, but in many cases search traffic is the best converting traffic for website affiliate offers. Besides, even if you successfully diversify your traffic, if search makes up 60% of your traffic and you lose 85% of your search traffic, that’s still pretty much a death blow to your site.
Should you diversify beyond affiliate marketing?
I don’t think that’s necessary if you have two or more decently performing affiliate sites. While I monetize my business in many ways (affiliate commissions make up only a part of my online revenue), if you have two or more decently performing affiliate sites that are totally unrelated, that’s decent diversification.
7. Can make bad recommendations
This sucks when it happens. At some point, regardless of the due diligence you put into the products you promote, you will refer someone for whom the product isn’t a good fit. Chances are they’ll never tell you, but it will happen.
I’ve bought stuff via affiliate links that weren’t good for me. I don’t begrudge the affiliate, but it’s never fun buying stuff that doesn’t work.
8. You can lose money
Not every product you gear up to promote will make you money, especially if you buy the product, pay for content plus you have all the other usual website overhead.
Losses can be a lot bigger if you buy traffic and it doesn’t work out.
Affiliate marketing has its risks. Not everything you set out to promote will make you money. The key is to understand this and look for and focus on winners.
9. It can take a long time to make decent money
This is probably the biggest pitfall for people getting into affiliate marketing. While the business model is incredibly simple, it’s not easy and it can take years to generate meaningful revenue.
Patience is a prerequisite.
Had I quit at the 3 or 6 month mark, I’d never have earned that first $10 commission which inspired me to focus and keep at it.
Not only is learning how to get traffic tough, converting takes know-how as well. Just because people click your affiliate link does not mean you’ll earn commissions.
If you’ve been at this 6 months or longer and still have no luck earning meaningful revenue, carefully assess what you’re doing, research what successful affiliate marketers do and adjust your methods. Don’t necessarily quit.
10. Commission rate changes (for the worse)
I saved this one for last because it’s a common pitfall that has hurt plenty of affiliate marketers. It’s particularly salient now given earlier this year Amazon completely changed its affiliate commissions resulting in dramatically lower commissions for pretty much every product category.
While Amazon’s commission changes have impacted me some, it’s a pittance compared to one merchant I promote who dropped my recurring commission from 35% to 20%. That’s almost a 50% haircut on recurring commissions which adds up to a lot of money every year.
There’s nothing I can do about this. The merchant has every right to do it, but it’s certainly unpleasant.
The kicker is that while there are alternative merchants to promote within the industry, the 20% recurring I’m now getting is better than what the other merchants offer. Besides, my current merchant is still a leader in the industry and converts well.
The way I’m looking at this change is I enjoyed above-average commissions for several years and now my remuneration is more within industry levels. C’est la vie. At least they didn’t discontinue their program… that would have been terrible.
Moral of this post
Please do NOT let this post dissuade you from starting an affiliate marketing business. Despite potential problems, it’s an amazing business.
The point of this post is to ask yourself if you could stay in business if any or all of the above happened to you. If not, consider options that you can implement that would ensure you could weather these nasty pitfalls.
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.
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.