My $13,000 Affiliate Marketing Store Gamble: Boom or Bust?

Boom or Bust?In December 2015 I mentioned in a Fat Stacks email newsletter that I was planning to try something different with affiliate marketing on my biggest B2C website.

After 2 years, affiliate revenue accounts for only 15 to 20% of my B2C revenue.  It’s going up for the most part, but I would love to earn 50% of my B2C sites’ revenue from affiliate promotion to diversify my revenue streams in a more balanced way.  I don’t want to achieve this by a drop in ad revenue; instead I want to achieve this by dramatically increasing affiliate revenue.

I’m not the only publisher these days looking to ramp up affiliate marketing. Mainstream publishers are getting into affiliate marketing big time.  Affiliate marketing is no longer relegated to weight loss pills and programs.  Affiliate marketing is now an important traffic and revenue source for many online retailers.

The BIG PICTURE of my Affiliate Marketing Strategy

The concept is simple.

Instead of linking directly to merchants from my main site’s content, I link to individual product write-ups on a subdomain affiliate store on which are the lion’s share of affiliate links.

The Birth and Evolution of my Affiliate Store

Originally my B2C sites’ affiliate marketing strategy was like most methods, which is placing in-content affiliate links to merchants.  This works just fine.

Then one day toward the end of 2015 I had a Skype chat with a colleague publisher who showed me what he was doing with affiliate marketing.  It was cool.  Instead of linking directly to merchants from content, we was creating high quality product write-ups for many products he promoted.  Therefore from all over his site where products were mentioned in his content, he linked to those product write-ups on his site.  Those product write-ups contained the affiliate links.

I liked this concept immediately for several reasons.  They are:

  1. Better website metrics:  Visitors visit more pages and stay on site longer
  2. The product write-ups pre-sell:  The product write-ups are well done that further presell the product with the intention of improving conversions.
  3. Organic traffic: The product write-ups themselves pull in buyer-intent organic search traffic (this is probably my favorite reason).
  4. Fewer affiliate links on my main site: Using dedicated product write-ups reduces the number of affiliate links in the main content – especially product gallery and product comparison articles.

As far as I’m concerned, those are 4 solid reasons to publish product write ups for some, most or all products a regular niche site mentions.  At the bottom of this post I set out 3 additional potential future benefits.

But I had a problem

My problem with pulling the trigger on this method was that my B2C site mentioned at least 500 products and maybe more.  That meant 500 product write-ups which is a huge job.  My biggest fear is that so many product write-ups on my main site could result in a thin affiliate site.  Many of the products I promote are similar so that there would be a lot of similar, arguably thin content on my site.  I didn’t want to do this for fear of adverse SEO consequences.

My First Solution (on which I bailed)

My first approach to solving the problem while enjoying the benefits of creating many product write-ups was to use affiliate product datafeeds on a subdomain.

I did the research and was delighted to find Datafeedr and Woozone.  I paid for both and got to work.

I set up an affiliate store on a subdomain, installed a Woocommerce theme (Flatsome theme) and fired up the affiliate product datafeeds.

Within no time I had 300 products on the store.

BUT, again I had a problem.

Actually, it was a change of heart.

I embarked on this concept with the datafeed approach because I was in a rush.  I was also lazy.  The problem was that I knew I’d never get organic search traffic to a datafeed site, which I decided after setting up the store would be a shame.

In fact, the thought occurred to me that if I ultimately end up with 2,000 product write-ups on my store and I get 1 organic search visitor per product write up per day, that’s 2,000 buyer-intent organic search visitors per day, which could result in a truckload of affiliate revenue very quickly… not to mention the revenue from traffic I’d send from the main site.

Pulling the Trigger on My $13,000 Affiliate Marketing Gamble

The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like using affiliate datafeeds which is duplicate content (often very bad content too).

I decided the best approach would be to continue with the affiliate store on a subdomain but to invest in unique product write-ups.  I knew and currently know the product write-ups won’t be SEO powerhouses, but even if they pull in some long tail traffic, it’ll be worth it in the long run.

My $13,000 gamble was paying for writers to ultimately do 750 to 1,000 product write-ups.  There’s no way I could do it.  I needed a team of writers.

I hired a writer on Upwork, but she quit after 4 days.

While Upwork is a great freelancer site, it wasn’t the right solution for this massive writing project.

I needed a writing agency that could deliver a huge volume of content quickly and for very reasonable rates.

I hired 5 writing agencies (iWriter, WriterAccess.com, Custom Content, LongerDays and TextBroker).  Each did one to five product write-ups.

I spoke with each service to find out if they also offered uploading and publishing the content directly in WordPress.  After all formatting 750 to 1,000 product write ups would take me a solid month working around the clock.

After a lot of discussions with several writing agencies, I worked out a great deal with TextBroker.  Not only could they write 1,000 product write ups in 1 to 2 months, but they would format and publish the content in WordPress for me (including getting images for each product).

We negotiated a fixed rate per product write up that worked out to $13.00 per product write up.  I paid for 1,000 of these (I have more planned).

FYI, I still use LongerDays for a lot of content; it just worked out that TextBroker was a better value for what I needed for this specific project.

Current status of my massive affiliate product store

As I publish this, the status is that the team of TextBroker writers are underway writing the product write-ups.  They tell me they’ll have all the product write-ups done in 4 to 8 weeks.  If the hit that goal I’ll be impressed.

Before engaging TextBroker, I published 16 product write ups as a prototype to see what would happen.  I linked to the 16 products from product mentions on the main website.

Prototype Test Results

The early results were good.

Here’s a traffic screenshot of traffic generated to the affiliate store with only 16 product write ups:

Affiliate Store Traffic Stats 30 Days

That’s not bad results for 16 product write-ups.  1,000 products would be 60 times that which would be approximately 82,000 monthly visitors to the affiliate store.  With a little luck, organic search traffic will generate a few thousand more monthly visitors.  The ad revenue alone would be impressive.  I’m optimistic the affiliate commissions will be good.

AS AN ASIDE:  I’m a huge believer in prototype launches.  What I mean by this is doing things on a good-enough level just to see if it works.  My affiliate store, while it’s a sizable investment, it’s not going to be perfect.  I’m launching it on a large scale (i.e. 750 to 1,000 product write-ups) to see if the concept works and that my intended benefits materialize.

However, nobody on the planet would say the product write-ups themselves are good.  The site categorization is not good.  The entire thing is just good enough to get off the ground to see what happens.  If it’s a success, it can always be improved down the road.

The point about prototype launches is don’t get wrapped up trying to be perfect.  Aim for good enough.  As soon as you get a hint that it’ll work, that’s when you make it better.

Is this worth doing?

Obviously I think it is, but it’s going to take time to pay off the up front cost, if I ever do.

Why am I publishing about this strategy on Fat Stacks if it’s unproven?

Usually I wait until I have some results before publishing about a particular strategy, but I wanted to get this info out to readers ASAP because it may be an approach you’ll want to take now.

Moreover, it’s really easy and can be inexpensive to test on a small basis.  You don’t have to do a subdomain affiliate store for hundreds of products.  You can launch a prototype with 10 to 20 products and see what happens.

Frankly, I think this strategy is something definitely worth testing for all niche site publishers who promote products with affiliate links.

Will I remove all affiliate links from my main site?

No.  I’ll keep some affiliate links on the main site.  I just want to reduce the overall number of affiliate links on my main site.

Will I place display ads on the affiliate store?

I currently do have display ads on the affiliate store.  Specifically I have Media.net ads (read full Media.net review here), 1 AdSense ad and native Amazon ad units.  So far the Amazon Native ads and Media.net ads perform well.

However, once I have a decent amount of traffic on the affiliate store (i.e. the subdomain), I will test revenue with and without display ads.  By having ads on the store I may be losing more lucrative affiliate commissions.

Will affiliate commission conversions decrease by not sending visitors directly to the merchants?

I suspect it will, but I believe the other benefits outweigh this disadvantage.

 

But didn’t you list one benefit being preselling can improve conversion?

I did and the product write-ups could presell if I were investing in top quality content.  The thing is, at this beginning stage where I’m testing the concept, the content won’t be top-quality.  Therefore, it won’t presell.  The links to the merchants are clear, but no doubt I’ll lose some commissions.

On the flip side, I will increase ad revenue because the Media.net ad revenue is very high on the affiliate store (I have some amazing ad placement that works fantastic with the product post format with Flatsome theme and Woocommerce.

Are the product write-ups high quality?

No.  They’re 275 to 350 words long.  They aren’t great.  I’d love to have high quality product write-ups but I simply don’t think the additional cost is worth it at this point.  If the initial store is mighty lucrative I can always go back and improve the write-ups.

Do I link to the affiliate store from the main site with no-follow or do-follow links?

I always use no-follow links to the affiliate store from my main site.  I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to manipulate the affiliate store’s rankings.

3 possible future benefits of the affiliate store include:

1. Email marketing landing pages:

My Flatsome Woocommerce theme is designed to maximize clicks to merchants.  The layout is pretty sweet.

What this means is I can create terrific product landing pages for email newsletters.  This is particularly the case with Amazon promotion since Amazon does not permit using affiliate links in email.

2. Selling my own products:

I don’t know if I’ll ever sell my own products, but it’s a possibility and if I ever do, the affiliate store is a perfect platform on which to sell the products or link to my product listings on larger ecommerce platforms such as Amazon.

3. Serves as an affiliate store for other niche sites I publish

As I buy/build more niche sites, I can use the one affiliate store as a conduit for all niche sites I own.  Again, this minimizes affiliate links on niche sites, increases visitor time on my web properties and increases ad revenue.

I’ve never done this before

I was an affiliate marketer long before I ever started using display ads for website monetization.  However, the affiliate store concept is one I’ve never done.

Conceptually it makes perfect sense to run a dedicate affiliate product store with niche sites.  After all every niche has products that can earn affiliate commissions so having at least one affiliate store is at the very least worth trying.

Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman


What do you think? Leave a comment!

  • Jenda says:

    Hey Jon!

    I’m really interested in this approach, but to get it right I’d love to ask some more questions:

    1.) Are you importing XML feed to your affil store and then adding your own write-ups? Or are you creating each product manually (create post, add write-up and images, affil link)?

    2.) How does your write-up look like? Is it like a product description?

    3.) Wouldn’t be better for SEO to have your affil store on the main domain (“yourdomain.com/afillstore”) instead of subdomain?

    Thank you very much. I hope you’ll hit a homerun with this 🙂
    – Jenda

    • Jon says:

      Hey Jenda,

      1. I’m manually creating product write-ups. It’s labor intensive but I prefer the control.

      2. The write up have a brief list of features at the top with the product image. Below is a longer description that includes benefits, uses, specifications and any other relevant details.

      3. I considered that but the product write ups have 2 affiliate links and the content is pretty thin. I prefer longer, more robust content on my main site. The thing is I’ll never know for sure which is the best approach. I’m playing it safe by putting all the product write ups on a subdomain.

  • Mike says:

    Excellent idea Jon, waiting to see the results of this cool idea.

    Did the prototype generate any revenue through the affiliate links?

    • Jon says:

      Can’t tell. I didn’t track it. I’m bad at tracking. Too lazy. I think I’ll see what happens when I switch over most of my aff links on the main site to the store. If sales plummet, I probably wasted $13K and a boatload of time.

  • Ryan says:

    Really interesting idea that left me with roughly 10,000 questions! My biggest would be with conversions. When I send my visitors to Amazon, my clicks have converted at 6% over the last year because I make $ with any purchase they make (I typically have a 1% actual product conversion). All other affiliate programs I send clicks to convert at less than 1%. My fear would be taking the 1,000 clicks that would go to Amazon (and result in 60 sales) and potentially now only converting 1% of the 1,000 visitors I just sent to my store. So now, instead of getting 60 sales on Amazon, I am only sending 10 clicks to amazon (of which, they will probably convert at over 50%) and maybe only ending up with 5 sales.

    Like you said, you now though can add on ad revenue, but lets say I can make an additional $10 (on the high end for me) in ad revenue from the 1,000 visitors I sent. This still doesn’t make up for the potential loss of 55 sales.

    In the end, I have a hard time seeing it as something more than just adding an extra unnecessary step between between visitor and commission, which creates an opportunity to lose money.

    However, this is something I can’t wait to read the update on and see how it does for you!

    • Jon says:

      Hey Ryan,

      You make excellent points. I agree this entire thing may be a bust. I’m taking that risk.

      I think though, if you like the idea, you can still include links to Amazon on your main site but then add additional links to the affiliate store. That’s what i plan on doing. One goal is to reduce the number of affiliate links on my main site but not necessarily eliminate them. This way I can create enticing links to Amazon and other merchants and then provide enticing links to various URLs on the affiliate store.

      Time will tell if this entire project is worth the money and time. I hope so. I’ll update in a few months once it’s built out and hopefully has sufficient traffic to assess results.

  • brian says:

    Hi just curious how you choose the products to promote? Did you did keyword analysis for the products or just select entire categories to promote?

    Also, how to you check to make sure that products are still in stock or being sold. Like Amazon for a lot of products like higher priced stuff that might not be as popular category I noticed its usually 1 seller that listed it and they will be out of stock a lot

    • Jon says:

      Hey Brian,

      My website has 1,100 posts on which I promote related products. I choose products that are relevant to the content. I don’t check if products are available. I realize some may disappear. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. My affiliate store will have a decent search and related products function so people can find other products on the site anyway or just head to the merchant and look for related products. It’s not perfect, but I never do anything perfectly.

  • Brian Manon says:

    This is a awesome idea. With your trial run has it produced any income yet. Also are the links on your main site that is pointing to the review site No-follow or Do-follow? Thanks

    • Jon says:

      Yes, it’s produced income. I haven’t set up affiliate tracking so I don’t know about affiliate revenue (I know, I really should set up tracking but I’m lazy… I’ll just see what happens in the long run). However, the ad units generate pretty good RPM numbers which is cool. That said, having ads on the site may be a mistake. I’ll see what happens when the full store is up and running.

    • Jon says:

      Oops forgot to mention the no-follow / do-follow question. I make all links from my main site to the affiliate store no-follow. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m trying to manipulate affiliate store rankings. Good question. I’ll add it to the FAQ section.

  • Steve says:

    Hi John,

    Are you still using Elf Links on your sites to cloak your affiliate links? I’m interested to see how this works out for you, best of luck!

    Steve

    • Jon says:

      Yes currently I am but with the growth of the store I’ll be removing most of the Elf links. I may keep some of them… haven’t decided yet.

  • Ben says:

    This may be where you’re headed, but I think a more interesting test would be to get super high quality pre-sale pages written for just half a dozen of your top selling (and highest commission) products. I’ve thought of doing this but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’d like to have those just so I can easily drop call-outs into blog posts and have pre-built affiliate monetization.

    • Jon says:

      I think this is a really good idea. In the past I’ve bought loads of products, tested them and wrote up reviews. Those did well and I may do more in the future. Those are in-depth excellent write ups but it’s a lot of work. I’d love to do more. These types of posts I’d keep on the main domain because they are high quality.

  • Warren says:

    Great concept and I wish you luck.
    With your store that you’re setting up, do you use a subdomain like store.mywebsite.com or do you use mywebsite.com/store? And which do you feel is better for SEO and why?

    Also, are you going to focus on a supplier like Amazon or will you look to use places like Alibaba, Aliexpress (drop ship) and other affiliate networks (CJ.com, etc)?

    • Jon says:

      Hey Warren,

      I’m doing store.mywebsite.com because I want it treated as a separate domain. I don’t have lofty SEO goals for the store but I do expect some organic traffic. It’s not better for SEO, but it protects my main domain so I don’t end up with 1,000’s of thin content and affiliate links on the main site.

      I focus on about 5 big merchants that serve my niche. Amazon is one of them. I don’t use Alibaba or Aliexpress or do any dropshipping; however, maybe after this year I will look into doing some white labeling my own products. That would be a logical next step.

      • Justin Bilyj says:

        Jon,
        This is my first post on your site, gotta say you and Chris Lee have the best Aff blogs around! You lend a lot of value to all your posts, and although you claim you are lazy (get a kick out of that), you put together and tracked quite a few numbers.
        I wanted to reply to this question Warren asked with my own. When you are doing a subdomain for your store, do you change the look at all, do you index it?
        Also, your decision to build out a subdomain for your store is because you are worried with getting smacked by Google for thin content. What is thin content to you? 500w? 800w? 1000w?
        Do you have a content-to-aff. link ratio?
        Appreciate any replies, nice blog again!

        • Jon says:

          Hey Justin,

          Thanks a ton for you kind words. I too like Chris Lee a lot. I am lazy though, but also hit for how much time I can dedicate to Fat Stacks Blog. If Fat Stacks were my only site, I could really make the posts look better but if I set such a high standard, I’d never publish anything. I figure it’s best to cough up decent content even if it’s not pretty. So far a few people, such as you like it so I’ll crank out posts when I have something to add and spare myself hours in making it pretty… for now.

          Affiliate store: I used a woocommerce theme for the store, but use the same colors and logo so when visitors go there they know it’s the same brand.

          Subdomain: Yeah, I don’t want 1,000 to 2,000 three-hundred word product write-ups on my main site, each with two affiliate links. That would be too much thin content so I opted for the subdomain. If I had planned to only publish in-depth awesome reviews of products that I tested and had great images etc. I would have published them on the main site.

          Thin content: Word count is part of it, but it’s also the overall value of the content. My product write ups aren’t terrific. I think a 250 word post can be great and I’ve published them on my main site. It boils down to how much value it adds.

          I don’t have a specific content-to-aff link ratio although on my main site I typically limit aff links to 3 to 4 per url but it does vary.

          Hope this helps.

  • Heidi says:

    Thanks for your insightful post! Can’t wait to see your results! What happened to the income reports? You promised to be on time publishing them! 🙂
    You have no idea how many people those reports encourage…they inspire us independent and lone entrepreneurs hiding indoors knowing that we are on the right path to publishing fortunes!
    Looking forward to all months you left out this year! 🙂

    • Jon says:

      Hey Heidi,

      Thanks for the comment. Yup I’m late with income reports again. It seems I do them in quarterly batches. I’ll do my best to carve out time this week for them. I’m glad you find them inspiring. That’s the point of them.

  • avi says:

    Hey Ryan,

    i have a question isn’t this like a niche site that people build to make money from amazon and other places?

    why can’t someone start with 10 or 20 items and build up from there??

    why start with 1000?

    thank you
    Avi L

    • Jon says:

      Hey Avi,

      I definitely recommend starting with 10 to 20 items. I did. I tested it with 16 products and I was happy with the concept so I ramped it up. It’s always a good idea to test on a small scale first.

      • avi says:

        OK i heard that but whats your thinking about 1000+ products?? i follow sites like nichepursuits.com and they are making an authority site with products.

        are you doing more of an ecommerce store rather then a niche site?

        also are you doing the seo like any other niche site?

        thank you
        Avi L

        • Jon says:

          Hey Avi,

          My main site (www.mainwebsite.com) is an info based site. Not ecommerce and I’m moving in the direction to limit affiliate links. The store site is on a subdomain such as store.mainwebsite.com where I publish the product write-ups.

  • Paul says:

    Hi Jon,
    another really awesome post packed with great ideas and radical thinking!
    One question I have is …. is your main website based on one particular category? I assume that it is fairly broad if you have 1,000 products to write about?

    Good luck with your new idea… looking forward to reading more.
    Paul

    • Jon says:

      Thanks Paul.

      My site is fairly broad but it’s in a vertical with a lot of products. Not all niches will have such broad product options. In some ways it’s better being in niches with a few select products to promote so you can really focus on promoting those products. That’s what I do with my B2B niche sites – I focus on a few awesome products. However, I make big broad niches work too. It’s just a different strategy.

  • avi says:

    oh i see so you have already a website that is build and making your making and has traffic. now you are adding a store.mysite.com eccommerce store that people can buy things from?

    also are you going to use amazon affilate or something else?

    thank you

  • Harold says:

    Hi Jon !

    Great move. That’s something we did last month as well and we’re slowly seeing some results.

    Quick question : why on a subdomain ?

    On our side, we decided to do it on the main website so we can show products directly inside the content or in the sidebar with a few tweaks. And everything is in place on the same admin interface.

    Thanks for your content which is really great.

    Cheers !

    • Jon says:

      Hey Harold,

      Thanks for the great comment. I opted for subdomain because the content is fairly thin and I didn’t want 1,000’s of thin content urls with affiliate links on the main site. I can fairly easily promote the products on the main site if I need to with cloud-based related posts widgets (content.ad). I took the safe road.

      • Harold says:

        Hi Jon,

        I understand. In our case, content is thinner as well on product pages, but not “a lot” thinner than some of our articles. I can see how it would be problematic anyway in some specific cases.

        Thanks for the answer !

        You rock. 🙂

  • Trevor says:

    Inspiring experiment – congrats!

    Writing lots of content is definitely the way to go and with so many products that will happen eventually.

    If I was doing this, I’d adopt an 80/20 approach so that I started with the products that either already got the most sales or my gut reaction told me “should” get the most sales. That and adding new extra content for each new item sold.

    Keeping track of writers always seems a bit like trying to push string uphill – they take a lot more managing than Tim Ferris pretends. Good luck!

  • Jeffrey says:

    Hi Jon,

    Great article again, I am really curious about how this will work out!

    Since a few weeks I am working on a website just like this, but I don’t know what to expect from the product write-ups. Is 1 visitor a day per product write-up a good goal? Also how much organic traffic is coming to your sub domain at this moment?

    Jeffrey

  • Martin says:

    Hi Jon,

    Great post!
    Could you tell if & how you are currently using Datafeedr or datafeeds in combination with the product write ups?
    I am testing also Datafeedr with Woocommerce as addition to a high traffic site, but have not yet found the ideal setup here.

    Thanks!

    Martin

    • Jon says:

      Hey Martin,

      When I switched to full custom product write-ups I stopped using Datafeedr. It’s one or the other. So far my project hasn’t been terribly successful, but I’m working on improving it and have some good ideas. It’s fairly experimental… which has cost quite a bit so far.

  • Ed says:

    Hi Jon,

    Your article exactly answers most of my questions, as I’ve been thinking of integrating a shop into my site for months already. I’ve always noted the same problem regarding the duplicate content, thin content, etc.

    What I wonder is whether you have not thought of trying to focus on optimizing your product category pages, just like Polyvore does it. They don’t have any product page, when you click on a product you are directed to the affiliate page, but they have strong pages – whatever you search, Polyvore shows up with their categories.

    The products still display the same descriptions and titles of the original sources. This seems not to affect their SEO negatively though.

    Would love to hear your opinion about the structure of Polyvore and trying something similar.

  • Eric says:

    I love the idea. Any plans on an update post?

    Thanks for all the work you share!

    • Jon says:

      Hey Eric,

      Update: crash and burn. Waste of money. Ill-conceived unfortunately. I do stuff like this often as I continually experiment with new ways of doing things. This was definitely one of my more costly failed experiments.

      • Brian says:

        would you be willing to elaborate? I’m in the middle of building out a woozone on a subdomain for a site that already has lots of organic traffic. What failed in your experiment, did google stop giving traffic or was it just that nobody was buying?

        • Jon says:

          Hey Brian,

          for me it was a badly executed idea. I think, at least for me, I’m better off just using in-content aff links in the the main domain in the content-rich articles. The trouble with a huge store for me was keeping products updated and running a datafeed affiliate script is very resource-heavy. I think conceptually it’s a good idea and if you can pull it off, it can be very good.

  • >