The Google Review update in April 2021 kinda kicked affiliate marketing in the teeth.
Lots of affiliate sites took a shellacking.
You know the sites I’m talking about… they consist mostly of reviews and Best Of articles.
Fortunately, affiliate marketing is not my focus. I do it and earn 5 figures per month from affiliate marketing but it’s a tiny percentage of my overall revenue.
Most of my revenue is from ads (AdThrive).
And yes, I recognize I’m not bulletproof by any stretch. The loss of third-party cookies is coming. I’m vulnerable to Google updates. This is NOT a gripe against affiliate marketing or an ads vs. affiliate marketing analysis.
I’m big-time pro affiliate marketing.
I have affiliate links all over Fat Stacks.
I have literally thousands of affiliate links on my niche sites.
I use affiliate links in email newsletters.
I AM an affiliate marketer.
In this new affiliate climate, is it still good to pursue affiliate marketing?
Short answer: Yes, but you need to go about it differently. Specifically, I’m a big believer in affiliate marketing, ads and if it’s your thing, ecommerce. I don’t do ecommerce, but I monetize with both ads and affiliate marketing.
Monetizing with ads gives me the opportunity to publish a ton of purely informational content which is what I do. This is what I’ve done for years. Most of this content does not have affiliate links. It earns from ads. It’s liberating. I can publish excellent content. My websites are a great mix of info and buyer intent. To date it’s worked great.
Merely cranking out mediocre reviews and best of articles is probably not a great website strategy.
Publishing some reviews is okay. I publish reviews on all my sites. I publish reviews for products I have and like.
When I love a product or hotel or service I enjoy writing the review. I inject a ton of personality into it. I clearly demonstrate that I have extensive knowledge and experience with the product. I include my own photos (most of the time).
I write plenty of reviews on Fat Stacks about products, software and services I use and like.
With the Google Review Update, I slightly tweaked one affiliate marketing angle.
One change I made is I drive more traffic to affiliate link landers on my site.
Admittedly this has hurt conversion and revenue.
On the plus side it reduces affiliate links in my content. It garners more page views. It serves as a filter – I frame them in a way so that only people interested in the lander will click and visit the lander.
Specifically, with my exit pop-up banners, instead of linking directly to various merchants, I link to affiliate product landing pages on my site. These pages are noindexed. I don’t publish them to rank them (although I may add some content and index them down the road). I publish them to earn from targeted traffic I send there from other parts of my site.
How to do affiliate marketing the right way in today’s environment
The following is what I’ve believed for quite some time – well before the Google Review update.
Publish a variety of content
I straight up don’t like websites that are all reviews. I wouldn’t buy one. I’ve published them long, long ago and didn’t like it so I stopped in pretty short order. These sites are often purely bridge sites intercepting visitors before they buy from a merchant scooping up a commission in the process.
If you can make them work by all means go for it. I just have a personal preference. I’m not anti-review at all. I just prefer sites that have a variety of content.
Don’t publish bridge pages
What is a bridge page?
It’s thin content designed to rank for buyer intent content offering no information that merchants don’t provide and scooping up a commission as a traffic interceptor. Basically, they’re reviews that merely regurgitate information about products provided by merchants. There’s no original content in it.
If you’re going to write a review make it great. Buy, rent or try the product, service or software. Get your own photos. Demonstrate you know what you’re reviewing. Keep in mind that you face very stiff competition from the ecommerce merchants who publish customer reviews. It’s hard to compete with those. Google ranks them for good reason. When I research products, I prefer reading customer reviews on merchant sites than some blog unless the blog clearly demonstrates they’ve used the product. In that case, I find them very, very helpful.
What about “thinnish” best of?
I have some “product roundups” on my sites that admittedly the content isn’t awesome but here’s the thing… the value isn’t really in the write-ups but in the curating the list. It veers toward thin for sure but there’s also a tad of value in it so I do it. It’s a very small percentage of my content and will remain a small percentage. I’ve actually more or less stopped this type of content for the most part unless I can really knock it out of the park.
For example, I review smartwatches on a niche site. I buy almost every smartwatch that’s released. My writer tests and uses every smartwatch for a week. We publish reviews, comparisons and best of articles… but they’re all based on actual use and testing of every smartwatch covered.
And no, I’m still in the red with my smartwatch endeavor. It’s super competitive but I just love smartwatches so I can’t help myself.
Diversify your revenue stream
I’m pro affiliate marketing revenue but I’m also pro ad revenue. I also think incorporating ecommerce is great if you want to do that.
Mix up your content so that the lion’s share is purely informational and earns from ads. It’s liberating. It’s more fun to write. It makes for a far better website. If other site buyers are like me, they’ll be leery about spending big bucks on a “review” site. I know I wouldn’t buy one. I’ll buy a site with both reviews and info content for sure but not some site with hundreds of “reviews” and nothing else.
Incorporate email marketing if you can (and it works)
I don’t talk much about Fat Stacks revenue but a big chunk of Fat Stacks revenue is via email marketing and I actually don’t do all that much of it. It’s easy. It works.
The problem is that email doesn’t work great in all niches. It’s always worth trying but in my experience email is more difficult in non-business oriented niches. I have an email newsletter for one niche site but the affiliate revenue is pretty much nothing.
Test different ways to get affiliate link clicks
Test different ways to get affiliate link clicks. Use pop-ups and banner ads to filter visitors on your info content to various landing pages that have affiliate links instead of jamming affiliate links throughout all your content.
FYI, I don’t believe that affiliate links are bad in content. I actually believe that the Google Review update targeted keywords but I’ve been wrong before. Perhaps affiliate link ratios come into play here and one way to reduce affiliate links is to restrict them to landers.
Note that I still incorporate affiliate links in my info content, primarily by using the AMZ Image plugin for images in my content but that’s generally it and it’s certainly not all content. It’s still a minority of my content.
I don’t use affiliate links at every opportunity
I could add way more affiliate links to my content than I do. I often don’t bother. This reduces the number of affiliate links in my content and usually links in non-buyer intent content don’t earn money anyway. This is another reason I love earning from ads… I don’t have to tweak out affiliate links on every page of my site.
Yes, I’m leaving money on the table but when I look at my ad revenue vs affiliate revenue ratio, the smart play for me is to do all I can to grow traffic and let the ads do the earning.
Only when an affiliate link can earn decent revenue will I use it. The one exception here is embedding Amazon images that forms a part of the content… I use them liberally despite these embedded images linking with affiliate links to Amazon. But I emphasize these images are used for illustrative purposes in info-articles instead of focusing on generating affiliate revenue.
FYI, Amazon with image embed is a huge source of free images that can enhance your content. I embed Amazon images on all my niche sites for this purpose.
Is affiliate marketing worth it on Pinterest?
I’ve never had any success posting affiliate links on Pinterest. I gave it a shot and it didn’t work well at all so I stopped. I don’t really like the idea of using social to promote merchants. I love using social for promoting my brands and sites.
Is affiliate marketing worth it on YouTube?
I don’t know because I’m not a big YouTube guy but I suspect it’s totally worth it. If you’re getting 10,000 views per day on videos with a product orientation, I suspect those affiliate links in the description can earn an absolute ton of money.
Is being an affiliate worth it?
On the balance and if done right, yes it is totally worth it. You can generate very good revenue from web properties and/or email with affiliate marketing.
It can also be largely passive which means it builds up over time. The more content you have generating commissions, the more your affiliate revenue grows.
It’s harder than it looks though… at least for me. Despite that, I have no plans to stop affiliate marketing. It’s a great source of revenue from my websites and email (but not social platforms).
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.