Is Affiliate Marketing Dead?
by Quenton Fyfe
3rd July 2021
When people ask the question “Is affiliate marketing dead?”, they’re usually asking for one of two reasons:
- They’ve heard about affiliate marketing and they’re wondering if it’s an opportunity worth pursuing, or if the opportunity has passed.
- They’re already trying to make money with affiliate marketing, and it’s not working – so they’re wondering if it’s just them – or if there’s a wider industry trend causing the problem.
In both cases it makes sense to ask the question so that you know whether to pivot to another business model or just raise your game.
So in this article, I’m going to examine the health of the affiliate marketing industry as a whole, and then go on to look at some ideas and tips on what to do if affiliate marketing isn’t working for you.
Major Brands with Affiliate Programs
People who’ve only just heard about affiliate marketing sometimes make the mistake of confusing it with scams like pyramid schemes – when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Many of the largest and most reputable brands in the world have affiliate programs. Brands such as:
- Life Fitness
and hundreds more.
It’s good to know that some of the largest brands in the world believe in the future of affiliate marketing.
Affiliate Marketing Statistics
Let’s look at some numbers, and see what the data tells us about affiliate marketing.
A 2016 report by Forrester Consulting for Rakuten Affiliate Network found:
- 80% of brands surveyed had an affiliate program
- 84% of publishers used affiliate programs to monetise their sites
They predicted that US spend on affiliate marketing would grow 10% per year between 2015 and 2020 becoming a $60bn industry.
So far, so good – but that’s a study from 2016 – can we find anything a bit more recent? Yes we can:
A 2019 study by the IAB found that affiliate marketing in the UK alone was worth £510m in 2019, an 8.4% increase year on year.
And coming right up to date, we can look at Google Trends for the popularity of the term “Affiliate Marketing”:
in the 5 years to Feb 2021, Google Trends shows that interest in affiliate marketing has grown more than 300%:
Even ignoring the strong growth in the last few months, you can see that interest in affiliate marketing has been growing over a period of years, and continues to do so.
Is Affiliate Marketing Still Profitable in 2021?
So affiliate marketing is going from strength to strength, but is it still profitable for ordinary people?
Check out our rundown of Top Bloggers’ Income Reports, and you’ll soon see that success with affiliate marketing isn’t confined to mega-corporations and household name websites.
Hard-working individuals are still able to build successful blogs – and many of them have affiliate marketing as one of their main income streams:
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner earned $57,946 from affiliate marketing in a single month.
Melyssa Griffin reported earning $25,572 as an affiliate, in her latest published income report.
John Lee Dumas earned $15,988 in affiliate income in May 2021 – a small proportion of his overall income – but a worthwhile amount nevertheless.
Check out the article for lots more examples of people crushing it with affiliate marketing and making monthly incomes most salaried employees can only dream about.
What’s Changed in Affiliate Marketing?
We’ve seen that affiliate marketing is still a great way to make money in 2021, but that’s not to say that things have stayed exactly the same, or that you can take the same approach and expect the same results as, say, 10 or 15 years ago.
So what’s changed? And how should you respond to those changes to make sure you succeed as an affiliate?
There’s no doubt that word has got out about what a great lifestyle and income you can achieve with an affiliate marketing business.
So there’s a lot more competition out there than there was a decade ago.
There’s still plenty of opportunities to succeed as an affiliate, but the days of being able to put-up any old website and make money from it have gone.
Now you’ll need to pick your niche carefully, plan and design your site well, and create a lot of high quality content in order to compete as an affiliate.
That’s not a problem, you just need to treat affiliate marketing as a business, and take a professional approach.
Check out the section on Affiliate Marketing Courses to give yourself the best chance of succeeding as an affiliate.
Amazon Affiliate Changes
On April 21 2020, Amazon made big cuts to the commission rates it pays to affiliates.
Amazon runs the biggest affiliate program in the world, used by thousands of webmasters, so this was a big deal.
Not every product category changed but “Furniture and Home Improvement” was cut from 8% to 3%, groceries was cut from 5% to 1%, and beauty products were cut from 6% to 3%.
These are huge cuts and they had a big impact on many affiliates.
So what’s the best response to something like this – and what does it mean for the future of affiliate marketing?
Although many affiliates protested loudly about this change – ultimately it’s a business decision:
There are lots of other affiliate programs available, and affiliates should check the major marketplaces and see if there’s an affiliate program out there that might perform better.
But the Amazon programme is well known for converting better than most others, so it may still outperform a program with a higher commission rate but a lower conversion rate.
If you’re an affiliate that’s been stung by these changes, don’t despair.
I recommend testing other programmes and seeing how they compare to Amazon in the amount of revenue they generate for your site. You may find that even after the commission cuts, Amazon is still your best option.
Also, focus on growing your targeted traffic by creating and promoting great content for your users. When everyone else is feeling discouraged, you have a great opportunity to grow – and more than make up the shortfall in revenue.
Google Best Of Everything
In March 2021 Google launched its Best of Everything guide – a shopping guide that appears when people search for popular commercial terms that many affiliate marketers use to drive a lot of their traffic and affiliate revenue.
Affiliate forums went into meltdown and Twitter exploded with affiliate marketers claiming that this would be the end of affiliate marketing.
Once again, the reality is less dramatic. Google’s “Best Of Everything” only includes products already included in Google shopping, and the quality of their information is nothing special.
No doubt some product-focused affiliate websites have lost some traffic to Google’s latest offering, it hasn’t resulted in hundreds of affiliate websites closing down or other doomsday scenarios.
Google can’t compete with affiliate websites run by real subject experts that people trust to review and recommend the best products in their niche.
Affiliates who keep their heads down and continue to create the kind of content their audience wants are still doing well.
What to do if Affiliate Marketing Isn’t Working for You
It’s understandable that if you’re struggling to get good results as an affiliate, you might think that affiliate marketing is dead.
But now that we’ve seen the evidence that affiliate marketing is in good health, you might need to modify your approach to make it work for you. Here are some tips that will help:
Create Great Content
In 2021 it’s no use just publishing the same standard product descriptions that everyone else is using, and expecting the affiliate commissions to roll in.
You need to create really high quality content in your niche, and serve your audience so that you become a recognised authority on the subject you’re writing about.
Then, when you recommend a product, people will know that your recommendation comes from an expert they can trust.
To succeed as an affiliate marketer, you need to build a relationship with your audience.
So don’t write bland generic articles, or hide behind your brand name. Show some personality, be up-front about who you are and your enthusiasm for your subject.
People like to do business with other people that they know, like and trust – so work on building your relationship with your audience by connecting in the comments section of your site, and on social media.
Give it Time
Building an authority site so you can succeed as an affiliate marketer takes time. It’s not something you can do overnight.
You’ll need to write a lot of great content, and you’ll need to build a lot of high-quality links. All of that takes time.
Google will also take a few months (at least) to recognise your efforts and start to reward you with traffic. So you can’t expect to see much in the way of results in the first year.
But if you keep at it – and don’t get discouraged, little by little your site will grow and start to build momentum.
Don’t give up too soon like so many people do – give it time and consistent effort and you will start to see success.
Build an Email List
The web is such a huge space that most of the people who visit your website will never return – even if they liked what you had to offer.
A great way to get more repeat visitors is to get them to sign up to your Email List.
You can either write and send a newsletter every week, or create an auto-responder that automatically delivers the same sequence of emails to everyone that signs up. (That’s a lot less work).
Whichever you choose, make sure your email list delivers great information and great value to your readers.
By connecting with your audience on a regular basis, you can persuade them to visit your website more often, or promote your affiliate offers directly in your emails – just remember not to be spammy and make sure every email delivers value for your readers not just for you.
Use Link Tracking Software
When you’re promoting affiliate offers on your website, you’ll create loads of links to the offers you’re promoting in different places.
It makes sense to use some Link Tracking software to keep track of the links you’re creating.
A good link tracker will help you analyse how many clicks you’re sending to each offer, and which anchor texts and link placements are working best – and with that information, you can do more of what works and increase your revenue.
Avoid Building on Someone Else’s Platform
Some affiliate marketers create their entire business on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or YouTube.
This is a high-risk strategy, and while it may seem easier in the short term, I always advise against it.
If you build everything on a platform that you don’t control, you’re running the risk that the platform will change the rules in a way that can put you out of business overnight.
I recommend building your business on your own website and email list – these are things you can control.
By all means, use social media and video platforms to reach more people and get your message out – but always try to bring people back to your website and your list to build your relationship with them.
Don’t Put all your Eggs in One Basket
Don’t build your entire affiliate marketing business around a single merchant or a single offer if you can possibly avoid it.
Sometimes merchants change their commission structure as we saw recently with Amazon.
And sometimes merchants close their affiliate programs altogether -which can leave you high-and-dry if your whole business is set up to promote their offer.
So always try to diversify your affiliate business, work with several merchants if possible, and always have a fall-back position in case your favorite offers go away.
Affiliate Marketing Courses
Great news! All the information you need to succeed as an affiliate marketer is available online for free.
You’ll find it scattered around forums, on YouTube, in blog articles and comments – it’s everywhere.
Trouble is, the good stuff is mixed in with a lot of dubious and dated information and advice from people who don’t really know what they’re doing. So how do you know who to listen to?
And there’s no structure – so how do you know what to do first. That’s why so many people suffer from overwhelm when trying to get started in affiliate marketing.
If you have the budget to buy a course, and the discipline to follow it(!), you can learn much more efficiently, save yourself a lot of time wasted making mistakes and going down blind alleys.
Here are three great affiliate marketing courses you might want to consider. They’re not cheap – but they are great value when you consider the time you’ll save, and the potential profits you can earn.
The Authority Site System from Authority Hacker
The Authority Site System (or TASS for short) is a comprehensive guide to building authority websites and monetizing them with affiliate marketing.
This is the course I know best, having spent hundreds of hours creating a case-study site using this method.
I chose to review TASS based on listening to many hours of Authority Hackers’ podcasts and reading their blog posts.
It soon became clear that Gael and Mark, the guys behind Authority Hacker know what they’re talking about.
I’ve been really impressed with the method and the advice that Gael and Mark give – and how thoroughly they have covered the whole topic.
TASS consists of more than 180 video lessons in which Gael and Mark take you through the process of creating an affiliate website step-by-step using over-the-shoulder videos.
The course is incredibly comprehensive, and covers every aspect of starting an affiliate website business, including:
- Market Research
- Content Research and Creation
- Link Building
- Choosing and Setting-up Affiliate Programs
and lots more.
TASS spends a lot of time on niche selection and market research, to make sure that the niche you pick is capable of creating a decent income.
This can be a bit of a slog – but it’s so worthwhile to spend some extra time on planning to make sure you pick a niche that you like, with real profit potential.
I’ve contacted support on a couple of occasions, and I’ve received a quick and useful response.
There’s also an active Facebook community for TASS students which has some really knowledgeable and helpful members who are happy to help.
TASS is my top recommendation for anyone who wants to learn how to build a successful affiliate marketing business.
The course has been completely updated for 2021, and costs $997.
Link: The Authority Site System
Project 24 from Income School
This course shows you how to create websites to earn passive income. It’s called Project 24 because students aim to replace their current income in 2 years (though as with any reputable course there are no income guarantees).
The course covers the fundamentals of online business including:
- Choosing a niche
- Building your website
- Creating Content
- Monetizing your website
Project 24 gives students a useful timeline showing what you can expect to achieve each month.
Obviously this will depend on how much time you can devote to working on your business. You can see the timeline here:
As you can see, the course expects you to create a lot of content each month, but you won’t be earning any income at all until you earn your first dollar in month 4.
This is valuable expectation setting because affiliate marketing beginners often underestimate the time and effort required to build a successful website.
Although it’s obviously not for “Get Rich Quick” enthusiasts – if you stay the course, they predict you could be earning up to $7,000 per month by month 24.
That said, some of the estimates of how long things will take seem optimistic, so you may need to put in lots of hours to stick to the timetable.
Project 24 is delivered as several different courses covering most aspects of online business.
One thing that isn’t covered is link-building because the guys behind Income School don’t believe in it. Their argument is that your time is better spent creating more content.
That’s an unusual and controversial point of view – it’s out of step with the mainstream thinking. It’s a nice idea, but in my experience it can be difficult to grow traffic to a website if you’re not doing some link building as well.
Overall though this is a solid course from a team with a good track record of building successful affiliate marketing websites, and it would definitely help you avoid many of the pitfalls that new affiliate marketers run into.
Project 24 costs $449 for the first year and $199 / year after that if you want to continue as a member.
Link: Project 24 from Income School
The Affiliate Lab
The Affiliate Lab is a course on how to build an affiliate marketing business, created by well-known SEO expert Matt Diggity.
There’s more than 20 hours of video training, covering everything you need to know to succeed in affiliate marketing.
The course is particularly strong on SEO, and by contrast to Project 24 (above), it has lots of information about link building.
SEO information is based on the extensive testing that Matt Diggity carries out, and the course includes updates so it should stay current.
You also get access to the members’ Facebook group, so you can ask questions of other members if you get stuck.
The Affiliate Lab costs $997 for lifetime access. You should be aware that they have a no-refunds policy and all sales are final – which is a definite drawback compared to other courses, but apart from that, this is a solid affiliate marketing course to consider.
Link: Affiliate Lab
So, what’s the answer? Is affiliate marketing dead?
I think from everything we’ve covered in this article, it’s clear that far from being dead, affiliate marketing is going from strength to strength:
- We’ve seen how some of the biggest brands in the world have affiliate programs.
- We’ve looked at reports and statistics which show that affiliate marketing is continuing to grow strongly.
- We’ve looked at successful affiliates who are still making money with affiliate marketing, despite some of the changes in the industry.
- We’ve looked at what you can do if affiliate marketing isn’t working for you, including email list building.
- And finally we’ve looked at some of the best affiliate marketing courses available, to set you on the road to success as an affiliate.
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