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What’s the Best Type of Affiliate Site? [Case Study]

This guest post is by Anshul Dayal of Nichsense Niche Marketing.

Once upon a time, making money with affiliate marketing and AdSense was a question of following this step-by step recipe (circa 2009):

  1. Find a product to promote on Clickbank or other affiliate networks.
  2. Find a low-competition keyword.
  3. Register an exact or partial match domain.
  4. Write up a product review stuffed with keywords (which was of course always positive).
  5. Plaster the site with affiliate banners, links, and AdSense.
  6. Launch website or blog and wait for traffic.

Sound familiar? I can certainly relate to that, as I have built such sites during the early phases of my internet marketing endeavours. Fast-forward to 2012, and suddenly things don’t look as rosy for anyone looking to put up hundreds of these sites and quit their day jobs.

Before we start the actual comparisons between various affiliate models, I’d like to take a moment to explain the definition of an affiliate site for readers who may be new to affiliate marketing.

The idea here is that visitors may be looking for information on a product (eg “weight loss pills”) by means of organic search. A typical affiliate site will usually provide a review of such a product with affiliate links, and if a visitor makes a purchase or takes action through these links, the site owner earns a commission from the vendor for the referral. Such a site is usually based on the recipe I talked about above, which often provides very little in terms of genuine information and is purely designed for affiliate sales.

With constant changes in the search engine landscape (especially the Panda update from 2011, and more recently Panda 3.3) the above recipe is no longer enough to build what we would describe as a successful affiliate site. In fact, now you can safely say that Google is on a mission to weed out these thin affiliate and AdSense sites for good—it’s even de-indexing them completely from its search index.

Amongst other factors, Google is now making it difficult for established affiliate sites that are thin in content to rank in the search results. One of the other interesting and emerging trends associated with such affiliate sites is the user clickthrough rate (or CTR) in organic search results. Over the years, many marketers have realized the power that exact-match domains have held with search engines like Google, and were heavily exploited for affiliate-type sites.

This has somewhat impacted the way exact-match domains are now perceived by many people and they will be hesitant to click on such sites when they show up in the search results, as they are commonly regarded as low quality. To demonstrate this a little bit more, let’s take a look at a search term like “cheap office supplies”. Here is what typical search results may look like:

  • http://www.cheapofficesupplies.org
  • http://www.staples.com/office-supplies
  • http://www.officeworks.com.au/office-supplies

Which search result you are more likely to click on? My guess would be either staples or Officeworks (if you are from Australia).

Using that information, let’s compare two affiliate site models as case studies:

  1. An affiliate site based on the most common model: a micro-niche site. These sites typically contain four or five pages of content (most commonly articles and reviews) and are for most part focused on getting visitors to click on affiliate links or AdSense ads.
  2. An affiliate site you would be proud to show your family and friends, which I describe as an authority blog, where “real” people would turn to look for real and trustworthy information and is more likely to convert affiliate links to sales in 2012 and beyond.

Let me just add that examples discussed here are not my sites, but I do own just over 50 AdSense niche sites ranging from micro-niche sites like the first model (with around five pages of content) to authority sites based on the second model (with anywhere from 20-100 pages of content).

Without a doubt I am now a strong proponent of the second model, with clear emphasis on delivering content and value.

Case study 1: AfricanMangoScam.net

This is an affiliate site which fits nicely into the first model. It offers a “review” of the the popular African mango pills for weight loss. Interestingly, the domain also contains the word “scam”—a common tactic employed by many marketers who claim to provide visitors with information on the legitimacy of the African mango weight loss pills.

The site follows a layout common amongst the majority of micro-niche affiliate sites: a landing page with a product review claiming to inform visitors if the African mango pills are a scam, one or two weight loss images, a YouTube video, and lots of affiliate banners.

As expected, the product review dispels the African mango pills scam and gives it a thumbs up with an affiliate text link conveniently located below the article body. In terms of other content, there are links to two other articles which are somewhat related to weight loss.

A quick look at the SeoQuake toolbar reveals just six pages of indexed content, which is common amongst affiliate sites of this nature. As you can see, a site like this can be built in a day, but is it a sustainable model? Let’s look at the second case study for a comparison.

Case study 2: ShedYourWeight.com

This particular site is also focused on the weight loss niche, but it’s based around many pages of weight loss-related content and unlike a typical micro-niche site, you don’t land on two big blocks of AdSense ad units or multiple affiliate banners in the widget.

Instead, visitors are invited into the site with a sliding banner of pleasing images, and links to various articles as they scroll down. It is interesting to note that many of these articles are also optimized for several weight loss-related keywords (eg “Jenifer Hudson weight loss”).

So, where are the affiliate links? They are nicely positioned alongside many of the rating-based product reviews inside the weight loss products category. Additionally, the visitors only see AdSense ad units as they navigate to deeper and individual posts within the site—not on the landing page.

Another key attribute commonly associated with a high quality site is the use of relevant categories to carefully group similar posts and content. Categories make it easier for users to find related information, and encourage them to stay on the site longer. Shedyourweight.com follows this standard quite well with several relevant categories conveniently listed in the top navigation bar.

Visitors are also encouraged to sign up for a free weight loss tips guide, through a clean and well positioned opt-in box. Additionally, a Facebook Like box is also positioned on the sidebar, with a significant number of fans for a site of this nature. If I was to pick a negative, it would have to be the lack of social share buttons within the content, which is now used as one of the key signals of quality by search engines like Google and Bing.

In terms of statistics, SeoQuake reveals a whopping 1460 pages of indexed content for this site, and a closer look at the site’s traffic statistics through SEMRush reveals an estimate of 6500 monthly unique visitors from its top 20 organic search terms.

Based on these numbers, we can estimate a monthly revenue of at least $10-15k with a conservative conversion rate of 10% and possible AdSense revenues of $1500 with an average CTR of 5%. That said, the actual revenues are possibly a lot higher as we are not even considering any sales through email marketing and long-tail traffic.

As you can see, there is a lot more work involved with building such a site, but no doubt this particular site is likely to earn significantly more revenues in the long run. It’s something that has the potential to be a real sustainable business for marketer of any level.

I want to add that you don’t necessarily need thousands of pages of content to build a high quality affiliate site. Even ten to 20 pages can often be enough—as long as the information you provide comprehensively covers your chosen niche or topic, and is not just one or two biased articles with affiliate links.

So which model are you more likely to choose now for your next affiliate site? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

Anshul Dayal is the author at Nichsense Niche Marketing blog offering cutting edge niche marketing strategies for starting a real, sustainable and profitable online business. You can download his step-by-step guide to launching your own profitable niche website on his blog http://www.nichesense.com

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Comments

  1. Overhemden says:

    is this all also useable for wordpress or joomla websites?
    i sure do hope so

    Greetz Mark.

  2. I’ll be interested to read the comments and see what others have to say. My current site is a personal finance blog, and it is headed towards the Authority Site route. I have about 85 posts so far and at least 60 of them are longer pieces with at least 500 words. At some point I’m hoping to make it an affiliate site.

  3. Randall says:

    Quote: “Based on these numbers, we can estimate a monthly revenue of at least $10-15k with a conservative conversion rate of 10% and possible AdSense revenues of $1500 with an average CTR of 5%.”

    How did you come up with the monthly revenue estimates? Also, the conversion estimate of 10% seems quite high to me.

    • Hi Randall,

      I am not definitely not making claims about the accuracy of those numbers as they may well be much lower but I would not be surprised if this blog is actually hitting a fairly decent conversion given the quality of product reviews they are offering.

      Thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Love this post.

    Personally, I’m glad to see that Google and others are finding ways to prioritize relevant quality content. It’s the right thing to do for users and for internet entrepreneurs.

    In my mind, affiliate sites like the one that you outlined in Case Study #1 do a disservice to internet entrepreneurs as a whole because they reinforce an overall feeling of skepticism about the quality of information that is found on the internet.

    • Glad you like the post Scott. Absolutely agree with you about the quality of affiliate sites and that is one of the main reasons why we as Internet Marketers often find ourselves playing catchup with search engines like Google as they go out on a mission to weed out thin affiliate sites. As a consequence even some good sites suffer a fair bit of collateral damage.

  5. zafu says:

    hi,
    good review man, thanks.
    definitly u are right i have made few little microniche sites with blogger that are on first page of googlle but no sales at all ( one is called planninganewyorktrip.blogspot.com) . i will try to add more categories on that blog to see if it helps. I ve added also a privacy policy part to make the customer more confident.

    my new site parisians paris will talk about my country, paris, i will try to promote few things on it. try to make people book hotels and flight through the site.
    i just dont have much time to write all the articles ( could u advice) and my english is soo poor ( im french)

    im sure it can work well if it is well made first to rank well, and second to make people interested into the site.

    If i could find people willing to share a potential wealth. It would be great to share the time spend on the site, to write article, to set posts, to find good afiliate product, to do seo and so on.

    if anyone is interested, just email me ill be glad to speak about it.

    thanks again

    david

  6. Sean Chang says:

    Hi Anshul. Thanks for the great post.

    Quality content is definitely becoming more and more important as Google continues to improve its algorithms.

    The 2 sites you shared are indeed distinctly different in quality and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter earns multiple times more than the former.

    I’d think another approach to affiliate marketing would be to only recommend products that you’ve personally tried and genuinely found helpful. (i.e. Stuff that you’d happily recommend your family and friends.)

    Pat Flynn does this exceptionally well on his blog SmartPassiveIncome. He must be doing something right if his readers actually ask for his affiliate link so they can credit him for their purchases.

    That’s got to be a great feeling :)

  7. sasa says:

    At some point I’m hoping to make it an affiliate site.

  8. Tammy says:

    The second site is definitely more effective and offers something relevant for visitors. It has a more authentic feeling while the first site gives you a fly-by-night feel. The second site seems likely to attract much more traffic and have greater staying power.

  9. Drew H. says:

    Thanks George I Like The Way You Used Some Examples Makes it real easy to understand

  10. Marian says:

    Authority blog is the way to go. Thanks for the article, we all should aim for quality content to please not only search engines but the visitors at the first place.

  11. This is a great article and very timely. Planning and attention to detail is the way to go. We all need to rethink our site design given the latest changes to search engines. The days of building a site and putting it out there without proper design are gone. Thanks.

  12. I think you can make any kind of affiliate site work if you know what you’re doing, they key is knowing, and it helps if you enjoy it and enjoy the niches you use.

  13. Brad says:

    I’ve been moving my focus just as described in this post. Good to see a post about it. Even in the MOST saturated niches, there are TONS of long tail keywords. So, if you write TONS of content based on these keywords, eventually you will get a LOT of traffic.

  14. Dan Ceder says:

    The sad thing about Shedyourweight.com is that I can’t see the site in Google serps for any kind of weight loss terms. I also did a search for some sentences that I got from their articles and I got no number one results for Shedyourweight.com. If the site has unique content and not being hit by Google then it should have been in the top. Seems that the site has been hit by Google Penguin or am I wrong?

  15. dave says:

    lets be honest here… Shedyourweight does have more content and possibly gets higher rankings for lots of terms.. BUT the whole point of the african mango site it to rank for that one main term…. You are comparing apples and pears to be honest.

    Its alright to say that shedyourweight probably earns more money but you have to also take into account how much extra work goes into that site…

    for all we know the owner of the african mango site may well have another 100 niche sites that all rank very very well for the particualr products they are promoting..

  16. Och says:

    This is one of the best articles that explain the difference in a small affiliate site and a larger authority site. What is more interesting, I have started the process of converting one of my sites into a better content site which is the way to go in my opinion.

  17. I truly love the information you have to offer, I come from what I guess you can call Old School internet, I have tried many things from auto back links to plain spam mail, and in the last year or so I have come to learn that relevant content is the only way to go, you cant just hope for a bunch of hits, I have refreshed my hit counter hundreds of times, thanks again for the information that I hope helps me to build something cool on the internet!