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AdSense vs. Affiliate Marketing

I earn my living from both display ads (i.e. AdSense) and affiliate marketing.

Currently I earn a bit more with display ads, but in the past I earned more with affiliate marketing.  You can see a recent breakdown in my income reports. Please keep in mind my income reports do not include MyPerfectBlog.com income, which does earn affiliate commissions so my income reports a bit skewed in favor of display ads.

Which is the better – AdSense ads or affiliate marketing?

You know what I’m going to say.

My answer: both.

The point of this article is to set out pros and cons of each.

Each are not without risks.

In fact, until late last year, I didn’t realize there were significant risks with affiliate marketing until I suffered a big blow.  Then a couple of months ago I suffered a second big affiliate marketing blow.  I explain these below.

That’s not to say I haven’t been kicked in the teeth relying on display ads. I have.

It’s interesting how the disasters resonate in our minds more clearly and for longer than successes.  I guess pain is a stronger emotion than pleasure.

Below I set out pros and cons of each.  You decide what’s right for you.

Affiliate Marketing

Over the last year, I had a recurring commission merchant cut my commission from 35% to 20%.  That was a huge recurring commission haircut (about $4,000 per month).

Then another merchant went bankrupt. I was earning $2,000 per month passively promoting them.  The company was bought and I’m told the buyer will set up its own affiliate program, but until then, I’m out $2K per month.  I published a lot of content promoting this product. While there are substitutes, the commission isn’t nearly as high (I guess perhaps that’s one reason they went bankrupt to begin with).

Pros

Great for email

Being able to personally recommend products with affiliate products in an email is very powerful.  Fortunes are earned with this form of affiliate marketing.  While Amazon doesn’t permit it, most merchants do.

Higher RPM for buyer intent keywords

When you rank for a buyer intent keyword, you can achieve fabulous RPM numbers… $75 RPM+.  This is very unlikely with display ads.

Recurring revenue possibility

Sell once, earn for months or years.  That’s the power of recurring commissions.  You don’t earn recurring revenue from display ads, but you can with certain products.

Use on social media channels

You can promote products with affiliate links on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  While I don’t do this much, you can and you may just make it pay.  It’s nice to have additional promotion opportunities.

Cons

Commissions decrease

You have no control over commission rates.  In 2017 Amazon chopped its commissions.  Merchants cut commissions all the time.  You set up a huge promotional campaign earning $X amount and then out of nowhere your revenue decreases.  It’s not fun.

Fewer keywords

You’re not going to sell products consistently with an article such as “7 Reasons Hollywood Rejected X Actor”.  Only buyer intent content will successfully promote products with affiliate links.  This means you have less content options and much of it is more competitive.

Boring keywords

If you write content yourself, it gets pretty boring writing product oriented content day-in and day-out.  I’d much rather research and write an article such as “AdSense vs. Affiliate Marketing” which to me is fun to think about and write even though there’s no real affiliate marketing opportunity.

Merchants file bankruptcy leaving you with ziltch

This happened to me.  It’s an unlikely scenario, but it happens.  I’m owed $16,000.  I have no idea if I’ll get it.

Affiliate programs terminated

Out of nowhere affiliate merchants can end affiliate programs rendering your affiliate links across content worthless.

Seasonal vulnerability

If you operate in a seasonal niche, there may be months you earn very little because your audience doesn’t buy the stuff during those months.

AdSense (Display Ads)

Pros

Publish on any topic (as long not in violation of TOS – still leaves a lot of options)

This is my favorite, number 1 reason for using display ads.  I love being able to publish interesting, fun, helpful content even if there’s no opportunity to promote products.  This also opens up a massive vault of long tail, low competition keywords that with ads can earn money in the long run.  Even if each piece of content only earns a tiny bit each month, together all the content can earn very good revenue.

No concern over conversions

With ads I don’t have to worry about sales conversions.  But, I do worry about and test ad placements which is the same thing.  I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time testing ad placements and it makes a huge difference.  But, once you have a good formulation, it’s set it and forget it.  Just crank out killer content daily.

Easy

Nothing is easier than finding a competition-free keyword with some search volume and then getting search traffic to it.  Once traffic arrives, it earns on auto-pilot with ads.  On its own it won’t earn a fortune, but it trickles in the pennies… with enough pennies trickling in you can build up a sizeable revenue.

Get paid like clockwork

If you use AdSense, unless you get banned, you can count on getting paid like clockwork.  Unfortunately, publishers do get banned, which is a risk, but at least you don’t have to chase Google for money.  Most ad networks pay on time.  Only once did I suffer a payment delay.  Otherwise, all ad networks I’ve used paid me on time.

Less vulnerability to seasonality

While ad revenue does fluctuate throughout the year, and worse in some niches than others, the volatility is less than seasonal affiliate offers.

Cons

Lower RPM

You’re not going to earn $50 RPM with an article about the cast of Growing Pains TV show.  But you can earn $50 RPM with a sneaker article.  You need more traffic with display ads to make a good living.

Risk losing ad network account

This is particularly true with AdSense.  AdSense bans publishers and keeps the accrued revenue.  A ban renders your site worthless and of course kills a great revenue stream.  It’s a real risk you need to be aware of.  To avoid a ban, pay attention to AdSense TOS.

Can’t use in email newsletters

You cannot put AdSense ads in an email newsletter (unfortunately).  However, there are ad networks that do permit ads in emails… they just don’t pay as well as AdSense.

Can’t use on social media

I was thinking today how awesome it would be if Pinterest gave us the option to embed our AdSense code into our pins.  Imagine being able to put our own ads in pins.  Given I get 9.3 million monthly impressions on Pinterest, that would be some serious revenue.

Sadly, neither Pinterest nor AdSense permits this, while Pinterest and merchants do permit affiliate links.

Compromises website attractiveness

Ads don’t look good on sites.  That’s the price visitor pay.  They’re intrusive and ugly.  Affiliate links, on the other hand, don’t look so bad; they’re just links.

 

 

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I mostly work with affiliate programs and most of them also have banners available that you can put in ad slots and just use your aff link with the banners. What are your thoughts on those? Have you ever done that? or do you reserve ad slots purely for Adsense and keep aff links in articles?

  2. With Adsense, you need a lot of traffic but affiliate marketing can make bank with only a tiny trickle of traffic. The best scenario is to have a site that gets massive traffic and bank through Adsense while collecting emails and promoting affiliate products + your own products on site and via email.

    Right now, I’m trying to increase my content publishing schedule so I can just provide more value and earn with Ads. Affiliate marketing is risky and you are depending on merchants to support you. There are many risks allowed. I prefer to control the traffic, earn with ads, and sell my own products/services for greater stability.

    How about an article comparing affiliate marketing vs selling your own products? Thanks.

    • Hey Tarik,

      thanks for the blog post suggestion (Affiliate Marketing vs. Selling Your Own Products). I’ll get on it. I also sell info products so am familiar with the pros and cons. However, I don’t sell physical products so I’ll have to limit my discussion to what I know.

  3. Hi Jon,

    This is a great comparison between Adsense and Affiliate marketing. I personally use both on my blogs and they do work together in (almost) perfect unison. You have to be careful not to have too many ads per page. I keep at three per page including one within the content. The revenue with ads remains minimal unless you have great monthly traffic. The RPM is just not that good, especially if your audience is not from the top tiers.

    Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, works out pretty well. You were spot on with the cons, but I think the pros still outweigh them. It’s awesome earning hundreds of dollars per day promoting a few selected products. And it is even better when the products you promote are actually good and reliable. It means your audience will benefit from them and buy again when you promote something new.

    Thanks for sharing this article!

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