We need to talk about the longevity of building Amazon affiliate sites as income generating assets. Recently in an SEO group I saw someone ask how everyone feels about the viability of this as a business model.
Then, I saw a similar question in another group. (Surprisingly, it wasn’t the same person asking this time cause we all know people like to spam their question in all the groups at the same time.)
Without fail, everyone basically responded that people will always want to buy shit and somebody has to point them in the right direction.
While I think that this is true…to a point…I also think that we need to have an honest discussion about just how long term this business model is for most us. Especially those of us who are lazy affiliate marketers.
Before we get started, let me say that I’m not an ‘SEO is dead’ or ‘affiliate SEO is dead’ sort of person. But I am the kind of person who is tired of seeing people getting fed straight up bullshit by people who have a financial interest in selling ‘the dream’ so that they can continue adding to their bank accounts.
So, I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed and what I think about those things. And I’ll tell you how I’m building my new sites (and pivoting my existing ones).
This post contains some affiliate links to products that I use and love. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.
How Most People Build Amazon Affiliate Sites
Tell me if this sounds familiar – you get an idea for a new affiliate site and you do a bit of keyword & competitor research. You load up on “best” style money posts, hit your site with backlinks and wait for the money to start rolling in.
It’s kind of a sloppy way to make sites these days, but it often still works. So, why mess with something good, right?
Hell, just this week I saw a site that’s making over $20,000 a month from Amazon where 99% of the posts start with “best.”
You see that kind of money coming in and think, fuck, what am I doing wasting time trying to have a good ratio of informational content to my money posts?
The truth is that site I’m talking about has spent a fuck ton of money on backlinks. I’d guess around mid-four figures monthly on links is what got them to that income level. Sites like this are the exception, not the rule.
Why Your Site Building Strategy Needs To Change
In case you haven’t noticed, the wolves are at the door. And you need to evolve or get left behind.
In recent months I’ve done some consulting and site audits for people who’ve gotten hit by the recent Google algorithm updates. These have all been Amazon affiliate sites and the traffic loss of the sites I’ve audited has varied between 30% to over 70%.
Despite the traffic loss varying among the sites I’ve audited, there are some commonalities here. At their core, each of these site owners are suffering from the same problems.
They haven’t evolved with the industry.
The change in the the Google SERPs layout has compounded those problems for these site owners, resulting in a large traffic and income loss.
Personally, two of my sites experienced a traffic/income drop in the recent update. One of those is in a very competitive niche and my competition is seriously outpacing me with link velocity.
My other site didn’t actually lose any rankings. But according to Search Console, what it lost was impressions.
That’s right, despite still ranking #1 and in the featured snippet, fewer people are seeing my site now. How the fuck is that possible?
Where Are The Organic Results?
In most niches that I’ve looked at, it’s now taking more scrolls to get to the first organic results when you do a search in Google.
I’ve seen lots of niches where if you do a “vs” query, then you’re met with a huge chart that Google has created.
The featured snippet is directly under that native Google chart. But do you also notice that “Detailed comparison” option at the bottom of that chart?
You click on that and you get a full screen chart with more data – including highlights they’ve scraped from affiliate sites.
Users can even add more products into the chart because there’s an entire sidebar to the right full of related products.
This kind of eliminates the need for a shopper to check out your comparison post. Shame too, cause versus keywords have always been some great low hanging fruit.
Sadly, it’s not just the comparison charts showing up in the “vs” queries on Google.
A lot of queries are bringing up a carousel of “popular products” above the organic results. Sometimes, I see this carousel directly under the featured snippet.
I got this when I did a search for cheap jogging strollers. Clicking on one of those products takes you to a Google search results page for that product.
Everything you get above the fold serves Google’s bottom line and not yours. I see an ad, a carousel of YouTube videos, and a knowledge box for the product with links to buy via Google Shopping.
But wait, there’s more!
I’ve recently started seeing something else in the SERPs. A “compare similar products” carousel.
I think you already know what happens when you click on any of those, right? Of course you do.
I’ve also noticed that some SERPs have a “research” carousel for searchers.
While this still does take up valuable space in the organic results, clicking on the links actually takes you to the page they are showing.
So, if your affiliate site can land in one of these, then it actually can benefit you. Of course, if you don’t get in one of those, then you’re just left with it taking up space in the SERPs.
These days, I regularly get results with 7 or fewer organic results. Because all this self-serving Google junk is taking up the space normally reserved for the 10 organic results.
I feel like the only way that you can compete organically with all the self-serving Google junk is to focus on things that can’t be summed up in a featured snippet or Google-created chart or carousel.
And I’m not even getting into the big brands like Forbes and Business Insider who are doing shitty affiliate posts and getting the featured snippet with them.
Amazon’s Cookie Grab
There is a huge thread on the Amazon Associates forum where people are talking about their site traffic and clicks going up, but their Amazon affiliate commission is either not increasing at the same pace or actually decreasing.
A little over a year ago, editorial recommendations began to appear in the results of some Amazon searches. The frequency of those recommendations appearing has increased.
I’m even seeing them on single product pages every now and then. And the worst thing about these appearing for shoppers is that if you send someone to Amazon and they click on a link in the editorial recommendation section, you lose your cookie.
Let me repeat that again – Amazon removes your fucking cookie whenever someone clicks one of the editorial recommendation product links.
That screenshot above shows the Amazon affiliate tag for The Angle in the URL after I clicked on the Lasko heater.
Sadly, Amazon’s appetite for greed isn’t sated with just stealing away your cookie with that one method.
Last week I was looking at a product on Amazon with my phone and I got a popup telling me that if I installed the Amazon app to continue my purchase, then they’d give me a free $25 credit to spend.
Amazon affiliates don’t earn commission on purchases from the app.
I’ve also seen people mentioning a “Customers Recommend” section showing up on some posts, with it also stealing your cookie if a shopper clicks on the links.
I’m currently not seeing this show up when I do searches, so I cannot confirm that it steals your cookie…but I think it’s probably safe to assume that it does.
What about those Amazon Smile popups that appear sometimes when you’re shopping on Amazon?
Yeah, affiliates don’t get credit for those purchases either.
As an Amazon affiliate, you’re busting your ass to rank and send people to Amazon….where they are actively working against you so they don’t have to pay you commissions for sending shoppers their way.
Am I Quitting Amazon Affiliate Sites?
I’m sure you’re wondering if I’m getting out of the Amazon affiliate game now, right? I mean, I just gave a very compelling argument as to why you should, right?
I’m not quitting Amazon affiliate sites.
For years, I’ve been using the Amazon affiliate program in conjunction with other programs.
Sure, there are some people who will always buy from Amazon, even if you offer them a link to Home Depot where it is cheaper. So, for that reason alone it doesn’t make sense to stop being an Amazon affiliate.
And plenty of people are still crushing it with Amazon right now. I saw a guy post a screenshot just this month of hitting $10,000 for the month with a single site.
What I am quitting is the old way that I was building sites.
SEO is constantly evolving and I feel like I’m always changing the way that I build my sites. Just this year alone I’ve changed things up several times.
But there is one key mindset change for me, that I think you also need to adopt if you want to continue doing this for the long term.
How To Future-proof Your Amazon Affiliate Sites
With organic visibility shrinking, you need to be building sites that don’t rely on Google traffic exclusively. And with Amazon making a grab for your commissions, you need other revenue streams for your affiliate sites.
I’m like a lot of you in that I have always relied mostly on Google organic search for my traffic.
I do a lot of paid traffic testing, so it’s never been 100% reliance on organic traffic. But I’d say maybe 97% reliance on it.
And until very recently, this was my only site with a mailing list – and if you’re on it, then you know that I don’t really follow the best practices for email marketing.
Anyways, I know how I’m building out my sites going forward, and I think it’s something that you should consider as well.
Create Something Worth Coming Back To
I know that we all like to think that the prose in our product reviews is so amazing that people want to return to read them all whenever they’re shopping, but the reality is that we’re all idiots for thinking that.
Or worse, that our content is so much better than the competition.
Let’s face it – if someone lands on your site with a search for ‘best running shoes,’ then the only reason that they’d return is if you have a great site on the topic of running.
They’re not coming back to see your hot takes on the best work boots and the best shoes for nurses.
Now that I’ve said that, I realize that someone is going to hit me with Outdoor Gear Lab or the Wirecutter. But let’s face it, this is another instance of the exception and not the rule.
I talk a lot about adding value in my course, and that’s part of what I’m talking about here. Except, it’s more than just value. It’s turning your site into sort of a community (for lack of a better word) where people go because they really do want to read your hot takes.
This is why travel bloggers and personal finance bloggers do so well. They are creating content that keeps bringing people back on their own.
Don’t Rely On Google
Google is fickle as hell, and getting more so every day. You have to stop relying on mostly (only?) organic traffic. (Yup, I do too.)
Your site needs multiple traffic streams that send people your way. This can vary, depending on your niche, but can include things like:
- Social (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)
- Other sites (Medium, guest columns on related sites, etc.)
- Niche related forums
- Comments that you leave on niche related topics
- Paid traffic
I feel like expanding beyond just Google organic traffic should be your #1 priority for 2020. Seriously, don’t wait on this one because you’ll regret it once it hits that too late point.
Don’t Rely on Amazon
I’m sure this suggestion will fall on many deaf ears. If you’re one of them, then honestly, I don’t blame you….even if it is a bit foolish at this point.
Plenty of people are still crushing it with just Amazon.
I haven’t relied on only Amazon monies since 2015…when they closed my account and my partner and I had to sue them to get the money they owed us.
You need multiple revenue streams.
There’s probably already other affiliate programs in your niche. Why aren’t you using them? They probably have the same products as Amazon and then you can give readers both options.
Even better, other affiliate programs typically don’t restrict you from using high converting CTAs (like Amazon does). And they have longer cookies.
Are you using display ads on your site? Sure, AdSense doesn’t pay much but if your traffic is high enough, then you could be raking in decent money from display ad services like Ezoic, Mediavine, or AdThrive.
The best way to boost your income from your site is if you can create your own products. If you have a crafting site, then you can sell printables. If you have a gardening site, then you can sell a course (I use Thinkific for this – Get Started For Free).
The possibilities are really endless here when it comes to products. Hell, you can even sell physical products that you source and slap your brand’s logo on.
There’s still plenty of money to be made with Amazon affiliate sites. If you want to only rely on Amazon, organic Google traffic, and “best” style posts, then I think you need to be spending four figures on links monthly if you want to be earning the big bucks for the long term.
But I think the better play here is pivoting a bit and making your site a destination for your niche and not merely an affiliate site.
Rethink your content strategy.
Create tight silos to keep people on the site à la Buzzfeed. (I lose so much time when I end up on that site!) Publish content that turns visitors into fans who keep returning on their own.
Find and utilize all possible traffic streams to get people to your site. Except maybe Bing, cause no one uses that, right?
Rethink your monetization strategy if you’re only relying on Amazon.
There are so many ways to diversify your income with affiliate sites. Find what works for your niche and your site and do it.
Now go out there and make 2020 (and Google?) your bitch.
Hey, I’m Shawna. I make a living working from my laptop in places like London, Sydney, Dubai, Rome, Oslo, Bangkok, Las Vegas, Barcelona, and Amsterdam. I share how I do some of that on this website.