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.
Have you tried to sell ad space on your site to brands or ecomms in your niche? You should. (and you can use Freshbooks for easy invoicing like I do…ppssst, they’re having a kickass sale right now.)
I love that it integrates with Stripe, which I definitely prefer over PayPal. And, if you send out an invoice and they are late to pay, Freshbooks can remind them to pay you, which is awesome for tracking down delinquent clients. With this mentioned deal, all FreshBooks plans are 50% off for the first 3 months when new users skip the 30 day free trial period. This sale ends December 18th at 11:59 PM EST.
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.
14 thoughts on “The Longevity Of Amazon Affiliate Sites in 2020 (And Going Forward)”
Hi Shawna, this is one of the very few value-rich websites I have returned to (AH and NP being the other two), so you’ve really done well here.
Thanks for sharing the cookie munching tactics that Amazon is pushing, as I didn’t know about this one. When you’re already referring traffic for 4 to 8% and 24-hour windows, it’s evident that people do need to monetize elsewhere.
I have a question in relation to improving writing style to increase the volume of returning traffic. I rank for keywords on all my sites, but my writing style is average. When I read through my own work, it’s monotonous and long where I waffle on. Yet I get daily conversions and even some SaaS companies have outreached and have paid me big dollars to blog for them.
On the flip side, your writing style is addictive through conversational words. There is a touch of Seth in here. Can you point me in a direction where I could best learn (I openly welcome affiliate links), or has this style been acquired through your 10+ year journey? I had a look at your course overview which looks excellent for a beginner (very well priced too!) but not sure if the ‘How to Write’ is covered there.
Again, thank you for the great content you create here.
Thanks for the kind words! In regards to your question, I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it here before or not, but my undergrad degree is in journalism and for a brief period writing was actually what I did for a living.
For my writing style, I just try to write how I speak – if we were at a coffee shop talking about this with you in person, it would sound pretty much the same as it reads…except for probably a bit more swearing about Amazon and Google 😉 I think I probably adopted this style based on the media I was consuming while getting my degree – sites like Cracked.
Though I’ve never gone through it, I have heard good things about this course – https://kopywritingkourse.com/
Maybe the writing on your site isn’t as bad as you think. I often feel like I’m just posting monotonous mad ramblings, but here you are telling me you love it. Thanks again for the kind words!
We’ve all been seduced by Amazon’s commercial power. Even when they started booting affiliates in certain states a few years back like cannon fodder, over some state tax b.s.
Still, we continued onward for that sweet, sweet Amazon doh.
They lower commission rates, and us plebs accept it & defend them – “But, but, they convert so well! Everyone loves Amazon! 2-day shipping!!!”
You’re right though. My prime focus for the future of my sites is moving away from the Amazon and Big G. They straight up bullies stealing our lunch money.
Another terrific post. Never stop writing, please!
I agree with everything you said. If may I add something is that we, as affiliate marketers, tend to worry a bit too much, in my opinion, on how to get traffic that we forget the other part of the coin: “Conversion,” aka get people buying the stuff we promote. I blame that because of how we tend to associate affiliate marketing with SEO right away.
It often baffles me how the vast majority of affiliate websites “or any other kind of websites actually” try too hard to be optimized for SEO but forget entirely about CRO “Conversion Rate Optimization”
Perhaps we are going to disagree, but for me, CRO is more important than SEO for the vast majority of websites. It doesn’t matter if you get 10k visits per day if none of those visits are taking action or buying stuff.
Unfortunately, like SEO, CRO is both a science and an art and it takes time and lots of testing to get good at it. The great CRO pro’s don’t need to write a buying guide of 5k words to make you purchase something. I’ve seen some crazy sh*t with good CRO: Doubling or even tripling sales with the same amount of traffic. An affiliate marketer’s dream!. None of the changes made to get those results had to to with SEO or traffic in the slightest.
What do you think? Your opinions are, as always, very welcomed “Now that Christmas is coming and if Santa is generous: a post on this topic perhaps? :)”
Thanks again for the great piece of content.
I agree wholeheartedly. With a little CRO magic you can do amazing things for sure. Sadly, I’ve not done enough testing for me to feel comfortable writing an article on it….yet. But if you’re offering to write one, I’m open to that 😉
Great article as always.
The question I have for you is how would you diversify income sources.
Let me explain. I have a website and all affiliate links are pointing to Amazon. Although my category is in Home Improvement and I am getting 8%, if I go directly for the affiliate programs of product manufacturers I would get to 10%.
The thing that puts me away is that click that could potentially turn into a sale, not necessarily product one. So, how would you go about this? Would you just change the link in the article to point to another program or there is a better way?
Also, I know which product I am selling the most so technically if I just replace a link I could go from 4.5% to 10% easily, but what about those non-related sales?
Hope it makes sense.
It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. I like to put links to all the programs that I’m an affiliate for so that buyers can choose where they want to shop.
So, if you’re promoting lawn mowers and have an affiliate link for Home Depot, Walmart, and Amazon, then put in your post a link to all.
I suggest that you test something like this out for a few months (though the holiday season is the worst time to test this sort of thing) and see how it affects your income. You may discover that the longer cookie of other programs = more money in your pocket. Or, it may go terrible and then you know to stick with Amazon for products and to look for other ideas for monetization diversification.
Hope that helps!
You’re right about Amazon and Google of course. The thing I do like about Amazon though is that you get a commission on everything they buy after they click on your link in the 24 hour cookie.
Sure, there are caveats, like those that you brought up (thanks btw). However, I have on average a 15% conversion rate. 60-70% of the purchases are to unrelated products. Can’t seem to find an affiliate program that does that.
Also, their custom native ads are great. The thing is I also have no review posts on my site, it’s mostly just informational content. I just choose a few related products, sprinkle the ads within my content and I’m good to go. Any other recommends?
Great content on your site!
Looks like you have a pretty decent conversion rate with Amazon. I don’t know of any other programs with a native ads option like that, but I have worked with plenty of other programs that not only give you commission on everything that is purchased but also offer a longer cookie.
Back when I had a site in the “home” niche I did quite well with the Wayfair program. I’ve tested Walmart and Target programs in a few different niches and they convert like shit. Honestly, other programs is just something that you’ll have to test out and see how they perform.
My only concern is why does amazon cancel the cookies when we user click on the editorial recommendation? Let’s just say marketer work really hard for the product to reach the top spot & if not awarded for it definitely this will hurt.
I can only assume they’re doing it to reward the brands who do the editorial recommendations program since those brands are giving Amazon free content in the form of those buying guides.
It’s definitely a shady move though since affiliates are doing the work of getting people to the site.
These are very insightful statistics, thanks for sharing with us, Shawna!
Considering that as of April 21, 2020, Amazon is gutting affiliate commissions by at least 60%, this post was truly prophetic. I guess the mantra for 2020 and beyond is Diversify, Diversify, Diversify! Not only away from Amazon but Google and traffic sources as well.
Great job on your post!
Yes, that appears to be true! Hope you weren’t hit too hard by the changes. If there’s any help I might be able to give, just let me know.