Is affiliate marketing dead?

Over the last few years, we have seen a number of Google algorithm updates that have had a severe impact on the affiliate marketing business, and even many experienced online marketers found a sudden and dramatic drop in their income and traffic to their websites overnight. The search engine giant has long stated that it wants to focus on delivering quality, relevant results, and as its algorithms continue to evolve, websites that don’t meet its quality guidelines end up being pushed to the back of the search results.

Affiliate marketing has long been associated with poor quality websites with thin content and an overwhelming amount of advertising. For many years, most of the more respectable vendors stayed clear of the whole scene, instead sticking to more tried-and-tested methods of marketing their goods. In short, affiliate marketing has changed enormously in recent years, with beginners finding it much harder to get started without some professional guidance. However, while affiliate marketing has changed, that does not mean that it’s dead: it has simply evolved. So, is affiliate marketing dead? Well, the old methods are, but the entire industry is being reborn. Those fortunate enough to recognize this early will be rewarded in a huge financial way.

How Google’s Algorithm Updates Affect Your Affiliate Site

Although Google is constantly updating its algorithms with dozens of modifications every year, there are a few particularly important ones that have a major effect on affiliate websites. One of the most important was the Google Penguin update of April, 2012 and subsequent versions of the algorithm thereafter. Penguin cracked down heavily on black-hat search engine optimisation techniques such as link schemes and other methods of artificially manipulating website rankings in the search results. For affiliate websites in particular, the most important update was the Google Panda one introduced in 2011 which has seen numerous updates ever since. Panda’s goal is to decrease the ranking of low-quality sites, particularly affiliate sites with thin content and an excessive amount of advertising.

An Emphasis on Quality

As we can see from the very significant effects of Google’s major algorithm updates on the search results, the emphasis on quality over quantity and SEO is constantly being reinforced. Google’s Matt Cutts announced in 2012 that the search engine’s ultimate goal is to reward content that offers value by increasing its rank in the search engines. As a result, numerous affiliate websites went under in a matter of weeks after the major updates, but these websites were those that didn’t place enough emphasis on quality.

Not only does the emphasis on quality apply to affiliate websites: it also applies to the products themselves. A quick look at the digital products available through any of the major affiliate networks shows us just how much junk there still is on the Internet, in spite of the fact that it is rarely profitable these days. There was a time when almost anyone could make a bit of money online by becoming an affiliate and selling a low-quality product (particularly a digital one such as an e-book or a program) using one of the affiliate networks such as Clickbank without even having any knowledge or even interest in the niche itself.

Today, in order to be a successful affiliate, you need to deliver quality content and market a relevant product that your visitors are likely to be interested in. By offering a great value proposition, you can still succeed with affiliate marketing, but it is no longer nearly as easy as it once was. Firstly, you need to publish enough quality, original and relevant content to earn the respect of your target audience while building up interest in your website, and secondly, you need to actually believe in the product that you are trying to sell. If you don’t have any interest or first-hand experience of knowledge in what you are trying to sell, it will inevitably be reflected in the quality of your website, and both your visitors and the search engines alike will not be impressed.

The fact remains that affiliate marketing has changed rather than died. After all, vendors will always need others to help sell their products, since they likely won’t be able to handle all of the marketing work themselves. However, affiliate marketing is certainly no easy way to start making money overnight, as is the case with any form of Internet marketing.

To summarise the above points, let’s take a look at the following aspects of affiliate marketing that simply don’t work anymore:

  • Thin, duplicate content such as that which is rewritten, or worse still, spun using automation software to create hundreds of ‘unique’ articles. The content of your affiliate website must be completely original and not a rehashed version of that of another affiliate selling the same or a similar product.
  • Websites that focus too much on advertising and not enough on quality content and user experience.
  • Highly competitive niches, such as money-making guides, have become saturated with low-quality content and a vast amount of junk products. A more specific and original focus offers a far better chance of success.

To succeed with affiliate marketing in today’s highly competitive online marketplace, you will also need to use every channel available to you, including search engine marketing and social media marketing. Above all, the importance of finding a suitable, quality product that you believe in cannot be overstated.