SEO vs. paid ads for affiliate marketing.
The biggest question ever to pop up in the affiliate marketing world.
Or one of the biggest, at least.
As a new affiliate marketer who wants fast success and high ROI, this is a question you can’t escape.
Your answer to it will define how you approach your affiliate marketing strategy, how soon you can expect success, and exactly what that success will look like.
In this blog, I’ll crack SEO and paid ads wide open and show you the advantages and disadvantages of each, plus how to decide which one is right for you.
Let’s dive in!
SEO vs. Paid Ads: A Quick Introduction for Affiliate Marketers
If you’re a total newbie and aren’t sure how either SEO or paid ads will work for your affiliate marketing campaign, I’ll run you through a quick summary of the processes before we start.
- Paid Ads for Affiliate Marketing
For a lot of beginners, this gets a tad confusing.
“What kind of ads do I run? Where do I run them? Is it legal to run ads for a product I don’t own?”
Quick answer: it depends.
The truth is, running paid ads for affiliate marketing is tricky. (More on this later.)
But in general, here’s how it works:
- You run ads for the product you’re promoting through Google AdWords or social media.
- These ads show up when your audience searches using certain keywords.
- They click on your ad and buy through your affiliate link.
I know, it sounds simple.
Later on, I’ll show you added factors that make things complex…
…but in summary, that’s how you could make money running PPC ads for your affiliate marketing campaign.
- SEO for Affiliate Marketing
SEO for affiliate marketing is more common than PPC.
Hop online and type in a keyword, and you’ll probably land on the site of some random guy promoting Star Wars toys or office chairs.
That’s because a ton of affiliate marketers rely heavily on SEO for visibility and success.
You probably know this.
Even if you’re just starting out, you’ve likely heard about how affiliate marketers craft valuable content to attract an audience who’ll one day buy the products they’re promoting.
But in case you haven’t, here’s a quick overview of how it’s done:
- You build a website and craft high-quality content.
- You optimize your site and content so it shows up on Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages).
- People click to read your content.
- When you naturally introduce your affiliate links, they buy the products you’re promoting.
Let’s get into the pros and cons of both strategies.
The Pros and Cons of Using PPC Ads for Affiliate Marketing
In the section above, I made PPC for affiliate marketing sound like a fun walk in the park.
Warning: it’s not.
The truth is, this strategy is a balancing act, and your success will depend on how well you can walk a tightrope.
Long story short: it’s not for everyone.
Here are its main pros and cons to help you decide whether or not it’s for you.
- The Pros of Using PPC Ads for Affiliate Marketing
Ever listen to a seasoned affiliate marketer telling you patience is a must for affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is like a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be in it for the long haul, with a ton of patience, hard work, and the stamina to survive losses.
But what they don’t tell you is that there’s a quicker way to succeed, and that’s through using PPC ads.
Why is it quicker?
Well, simply because you can eliminate the ton of time you’d spend building a quality site, crafting content your audience will adore, and optimizing everything for SEO.
You can skip the long, tedious months waiting for your content to finally rank. And the time and effort you’d need to write piece after piece of content.
With PPC ads, you pay for the ad, whip it up, and post it.
When you’re done, it’ll immediately show up on Google or social media, ready for those clicks and sales.
- The Cons of Using PPC Ads for Affiliate Marketing
Before you run off and start your PPC ads campaign…
…you need to remember that quicker isn’t always better.
There’s a reason PPC ads are left alone by a ton of seasoned affiliate marketers.
Or reasons, rather.
The first one is that ads are ads. They get on people’s nerves. They’re the reason ad blockers were invented. (46.2% of internet users worldwide admit to using ad blockers.)
Here are some more scary ad blocker stats:
What all this means: when people find out what they’ve clicked on is an ad, their trust immediately drops.
They’ll feel harassed, doubtful, and cynical.
Most likely, they’ll click the back button as though it would save their lives.
But people’s general hatred towards ads isn’t the only reason running PPC ads for affiliate marketing is so difficult.
There’s also the expense.
If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t have six figures in your bank account, ready to splurge on ads.
Plus, even if a few reluctant members of your audience buy through your ads…
…you’ll only make a tiny percentage of the profit (since you’re the affiliate marketer, not the owner).
Finally, there’s the trouble involved with running ads as an affiliate marketer:
- Social media platforms are insane about their rules surrounding ads. (Facebook even explicitly states that you aren’t allowed to directly advertise your affiliate links.)
- Bigger companies with their own affiliate programs already run ads, meaning you’ll be competing with them if you run your own (when you think of it, it’s kind of weird).
- A ton of companies with affiliate programs state in their Terms and Conditions that you can’t run ads using their trademark and other terms.
Like I said, running PPC ads for your affiliate marketing campaign is a balancing act.
It’s not impossible to succeed.
In fact, people like Peter Czepiga have succeeded in making decent profits with nothing but ads.
But it’s going to be hard.
Sure, it’ll be quicker to get traffic and views.
However, you need to decide if the balancing act required will be worth it, how much money you’re willing to lose if things fall flat, and how much you can expect to earn minus the ads and the percentage the company gets from your sales.
What it all boils down to?
Yep, it’s really up to you to decide.
The Pros and Cons of Using SEO for Affiliate Marketing
The alternative to running PPC ads to promote your affiliate products is SEO.
Now, maybe I’m biased, but I strongly believe SEO is the better choice.
I’ve built my nine affiliate sites and skyrocketed my monthly income to $40,000 mainly through SEO optimization.
But there are cons as well, of course.
Let’s take a look at both sides of the coin.
- The Pros of SEO for Affiliate Marketing
There are a ton of reasons why I’m a firm believer in SEO (besides the fact that this has been my main strategy throughout my 12 years as an affiliate marketer).
First of all, organic traffic is hot traffic.
Let’s put it this way.
Imagine you’re a dog owner who’s having trouble keeping your beloved pooch’s coat shiny.
If you’re like most human beings, you’ll jump on Google and type “how to keep my dog’s coat shiny.”
Here’s what you’ll get:
Now, let’s say you click on one of these articles and read it through.
You love it and appreciate the advice given.
The author seems like a true dog lover and expert.
Now, what if in one of his blog’s points, he mentions a great vitamin proven to bring out the glow in your pet’s coat?
You’ll buy it of course.
That’s how simple, natural, and trust-based affiliate marketing through SEO is.
But there’s another pro to using SEO:
When you do, you’re building an asset that’ll continue growing with time.
PPC ads are like a faucet fed by money. Stop the money, and the faucet stops pouring water out.
But with SEO, the opposite is true.
You don’t need a large initial investment to begin with – nothing but time and hard work. And as the months and years roll by, your asset will snowball.
Your site will age and gain higher domain authority. Your posts will start ranking on the SERPs. You can continue earning from blog posts you wrote a decade ago.
This is exactly why SEO is the preferred strategy most affiliate marketers use.
- The Cons of SEO for Affiliate Marketing
“If SEO is so amazing,” you’ll ask, “Why do some people even consider PPC ads?”
There are cons to SEO as well.
The main one is basically time-related.
Affiliate marketers are in a rush. They want to see immediate results. They want to start earning enough to support their travels to the Caribbean. They want to quit the nine to five rat race and watch TV all day while money flows unchecked into their bank accounts.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But that’s not how SEO works.
SEO requires time, patience, and hard work.
You’ll need to build an attractive, optimized website. You’ll need to post consistent, high-quality content your audience will love. You’ll need to wait it out.
Depending on your niche, you won’t start earning a decent profit for 6-12 months.
And to earn enough to quit your job and support your travels overseas…it could take even longer.
So if you’re in a big rush and you want to start earning tomorrow, SEO simply isn’t for you.
Which Is Better – SEO or Paid Ads?
Ok, now for the big question.
Which is a better strategy for affiliate marketing, really?
Is it PPC ads or SEO?
Honestly, no one can answer that question for you.
For me, based on my experience, I’d have to say it’s SEO.
Through SEO, I’ve grown my affiliate marketing sites and now earn a full-time living as I travel the country and do whatever I want.
But it’s not the same for everyone.
If you’d like, you can try both and see which works best for you.
You can start a website and begin posting high-quality, valuable content.
As you wait for it to grow and start earning, you can run PPC ads on the side (as many as you want, depending on your budget).
An alternative strategy is to use PPC ads to drive traffic to your site (this will help you avoid getting flagged, especially by social media platforms).
The truth is, there’s no sliced and diced answer to whether PPC ads or SEO is better.
You’ll have to figure that out yourself, or use the two hand-in-hand for optimum results.
SEO vs. Paid Ads for Affiliate Marketing: What It All Boils Down To
As an affiliate marketer, you’ll run into a ton of questions even at the very beginning of your journey.
If I’m guessing correctly, one of these questions will be:
“SEO vs. paid ads – which one is better for affiliate marketing?”
(Yup, I’ve heard this too many times.)
Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to this question.
There are seasoned experts in the SEO camp…and other seasoned experts in the PPC ads camp.
So, what does it really depend on?
Short answer: YOU.
It depends on your plans, your skills, your assets, your needs, and your specific affiliate marketing journey.
So before you write “PPC ads” and “SEO” down on little scraps of paper, throw them into a hat, close your eyes, and randomly pick one to decide your fate…
…sit down and give each a thought first.
- How much money am I willing to invest?
- How long am I willing to wait before I start to earn a decent profit?
- Do I have a plan for balancing the cost of PPC ads with how much I’ll be earning from my affiliate programs?
- Do I have what it takes to craft high-quality content my audience will adore?
- Do I want to go for small, quick wins, or am I ready to go into it for the long haul with riper, more lasting success?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be closer to the answer on whether you should use SEO or PPC ads (or both) for affiliate marketing.
All screenshots taken by the author, September 2021.