Stop Building Affiliate Sites – By Jeremy Palmer

by Colleen on February 15, 2013


I’ve built a lot of affiliate sites over the last 10 years. I started with a simple online dating site back in 2003. After some initial success with the site, I branched out and launched several more niche dating sites. The formula worked well.

By 2005 I had between 50-60 dating sites. I had built vertical dating sites for each of the 50 states, and a few additional dating categories. Most of these sites performed well in both paid and organic search. The conversion rate on these sites was high… most of the content was focused around an offer. The model was fast, cheap, and easy to scale.

After achieving some success in online dating, I exported this business model to other categories, including: webhosting, consumer electronics, phone offers, and other online services. By 2006 I had over 100 affiliate sites, and hundreds of additional domains queued up for development.

Each site had a finite shelf life. The life expectancy of one of these sites was anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. It didn’t really matter when a particular site died, because there was always another site ready to take its place.

Over time this model became unsustainable. It was no longer practical to stay ahead of search engine algorithm updates and changes to Google AdWords editorial policies. At some point, nearly every affiliate site I built suffered from the ever-changing landscape.

Fortunately, a handful of sites survived. As I surveyed the damage, one thing became clear: 100% of the sites that failed were affiliate sites. In other words, websites built around offers

The sites that made it through the storms weren’t affiliate sites. They were sites that established brand-level recognition in their respective categories. They served a purpose and added value, independent of the offers running on the site.

As obvious as this sounds, I still run into people every month who are looking to make money from an affiliate site. The problem with this is that they have the wrong mindset. Affiliate marketing is simply a monetization path; it’s not a type of site.

People who build affiliate sites are simply looking for a way to make money, and build a user experience around that. Unfortunately, your visitors and search engines don’t care whether or not you make money.

Sites that get linked to, talked about, and consequently rank well, offer value that can’t be found anywhere else. They tend to be one of just a few top brands in their industry.

When you plan your next site, ask yourself how you can build real value, and what it’s going to take to establish yourself as brand leader in your space. Don’t build an affiliate site. Build a brand.

Jeremy Palmer is an experienced performance marketer, speaker, and industry advocate.

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