I used to make a fair amount of money from what are called thin affiliate sites by Google, these are affiliate sites that ONLY have content provided by the affiliate (the content is ‘thin’) and have no added value.
Around 2005ish Google became very good at automatically spotting and penalizing thin affiliate sites, traffic to these sites dropped from tens of thousands of visitors to the low thousands of visitors a year (clearly penalized), so I stopped making new thin affiliate sites.
Making Money with Amazon Affiliate Stores
Before the Google crack down I had thin Amazon affiliate stores that took about an hour to create (thin Amazon affiliate stores were really easy to make via a PHP script) that made thousands of dollars a year from tens of thousands of search engine visitors.
Taking into account creating the site, registering domains, setting up hosting on my dedicated servers, adding links from various sources (the part that took most time, though back then I treated these website like any other site: needed a fair number of links) an average Amazon thin affiliate store would take no more than 10 hours of work the first year (probably averaged around 6 hours a site and most of that was link building) and under an hours maintenance each year after (assuming scripts didn’t break).
If you can make $1,000+ a year from 6 hours work it’s a no brainer, one of my thin affiliate sites was making $10,000+ a year from AdSense and a similar amount from Amazon affiliate sales.
Have to admit despite this I only made about 20 of them and most of those I never got around to the promotion part (adding links which is essential) as was VERY busy with SEO clients at the time: I was still building my SEO client base and clients pay more money.
Thin Affiliate Site Google Penalty
Over recent years I’ve built the odd thin affiliate site (no Amazon sites) to test the current Google algorithm, but not put serious time into it. To give more control I’ve used affiliate datafeeds that take more time to create a site from. I’ve tried not linking to the affiliate links/sales pages (so can’t sell any of their products: just the basic affiliate content, would only make money from AdSense), downloading and hosting the affiliates images on my server, adding language translations (that took quite a bit of time to setup and test and didn’t help!) and even running search and replace text on the datafeeds, image names, etc… to change them a bit. In every case the websites have not performed like my earlier Amazon thin affiliate stores (no big successes) and my first thin affiliate sites that did well were 100% automated.
However, I was looking through my AdSense revenue from some of these thin affiliate stores (I didn’t have many of them) and though the AdSense impressions (traffic) is pathetic considering thousands of product pages (obvious thin affiliate site Google penalties), overall they are making a profit IF I ignore my time: an SEO client will pay well over $50 an hour, so to break even on my time an affiliate site should make a minimum $300 in the first year**
** Note: I tend to check these things out to see if I can make them work (it’s an SEO challenge trying to ‘beat’ Google :-)) rather than to make money per se (though making money is also nice :-)).
Since I have a dedicated server that I use for important websites that make a fair amount of cash, adding thin affiliate sites to that server doesn’t cost me anything (a little bandwidth). So my costs of adding a new site is under $15 a year, to break even on a domain purchase the domain has to make $20 a year.
I have obviously penalized thin affiliate sites that I’ve put no time into for a few years that over the last 12 months have made over $100 from AdSense (one thin affiliate site made over $500). To me $100 a year is not a lot of money and I wouldn’t normally aim to build a site that only makes a $100 a year. That being said I have a powerful dedicated server that’s under utilized (could have 1,000+ domains on it easily) and if with a little effort (only adding a few links per domain) I can make $100 per domain per year there’s an argument for creating 100 thin affiliate sites, especially if I can get that 6 hours per thin affiliate site creating time down to a few hours (which I have :-)).
Making Money from Google Penalized Sites
If I create 100 thin affiliate sites at a cost of $15 a year, my costs are $1,500.
If they make on average $50** each per year that’s $5,000.
Profit = $3,500
** Making $50 a year from AdSense means averaging just 14 cents a day :-)
If the average thin affiliate site takes 3 hours to create (300 hours for 100 domains) you make about $11.66 an hour on the above numbers in the first year.
For me that’s not worth my time beyond SEO/money making testing, though if you take a three year time frame and don’t put much time into maintenance (sites don’t vanish after one year and you don’t have to do a lot of link building, it’s not going to rank high in Google anyway), it’s not a bad return on your time: 300 hours for building the thin affiliate sites, 50 hours maintenance, profit over three years $10,500 so $30 an hour. Longer the time scale you look at this, more interesting it becomes.
I’m not going to do this, I make much make money from SEO clients, I like to test these ideas.
I had about a dozen domains that used to have Amazon thin affiliate sites on them, but Amazon changed their XML feed and the PHP Amazon script I used to use (5+ years ago) stopped working, so I deleted the content of the domains and 301 redirected them to other sites. Over the last month or so I’ve added new thin affiliate sites using various affiliate datafeeds into a WordPress database to those domains as a test, adding those to the domains I’ve tried other thin affiliate sites tests to over the last few years results in 20 thin affiliate sites.
Some of the domains already have a handful of links to them (hence the 301 redirects), I’ve added a few links here and there, but nothing serious, so unlikely I’ll see any high PR thin affiliate sites from this.
When I get the time I’ll create half a dozen thin affiliate sites on newly registered domains as fresh tests.
Will be interesting to see what they make over the next 12 months.
It’s early days with the thin affiliate sites as a set, so far with about 1 months data it’s looking OK overall from a scaling perspective. They are averaging just under $13 a domain a month from AdSense, but they vary a LOT, the best domain made ~$60 and worst $0.
I’ve been surprised at the number of affiliate sales with such a low number of visitors, this months comes to around $90 in affiliate sales for all the sites. Not all the domains link to affiliate products, (recall some thin affiliate site tests I did didn’t link to the products sales pages as a test: the test didn’t work) even some of the new ones that I planned to link to the affiliate sales pages are not linking to affiliate sales pages because the affiliates went offline as I added them: used one large datafeed to make a bunch of sites and days after creating them the affiliate stopped paying!!! So well over half the traffic doesn’t even have the potential to make an affiliate sale.
Overall the domains have made around $340 over the last month, if it continues that’s around $4,000 a year for 20 domains ($200 a domain).
Scaling to 100 domains would result in $20,000 a year with a cost of ~ $1,500 : profit $18,500 a year. If I took into account the cost of a dedicated server which you can get an OK one for $80 a month, that’s a profit around $17,500 and it’s scalable to thousands of domains.
I have no plans to scale this at this time (too busy with real SEO work), but will definitely add some newly registered domains to complete the thin affiliate test.
Making Money Through Affiliate Marketing
There’s more to making money from affiliate sites and Google, the above is ONLY about making money from search engine traffic, Google doesn’t have a monopoly on all web traffic. Thin affiliate sites that are penalized in Google could make a lot of money by being promoted through Facebook, Twitter and other social networks or through your RSS feed subscribers.
Dave, a well written documentation of affiliate revenue.
I wonder if google adsense will every turn 100% into a pay for purchase rather than a pay per click program. Further, clickbank for me sounds good. I am just worried about google not liking such affiliates as clickbank in terms of seo.
I’m an SEO consultant with a LOT of affiliate marketing experience so know what Google like/hates when it comes to affiliate content because I’ve tried pretty much every permutation of affiliate based content.
Google hates thin affiliate based content: This is affiliate content that anyone can get hold of and put on their sites, the best example is datafeeds like Amazons affiliate XML feed. With this you can create enormous (million page) sites with little effort. At the other end of this thin affiliate scale is using the affiliates marketing content one page at a time verbatim as your content (like copying a Clickbank sales page).
The problem with this type of content from Google’s point of view is they can get the exact same content from the affiliates website, why use your copy of Amazon’s site when Google can index Amazon.com etc…, basically there’s no added value to a copy of an affiliates content so Google tends to penalise it all (will still spider and index it, but it won’t rank well long term).
What Google likes is unique content, so when promoting affiliate products create your own content (it is that simple).
You could for example take a couple of hundred Amazon affiliate products and write a review on each of them and combine this with some of the affiliates content (fifty-fifty sort of ratio), add this to a site and as long as those reviews are unique (copying them from Amazon isn’t unique : tried that :)) Google will index and rank that content based just like any other content (it’s no longer thin content).
The problem with the above is to do well with a program like Amazon is you have to make a LOT of sales (you only get 4-10% of the affiliate revenue).
To make a lot of sales, you either need some really good traffic SERPs on some very important high value products (lots of traffic to a small number of products) or have a load of product pages and gain a lot of very easy SERPs, the long tail SERPs.
Unless you have a lot of free time (or you don’t value your time) it’s not worth doing this with programs like Amazon, you sell $500 worth of products and get just $25 is a rip off when you have to do a lot of work for it!
On the other hand with programs like Clickbank $500 in sales can get you over $250 as your share. As you can see from my revenue report above I made over $600 from Clickbank last month and most of it was from three product pages (so sold over $1,200 in Clickbank products with a 50% revenue share)!
Had I got similar sales figures from Amazon products I’d have made around $60. Not bad for a few pages I suppose, but I’ve got these pages to PR4s and PR5s so put a fair amount of SEO effort into them ($60 from several PR4/PR5 pages a month isn’t a good return).
I have to say if you can find some good Clickbank products to promote they can have a better return than selling real products (like cell phones for example) on your own online store! I owned an online store and I wasn’t making 50% profit on my sales.
WOW David….I am sure you gonna you are going to be a millionaire using affiliate revenues…if not in 45 but may be at the age of 50 ;) Good Luck
I doubt I will since I have a problem with saving all the money I make :)
Currently owe about £90,000 on the mortgage which in Jan/Feb 2009 goes from a fixed rate of 4.79% to variable and with what’s happening right now with the credit crunch etc… looks like it will jump to over 7%!
Currently can pay an extra £9,000 this year (which I’ve already paid extra) then in Jan/Feb when there’s no longer a limit in over paying without a penalty I plan to throw as much of our savings at the mortgage as possible.
Unfortunately we are renovating our home, we live in a 4 storey ex guesthouse with around 16-18 rooms (depends on what you consider a room) and still have a lot of work to do (probably about £30K to £40K worth) so have to have some money for that as well.
Since I hate to be in debt all the affiliate revenue and a lot of my SEO business revenue is going on the house/mortgage for the next two or three years (I want the mortgage paid ASAP).
I can’t complain though, loads of people are loosing their homes right now and I’m worrying about paying a little extra mortgage interest which we can afford.
Hi, my business is as a sign maker and in my spare time I have been researching about new ways to do internet marketing. Then I stumbled across the idea of buying domains and having them directed to specific webpages to generate traffic, then I purchased some make money online domains and had them directed to affiliate websites. Only just started this to see if I get any success, nice to see someone else doing the same thing already.
Sounds like a nice make money online plan. You could make an ebook on this and make a fortune on clickbank selling it to trusting naive customers.
Wow great observation and its really motivating to read your post…I am trying my own money making method but from this post I have learned about scaling up on what you do and make sure that it is profitable in a long term!!
One month thin affiliate sites revenue data (2 weeks after creating this article : data set August 25th 2010 – September 25th 2010).
AdSense Revenue : $340 (so far AdSense income stable/predictable).
Affiliate Sales Revenue : $350 (sold $4,300 worth of products**).
** Note two sales made the majority of this affiliate income (two $1,000+ sales) and one of the sales is on a site receiving less than 10 visitors a day. Hard to estimate future sales from this sort of data (next month sales could be 90% less or several times more on the same traffic).
Total revenue = $690
Number of thin affiliate sites = 24
Average earnings per thin affiliate site : ~$29
Estimated annual revenue : $8,280
Estimated annual revenue per site : $345
If scaled to 100 domains estimated annual revenue : $34,500
That is pretty good considering how little effort this takes long term.
Note: not found the time to create thin affiliate sites on new domains yet.
Why dont you outsource it?
Most people that earn money being an affiliate sign up with several Affiliate Programs.
In fact, possibly you have to test out several before you find those that will make you the most money. Essentially the most important things to consider when you choose to promote products as an affiliate is to choose worthwhile products.
If you wouldn’t buy it or have any use for it chances are your customers won’t either. Remember, even though you’re selling over the internet and not in person, with certainty if you truly believe in the products you are promoting will show through in your marketing efforts. Choose products that you truly believe in a few to persuade others to buy them.
One good high traffic affiliate store worth ten time than 10 tiny affiliate stores.
Why not to concentrate on one and only blog and spend most of the time building its content rather spreading all other?
One high paying affiliate store is great, but one mistake either on your part or Google’s (they do ban sites by mistake all the time) and all your hard SEO work is lost in one go! I’ve been there with my first domain** and it’s not fun!!!
** Fortunately I realised my mistake of using black hat SEO techniques and expected the domain to be banned and had began to move on in advance. Pretty much the month I was ready for the ban the domain was banned.
By spreading your thin affiliate content over a lot of sites you spread the Google penalty risk. This is particularly important if you tend to push the limits of what Google considers acceptable: Google search engine is after all their business and if they don’t want to list a domain because they don’t like it, not a lot we can do about it.
Ignoring affiliate content, then there’s niche content, I’ve found a domain with the format keyword1-keyword2.tld is easier to get ranked for the phrase keyword1 keyword2 than a corresponding page with the same file name format. If I put all my content on one domain it would be 10s of thousands of pages (just uploaded a new recipe site today with 130,000+ recipes). Imagine the mess one domain would be with all that content over so many niches.
That being said in theory if I had everything on one domain and had the same links I have now to all my sites going to that one domain it would almost certainly rank better overall than all my sites put together (AKA it should in theory make more money). But it’s too much of a risk.
You are also to some degree wrong about one high traffic site worth more than 10 low traffic sites, especially when thinking about AdSense. All depends what the sites are about, I have domains with a couple of hundred visitors a day that are making more money from AdSense than domains with 10x the traffic because of the niche. If all that content was combined on one site some of the higher paying AdSense content might not get the best ads. Basically more varied your content more likely Google AdSense ads won’t match your content, with AdSense in mind highly niched sites work best.
Let me pose a question: Can SEO Help With Affiliate Marketing?
It is for certain without any second thoughts on my mind I would say SEO definitely does help with affiliate marketing. But as far as I have seen the majority of the affiliate marketers I know don’t have any patience to build a website and develop it organically following the search engine optimization methods, honestly they don’t have time and also they don’t have the patience to get in to optimizing a website and benefit through it, instead they prefer to use AdWords and setup a fairly simple landing page where they will use auto responders and redirect their visitors to the product page.
So the majority of the affiliate marketers tend to use AdWords (or similar), reason is with Adwords the results are almost instantaneous which is not the case with SEO. But there are also few affiliate marketers who do not rush to see the results rather spend time building a strong base for their market and develop a website or blog based on the niche they want to focus on and try to bring traffic to their site from search engines by implementing many SEO techniques.
Also optimizing a site around a niche in search engines demands a lot of work, time and money from the marketer side the benefits they can reap through their efforts are really long lasting and in some cases I can say the results through them are ever lasting.
When you see your pages rank one in Google for many keyword terms which converts it means you have the edge over others in the market, there is a high chance where people who want to promote their product will try to contact you directly and also you can choose any products of your choice and promote them in your site and start to make good amount of money from it.
If you are patient enough to develop a site around your niche and the product you want to focus on then SEO can help you a lot with your affiliate marketing in a long term basis for certain, provided you rank well for your keywords you focus on.
Good luck with your next affiliate marketing project no matter how you promote it.