Affiliate Marketing is Dead, Long Live Affiliate Marketing
As a background summary for those that don’t know me (Nadeem Azam) particularly well and may be wondering what qualifies me to write this article, I have been working full-time in affiliate marketing since 1997, regularly spending 100 hours a week running a business which not only operates as a major affiliate / publisher, but provides Outsourced Affiliate Program Management Services for advertisers and, among other involvements with the industry, has provided consultancy services for three of the four largest affiliate networks in the world (indeed, I spent a large part of my weekends over many years anonymously writing blog posts for one of them); I have probably spent more of my life carrying out, analysing and discussing digital affiliate marketing than anybody in the world.

Affiliate Marketing is Dead, Long Live Affiliate MarketingI was blessed to have been able to drive many hundreds of millions worth of sales via affiliate marketing in the noughties. My company, Azam Marketing, was one of the top ten affiliates on several networks.

I have often been asked over the last year “is affiliate marketing dead?” and it’s also a regular feature on affiliate discussion forums and conferences. The question has prompted me to script my two pennies worth.

Being an affiliate often feels like you’re being attacked on all fronts like ISIS

ISIS have created so many enemies with their barbarism combined with political naïvity that – after many years of dithering – the most powerful stakeholders in the Middle East have joined forces to try to eliminate them. A case in point is the battle to liberate the city of Mosul in Iraq from ISIS which commenced in 2016. It led to an enviable coalition lauching an assault on the terrorist forces which had captured the city a couple of years earlier, consisting of the government of Iraq; the government of Iraqi Kurdistan; local Assyrian Christian, Yezidi, Turcoman and Armenian militias; the US; the UK; France; Turkey; Iran; Russia, and a few other entities.

In the last few years it has certainly become harder to be an affiliate, as affiliates’ businesses have also been attacked by all and sundry, on almost every front imaginable:

  • commissions have often been slashed, particularly by big brand advertisers (Amazon used to pay 15% commission on a book sale when I started sending them customers in the late nineties; now you’re made to feel lucky if you receive 2.5%)
  • commission tracking for many advertisers is highly dubious and often doesn’t work (with the extensive testing my staff and I have done, up to 20% of all sales are not tracked or paid commission for)
  • the Zeus of the online world, Google, has been on a war-path against affiliate websites of most types and has largely filtered them out of the top of both organic and paid search results
  • in terms of paid search marketing, CPC costs for the most profitable terms have increased at an astronomical rate over the last decade
  • ISPs have become more adept at blocking affiliates’ promotional emails
  • hundreds of millions of people have installed ad blockers, which block affiliates’ ads and tracking
  • most – not all – affiliate networks have failed to significantly evolve their technologies in the last decade
  • affiliate program account management services are overwhelmingly provided by inexperienced graduates of substandard degrees from tier three and four universities who often don’t know what they are doing beyond the basics
  • coupon and cashback websites are taking an ever-increasing share of commissions from other types of affiliates
  • many leads driven by affiliates on mobile devices – now responsible for up to 55% of sales on some affiliate programs – do not tracking for a variety of reasons

The affiliate ship is being abandoned faster than you can yell “Titanic”!

Almost all the “super affiliates” who I knew from the late nineties and early noughties have long since left HM Affiliate Marketing and jumped ship to either becoming retailers themselves, now run digital marketing agencies, or have simply retired.

Of those figures still engaged in the cut-and-thrust of cybermarketing, many have migrated their businesses, conferences and ebooks away from using the “affiliate marketing” brand to the term “performance marketing”, often because the former has a negative association and is deemed to be restricted within an arena that is not as profitable as it once was.

A development that highlights the lack of interest in affiliate marketing is that the majority of affiliate marketing discussion forums have long since closed down; this is in large part due to the rise of social media, but is also a result of most affiliates giving up on the game. Both the biggest affiliate forums in the USA and UK, respectively ABestWeb and PeformanceIN, have died a death.

Yesterday I was updating my training presentation for my staff and of six of the affiliate marketing forums my slides encouraged them to join and participate in, four have shut down in the last three years.

So what is the besieged affiliate to do?

There’s a lot that can be said in terms of stratagem to deal with the decline of mainstream affiliate marketing, but our agency has largely moved away from the vagaries of CPA and CPL to far more robust, profitable and stable income streams, aka CPM, CPC and tenancy fees and consultancy charges for our work. We have the likes of Dell, Disney, HP and Google biting our hands off to book CPM campaigns.

To be in such a position means building a brand, a reputation and utilisation of technologies that is on a completely different level to how the average affiliate runs their business, and I would encourage my affiliate friends to consider doing the same.

It takes time, it takes patience, it takes diligence and it takes financial investment. 99% of online marketers are not willing to make those sacrifices . . . which creates a splendid barrier to entry. It means entrepreneurs with the appropriate fortitude, aptitude and attitude have significantly higher chances of succeeding than slugging it out in the cesspit of low-grade grey-hat-style affiliate marketing for a few scraps here and there. No more partnering with advertisers who often, behind-the-scenes, treat affiliates with disdain, perceiving them as a “cheap and cheerful” means to gain customers (the same advertisers who don’t think twice about paying Google AdWords $1.50 a CLICK frown upon paying affiliates $1.50 for a SALE).

Only affiliate with the very best advertisers

If you are not yet in a position to be able to charge CPMs or tenancy fees, affiliate marketing, or to use its more contemporary moniker performance marketing, is far from dead and the CPA route can still be extremely lucrative; Azam Marketing and many others still make a pretty penny from commission-based lead generation.

It’s essential to diligently research each advertiser you’re looking to partner with (I have written a guide for my staff to use when appraising which affiliate programs to consider partnering with and it comes to several thousand words long – without a shadow of doubt it’s the most valuable document in our company as advertising the right / wrong advertiser on a commission-only basis can make / lose us tens of thousands of dollars).

You should try to pick advertisers that pay generous commissions: 75 cents here and $2 there – which is the kind of earnings one makes on the affiliate program of Amazon and many other retailers on an eventual sale (if, indeed, they don’t either legally or illegally try to wriggle out of paying the commission at all) – is not going to earn you enough net profit to even put a smile on your face when sauntering into your local dollar store.

Critically, the tracking must work (which I will emphasise it doesn’t on a regular basis for many advertisers and networks) and the advertiser must have multiple forms of tracking to maximise the chances of your sale being tagged back to you. Ideally they should pay recurring commissions on future sales made by what is your customer.

For much more insight on picking the most lucrative affiliate programs, please read my article here: 10 Hot Tips on Finding the Right Affiliate Program or Business Opportunity.

Rather than just funnelling a customer to an advertiser and losing them forever, it’s essential to add him or her to one’s own database too so that you can market to them again.

After going through quite a few challenging years over the last two decades since we started in affiliate marketing, in recent years Azam Marketing has been more profitable than ever. You should study this blog, where my team and I have scripted many articles revealing how we transformed our business by migrating away from an over-dependence on the affiliate channel.

Affiliate marketing is not going the way of the dodo. Become a more astute marketer and the online world’s your oyster!

In her down-to-earth, sincere and often humorous style, Rosalind Gardner guides you through the entire process of building an affiliate marketing business on the ‘Net. In 220+ pages, and more than 68,000 words, you’ll learn how to pick the best programs, negotiate a commission raise and save time, money and effort on everything from affiliate software to web hosting. To learn exactly how she does it, click here.P.S. known as the ‘bible’ of Affiliate Marketing, Rosalind Gardner’s Super Affiliate Handbook is a must-read for anyone who wants to become an affiliate marketer and successfully circumvent the hurdles I highlight above.

In a style that is friendly and humorous, the Super Affiliate Handbook is peppered with real examples of what Rosalind did to become one of the most recognizable Super Affiliates in the world. And she doesn’t just tell you what she did right — she exposes the mistakes she made as well — to help you avoid potential problems.

Exceptionally well written, Super Affiliate Handbook covers absolutely everything you need to know about making money as an affiliate marketer.

I HIGHLY recommended it.

Get the Super Affiliate Handbook today!