Does Affiliate Marketing Really Make Money?

affiliate marketing money thumb

If you need a new stream of passive income now, you aren’t alone. Every year, millions of people experiment with making money online. Many will succeed, gaining footholds that will make them formidable competitors for any major website in the affiliate marketing industry.

If you want in, you need to get in now. Affiliate marketing may be the right business for you. Before you try any affiliate marketing program, you need to know if it’s worth the effort.

Does affiliate marketing really pay the bills?

In this guide, you’ll get our opinion on making money with affiliate marketing. First, we’ll look at the evidence from the latest research. Then, we’ll take you through the pros and cons of working offers and tell you how to overcome the downsides.

Does Affiliate Marketing Really Work?

Yes, affiliate marketing works. It works if you just want to invest 10 hours a week on the side or if you want to dive all the way in for 6 and 7-figure business returns. Let’s examine the evidence.

Affiliate marketing makes up nearly $7bn of advertising spending

Recent research found that the total spending on affiliate marketing was projected to hit $6.8 billion in the year 2020. That’s about a 10% increase over the amount spent in the previous year. Spending on affiliates has only gone up since the early 2000s.

The market is larger, and it’s also more mature. Only a few years ago, even major affiliate programs were getting wracked by internal disputes and legal trouble. If you’re a marketing affiliate joining now, you have a better chance at stable affiliate income.

So, now you can confirm that there is money to be made in affiliate marketing. After all, someone is making the money off of that $7 billion pie.

the mask affiliate marketing money meme

That may lead you to ask: Is working like this stable? Is it going to survive all the changes that are happening in digital marketing?

At least as far as mobile advertising is concerned, the answer is ‘yes’.

Affiliate marketing is transitioning to mobile very smoothly

Research performed by Call Hippo found that 50% of affiliate-referred traffic comes from mobile devices.  Mobile devices are increasingly used for shopping for products, and shoppers hit multiple affiliate sites before buying.

This developing area has proven to be fertile ground for affiliate advertising.

So, now you can confirm that affiliate marketing has legs to stand on. It makes business sense to try it out. It’s not going to collapse or be rendered obsolete by the changes that are happening across the world to all types of products.

mobile uses for affiliate marketing

These statistics can be a little impersonal, though. You may be wondering what the affiliate experience is like on the ground.

It’s backed by a strong and successful community

There are some obstacles to making it and collecting an affiliate income as a newbie affiliate marketer (and we’ll cover some of the cons in just a bit), but one of those obstacles is not a frigid and paranoid business community.

The people who work affiliate links are a friendly bunch who are open to sharing what works for them. It’s easy to find in-depth guides that are pointed at new members who want to learn. Even many affiliate programs are friendly to new people.

There are plenty of people in these groups who are in a position to give good advice. It’s not hard to meet affiliate marketers who are doing this right to the tune of tens of thousands in passive income.

This recent poll from The Affiliate Lab’s members-only Facebook group reflects what you’ll find in many affiliate communities.

monthly revenue matt fb poll

Communities like this are one of your best bets when learning how to succeed in affiliate marketing.

Making Money with Affiliate Marketing: The Pros and Cons

Affiliate marketing pros and cons illustration

Many people are making a lot of money with affiliate marketing. That doesn’t make it a great business idea for everyone. There are many reasons that working like this might not be worthwhile.

There are also likely to be advantages that you haven’t considered, too. In the upcoming sections, you’ll learn about the most important pros and cons.

Understanding them may help you get closer to making the right decision about an affiliate marketing career.

Affiliate Marketing Pros

People start affiliate marketing—and choose to master it—for many reasons.

Online marketers often start working in this business because of the low cost-of-entry, the variety of offers, passive income opportunities, and the freedom to work online.

You can get started cheap

You may have heard of affiliate marketing budgets that include dozens of websites, and a team to cover graphics, content, and website design. Don’t worry, you don’t need all of that to get your business started.

If you’re new, it’s probably best that you start with one affiliate website. You can put one together for under $500 if you choose a cheap domain name and DIY the big three expenses: Graphic design, content, and traffic generation.

pink piggy bank

That just leaves you to pay for the hosting if you choose a free CMS like WordPress. There are some downsides to choosing the low-budget route, but we’ll get to that when we start talking about cons.

Right now, let’s look at why it matters to get to work with any product you like.

Work with all type of products

One of the greatest advantages of affiliate marketing is the diversity of offers. Almost all products that can be sold online have affiliate offers attached to them.

That means that you can convert whatever expertise you already have for certain products into affiliate marketing expertise.

online products in box packaging

Are you an avid camper and kayaker? you can work outdoor offers. Do you love motorcycles? Work aftermarket component offers. If you’ve worked in a department store selling appliances, you can take that expertise right to working offers for Whirlpool or Maytag.

You can also choose your products based on returns. You can make sites that focus on the products that have the highest margins or try to develop yourself into someone who can assure the buyers of high-ticket items.

There are affiliate marketing programs to cover just about anything.

Work with any kind of arrangement

In the same way that you can carefully choose the products you sell, you can carefully choose the ways that you’re selling them and how you’re compensated. Even among offers that attract newer people by using referral links, there is a lot of variety.

shake hand deal on affiliate marketing

You can be paid by the view, the sale, the set of sales, or even just an email signup. You may find that a type of offer matches your instincts better than the others. That’s the one that’s worth building on for better affiliate marketing revenue in the future.

By the time you’re experienced, you’ll be able to approach brands and affiliate networks for custom compensation schemes. Affiliate marketers who have proven that they can make a substantial amount of affiliate sales become able to set their own terms.

Work from anywhere in the world

Affiliate marketing is done online. All the major tools and services that needed to manage an affiliate marketing business are online.

You may have a good reason to meet with a network representative or partner, but for the most part, all the relationships are online, too. You can meet up on social media.


That gives you the freedom to live and work almost anywhere with a stable internet connection. That covers most places in the world, including places with refreshingly low rental prices and warm, sandy beaches.

You’re saving on office space, but that isn’t the only way you’re saving from your affiliate income. You also don’t have to store the products.

There’s no warehouse you have to be rent. The products aren’t yours. That means you don’t have to price them, ship them, or provide support for them.

Affiliate Marketing Cons

No, affiliate marketing is not right for everyone. For people in certain situations, it’s just not going to offer a lot of advantages (or affiliate income).

People who have left affiliate marketing tend to complain about the time it takes to get started, competitive atmosphere, and lack of a single source for support.

It can take months to get off the ground

If you are starting without a big budget, you’re still likely to succeed. The catch is that new sites take a very long time to flower. It’s likely to take you months (if not, about a year) to make it draw enough traffic, even with a great affiliate marketing strategy.

If you’re in SEO, and you already have a couple of small-time sites, you’re in a much better position to start moving some products and collect the better affiliate income.

digital calendar on computer schedule

However, you’ll probably still need to make a lot of tweaks, changes, and updates when you understand the principles of affiliate marketing.

How to mitigate this risk: If you have a serious budget and want to “buy-in” at a higher level, you can purchase a site that’s already aged and populated with content for your affiliate experiments.

By doing this, you can jump the line by a few months at the risk of a greater sunk cost.

If you’re completely new, it’s honestly a better idea to start from scratch. There’s a lot to learn in the first year, and some mistakes can get your site booted from Google. You don’t want to sink too much money before you learn the basics and start earning some affiliate income.

It can be punishingly competitive and unstable

Affiliate marketing is highly competitive. If you pick competitive products (and there are a lot of high-intensity niches), you can expect successful strategies to be rapidly copied and your mistakes to be leveraged against you. This is going to slow your growth.

Not all competition you face is likely to be honorable, either. Those who are really effective at getting people to click an affiliate link are regularly targeted.

competetive working colleagues

They get hit by hackers, shady networks, and scripts that lift any new content and images to post them to competitor sites.

How to mitigate this risk: You don’t have to start your journey in the most competitive affiliate niches. You can choose niches that have a lower barrier to entry.

As you get more experienced, you’ll have a good idea of which high-end security products are worth your budget. You can easily prevent most of these attacks with practical measures.

Advertisers and networks don’t always act like partners

Hackers aren’t the only threat people managing affiliate links need to worry about.

A massive affiliate program like Amazon can hold a concerning amount of power over your products and operation. They can easily dictate terms to affiliate marketers and cut rates without any accountability.

It’s not easy to find a good affiliate program. Networks that are a lot smaller may seem more accountable, but they also have the tendency to close shop without warning.

Many affiliate marketers have had to watch an affiliate program they depended on fold overnight. If this happens to you, you may not be able to recover unpaid affiliate income.

pompeii affiliates meme

If you’re SEO-dependent, then Google is another force that will loom over your operations like Mount Vesuvius looming over Pompeii.

Google tends to target commercial sites more harshly than others, and wildly successful affiliate sites are regularly targeted. The next update can turn your passive income empire into ash.

How to mitigate this risk: Diversify, diversify, diversify. If you work multiple sites (or even multiple offers on the same site), you can easily weather storms.

Also, make sure that you’re developing more traffic sources. You can’t rely entirely on Google. Start making social media pages and filling them with content. Start building a mailing list and reach out to other blogs offering your best content.

You’re on your own for training (for the most part)

There are very few university degrees or formal business training programs where you can learn to be a successful affiliate marketer. If you want to know how to do it, you’ll have to rely on your own research and managing an unstable affiliate income.

How to mitigate this risk: There are several ways that you can make your education move a little faster.

You can google guides to learn what you need step-by-step. You’ll find a ton of them with a basic search, so make sure you compare them to each other.

man focusing on his laptop

You can find a mentor in real life or social media who has already made it in affiliate marketing. You can find both by joining an online community to immerse yourself in expertise. You can find social media pages and entire forums just for this work.

Joining a community may be the best way to meet mentors, and people who want to talk about the same things you’re going through. The Affiliate Lab member’s Facebook group is this kind of place. Members share tricks, case studies, and good-natured venting daily.

How To Be Successful In Affiliate Marketing

Yes, you can make money with affiliate marketing. It’s making billions of dollars for current affiliate marketers. It’s also expanding its reach with a growing generation of mobile buyers.

happy businessman in front of laptop

Beyond that, it offers you affordable ways to break into selling unlimited varieties of products and services.

There are cons, but they can be controlled if you make sure to get experienced help. You’ll find that help when you join my online training at The Affiliate Lab.

Our team helps marketers with SEO foundations to become successful affiliate marketers. You do what you do best, and we help you do the rest.



Article by

Matt Diggity

Matt is the founder of Diggity Marketing, LeadSpring, The Search Initiative, The Affiliate Lab, and the Chiang Mai SEO Conference. He actually does SEO too.


Want to rank easier, higher and faster?

Sign up and join 30,000+ other subscribers and get SEO test results sent straight to your inbox.

moz sidebar

"One of the most effective SEOs I've ever met"- Cyrus Sheppard

As Seen On...

Search Engine Journal
New York Post
ahrefs brand