5 Hard Truth About Affiliate Marketing And How To Solve It

by Andrew Shih
affiliate marketing the untold truth

Last Updated on December 20, 2022 by Andrew Shih

If you are looking to become an affiliate marketer as a side hustle, chances are you know what affiliate marketing is.

You probably have heard affiliate marketing is one of the best side hustles to make passive income from home.  While it is possible that affiliate marketing can make a lot of money if you are successful, it is not like taking a walk in the park.  

In reality, it takes persistence and patience to make money with affiliate marketing.  Here are the 5 hard truths about affiliate marketing you should know and how you can solve them before you become an affiliate marketer.

#1 You need web traffic before making money with Affiliate Marketing

To make money with affiliate marketing, you must be able to drive traffic to your website.  If you are just getting started, chances are you are not ranking well on Google, or you probably don’t have any followers.  If your website does not appear on the first page of Google search results, your website will get little or no traffic.

In fact, according to Backlinko, the page that ranks #1 on Google gets about 31% of the Click Through Rate (CTR), and CTR drops sharply for the next few positions.  The study estimated only about 0.78% of the clicks happen beyond the first page. 

What you can do

Begin by focusing on a niche market.  To improve the likelihood and time for ranking your page faster on the first page of Google, pay attention to picking the best long-tail and less competitive keywords.  Even if the long-tail keyword has less than 1000/month visitors, you are likely to get some of those visitors once you are on the first page of Google Search results.

For example:

I have a PMP exam niche site focusing on Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, helping candidates with PMP applications and exams.  There are PMP course providers and similar blog sites available competing in the same space.  

With my Complete guide for PMP Project Description page, I focused on long-tailed keywords such as “PMP project description examples” and provided superior content on this subject matter.

These long-tailed keywords rank top positions on Google and drive traffic to my site.  Over time, it slowly improves the ranking for shorter tail keywords such as “PMP application sample” and “PMP application examples” and other related keywords.

Google CTR PMP Project Description
Google CTR for PMP Project Description Sample

Once your blog ranks well with long-tail keywords, Google will rank your page for more keywords and naturally boost your ranking for the shorter keyword as well.  It will be easier to make money with affiliate marketing once you have the traffic. 

#2 Affiliate Marketing is highly competitive

Here is the bad news.  For profitable affiliate products, it is more difficult to rank high organically on the first page of Google, even if you do everything right. 

To find out the keyword competitiveness, you can use free tools such as Google Adword or “freemium” tools such as Semrush to perform a keyword search and find its competitiveness.  

Many lucrative keywords will have a higher Cost Per Click (CPC), indicating strong consumer buying incentives and advertisers willing to pay more money to display them as ads on Google’s first page.

For example, one of the most common affiliates for bloggers is the web hosting company.  After all, anyone serious about blogging will need a web hosting provider.  Let’s you use Bluehost, and you want to write a blog to promote Bluehost and rank for Bluehost review.

Here is a chart from Semrush.

Bluehost Review keyword on Semrush
Bluehost Review keyword on Semrush

It’s easy to understand why the Bluehost review is hard to rank, according to Semrush. 

Bluehost Review has an SEO keyword difficulty score of 68%, which is in the “hard” category.  Your page will need to rank at least in the top 10 amongst 2.1 million search results to end up on the first page of Google. 

Also, other than paid ads that appear at the top of the search, there are Search Engine Result Page (SERP) features such as FAQ, YouTube videos, related searches, etc. that will compete for traffic. 

What you can do

If you want to target and rank for competitive keywords, you will need to do more than just create great content and start with long-tail keywords. 

You will need to go the extra mile to build backlinks to enhance your domain authority, leveraging social media, and using multiple channels such as YouTube to cross-promote to improve your Google ranking and gain visibility.

Even if you are doing everything right, it will take time to rank on the first page of Google.  According to ahrefs, the page that ranks #1 on Google has an average age of 3 years, and only about 22% of the lucky pages are created within one year.  Be persistent and patient.

#3 Reputable Merchants are selective with affiliate Marketers

Many reputable merchants will have minimum requirements and won’t accept every affiliate marketer that wishes to promote their products.  If you are just starting out and barely have any traffic or follower, there is a good chance the merchant will reject your request.

What you can do

You can contact the merchant directly after the rejection.  Find out why the merchant rejected your request.  If you have used and love their product or services that you would like to sell, mention it.  Try to promote yourself and why you are a good fit as an affiliate. 

For example, Fiverr rejected my initial affiliate application because Wisdom Depot is a new website with no traffic. 

However, I have been an active Fiverr buyer on the platform and proposed to Fiverr how the affiliation can be a win-win for all parties, and my affiliation request was accepted.

Not all merchants will be accommodating.  Alternatively, you may just have to wait.  Focus on building the content and improving the traffic to your website first.  It will take persistence and hard work to create valuable content, drive traffic to your website, and build trust with your followers. 

You will have to engage your audience, build relationships, and convert them into followers before most people buy from you.  Once you have traffic on your website, merchants will be eager for you to join their affiliate marketing program.

#4 You may not get the commission for the referral

Even if you have traffic and people click through your affiliate links, it does not necessarily mean you will get the referral commission.  Some referrals have a short cookie duration and may expire in 24 hours.  This means you will not get the commission if the user makes a purchase after 24 hours.

For a market saturated with advertisers, your viewer may subsequently access other affiliate links.  The users may already be customers of the affiliate company, so they do not qualify as referrals.

What you can do 

Choose your affiliate carefully. 

Reading the affiliate agreement carefully and understanding the terms under which you will be compensated is essential.  Compare multiple merchants and their affiliate offerings if available.  Some merchants are more generous to affiliates than others.

As a reminder, it is important only to promote products and services that are beneficial for your audience and not because the merchant pays a higher commission.

$5 The merchant can drop the commission and cancel the affiliate agreement

Unsurprisingly, an affiliate agreement can change over time, including the retail giant Amazon.  According to CNBC, Amazon cut the commission rate for several categories under the affiliate program effective on April 21, 2020.  For example, the commission rate for the furniture and home improvement category falls from 8% to 3%, and the grocery category drops from 5% to 1%.

Amazon Operating Agreement Change
Amazon Operating Agreement Change

If you have been doing affiliate marketing for a while, you will also see the merchants come and go from the affiliate marketing programs.  Merchants can drop off from the building program completely for many reasons such as low return on investment, lower profit margin, not generating enough sales, etc.  Companies, big or small, can drop out of the affiliate marketing program.

What you can do

While it is unfortunate for an affiliate when the merchant drops the commission rate, the affiliate will most likely continue to promote the merchant’s product or service even when earning a lower commission. 

The alternative will be to research the merchant’s competitors if they offer comparable products or services while also providing a better commission rate. 

The best way to find out what alternative product or service to promote is to research what your target audience is using.  You can participate in forums within your niche, research Quora and Reddit, or go through reviews on Amazon.

More importantly, your affiliate income should not solely rely on one merchant, and that’s the beauty of affiliate marketing.  If possible, diversify and identify multiple streams of affiliate income; you can also recommend books, courses, coaching, rentals, etc.  The possibility is limited only by your imagination.

Next Step: Are you determined to become an affiliate marketer?

My purpose is not to discourage you from becoming an affiliate marker as a side hustle and earning passive income.  On the contrary, you must start with the correct mindset, be willing to put in the hard work, and be persistent in becoming successful with affiliate marketing.  I also provided possible solutions on how you can work around those challenges.

Other than dealing with these challenges, it is also essential to promote the affiliate marketing program ethically and make sure that the product or service will truly benefit your audience.  Do not promote products or services purely based on the high commission rate. 

If you are ready to become an affiliate marketer, you can get started by checking these affiliate network platforms. Many successful affiliate marketers leverage blogging to build multiple income streams. Learning how to start a successful blog and make extra money blogging are also good places to start.

If you feel affiliate marketing and blogging are not for you, there are other side hustles that can be done from home that you may want to consider.

Please share your affiliate marketing experience in the comment below.  Share your story and let us know if there are other challenges you encountered or how you resolved the difficulties.

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