The affiliate marketing industry is just about 30 years old.
But that’s in Internet years, so that’s more like 300 years in real life.
So is the affiliate gold rush over, or is there still money to be made in affiliate marketing?
Here’s my take on it.
Is it too late to start?
The simple answer here is, “No, it’s not too late to start affiliate marketing” and that will remain true for at least another 10 years. That time frame will be explained in more detail a little later in the article, so make sure to read to the end.
The best time to start in affiliate marketing was yesterday and the next best time is today.
To be honest, the only people who will try to convince you that it’s too late to start building an affiliate marketing business:
- Are trying to sell you something
- Don’t understand the basics of affiliate marketing
If we look at the numbers (which don’t lie) we’ll see that the global affiliate marketing industry is worth US$12 billion per year – and that’s a conservative figure.
That’s not an industry in decline.
And it’s definitely not an industry that’s struggling.
And if we look at Google Trends we can see that the industry growth is backed up by search volume:
The reality is that affiliate marketing is trending upwards and has been for years.
What about the competition?
Okay, so the industry is still growing but doesn’t that make it more competitive?
Are there more affiliates running websites now than there were in 2010?
Were there more affiliates in 2010 than there were in 2000?
That’s based on my own experience of this industry from the year 2000 to today.
I remember when literally nobody understood what affiliate marketing or search engine optimization was.
It was like trying to explain fire to a rock.
These days, people are a little more clued in to the world of digital marketing, but hardly anyone knows anything about affiliate marketing.
You can prove this by just asking 3 – 5 close friends this question, “Hey I’ve heard about this thing called affiliate marketing. You know anything about it?”
All you’re going to see is a lot of confused faces.
What I’m trying to get across here is that the people I knew in 2008 that didn’t start affiliate sites because it was “too competitive” wouldn’t dream of starting their online business now because it’s “still too competitive.”
And I’m going to let you in on a little secret here – competition = cash.
People don’t compete in markets/niches that are worthless.
Newspapers like The New York Times don’t buy sites like The Wirecutter for US$30+ million because they’re feeling generous. They did it because they want to make even more money from affiliate programs.
There’s a really good reason why Miriam Webster (yes, the dictionary people) are now monetizing their content with affiliate marketing.
Lots and lots of cash.
Competition vs. tools
Back in the early days of 2000 to about 2005, the research required to build an affiliate website was a real chore. Finding your keywords and calculating competition was a process that took days and several spreadsheets to complete.
It was mind-numbing stuff. It really was.
That level of research now takes me maybe about 20 minutes thanks to tools like Ahrefs and some others.
Competition in affiliate marketing has grown but the tools and resources available to you level the playing field just enough to make things fair.
For example, it’s taken most of the major media sites/newspapers until the 2020s to understand how profitable affiliate marketing can be.
It’s now easier to be a 1-person affiliate business than it was even just 5 years thanks to the different tools and resources that come online all the time.
Because with the right tools and processes, a smart affiliate can outperform a big newspaper or media organization.
Quitters never win
The sad truth is that the level of competition you’ll experience in affiliate marketing is extremely temporary. That’s because the vast majority of people will hear about niche websites, buy a course, promptly ignore the course material, build a crappy site, make no money and quit.
All of this will happen in the space of 3 – 5 months.
I’ve seen this process repeat itself literally hundreds of times.
Of all the people I have desperately tried to help start their own affiliate marketing businesses over the years, not one of them stuck with it.
And that was before the spread of social media, a set of digital distractions that are quite literally destroying the human ability to concentrate.
In summary, out of 100 people who start affiliate websites in competition to you, only 5 of them will still be working on those sites 12 months from now.
The odds are forever in the favour of people who are willing to work hard and persevere.
Getting Google traffic is tough
Affiliates need to rank in Google to get organic traffic to their site, because without those organic searches they’d have to pay for traffic instead.
And if you’ve spent more than 5 minutes in any SEO or affiliate forum you’ll have heard how tough it is to rank and get traffic in Google in <insert current year>.
People have been saying this since Google became the dominant search engine 20 years ago. And they’ll still be saying it 5 or 10 years from now.
This is all a case of perspective though.
From 2000 – 2013, it was relatively easy to manipulate Google and get as much traffic as you wanted to your site.
You could build a website and have it ranking in Google and making money within a few weeks.
But that also meant that the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) were crammed full of spammy, thin content propped up by the cheapest back links money could buy.
This made it very, very difficult for legitimate digital publishes (like you nice people reading this) to rank and get traffic. That was until Google dropped the Penguin and Panda hammers on the world of SEO.
What these Google updates did was basically shake all the cheap wannabe SEO types out of the SERPS and back to their old jobs, never to return.
So, as much as Google updates are a pain to deal with, they can also be extremely beneficial because they have a leveling effect.
Is it more difficult to get Google traffic in the 2020s?
Not if you’re willing to work hard, build links, and add value to the search index with your unique content, etc.
It’s getting far more difficult though for the type of person that approaches any new challenge looking for a loophole or shortcut.
Your site will eventually get banned by Google.
And I’ll smile when that happens because you just made room for somebody who wants to build something of value.
Is affiliate marketing still profitable in the 2020s?
The simple answer to this is, “Yes, affiliate marketing is still profitable” in the 2020s and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
There’s always been people who claim affiliate marketing is dead, but they’ve been doing that now for 20 years, and it’s still as effective now as it was 20 years ago.
But you would be wise to not put all your eggs in one basket with affiliate marketing i.e. you should always diversify your income sources.
While affiliate marketing has been a stable business model for three decades now, there’s no guarantee that will be around forever.
Allow me to explain
AI and the future
There will come a time when true AI (Artificial Intelligence) tools can write content and produce videos that are indistinguishable from those created by human beings.
That time is not right now though, despite what certain software companies might claim.
All of this comes from the fact that I recently tested some AI writing tools. Some of the content these tools produced was surprisingly good, but most of it was just awful.
It was 92% awful and 8% good, for reference.
And that’s because these aren’t actual Artificial Intelligence content tools – they’ve just scraped a pile of content and they use a few APIs to interpret that database.
That’s why the content they “write” is so bad – there’s no actual intelligence behind it. The current crop of AI tools can only repeat or mirror the information they find online right now, so if they find incorrect information they’ll repeat that same mistake.
But the bigger failing is that these tools are incapable of offering an opinion or insight on a given topic. They have no body of knowledge to speak from, so have nothing unique to add to any conversation on any topic.
They just regurgitate the information that already exists online.
It’s also why Google will be left with no choice to filter/ban all such content from their search engine in the not-too-distant future.
This is Google Panda/Penguin all over again – Google will dump millions of domains to clear up their database.
BUT I can see how far tools like this have come in just a few years, and how they might be able to replace all but the most skilled and experienced affiliate content writers within the next 15 – 20 years.
There is even a strong likelihood that we’ll be seriously entertaining the idea of the singularity and trans-human existence (we start to become actual cyborgs) by the year 2050, if not a little sooner – you would be permanently connected to an “Internet” at all times.
And that would directly impact how content is created and shared.
Wrapping things up
It’s not too late to get started in affiliate marketing.
And it won’t be for another 10 years or so.
With that said, please don’t rely on affiliate marketing as your sole source of income.
Everything from Google algorithm updates to the AI developing human-like consciousness could get in the way of that.