Is Affiliate Marketing Dead in 2021? My Honest Thoughts

“Is internet online affiliate marketing useless?”
“Is internet online affiliate marketing nonetheless value it?

I’ve at all times hated these questions, and I’ve been listening to them since 2007.

I hate these questions as a result of they really feel like excuses.

It’s kinda like seeing somebody half-assing it on the health club. Then seeing them blame their health club tools for his or her lack of outcomes.

However now it’s 2021—issues have modified over time.

Guidelines and rules have gotten stronger.
Competitors turned fiercer.
Prices of acquisition maintain going up.
And you’ve got extra methods of getting cash on-line than ever earlier than.

Internet online affiliate marketing is just not the identical anymore.

Persons are nonetheless asking me if internet online affiliate marketing is useless or if it’s nonetheless value pursuing in 2021.

Right here’s my reply:

Internet online affiliate marketing isn’t useless but, nevertheless it’s previous its glory days. For the overwhelming majority of individuals, it’s not value coming into the internet online affiliate marketing business in 2021.

I’ve devoted a lot of my life to this business. I’ve written numerous articles selling this business.

So it hurts for me to say that the business has been declining.

Listed below are some indicators I’ve noticed:

  • Affiliate networks have been quietly going out of enterprise for the previous a number of years.
    The joke was once that there’s a brand new affiliate community popping up each week. Now it’s the other.
  • There isn’t a lot dialog about internet online affiliate marketing. Take the STM discussion board for instance. STM’s at all times been a go-to place for speaking concerning the business. The extent of exercise there has dropped drastically over the previous few years.
    (You would argue that it’s as a result of there are extra options similar to Fb teams, Telegram, and Slack. However I consider the first trigger is the decline of the business itself.)
  • Not many individuals establish themselves as “tremendous associates” anymore. I simply seemed by means of my Fb pals record. Everybody’s in both eCommerce, cryptocurrency, investing, or operating an company. So many community homeowners and affiliate managers have moved on. 
  • There hasn’t been any innovation in years. There have at all times been new developments to hop on for associates. The business went by means of phases with Nutra/pores and skin trials, Fb, cellular pops, grownup relationship, native adverts, and so forth.

    Innovation is an indicator of development.

    There was at all times a way of pleasure over making an attempt to determine what’s subsequent. Now it feels just like the business has been caught in time since 2017 making an attempt to make push adverts scorching.

Meme: Stop trying to make push ads happen, it's not going to happen.

The internet online affiliate marketing business doesn’t have the identical degree of pleasure that it used to.

So why am I writing about this?

I’m not energetic in internet online affiliate marketing.

It’s as a result of I’m nonetheless getting messages from folks. They’re annoyed.

They’ve tried their greatest, and so they’re nonetheless unprofitable. They need to know what’s occurring within the business in 2021 and so they can’t appear to get an sincere reply from anybody. 

This text is designed that will help you perceive the adjustments on this business. Via understanding, you may make a extra knowledgeable determination whether or not you need to enter it or not. 

Let’s get into it.

Observe: Let’s be sure we’re on the identical web page. Internet online affiliate marketing is a broad time period.

This text refers to internet online affiliate marketing the place you spend your personal cash to purchase visitors, as a way to revenue from selling a proposal. Folks often check with this as efficiency or CPA advertising (Value Per Motion). That is the kind of internet online affiliate marketing I’ve been writing about for years.

This text doesn’t check with selling presents the place you personal the distribution channel. For instance, you personal a cooking weblog and promote cookware. Or creating an associates program for influencers to advertise your product.

What Made Affiliate Advertising and marketing So Nice?

I’m going to take you again to the “make cash on-line” panorama again in 2007.

What attracted me to this house within the first place?

First, folks have been making financial institution. I bear in mind when somebody posted a $25okay income a month screenshot on the WickedFire discussion board.

The opposite guys have been roasting him for making so little.

Subsequent, there weren’t a ton of viable choices for getting cash on-line.

It was both web optimization or internet online affiliate marketing. ECommerce DID exist again then, however there was a lot friction again then.

Shopify wasn’t as developed. Their app retailer was non-existent. Each change needed to be customized coded again then.

Making a product from scratch was such a thriller.  

Lastly, internet online affiliate marketing simplified enterprise.

I concern not the person who has practiced 10,000 kicks as soon as, however the grasp who has practiced one kick 10,000 occasions.” – Bruce Lee

I didn’t need to take care of customer support. I didn’t have sufficient “credit score” to get service provider processing. Attempting to supply merchandise from China was just like the wild west!

I selected internet online affiliate marketing, and it was the most effective determination of my life.

How Affiliate Advertising and marketing Modified From 2010–2020

Each business goes by means of adjustments. However not each business adjustments on the similar charge.

I bear in mind joking with my affiliate supervisor as soon as: “Internet online affiliate marketing ages like a canine. One yr in internet online affiliate marketing is identical as seven in the true world.

Let’s take a look at the business’s adjustments by means of two classes:

/1 Ease of Profitability:  

How troublesome would it not be for a beginner to get their first worthwhile marketing campaign?
In case you are worthwhile, how laborious is it to maintain the earnings?

/2 The Viability of Choices:

Are folks nonetheless worthwhile from campaigns? Sure. 
Is it attainable for a beginner to nonetheless earn a revenue from internet online affiliate marketing? Sure. 

Nevertheless, each determination has an alternative price. The choice needs to be evaluated compared to all the opposite alternatives obtainable.

Right here’s a visible I made. It demonstrates these two traits over time. Graph: viability of alternatives vs the ease of profitability over time. Alternatives rises from 2010 to 2020, and profitability falls from 2010 to 2020. The two lines crass around 2016-2017.You may see that 2010–2017 was an incredible time for internet online affiliate marketing from my eyes.

Let’s dive deeper into the convenience of profitability and the viability of choices.

The Ease of Profitability

This refers to how simple it’s to make a marketing campaign worthwhile. It’s no secret that internet online affiliate marketing has turn into more and more troublesome.

However what are the market forces that induced this?

/1 There’s Extra Competitors Than Ever Earlier than

Within the early days, associates have been shopping for a majority of the visitors on-line. Your competitors was different associates.

Now you’re competing in opposition to everybody for visitors.

a. Lowered Obstacles of Entry

An enormous purpose is that the visitors platforms decreased the boundaries of entry. Media shopping for stopped wanting so scary.

Some examples of this:

  • Media shopping for schooling improved with free sources such because the Fb Blueprint and Develop with Google.
  • Throw a rock at a Site visitors & Conversion Summit and also you’ll hit three totally different Fb Company homeowners. Extra companies meant corporations might simply outsource media shopping for.
  • Site visitors platforms developed applied sciences similar to look-alike audiences and good campaigns. Firms might make the most of the platform’s machine studying to get outcomes WITHOUT mastering media shopping for.

Earlier than, associates have been preventing with one another over visitors. Then the competitors turned the Samsungs, Disneys, and political campaigns of the world.

b. The Affiliate Ecosystem

Everybody had their very own position within the affiliate ecosystem.

Associates drive visitors.
Affiliate networks are the middlemen. They float money.
Advertisers optimize the supply and deal with the backend.
Site visitors sources ship the visitors.

Then there was a shift the place everybody else began media shopping for on their very own.

Some affiliate networks began their very own inner media shopping for groups.
Some visitors platforms began selling affiliate presents themselves.
Some advertisers began shopping for their very own media.

They didn’t need to grasp media shopping for like associates did. For one, they have been working with approach higher margins. And second, it wasn’t a good combat.

Affiliate networks might see the highest performing affiliate touchdown pages and use them.
Site visitors sources knew which publishers transformed the most effective based mostly off of associates taking the danger.

After all, they denied it.

We began preventing in opposition to variations of ourselves within the Matrix, however they’d stronger weapons.

Meme gif: two spidermen pointing at each other.

That’s my touchdown web page and angle!!!

c. The Rise of eCommerce

ECommerce has been round because the 1990s.

However there was a shift round 2015. Each affiliate marketer began taking discover of Shopify.

Dropshipping turned the fashion.

It solved a number of the frustrations folks had with internet online affiliate marketing. It was thought of “white hat.” Fb beloved it on the time. And folks felt that they owned a enterprise for the primary time.

Dropshipping is a shitty enterprise mannequin. No prospects are pleased ready a month for his or her objects to reach from China.

Dropshipping declined. However many individuals pivoted into creating their very own manufacturers, and leaving the affiliate house eternally.

Round this time was when DTC (Direct to Client manufacturers) skyrocketed. Manufacturers like Native, Allbirds, and Warby Parker ramped up their media spending. And these guys knew how one can purchase visitors simply nearly as good as associates.

The distinction? Robust eCommerce manufacturers have extra revenue levers to drag in comparison with an affiliate marketer. (Additionally, a few of them have been flush with hundreds of thousands from enterprise capital.)


  • Should revenue on first contact
  • There’s no “lifetime buyer worth”
  • Don’t personal any knowledge
  • Coping with a world that began hating associates.


  • Can afford to lose cash on the primary sale. (they will make up for it on the backend)
  • They personal knowledge. This knowledge can permit them to revenue extra by means of e-mail and SMS advertising.
  • They will enhance the typical order worth by means of ways similar to bundling, cost plans, dwell chat, cross-sells, subscriptions, and so forth.

An increasing number of competitors began shopping for visitors. This drove visitors costs up.

The internet online affiliate marketing mannequin of being a intermediary means we’re restricted on our revenue margins.

Whoever can afford to pay essentially the most, wins.

/2 Guidelines, Laws, and Bans Have Change into Extra Prevalent

Associates have been at all times at a drawback since we had smaller revenue margins to work with. So how have been associates aggressive for thus a few years?

Relentless motion.
1000’s and hundreds of break up checks.
A never-give-up perspective.

Oh, and we have been shady. We have been prepared to get extra aggressive to get the conversion. Associates saved pushing the strains.

Listed below are some examples of ways associates used:

  • Deceptive claims on what a product might do, or which movie star was utilizing it. Asking folks to “spin a wheel” to win an iPhone that we weren’t was legit.
  • Aggressive scripts similar to again button redirect.
  • Account banned? Simply come again with one other one.
  • Saying folks’s telephones/computer systems had viruses once they didn’t.

There have been ranges to how aggressive some folks have been. Among the worst ones I noticed have been prison.

Nobody wakes up wanting to make use of deceptive claims of their advertising. However when everybody else is doing it, you’re at a drawback when you don’t.

If that’s the distinction between being unprofitable or not, ethics can simply fly out the window.

I’m not making an attempt to make excuses—the actions have been mistaken. However I’m giving insights into how greyhat advertising could be such a slippery slope.

This aggressiveness benefited the affiliate pocketbooks, however harm the remainder of the ecosystem:

  • Affiliate networks turn into a magnet for lawsuits.
  • Platforms similar to Fb developed a nasty repute for consumer expertise.
  • Service provider processors caught warmth for extra aggressive billing practices similar to 1-click cellular flows or trial presents.

Actions have penalties.

Use a deceptive declare? Now you’re operating the danger of not getting paid when you’re caught by the advertiser / community.

Acquired banned on Fb? Their expertise and processes have improved in direction of banning folks.  

Aggressive presents similar to 1-click cellular flows disappeared. Nutra trials are uncommon.

Affiliate entrepreneurs don’t have a whole lot of profitability levers, particularly when inventive property could be so simply stolen. One profitability lever was being deceptive. The remainder of the ecosystem has labored laborious in opposition to this.

The markets turned extra environment friendly.
If there’s an “exploit” in a online game, then the builders are going to patch it.

/three The “Monkey See, Monkey Do” Mentality

Associates have at all times copied one another’s inventive property (touchdown pages, angles, and adverts).  

It was a ache within the ass for my staff to handle so many spreadsheets of our rivals. Then, spy instruments got here out.

These instruments automated the whole lot and made it simpler for associates to repeat one another.

The draw back? These instruments automated the whole lot and made it simpler for associates to repeat one another.

Everybody was consistently ripping off and stealing from one another. It felt just like the advertising model of The Human Centipede.

This killed the drive to innovate. What’s the purpose of popping out with a singular touchdown web page if it’s going to be stolen inside hours?

If everybody’s operating the identical sort of creatives, then it turns into a race to the underside. The one winner is the visitors supply.

The Viability of Alternate options

Each determination has a possibility price.

Being an affiliate marketer means you assume that that is the most effective enterprise mannequin so that you can pursue.

I discussed that I felt web optimization and internet online affiliate marketing have been my solely choices after I began.

Over the previous decade, the floodgates have opened. Now there’s limitless companies so that you can pursue, and so they’re simpler than ever to function.

/1 The Obstacles of Proudly owning an Supply Have Lowered

I can confidently say that it’s no less than 10x simpler to create your personal supply in comparison with earlier than 2010.  

Significantly, I can have a model up and operating inside days.

  • Customer support could be simply outsourced to Upwork + Zendesk.
  • You now have quite a lot of success choices similar to Amazon FBA and ShipBob.
  • Product sourcing is a lot simpler on account of AliExpress.
  • Shopify itself has grown and made issues a lot simpler.
  • Shopify Apps make the whole lot simpler. You don’t want to rent a customized coder.
  • You may rent all of the show you how to need by means of Fiverr and Upwork. Want information? There’s

That’s simply merchandise. What about all the opposite choices?

You may go down the influencer path. Begin a podcast or YouTube Channel.
It’s by no means been simpler to turn into a creator. Create a course utilizing Teachable. Begin a publication utilizing SubStack.

Bitcoin wasn’t even invented after I began internet online affiliate marketing! Now there’s a complete financial system round cryptocurrency and NFTs.

Create an App or a SAAS. I’m not a coder. However now, I’d really feel comfy beginning a SAAS firm regardless that I’m not a coder. There’s loads of “no code” options. I can rent competent expertise from a spot like TopTal. You’d be stunned at what number of SAAS corporations are began nowadays by non-technical founders.

Timing is essentially the most underrated element of enterprise.

Assume no less than 5 years out. For those who’re determining a market, take into consideration the place it’s going to be a number of years from now.

Some industries with tailwind (rising): Cryptocurrency, the creator financial system, cloud kitchens, eSports, eCommerce, increased schooling options, work-from-home clothes,

Some industries with headwind (dying): eating places, newspapers, industrial actual property.

Internet online affiliate marketing doesn’t have the tailwind that it used to.

Certainly one of my favourite legal guidelines from the 22 Immutable Legal guidelines of Advertising and marketing is:

“It’s higher to be first, than it’s to be higher.”

It’s a lot simpler to make cash while you’re in a trending business. If the business you’re in is declining, then it is sensible to pivot to a unique one.

/2 There Are No Moats as an Affiliate

A moat is a definite aggressive benefit that makes it laborious for a competitor to repeat.

Coca Cola’s moat is its model. You may create a copycat method, however folks nonetheless need the pink can.

Certainly one of Shopify’s moats is its app retailer. There are many Shopify options, however none of them can match the utility of its app retailer.

What’s stopping another person from ripping off your marketing campaign? Advertisements, angles, and touchdown pages can simply be stolen with none repercussions.  

Unique presents? Kinda. It’s uncommon for an affiliate marketer to have a very unique supply. Advertisers need scale. And it’s dangerous for them to have all their eggs on a single affiliate.

It turns into more and more irritating over time to function a enterprise and not using a moat. It feels such as you’re on a hamster wheel yr after yr.

This has at all times been the internet online affiliate marketing mannequin. So why am I bringing this up now? As a result of it wasn’t a giant deal so long as simple earnings have been coming in.

As campaigns turned tougher, working with out moats turned extra irritating.

/three Exit Worth

Internet online affiliate marketing is nice for producing money.

Let’s say you make $1 million in revenue from internet online affiliate marketing. What’s the enterprise value? No matter’s within the financial institution. That’s just about it.

Different companies can have a multiplier relying on the kind of enterprise.

You create a model that does $1 million revenue. However let’s say it has a 5x a number of relying on the enterprise. That enterprise could be bought for $5 million.

You make 5x extra simply because it’s a unique sort of enterprise mannequin.

Most affiliate entrepreneurs bought their first style of enterprise by means of this business. As associates turned extra enterprise savvy, they realized they needed “extra” than simply money.

/four Associates Acquired Bored

Me and most of my affiliate pals entered the business in our 20s.
Now most of us are in our 30s.

Your priorities change as you grow old.

Most individuals entered the business seeking to make some money and journey. However after you made some money and lived The 4 Hour Work Week life-style, you’re left questioning “What’s subsequent?”

I needed to ask myself, “Do I need to be operating campaigns in my 40s?

You need extra stability while you’re beginning a household.

Internet online affiliate marketing is difficult. However the challenges of account bans or unstable presents get tiring.

There are challenges in each enterprise, however some complications are extra enjoyable to take care of than others.

I felt annoyed that I didn’t construct something larger than a marketing campaign. I’ve this intrinsic motivation to construct one thing larger than me.

It’s not about cash. It’s about minimizing remorse. I need to know that I saved swinging for larger homeruns, fairly than staying with what’s comfy.

After round two years of being a full-timer, the tempo of studying slows down. You launch, run a number of break up checks, and repeat. Some folks left as a result of they need a much bigger problem. There’s one thing to be stated about constructing one thing tangible.

Companies are likely to turn into higher extra time on account of a flywheel impact. Extra gross sales means extra opinions. Extra gross sales means decrease price of products on account of economies of scale.

Campaigns really feel such as you’re at all times ranging from scratch yearly.

Who Ought to Pursue Affiliate Advertising and marketing in 2021?

I need to discuss why somebody would WANT to be an affiliate marketer nowadays.

I don’t need anybody to depart pondering that is the worst business on this planet. (That will be whoever’s concerned with Netflix’s Cuties movie.)

Listed below are some good causes for becoming a member of the internet online affiliate marketing house:

You Love Media Shopping for and HATE the whole lot else. Internet online affiliate marketing is an easy enterprise. You don’t ever need to take care of prospects. You don’t have to fret about service provider processing points or your stock getting caught in customs.

You need to market sure verticals. It’s simple to non-public label a complement line nowadays. What about going vertical and proudly owning a automobile insurance coverage firm? Not really easy. Or perhaps you’re into selling EDU presents.

You don’t like dedication. Beginning an company is dedication. Beginning an eCommerce model is dedication. You would possibly really feel that these commitments imply you’re placing all of your eggs in a single basket. Operating internet online affiliate marketing campaigns can maintain you diversified.

Why internet online affiliate marketing remains to be superior:  

  • It’s a easy enterprise mannequin. You solely deal with advertising.
  • It’s doable with a single individual. You don’t want to rent a staff such as you would in an company or eCommerce operation.  
  • It’s simple to scale. Generally scaling a marketing campaign is so simple as rising the funds.  
  • It’s simple to diversify. You may run campaigns on totally different visitors sources and totally different verticals.
  • You get speedy suggestions. Since you’re so targeted on paid advertising, you develop this talent quicker than different folks.

I need to level out that there’s a distinction between being an affiliate marketer on paper and the truth of it.

Affiliate Advertising and marketing’s Truly Doing Nicely?

I need to level out some attainable counterarguments together with my ideas on them. With the ability to perceive the opposite aspect makes for a stronger case.

By the best way, I need you to query the whole lot that I’m saying. Assume for your self. Draw your personal conclusions.  

/1 “Clean says Affiliate Advertising and marketing is doing properly!”

Does this individual revenue from you being an affiliate marketer?

Don’t ask an actual property agent if it’s a very good time to purchase a home. 

For those who’re speaking to your affiliate supervisor, then after all they’re going to say internet online affiliate marketing is killing it. What’s in it for them? 

/2 “However I heard that there are nonetheless associates getting cash”

After all there are – I’m not saying that the business’s 100% useless. 

Nevertheless, nearly all of them constructed their expertise from a unique period. Utilizing them as examples is  survivorship bias.

(From Wiki: Survivorship bias is the logical error of concentrating on the folks or issues that made it previous some choice course of and overlooking people who didn’t, sometimes due to their lack of visibility.)

Take into consideration beginning a YouTube channel in 2021. I don’t know if it’s nonetheless a good suggestion or not. However you possibly can’t say it’s a fantastic concept as a result of Mr. Beast and PewDiePie are making a ton of cash. 

  1. They’re outliers.
  2. They began in a unique time interval.

It’s important to ask, “Who has began YouTube channels prior to now two years. How are they doing? What’s the common charge of success. Is YouTube the most effective platform for me to begin with?

You would possibly conclude that almost all new YouTubers are struggling. However you discover that there have been so many in a single day successes who began on TikTok as a substitute. 

Let’s convey this again to internet online affiliate marketing. I can’t say I’ve seen too many new internet online affiliate marketing success tales prior to now few years.

/three “However the Information reveals that Affiliate Advertising and marketing is Rising”

Google developments knowledge reveals that curiosity in internet online affiliate marketing hasn’t lowered in any respect. The truth is, it has elevated since 2016.

It is a false optimistic as a result of internet online affiliate marketing is a broad time period.

  • Curiosity in affiliate coupon websites is rising.
  • Curiosity in becoming a member of affiliate applications similar to Amazon’s is rising. 
  • Curiosity in influencer advertising is rising (a few of which use affiliate codes)

However none of those are the kind of internet online affiliate marketing that I’m describing.

What Ought to I Do to Make Cash On-line As an alternative of Affiliate Advertising and marketing?

I’m glad you requested!

Internet online affiliate marketing is declining. However there’s one business that’s BOOMING! I’ll let you know for one low cost of $1,497!

(That was sarcasm in case it doesn’t translate properly)

Right here’s the factor: I don’t know what leverage you’ve got.

Alternatives needs to be pursued based mostly in your sources, expertise, and passions. So it’s laborious for me to say what you need to be doing. 

However I’ll attempt to reply it in any case since folks hate “principle” solutions. Listed below are some alternatives I see when you’re new and on a funds:

  • eCommerce – it’s the place most affiliate entrepreneurs ended up transitioning to. 
  • Crypto / NFT – schooling and marketplaces. 
  • Paid communities – it blows my thoughts how engaged some Fb teams are. However FB teams themselves are fairly shit. I’d attempt to BUY a Fb group and supply a paid group improve to a platform like Circle.  
  • Boutique companies –  Go area of interest. Concentrate on advertising for Crypto. Concentrate on Snapchat / TikTok advertising. Don’t simply be one other Fb or Funnel specialist. There’s an excessive amount of competitors. 

There’s a lot alternative on the market. 

What IS Affiliate Advertising and marketing?

I view internet online affiliate marketing as a mindset.

It’s a relentless deal with testing.
It’s getting outcomes by means of creativity fairly than brute pressure spending.
It’s a willingness to push the boundaries to get that conversion (hopefully ethically).
It’s being on the chopping fringe of media shopping for.

The strategies have modified. However many associates have moved on to construct larger corporations. I can see so many internet online affiliate marketing strategies and influences in the whole lot they contact.

Internet online affiliate marketing will nonetheless dwell on in that sense.

However the internet online affiliate marketing that I knew and beloved is gone.

Photograph by Ahmed Adly from Pexels


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