It seems so easy, but affiliate marketing has many downsides and disadvantages you should be aware of before you jump in.
If you are thinking about monetizing your site or blog, joining a few affiliate programs looks like a quick and easy option.
All you need to do is add a few links or banner ads to your site and wait for the money to roll in.
However, while you have probably read lots of articles about how simple it is to start affiliate marketing and how profitable it can be, the results are not always so promising.
The simplicity of affiliate marketing
Adding pay-per-click advertising on your site using services like Adsense, Ezoic, or Mediavine is not quick or easy.
You need technical skills, and each service requires some or many modifications to your site.
That’s why affiliate marketing is so attractive to new publishers and bloggers who want to earn income from their sites.
To get started, all you need to do is join one of the many third-party affiliate programs such as Share-a-Sale, Impact, Rakuten Advertising, or CJ Affiliate. Amazon Associates is another popular program.
After you choose and register with one or two, you can select products to promote and start adding text links and ad graphics to your site.
To earn a commission from your links, you need people to visit your pages with the links and then hope that they click on them.
But you will only earn a commission if a visitor buys the product. And that’s the catch because only a tiny percentage will do so.
That’s why pay-per-click advertising is often a more attractive deal because you get paid per click on an ad and not when someone makes a purchase.
I’ve had some reasonable outcomes with a handful of affiliates. But in general, most have failed to deliver even a modest income, and some have wasted a lot of my time and energy for no return.
So, before you decide to start, here are some of the major affiliate marketing disadvantages and downsides.
1. Intense competition and over-saturation
Sure, it’s easy to join a new program. But because it is, hundreds or perhaps thousands of others have signed up as well.
It means you have a lot of competition, all trying to gain buyers.
The only way you can rise above the completion is for your page or pages to rank very high on Google and get bucketloads of traffic.
That’s not an easy thing to do, especially for a new site or blog.
You might think that promoting a popular brand of “XYZ running shoes” is an ideal fit for you, so you spend hours or even days writing new copy for your site.
But 1,000s of other bloggers are probably doing exactly the same. Without a lot of traffic, you don’t stand much chance.
In many cases, long-established affiliate sites with large followings and resources dominate the market, making it extremely difficult for newcomers to compete.
Yes, affiliate marketing is easy. But that’s why it is so saturated and intensely competitive.
2. The benefit of an affiliate program is exposure for the seller
Whether you make money or not, you’ll be a useful cog in the wheel.
Companies start affiliate programs to increase exposure to their products or services. It’s especially true for new products, apps, and tools.
The more exposure they can get, the better. But that doesn’t mean that they have to pay much for it.
All your content, links, and ads help promote their offerings, even if you don’t earn any clicks or commissions.
In other words, you become a small but helpful part of a marketing plan. Because a seller only pays a small commission when a sale occurs, it’s very cheap marketing.
3. Reputation and trust concerns
Not all products and services are perfect; some attract poor reviews and customer complaints.
If you promote a product like this, you could suffer adverse reactions from your readers.
The seller usually handles customer complaints. But if an unhappy customer made a purchase from your recommendation, it can have a detrimental effect on your reputation.
Selecting products to promote takes a lot of research and time to avoid the possibility of tarnishing your image.
4. Changes to third-party platforms and policies
Nothing stays the same for very long on the Internet.
How often do you receive emails telling you a site’s policies have been changed or updated?
Probably so many that you tend to ignore them.
However, changes to the terms and conditions of third-party affiliate programs can sometimes have a detrimental effect on your income.
I’m as guilty as anyone for ignoring these messages and being surprised when I discover significant changes to an affiliate program.
If you promote a lot of programs on your site, you can be forever chasing your tail, making substantial modifications and edits to your site to accommodate changes by program platforms.
5. Affiliate program shutdowns and account closures
Businesses go broke all the time. For the ones that survive, they are often changing their marketing plans.
Because it’s so fluid, I stopped using third-party affiliate programs years ago.
Since then, I have been more careful and only joined affiliate programs after an invitation from a reputable company.
The benefit is that I can communicate directly with a company and check a product or service thoroughly before I commit to promoting it on my site.
But it is not a guarantee that things won’t change or go wrong.
Recently, I have had some long-standing programs either go out of business or change their marketing focus.
Two decided to close affiliate accounts for website owners because they had a policy change and only wanted promotion via high-profile social media influencers on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram.
Two others went out of business, but as I didn’t receive any notification, it took me some time to realize.
Another broke its affiliate platform after a software upgrade, and after more than three months, I’m still waiting for a resolution and for my overdue payments.
I can see from other tools that my site is still generating clicks, but my affiliate dashboard still doesn’t work. It looks like a new candidate to be removed from my site, and hours of work to replace it.
Changes like these create a lot of headaches and are time-consuming to fix. In my case, the changes I mentioned took weeks to remedy.
I had to edit or replace many links, delete pages, change internal links, write new or heavily edit existing content, and check for dead links.
For me, this is one of the major downsides and disadvantages of affiliate marketing. Constant changes mean you can waste so much time.
6. Time and effort for low returns
If you have a site that gets traffic of 100,000 or more unique visitors per month, yes, you can make money with affiliate marketing.
Below that level, it’s a struggle.
But in either case, you have to invest so much time and the returns are often disappointing.
Another factor to consider is that even when you make a sale, you only get paid once.
This is relevant because so many services and apps are selling yearly subscriptions. Very few, if any, will pay you for the renewals.
It’s also the case for returning customers. You might earn a commission on their first purchase, but you won’t for any further purchases the buyer makes.
Lastly, even if you earn a commission, you can lose it if a buyer asks for a refund, which happens regularly.
Affiliate marketing is heavily stacked in the seller’s favor, and that’s why it’s so popular with companies today.
7. Your earnings will fluctuate
With pay-per-click programs like Adsense, your earnings are quite predictable. As long as your traffic remains pretty much the same, so will your income.
But with affiliate marketing, one of the big downsides is that your income is never guaranteed month-to-month.
Depending on people to both click and buy products is not always going to happen.
On top of that, interest in certain products can wane over time, so you could see some of your good income earners fade away.
For me, this was especially true for grammar and writing checkers. A few years ago, they were terrific money earners.
But now, everyone has one, either free or paid, so there are far fewer people interested in buying these tools.
Another element is the rise in affiliate marketing on social media, which is very reactive, unlike a blog or website that is evergreen and rarely changing.
I suppose the answer is to have a foot in both camps. But that involves a lot of time, work, and energy maintaining a website as well as social media accounts.
The upsides of affiliate marketing
The biggest advantage is that there are no upfront costs, and it’s easy to start.
You don’t need any technical ability or experience in selling or marketing.
Compared to other revenue streams, it’s one of the easiest to implement if you are happy with modest returns.
You also get access to data via affiliate marketing dashboards regarding your traffic, click rates, and conversions, which is not available with Google Analytics.
It’s passive income, so once you add your copy and links, you don’t need to do much except wait for clicks and purchases.
If your traffic increases, adding and promoting more products and services is relatively easy.
You are not tied into any restrictive contacts, so you can choose to stop any of your affiliate programs at any time.
I don’t want to be a bad news bear, and I have to say that it’s not all gloom and doom.
Many site owners make good income from affiliate programs.
But it’s better to be aware of the potential downsides to affiliate marketing before you decide to start.
Sellers want to make it an attractive proposition for you to promote their products and reward you with commissions.
It can be a win-win deal.
But it’s always worth keeping in mind that nothing is forever.
Changes will happen.
You have to spend your time not only writing promotional articles or posts but also reacting to policy changes, program closures, and business shutdowns.
If you are happy with that and you have the time to invest, then affiliate marketing might be for you.
But it’s not a bed of roses and certainly not a path to make an instant and easy income.
Like all ways of earning money, you need to work at it.
Related Reading: 7 Ways Writers Can Make Money With Online Publishing