Trash Can

The Great Affiliate Experiment

Okay, maybe the title of this post is a bit grandiose, but whatever. Here we are.

The Backstory

I participate in a number of affiliate programs and am quite opinionated about how affiliate links and banners are used.

Almost three months ago, I made a decision to remove affiliate banners from my site – not because they were bad, but because I wondered if they hurt my business credibility. For instance, would a potential lead come to my site and think about hiring me, but then see a bunch of affiliate banners and think “Wow, she’s clearly not making enough from client work if she needs to have advertisements all over the place. She must not be very good at what she does.”

I don’t know if that situation ever happened, but I thought it would be an interesting experiment to ditch the banners for a while and rely solely on affiliate links that I sprinkle into my content (when the link is relevant to the conversation at hand, of course).

The Hypothesis

I proposed that removing affiliate banners would not negatively impact income.

Read on, Jared, below are the results.

First, My Trends

Before I can make any meaningful interpretation of the last three months of data, I need to set it in the context of several things:

  • Comparison relative to site traffic same period last year and previous quarter (presumably the more traffic, the more clicks)
  • Comparison to income same period last year (January – March 2014)
  • Comparison relative to income previous quarter (October – December 2014)

Site Traffic

Get ready – I’m pulling back the curtain and showing you my traffic data. This is like letting you sit on my couch.

Same Period Last Year

Interestingly, my traffic this first quarter of the year isn’t much higher than my traffic for the same period last year – it’s roughly 9% higher. That’s a little depressing to note, but then, I’ve also published very little content so far this year (40% less than this period last year). Note to self: Write more.

Traffic for Same Period Last Year
Blue line represents current data. Orange is historic.

Previous Quarter

Comparing the last three months of traffic with the previous three months, there’s a decent bump (almost 14%). That would excite me, except that the previous quarter was an overall flat quarter traffic-wise; Again, probably due to a decrease in writing.

Previous Quarter Traffic
Blue line is present quarter, orange line is previous.


In case you haven’t caught it yet, there’s a direct correlation between the amount of content you produce and the amount of traffic coming in.

Want to get more people to your site? Write more. Share on X

Affiliate Income

If sharing some traffic stats was like letting you sit on my couch, then sharing financial data is like letting you peek in my underwear drawer.

But I’m doing it anyway. That’s right – you won’t find Big Girl Panties in my underwear drawer, because I’m presently wearing them while writing this post.

Same Period Last Year

Now this is a fun one. Despite a modest increase in site traffic over the same period last year, I saw a 30% increase in affiliate income – $6,507 in Q1 2015 vs  $4,814 in Q1 2014.

Income ChartOne contributing factor is that a couple of my affiliate partners increased their payouts, but that certainly doesn’t account for the full increase. Somehow I’ve converted extra clicks that weren’t necessarily due to traffic. I really don’t have a good explanation for that, though I’m sure a deeper dig into site analytics could reveal something.

Relative to Previous Quarter

Good grief. If last quarter’s traffic and affiliate income were lower than usual, the pendulum has swung in the other direction for this quarter – $6,507 in Q1 2015 vs $3,864 in Q4 2014.

Previous Quarter IncomeKeep in mind this huge increase is AFTER I dropped affiliate banners. Also, the traffic increase for this quarter seems incredibly disproportionate to the income spike. But I’m not complaining.

The Verdict

If you’ve read this far in the post, then you already suspect the verdict: Removing affiliate banners from my site has not decreased income.

Removing affiliate banners from my site did not decrease income. Share on X

Now, arguably I could have made more if I was using banners in addition to links. The world will never know.

What I do know is that my site feels cleaner and less cluttered without the banners. Since this experiment showed no decrease in income as a consequence of ditching the banners, I’m going to leave them off.

One Last Thing

Stepping outside of this experiment, I did want to pontificate just a moment longer on the topic of affiliate marketing.

People read posts like this or listen to Pat Flynn’s podcast and think that affiliate marketing is some magical income source, where a fairy leaves deposits under the pillow every night. Now, I’m not talking about you here, because I know that you know better, but there are people out there that think that.

[The proverbial] you cannot buy a domain, throw up a website, stick a bunch of banners on like bumper stickers and expect the masses to come (and click your affiliate links). It doesn’t work that way, at least not for the majority of people.

It’s work. Writing content, earning the trust of an audience, building relationships — these are things that take time and effort. And you know what? I don’t do any of those things specifically for affiliate income. I do those things for my brand. Any affiliate income that occurs as a result is just gravy.

15 thoughts on “The Great Affiliate Experiment”

  1. Thanks for the several tips, panty drawer aside. Now, my science training makes me think that the hypothesis that removing affiliate banners would not negatively impact income is not supported by your data. You say it well yourself when you argue that you could have made more if you were using banners in addition to links. One could go further and argue that even a decrease in income would not have been necessarily a consequence of ditching the banners because of all the other possible variables involved. I’m not a marketing expert but I suspect that only A/B testing could shed light on this. Keep up the good writing! Cheers.

  2. Thank you for pulling back the curtain on this. I have been considering affiliate marketing, especially for studiopress, but didn’t want that to take away from people coming to me for client work.

    Way to go on your success! And thank you for showing us that it can be done with class.

    1. Hey Sheryl,
      They have not! I’ve left off the sidebar ads since this article was written and it didn’t make a dent in my affiliate sales. I continue to find that people ignore banner ads and respond better to in-context links.

      Hope that helps!

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