The question of affiliate marketing vs AdSense is a common consideration for every online marketer or content creator looking to monetize their content. You make money with affiliate marketing by promoting products to lead your audience to make purchases from your brand partners, while with Google AdSense you lend space on your website to advertisers in exchange for part of the ad revenue from Google. Although affiliate marketing and Google AdSense are highly popular in the world of digital marketing, there are 5 shortcomings to these classic monetization strategies you should consider before monetizing with either or using another strategy like local lead generation. In the following article, we break down each of these monetization strategies, the pros and cons of each, and help you decide which is right for you.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a digital marketing strategy where brands outsource marketing efforts to third-party marketers, called affiliates. Affiliate marketers receive custom affiliate links from brands, which they place in their content to drive a specific result for a brand, usually sales. However, depending on the affiliate marketing program, affiliates can also get rewarded for getting free-trial user sign ups, generating leads, app downloads, or even website clicks.
Here is a good example of affiliate marketing in action. Let’s say you want to start a blog to get into affiliate marketing, so you type into Google “how to start a blog”. One of the first results you’ll come across on Google is the Blog Starter, a website built just for people who want to start a blog. Like many blog niche “How to” websites, they recommend BlueHost for website hosting and embed their affiliate link repeatedly to drive the reader to BlueHost's site. According to BlueHost’s affiliate program, the Blog Starter makes $65 each time someone signs up through their BlueHost affiliate link.
How do you get affiliate links?
In most cases, you'll get your affiliate links by joining an affiliate network like CJ Affiliate or Impact. Affiliate networks act as the middleman between brands with an affiliate program and affiliates who want to promote products. Sometimes, you can even visit a brand's website directly to access their affiliate program.
What is Google AdSense?
Google AdSense is an ad network run by Google that enables content publishers to monetize by allowing advertisers’ space alongside their content to run Google ads. Google bases your payment for allowing the ad space on either clicks on the ad or ad impressions, meaning it’s based on the number of people who see the ad when they visit your site and click on it. According to SEOChatter, you can expect to earn between $8 - $20 per 1000 page views on your blog. If you’re running AdSense on a YouTube channel, YouTubers make around $18 on average from 1000 video views.
Can you accurately estimate your AdSense earnings?
Google AdSense earnings are difficult to know ahead of time as they are dependent on a variety of factors, including:
- How much traffic your site gets
- Where your users live
- What type of content you publish
- Your content category
- How you set up ads to run on your site
Although actual results are impossible to predict without trying Google AdSense out yourself, you can use the AdSense revenue calculator to get some idea of the kind of money you can make.
AdSense ad placement and ad format
Not every AdSense ad is the same. There are different types that can show up in different places on your website. According to Google's Ad Formats FAQ, there are:
5 Shortcomings of these classic monetization strategies
1. Earning money is slow because building an audience takes time
Profit potential highly depends on the size of your audience. However, building an audience can take considerable time and effort. Building a successful blog with a large enough audience to generate sufficient income takes between 2 - 4 years. Additionally, data from HubSpot shows that it takes 22 months on average to get 1,000 subscribers on YouTube. 1,000 subscribers not only indicates your videos are attracting a decent size audience, it’s also one of the thresholds YouTube has in place to allow AdSense monetization on your content.
2. Many niches already extremely saturated
There are an enormous amount of creators nowadays creating and publishing ridiculous amounts of new content all the time, and many niches are already dominated by established players. According to EarthWeb, there are more than 600 million blogs worldwide publishing over 2.5 billion posts each year. On YouTube, over 500 hours of videos are uploaded every minute! The kind and size of the audience you can attract depends on your niche and which keywords you rank for, and the keywords with the highest volume are, therefore, naturally the ones that most people want and create their content to rank for.
3. Consistent content creation requires resources
Building and maintaining a large audience is no simple task and often requires extensive resources. Most creators enhance their opportunities with various digital tools like the $200/month standard ahrefs subscription to improve website ranking with advanced keyword research or 54.99/month for Adobe Creative Cloud in the case of designers and video creators. Aside from tools, the need for consistent and high-quality content forces many businesses to outsource or hire employees for at least some content development tasks. According to OkWrite, a good quality blog post that actually has a good chance of ranking with solid research to back it costs between $151 - $500 or more.
4. Revenue stream in the hands of a third-party
Leaving your revenue generating ability in the hands of a third-party puts your business at risk. For example, YouTube can demonetize your content and prevent you from earning AdSense revenue on your videos for many reasons, including if they deem you are publishing “low-quality content”. If you’re monetizing by using affiliate marketing, you can lose your revenue stream in any number of ways, such as:
5. Undermines the authenticity of your content
Whether you let brands paste their advertisements all over your website with AdSense or you slap an affiliate disclaimer right next to your affiliate links, both distract your audience and affect the integrity of your content. People naturally become skeptical of the quality of content that is motivated by profit and not the genuine purpose of providing accurate and helpful information.
Local lead generation
Another online business model that overcomes many of the shortcomings of making money with AdSense or affiliate marketing is local lead generation. A local lead generation business does not require you to build an audience in order to make money. Instead, you format your website and create content to rank on Google for a specific business niche in a specific location, which you can do in a matter of a few months. Your clients are small businesses in small and midsize cities, and there are over 31 million small businesses in the United States alone you could potentially serve. The best part is that all it takes is a handful of clients to have a 6-figure local lead gen business. Learn more about local lead gen here.
Pros of affiliate marketing
Higher profit potential
It’s widely agreed and documented by websites leveraging both that affiliate marketing is a more effective way to monetize content than allowing display ads to run on your website with Google AdSense. Of course, results depend on a variety of factors like how much traffic you generate, where the traffic comes from, and what type of affiliate products you’re selling. However, broadly speaking, affiliate marketing is a superior way to earn money than Google AdSense because you are higher up on the sales totem pole. With the Google AdSense program, you just provide the space for advertisers and receive a small percentage for contributing to the sale, while an affiliate marketer receives a much larger portion because they are the advertiser.
Promote products most relevant to your site
Whereas Google AdSense picks the ads that display for your target audience on your website, affiliate marketers get to choose which products to promote in their content and sell to customers. Not only does this enable you to advertise only the most relevant products to your audience, it also increases the rate people click on your ads. Therefore, you can drive affiliate sales even with limited traffic because you can better match the content with the offer.
Maintain a more professional website vibe
When doing affiliate marketing, you don’t have to sacrifice the quality of your website by showing in-your-face advertisements. Affiliate marketing is more subtle advertising as you embed your affiliate links with the relevant content on your page.
Cons of affiliate marketing
Lose access to affiliate program
You may build your business around a particular affiliate product or program, only to see your affiliate income disappear if the program ends or revokes your access.
Can slash commission without notice
Rule changes like cutting affiliate commission payouts is another risk of affiliate marketing. For example, the Amazon affiliate program slashed affiliate commissions substantially back in 2020. Many affiliates saw their commissions cut by over 50%! If you were an Amazon Associate generating an annual revenue of $50,000, those commission cuts would have brought your earnings to well below an acceptable income for full-time efforts.
Success depends on the products you choose
If you want to make good money online as an affiliate, you’ll need to discover and sell the right products. You don’t just make money for your traffic like you do with AdSense, you have to go a step further and spend time researching and experimenting with different affiliate offers to see what your audience will buy.
Pros of AdSense
Fast way to start earning money online
It can take months or even years before affiliate marketers see money from organic content creation efforts, but with AdSense, the money can start trickling in almost right away. Although it won’t be anything substantial, AdSense is usually the fastest way to monetize content.
Less technical knowledge required
A standard blogger with a WordPress website can earn money with AdSense with very little marketing knowledge or technical skills. The Site Kit by Google plugin for WordPress will setup AdSense on your WordPress blog for you, and setting up AdSense on a YouTube channel is as easy as turning it on once you have met the minimum account requirements.
Content creation is your priority, not products
When monetizing with AdSense, you can spend more time focusing on creating high-quality content because you don’t need to use time to research product offers and format your content around them.
Low entry barrier (blog only)
Getting approved for an AdSense account to start collecting those Google AdSense checks for your blog traffic is open to pretty much anyone. There are no specific pageview requirements to be eligible for the program and the only three things you need to ensure your AdSense approval are:
Be at least 18 years old
Content that complies with AdSense program policies
Original, high-quality content
Cons of AdSense
Need huge amount of traffic
If you want to make good enough money to live off of just from AdSense, you’ll need your content to rank high in the search engine for many high volume keywords so you can reach a massive audience. In the case of YouTube, creators with 100,000 views on a video can expect between $500 - $2,500 in ad revenue for their efforts, depending on their content and audience. For example, in an interview with Business Insider, one content creator with nearly 300,000 subscribers noted she earns between $200 to $500 on each video she puts out.
Draw attention away from content
With so much content on the internet and an average human attention span of less than 10 seconds, keeping readers focused on your content is hard enough. Adding additional distractions to your content only increases the likelihood your audience will leave the page without consuming your content in full.
Slow down your website
According to WebNots, AdSense participation is one of the top dragging factors of website page speed. Slow loading speed creates a very unpleasant experience for your audience and is likely to influence their decision to give up on your website before it even loads, as according to Google, 53% of website users abandon a webpage that doesn’t load in three seconds or fewer.
Affiliate marketing vs AdSense: Which is better for you?
Who is affiliate marketing better for?
If you’re a content publisher looking to create a viable long-term business, affiliate earning potential is much higher than AdSense, so it’s the superior monetization method for most people. However, success in affiliate marketing requires more than just the ability to publish good content. You need to have or be able to learn digital marketing skills if you want your affiliate marketing work to generate results.
Who is Google AdSense better for?
AdSense is better for those who just want to focus on high-quality content creation and leave monetization on auto pilot. For those with minimal technical ability or time, Google AdSense is a suitable option to generate smaller amounts of revenue regularly.
Whether you decide to monetize your digital property with affiliate marketing, AdSense, or another method like local lead generation, now is the best time to start your online business journey. There is so much information readily available to help you get started ASAP and the internet business landscape is only getting more competitive with time. Just pick an online business model and go for it!