At one of our Distributed Content Publisher Breakfast, we had a great time hosting publishers like PureWow, Fatherly, Forbes, Equinox, Keep, and USA Today. Among the topics we discussed were affiliate content and how publishers are growing this revenue stream. We had a good mix of publishers with a strong affiliate game and some who were just dipping their toes in the water – or planning on dipping them. Here are eight interesting observations from the discussions. 

1. For most affiliate publishers, Amazon rules.

All publishers at our event use Amazon’s affiliate network (aka Amazon Associates). Publishers like Amazon as an affiliate partner for all the obvious reasons, and also for Amazon’s affiliate “halo effect:” Publishers get an affiliate commission for all products purchased through the user’s affiliate session – not just the product the user clicked. Even products that were already in the user’s shopping cart before clicking from the publisher’s site have been credited to the publisher, which can sometimes substantially boost commission. Shared one publisher: “We wrote an article about vintage tumblers and linked to Amazon. We made $20K in affiliate revenue off of that article alone – many people bought the tumblers. Yet, most of our revenue was a commission from a reader who also bought seven generators!”

Among other affiliate options, publishers gravitate towards affiliate networks, with the most commonly used – and recommended – one being SkimLinks. Publishers like the ease of use and the terms it offers. Some affiliate publishers, who are all-in in the affiliate game, use additional networks – with one publisher using as many as six different networks, including Commission Junction and Rakuten. Publishers also work directly with some advertisers/retailers, bypassing the networks altogether, though this isn’t a popular choice. “Sometimes, the boost in commissions isn’t worth the extra work that goes into managing the relationship and creating custom links.”

Much like other aspects, such as revenue streams and distribution platforms or ad placements, we recommend diversifying. As Amazon proved in April 2020, what it giveth, it may also take away. Publishers would be best to avoid complete reliance on Amazon or a specific affiliate network. 


2. Retailer “holidays” work well.

Publishers who created content around Amazon Prime Day and Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale saw significant revenue increases around these days. A simple article like “Six things you have to buy on Amazon Prime Day” did well for one publisher, who tailored it to their audience interested in fashion and beauty product recommendations. It seems like publishers who take affiliate marketing seriously, like Wirecutter, are getting more creative around retail “holidays.” Back in 2018, the site announced the creation of its own “Wirecutter Deals Day” on August 21.


3. Add a disclaimer to your affiliate content.

All publishers add a disclaimer to their affiliate articles marking them as such. When the affiliate content is minimal, though – for example, when it’s just one affiliated link in an otherwise entirely editorial article – they might skip the disclaimer. There is no regulation in place that forces publishers to mark affiliate content, but they all feel it’s part of upholding their editorial integrity.


4. Readers are okay with affiliate publisher’s disclaimers.

The overall sentiment was that readers are fine with affiliate content, “they even expect it,” said one publisher. They trust the publication and its product recommendations and don’t mind the publisher making a profit off of affiliate links.


5. Facebook, Instagram, and email newsletters are all good channels for distributing affiliate content.

There’s no one channel that always does better than the others. Shared one publisher, “newsletters can do really well for some articles, for example, ’31 outfits to buy in August,’ but not for others, like ‘3 nail polishes to buy today.'” Instagram works well for some publishers, as it’s easy to swipe into Amazon and buy. Just as we mentioned, keep diversifying your content delivery methods. A/B test how your ad copy and landing pages affect the conversion rates from different channels.


6. Product categories that do well as affiliate content can be surprising – use data to guide you.

One publisher that creates content for moms found out that its best-performing affiliate product categories were… lingerie and sex toys. Once they did, they worked with their editorial team to create more content around these categories.

If you’re incorporating paid distribution efforts in your strategy, you can gain other data points that will help you scale and optimize your affiliate marketing. One of the affiliate publishers we work with found that social media campaigns drive younger audiences to their site. This new audience demographic was unaware of their brand and had a high engagement rate with their DIY section. As a result, they started producing more content for DIY activities that suit younger audiences and added new products and partners to their network. 

7. Revenue from affiliate marketing is a small but fast-growing piece of the overall revenue pie.

For some publishers, it is already substantial enough to justify hiring a full-time person dedicated to creating affiliate content. The rest – which was most publishers at our event – have the editorial team write affiliate content.


8. Affiliate content can lead to direct selling.

Some of the publishers at our event are considering manufacturing their own products and selling them directly, and using affiliate data to inform decisions around which products to develop first.