Back in the “Wild West” days of the internet (circa 2008) ad networks were filled with affiliate advertisers sending massive amounts of display traffic to shady landing pages or directly to the affiliate link itself.
For the most part, those days are over.
Networks with high-quality traffic (like the Google Display Network) have become very volatile for affiliates. Not only have they banned things like direct linking, but they’ve made it more difficult for even legitimate affiliates to run traffic.
However, there’s still one affiliate model that’s allowed and that works very well on high-quality display networks.
The model is these “Top 10” sites that review products like for software, skin creams, dating sites, etc. Most marketers know that these top 10 sites are just lists of affiliate offers structured in a “Top 10” format. However, what they might not know is that a few of these sites are doing very well, specifically by driving traffic with display advertising.
Some are buying over $1M/year just on display. Anyone buying that much traffic on Google is likely doing very well.
This post will show you how these sites work, which niches work best and and two different case studies of two affiliate review sites that do very well with display.
Why Affiliate Review Sites?
According to a 2013 study done by Dimensional Research…
“…an overwhelming 90 percent of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said buying decisions were influenced by negative online reviews.”
What this means is that people are going to be very receptive to review sites. Think about the last time you made a purchase. You probably looked at the Amazon reviews or Googled around to see what other people were saying.
One of the reasons why this business model works is that there is a demand for it. There is a demand for more information that compares similar products.
Plus, the average consumer isn’t interested in knowing the nitty gritty details behind what makes Norton better or worse than AVG. They just want the best piece of software for the best price. These sites provide that information.
Why Do Affiliate Review Sites Work on Display?
The information these sites provide is pure content.
There’s no blatant sales pitch. You’re not linking them to a sales page, a VSL or even asking them for money on your site. You’re just offering reviews of products someone is interested in.
People will be more receptive and trusting when all you appear to offer is content. Plus, when you get your targeting honed in, it becomes very easy to show your ads alongside content that is related to your product.
For example, someone browsing the “Business and Accounting” section of Answers.com is going to be pretty on target if my website reviews the top 10 pieces of accounting software.
Which Niches Work Well?
Pretty much any market where there are a few different products but very hard to differentiate between them could work well as a affiliate review site.
One of the case studies outlines a few tips to keep in mind when you pick a niche for your own site, but here are a few examples of various niches that do well on display.
Web Hosting/Cloud Storage
Online Dating/Pick Up/Attract Women
Review Conglomerate Sites
These sites contain a whole bunch of different categories of products. Credit cards, online dating, computers, eCommerce products, etc. They are the hardest to get started with because you need a lot of content.
However, these advertisers buy a lot of traffic on display and are worth mentioning.
Case Study: Anti-Virus Software
Most everyone could benefit by having some sort of anti-virus software on their computer.
However, how do you know which one is right for you ?
Unless you’re seriously into debating the details of different software, you’re not going to really care what the differences are. You just want the best one for the best price.
Like we said earlier, any market where there are a bunch of different products but where it’s very hard to tell the differences between them is a good fit for one of these review sites.
Let’s take a look at “PC Antivirus Reviews” one of the biggest spenders on the PC anti-virus affiliate review niche.
Heavy, heavy reliance on Google. They offer non-spammy content that people find valuable, so Google allows them to advertise even if they have affiliate links.
The main publishers are software and tech related sites. No surprise here. The mindset of someone browsing these sites is going to be in line with any tech/software/computer advertising.
PC Anti Virus Reviews relies almost exclusively on text ads. They’re A/B testing a few different ads that are very similar but with a few key differences. Changing one line, one phrase or just one word can have an enormous impact on CTR and sales, so be sure to keep that in mind when A/B testing ad creative.
Most successful ad:
2nd most successful:
3rd most successful:
Within the past 6 months they’ve been A/B testing two different landing pages.
The differences are tiny, but it appears have made a difference.
Page A would be considered the winner as that is where they send the majority of their traffic
The one small difference between A and B is that instead of a badge (which we’ll talk more about below) they have a “survey”. The survey is meant to help the prospect choose the right anti-virus software based on what’s most important to them.
One of the reasons why this version might not have worked is because ALL of the options in the survey are what someone wants when in an anti-virus software software. It’s hard to choose which options is most important because they all are.
A few other things to take note of:
- Emphasis of one product — The “VIPRE” software is the first thing you see when you hit the landing page. It could be the best, but more likely they also get the most sales/highest commissions from this vendor.
- “Pros and Cons” — The pros and cons in the left hand side are quite vague. The pros say that this software is the best at everything. The cons are not really cons. A “basic user interface” is probably a pro for most people since it makes it sound like it’s easy to use. The only other con is that this version doesn’t come with a firewall. You need to upgrade to a more expensive version if you want the firewall, but don’t worry — they’ll upsell that to you later.
- The Badge — Badges are super powerful for building authority. “Editor’s choice”, “Recommended By”, “used by the best”, etc. However, this badge isn’t from any specific organization that approves anti-virus software. It’s from the website itself. Anything can be the “Editor’s Choice” when you yourself are the editor of a tiny website. Yet, there’s no doubt this badge has a big effect on conversion rate.
Once you click through to buy the software you’re taken to another comparison page where they upsell you the more advanced version of VIPRE for another $10.
The comparison chart combined with the emphasized call-to-action for the more expensive version is pretty compelling. It becomes a “Why not? It’s only $10 bucks more” type of decision.
Once you choose the version of the software you want, you’re taken to actual VIPRE affiliate link where they automatically tack on some more features: a 3 year subscription and a $10 “backup” CD. All of a sudden this $39.99 software is now worth $79.99. Sneaky, sneaky.
Case Study #2: Skin Care Search
SkinCareSearch.com reviews anti-aging and wrinkle creams for womne.
This is one of the higher spendingaffiliate review sites we’ve seen. They appear to be spending close to $1M/year just on Google Display. Anyone who spends that much on display traffic is likely seeing success and doing something that we can learn from.
Picking the Right Niche
This site demonstrates is the importance of picking the right niche.
There is a very large market for anti-aging products. But more importantly, this is a very emotionally painful issue. Beauty and youth is extremely important in our culture and people will pay a premium to put off the inevitable as long as possible.
And according to a study from Transparency Market Research…
“[The] Anti-Aging Market is projected to grow at 7.8% between 2013 and 2019.The anti-aging market is poised for a healthy compounded annual growth rate of 7.8% between 2013 and 2019 and is projected to be worth USD 191.7 billion by 2019.”
More serious people opt for more drastic solutions, like plastic surgery. However, these treatments are expensive and risky. This drives most people to rely on more inexpensive, safer solutions like creams and lotions.
Another advantage of selling creams & lotions is that they’re consumables, similar to nutraceuticals
The customer will eventually run out and need to buy more. If they’re seeing results then they’ll keep buying it month after month. Plus these creams are very expensive. The “LifeCell” cream that you’ll soon learn about costs $189 for a 2.49oz tube. If you can get a monthly commission off rebills or repeat sales from your affiliate partner, the lifetime value of one customer will be very high.
SkinCareSearch uses a few different traffic sources, but they still rely heavily on Google. Again, when you remain compliant within Google’s terms, provide transparency and a great user experience, you’re going to be allowed to send traffic to your affiliate offer.
Another advertiser that sees success with The Huffington Post.
Beauty products are mass market products, meaning mass market news sites are going to work really well.
However, let’s take a closer look at two of the other publishers where they’re been spending a lot of money with:
Today.com and People.com
The Today show starts early in the morning when most professionals are commuting to work, so the demographic is likely females over the age of 35.
Here are the demographics from Alexa.com:
This makes Today.com a great publisher for anyone advertising female beauty products.
Another very interesting publisher they’re using is People.com, specifically on the pages that are celebrity photo galleries.
Here are the placements where their ads receive the most clicks:
Our instinct is that these pages work very well because people tend to compare themselves against celebrities.
Comparing yourself to celebrity is a hard path to take. These are the beautiful people in the world, which is why they are famous. Nevertheless, many people still strive to achieve this level of beauty.
When you look at pictures of people that are more beautiful than you, look younger than you (even if they’re the same age) it’s easy to want to look like that. An anti-aging cream is going to seem very attractive when someone is in this “beauty comparison” mindset.
The main landing page is very well done and includes many of the same features as you saw for the anti-virus software.
The one key difference is that the beginning of it is formatted as an article, which is actually an advertorial, or a sales page meant disguised as an informative article.
Then, you’ll find the comparison chart of various skin creams (with Lifecell as #1) and many user reviews at the bottom. This is a very convincing page that is probably doing very well for them.
You’re hit with another advertorial when you click through to the “Lifecell” page. The copy is very convincing and very well written. It’s a mixture of an unique selling proposition (“The 17 Second Miracle”) + the science behind why it works + tapping into the emotions of women struggling to deal with the fact that they are losing their beauty. The copy on these pages is very well written.
Pros & Cons
- Easy to set-up — A simple WordPress template + a domain is all you really need to get a very basic site up.
- Google compliant — For the moment, most of the larger, more successful advertisers are using the Google Display Network. This is a huge advantage due to Google having higher quality traffic being higher quality.
- Easy to get working on display when you pick the right niche — When you get the targeting right in the right niche it’s going to be easy to get your ads in front of the right audience. Display is going to generally be a cheaper source of traffic since the cost of some of these keywords on search can be $10+ per click.
- Lots of content needed — You’re going to need someone to write a lot of content/reviews. It’s not that difficult, but it can be time consuming. It would also be wise to higher a decent copywriter to write advertorial style reviews (like on SkinCareSearch). Good copywriters can be quite expensive.
- Your traffic sources can go bad — Ad network can change their policies all the time. Just because these sites are allowed today doesn’t mean they will be allowed tomorrow. Getting banned from your main traffic source can kill your business.
- You might have to do something that’s not in your customer’s best interest — The way that a lot of these affiliate review sites survive is by having someone sponsor content on their site (giving them the #1 spot) or by emphasizing the product that gives them the highest commission. You’re not always going to be incetivized to do what’s right by your customers, but rather to do what’s necessary to make money and keep your business profitable.
When you pick the right niche and make the right affiliate deals, you can do really well with one of these sites. The main downside is that it’s unclear whether or not the higher quality networks are going to allow these sites in the future. Only time will tell. However, this is a great affiliate business model for the time being and people seem to be having success with it.