5 Real Life Examples Of Successful Affiliate Website: In Depth Analysis

After our last post on writing better reviews, we got a lot of interest from readers asking us what it takes to create a great product review site.

Unfortunately for the internet, when people think of building affiliate sites, they usually think of doing something like this:

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Sites like these are all over the web. They have no ambition and are designed just to siphon off affiliate commissions by overselling without subtleties. Little wonder that they drop off the radar within months.

The truth is that there are tons of affiliate sites on the internet with a focus on product reviews that are awesome. In fact, they give away so much value that you don't even see their affiliate links.

At Authority Hacker, we've always been about building long-term businesses with a focus on delivering value in order to build a real audience and ensure the site doesn't get penalised down the line.

So for this post, we're going to look at 5 examples of affiliate sites that "get it" when it comes to marketing 3rd party products while delivering value and try to learn from them.

I hope that looking at this sites will give you some inspiration with your own sites and will show you that affiliate marketing doesn't have to be cheesy.

MoneySavingExpert.com helps ordinary people make better financial decisions. Think of it as financial education for the masses that helps people get more bank for their buck in life.

The site was started by Martin Lewis, a financial journalist, in 2003. Today, it ranks as one of the biggest consumer websites in the UK with 15M visits every month.

In a field filled with self-serving information and dubious knowledge, MoneySavingExpert (MSE) has managed to set itself apart thanks to its content quality and its devotion to helping consumers.

  • Niche: Personal finance
  • Founder: Martin Lewis (@​MartinSLewis)
  • Goal: To help ordinary people make better financial decisions
  • Key Challenge: To provide ethical, accurate and updated financial information in a sector marked by self-serving interests.

Key Stats

Facebook

62,643 Likes

Twitter

190k Followers

Google+

1,603 Followers

Domain Authority

82

Backlinks

918k

Alexa Rank

1,901

Top Content

Credit Scores: Bust myths and improve your score

A comprehensive guide to credit scores and how they impact your financial life.​

Length

6,983

Backlinks

2,091

Shares

1,520

15 cheapest ways to get travel money

A list of innovative ways to make extra cash for traveling​

Length

2,432 words

Backlinks

3,390

Shares

2,825

The budget planner

A thorough guide to making budgets and sticking to them​

Length

2,984 words

Backlinks

1,603

Shares

1,704

How they make money

As MSE explains on its "How this site is financed" page, the only monetization method is affiliate links. The site does not accept advertisements or sponsored posts, nor does it offer any paid products.

Some different tactics and tools it uses to monetize include:

  • Coupons: MSE maintains a list of coupons and deals for a number of retailers, taking a cut from each sale.
  • "Best of" guides: MSE has several pages listing "Best [X]" products and services, such as banks and credit cards. It takes a cut from anyone signing up with its affiliate link.
  • "Cheap X" guides: MSE helps users pick the cheapest consumer products in a category (such as phones) and takes a cut from each sale.
  • Calculators: The site offers its users a number of calculators, such as a loan calculator or a mortgage calculator. It takes a commission from any recommended financial products.

It uses a number of additional tactics to make extra affiliate cash. This includes an Amazon discount finder, an association with Resolver, and including Skimlinks in its forum threads.

Top Promotions

Some products MoneySavingExpert promotes are:

What we can learn from MoneySavingExpert

  • Invest in design: The MSE website is very well organized. All articles are also heavily formatted to be as easy to browse as possible. 
  • Invest in ethics: The consumer finance field is filled with misinformation. MSE stands out by clearly identifying all affiliate links and maintaining a strong editorial code of ethics.
  • Hero pages: MSE maintains "hero" pages for major search terms (example). These are highly visual and give readers a quick glance at the best options. Since the pages are very user-focused, they almost always rank well.
  • Be actionable: From blog posts to deal finders to calculators, all of MSE's content and products are ultra actionable. Users don't have to deal with fluff and can dive right into the info they want.

The Wire Cutter is one of the internet's favorite review sites for electronics, gadgets and consumer goods.

It was started by Brian Lam, the former editorial director of Gizmodo. Brian and team put all reviewed products through strenuous and innovative tests, so much so that the site is sometimes called "Mythbusters for gadgets". 

Since its birth in 2011, the Wire Cutter has grown into one of the top ​6,000 sites online by incessantly focusing on finding the best product in each category. Along the way, it has earned tons of praise, even getting a story in NYTimes.

  • Niche: Consumer product reviews
  • Founder: Brian Lam (@blam)
  • Goal: To help people find the best product in every consumer category
  • Key Challenge: To design innovative tests and select the best product possible, without being swayed by commercial interests.

Key Stats

Facebook

12,864Likes

Twitter

38.3k Followers

Google+

438 Followers

Domain Authority

76

Backlinks

153k

Alexa Rank

5,460

Top Content

The best deals we can find

A regularly updated list of the best deals on electronics from across the web

Length

4,941

Backlinks

1,200

Shares

6,526

The best Bluetooth speakers

A review of the best Bluetooth speakers for average consumers

Length

10,039 words

Backlinks

1,206

Shares

515

The best wi-fi router (for most people)

A review of wi-fi routers for home users

Length

8,606 words

Backlinks

564

Shares

900

How they make money

The Wire Cutter explains its monetization model on its "How to Support Us" page. It's a simple model: affiliate commissions, primarily through Amazon and BestBuy. The site does not accept any advertisements or sponsored posts, or does it sell any of its own products.

Some different tactics and tools it uses to monetize include:

  • Product recommendations: "Best of" product pages for each category are the Wire Cutter's bread and butter. Each recommendation comes with an associated Amazon link.
  • Answer Questions: The Wire Cutter answers reader questions such as "which headphones should I buy?" and takes a cut from any product sales. 
  • Others: Besides Amazon and a handful of other well known retailers, the site also uses Skimlinks to make money. There is an indication it sells some advertising as well (as shown by this link) though the details aren't made public.

Top Promotions

Some of The Wire Cutter's most heavily used affiliate promotions are:

What we can learn from The Wire Cutter

  • Focus: Instead of creating hundreds of gadget news posts every month, the Wire Cutter does just one thing: in-depth reviews. 
  • Use the right design: The Wire Cutter doesn't use the traditional blog structure. Instead, it uses a simple page with a list of best items in each category.
  • Quality > Quantity: The Wire Cutter's tests are so innovative and extensive that manufacturers sometimes ask it for advice on how to improve their products. As it promises on this page, every recommended product has been tested to be the best in its class. It also writes only 6-12 posts a month.

As far as internet marketing goes, the dating niche is wildly lucrative. Unfortunately, it is also filled with tons of scamsters and spammy sites designed just to send traffic to affiliate offers.

DatingAdvice.com is a breath of fresh air in this cluttered niche. It is clean, fun, and doesn't have the sleazy side that defines so many other dating websites. With its focus on 'expert advice' and emphasis on answering real questions, it essentially brings dating mainstream.

  • Niche: Dating advice and dating website reviews
  • Goal: To help people date better and find the best dating site for their needs
  • Key Challenge: To stand out in a niche overpopulated with spam and sleaze

Key Stats

Facebook

10,919 Likes

Twitter

6,512 Followers

Google+

2,703 Followers

Domain Authority

51

Backlinks

14k

Alexa Rank

160,818

Top Content

15 pros and cons of online dating

A list of pros and cons of online dating. Focus on expert advice.

Length

929

Backlinks

592

Shares

38

6 studies that prove online dating is way better than offline dating

A review of studies that show online dating works better than offline dating

Length

896 words

Backlinks

484

Shares

31

10 best dating sites for 2015

A review of the best dating sites in 2015

Length

524 words

Backlinks

406

Shares

154

How they make money

Dating Advice makes most of its money by referring people to dating websites such as Match, eHarmony, etc. You'll notice that all its recommended sites have a wholesome, mainstream image, which fits its target demographics.

Some different tactics and tools it uses to monetize include:

  • Best-of lists: DatingAdvice.com creates 'Best Of' lists for the best apps, websites and products for dating, taking a cut from any sign-ups or sales.
  • Dating site reviews: DatingAdvice.com reviews some of the popular dating sites around and makes money from affiliate commissions. This is the site's bread and butter as far as revenues go.
  • Sponsored posts: Though it doesn't explicitly state so, DatingAdvice.com makes some money through sponsored posts such as this one.

Top Promotions

Some of DatingAdvice.com's most heavily used affiliate promotions are:

What we can learn from DatingAdvice.com

  • Keep it clean: DatingAdvice.com has managed to stand out by maintaining a wholesome, healthy image in a spammy, scammy niche. The colors, the design and the prominent use of real faces in all posts goes a long way towards telling readers that this site is "safe".
  • No banner ads: similarly to all the sites quoted earlier, the site does not have a single banner ad. The truth is, banner ads cheapen your design and trust which can hurt if you are trying to monetise with affiliates (we are working on a version of Health Ambition with no ads ourselves)
  • Social proof: The site has a "as Featured in" section with logos of mainstream publications right at the very top of the page. This not only helps establish credibility, but also affirms the mainstream nature of the website. 
  • Focus on experts: Instead of showing advice from just about anyone, DatingAdvice.com focuses on experts and relationship counselors. This gives its content greater credibility and authority. On top of that they can use the expert's social reach to gain visibility.

Most of the sites listed above are well-established with large teams and even larger budgets. Some even have celebrity founders with existing audiences.

However, most IMers don't have such resources. This is why for our 4th example, we chose to focus on 50em.com - a site with just 7 pages.

50em helps readers choose between two of the most popular automation tools on the market - Ontraport and InfusionSoft. These tools run into hundreds of dollars each month and represent a big spend for any marketer. By creating ultra-focused, hyper-targeted content, 50em makes the selection process easier, and in the process, makes bank.

This is the kind of site any AH reader can make - with tons of effort and guidance, of course! The site is pretty much a master-class in creating high value, high impact product reviews. There's tons you can learn from it, so read on!

  • Niche: Automation software reviews
  • Goal: To help marketers choose between InfusionSoft and Ontraport
  • Key Challenge: To get traffic and establish credibility in a hyper-targeted niche with expensive products.

Key Stats

Facebook

NA

Twitter

NA

Google+

NA

Domain Authority

30

Backlinks

356

Alexa Rank

1,037,543

Top Content

"What Nobody on Payroll Will Tell You About Infusionsoft and Ontraport"

The homepage that serves as an introduction to the two tools and pitches the idea of automation

Length

1,136

Backlinks

356

Shares

NA

InfusionSoft vs Ontraport: the ultimate showdown

A head to head comparison review of the 2 main tools the site is about, note the content length, low backlinks yet they rank #1

Length

5,998 words

Backlinks

5

Shares

NA

What they won't tell you about Ontraport

A "honest" review of Ontraport from the owner who clearly used the tool and shares both the good and bad sides of the tool.

Length

524 words

Backlinks

1

Shares

NA

How they make money

The monetization method for 50em should be clear enough: it makes money through affiliate commissions. Both InfusionSoft and Ontraport are expensive tools - InfusionSoft starts at $199/month while Ontraport goes for $297/month. Even a single commission can be wildly lucrative.

50em uses four tactics to make these commissions:​

  • In-depth reviews: 50em has in-depth reviews for both InfusionSoft and Ontraport. There's thousands of words of text, as well as a video that explains each product. Tons of value for any reader.
  • Head to head comparisons: If you're still confused after reading the reviews, you can compare the two products against each other. On the InfusionSoft vs. Ontraport page, 50em gives an in-depth breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of each product.
  • Recommendations: Besides reviews and comparisons, 50em also has a separate "self-serve" page for recommendations. Check whether you fit the given criteria, then select the product that meets your needs.
  • "Ask me" tool: Finally, 50em gives readers an option to get direct answers to any of their automation queries. Since 50em is run by a marketing consultant, it's a great way to capture some leads.

Top Promotions

50em promotes just three core products - InfusionSoft, Ontraport and Salesforce. All these three products rely heavily on affiliates or 'partners' to promote themselves. You can learn more about it on the links below:

What we can learn from 50em.com

  • Select the right niche: 50em is just about two tools - InfusionSoft and Ontraport. There is no other content cluttering the site. Thanks to its hyper-focused approach, it is able to rank very well in a narrow niche.
  • Offer first hand experience: All of 50em's reviews and comparison pages run into thousands of words with almost zero fluff and tons of value from people who have really used the products.
  • Invest in copy: Enterprise product reviews don't have to be boring. 50em's copy is fun and easy to read. If a review begins with "dadgum it", there's a good chance you'll read through it :)
  • Make it easy to choose: Reviews, comparisons, recommendations...50em makes it easy for readers to choose the right product for their needs. It also helps that its design is simple enough to navigate for anyone.

All the sites we've listed above make their money through affiliate commissions. But that doesn't have to be the only way you make money from product review/comparison sites.

As CompareAccounting.com shows, you can make bank by generating leads for companies (this allows you to enter markets that don't have affiliate programs) - even with little traffic.

This is why we've chosen CompareAccounting.com as our final entry on this list. This site helps small businesses find the best accounting software for their needs. It is small and niche-focused, and is something any marketer can recreate without massive budgets.

CompareAccounting shows what's possible if you select the right niche and make a solid site. It doesn't have any social media presence, nor does it do heavy link building. It just provides simple, useful advice to SMBs then puts the most engaged ones in touch with the sales teams of accounting tools.

And while it doesn't quite have the numbers of MSE or The Wire Cutter, it has solid rankings and makes good coin from referring high priced business products.​

  • Niche: Accounting software reviews
  • Goal: To help small businesses find the best accounting software for their needs
  • Key Challenge: To attract traffic and build credibility in a competitive but narrow niche

Key Stats

Facebook

NA

Twitter

NA

Google+

NA

Domain Authority

17

Backlinks

33

Alexa Rank

802,669

Top Content

What are the best cloud accounting software programs for SMBs?

An overview of cloud-based accounting SaaS tools

Length

515

Backlinks

1

Shares

2

Compare accounting software vendors

A comparison tool for finding the best accounting software

Length

NA

Backlinks

NA

Shares

NA

Which QuickBooks competitors offer a better alternative?

Alternatives to Quickbooks, the most popular accounting software for SMB's

Length

505 words

Backlinks

3

Shares

3

How they make money

Accounting software is a big purchase and involves multiple stakeholders. The price for Epicor accounting software, for example, can be as high as $500,000 for some businesses.

Affiliate links aren't particularly useful when prices are so high. Few, if any, visitors will actually buy a tool as-is from a vendor's site. This is why CompareAccounting does not even use affiliate links on any of its review pages.

However, what vendors do need is a constant supply of qualified leads, and this is where CompareAccounting makes all its money.

Besides reviews, the site offers whitepapers to all its visitors. To download the whitepaper, you have to give up a lot of data - your name, email, role, business size and type, etc.

You can take a look at the lead gen form on CompareAccounting below:

This information is very valuable to software vendors since these leads are likely to be highly qualified.

Selling these leads to vendors is the main monetization model used by CompareAccounting.​

Top Promotions

Some of CompareAccounting.com's most heavily used affiliate promotions are:

What we can learn from CompareAccounting.com

  • Focus on benefits: The CompareAccounting homepage is simple, static and value-focused. When you land on the site you'll see long copy welcoming you to the site and telling you its purpose. You'll also see links to reviews of the top three products. Everything is designed to benefit users.
  • Offer free content, then capture leads: The site gives away a ton of content for free, including reviews, news stories, and blog posts. If you want to learn more, you can even download whitepapers by giving up some data. 
  • Create the right content for the market: CompareAccounting.com understands that buyers in the market for accounting software want a ton of information before making a purchase decision. This is why they offer in-depth whitepapers to make the decision easier. This also serves as a great lead-gen source.
  • Social is not everything: Do all sites need a big social media presence? Apparently not so. CompareAccounting knows that it isn't going to get much benefit from its target market by doing social. Instead of wasting time with Facebook or Twitter, it focuses on creating content and getting backlinks.

There you have it, 5 examples of affiliate sites that truly get it. Some are big and long shots for a lot of us, some are clearly achievable with one of them having as little as 7 pages.

But one thing is sure, all of them will do well with upcoming Google updates and will most likely make more and more money as time passes.

Here are a few things that we have been learning looking at these sites for a while:​

  • Long content wins: ALL these sites, create content that's WAY longer than average. The Wirecutter, 50em, Moneysavingexpert all rock 3000+ words pieces that rank extremely well in Google.
  • Balance monetised content and value content: Most of these sites don't just talk about products, they also provide plenty of non heavily monetised content.
  • Hunt for more affiliate programs or networks: Most of these sites promote a lot of products through a lot of networks and companies. Set some time aside and find more products to promote so you can give extensive comparisons to your readers.

Is there any other great site you follow that monetises primarily by recommending products? Share them with us in the comments!

Gael Breton
 

Hey I'm Gael, one of the guys behind Authority Hacker. I make a living working from my laptop in various places in the world and I will use this website to teach you how you could do the same.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 25 comments
Raza - September 1, 2015

Epic dude.

Looks like content creation is the bottle-neck. The more amazing content you can create, the more chances you have of building a successful blog.

Reply
Tanguy - September 1, 2015

What a wonderful post Gael, Merci :)

This will surely give me a lot of ideas !

Keep ’em coming,
Tanguy

Reply
Abdul - September 2, 2015

Hi Gael,i am really loving these posts you are putting together.
I really loved the 50em.com example.Its a great way to sell high ticket affiliate offers.

Reply
    Gael Breton - September 2, 2015

    Glad you liked it Abdul, and yup, these are great examples of how not to be a sleazy affiliate and build sites that can survive time and Google updates..

    Reply
Theodore Nwangene - September 2, 2015

Great post Gael,
All the sites you listed here are really authoritative and I’m sure they will be making so much banks.

The one thing i see that is very similar to all of them is that they’re all very focused on helping people which is the main reason why they had all the trust.

If we internet marketers can develop such an attitude then, it will really pay off ten folds. Just focus on helping people solve their problems first and then, the money will roll in.

Also, the idea of not having banner ads is also very cool. It shows that they’re not giving their readers too many options, they know exactly what they want their readers to always do and therefore, everything they’re doing on the site is specifically tailored towards there.

Good stuff Gael.

……Theodore

Reply
Stuart Walker - September 5, 2015

Epic post Gael, didn’t know about 3 of these sites, always good to learn about more profitable affiliate sites / models.

I had a huge list of cool affiliate sites at one point including some very niche ones but I lost it when my computer crashed I think.

Cheap Shark, ShoeSniper, TIWIB.com etc.

Really love the layout and the way you presented this content too. A lesson to be learned for EVERY blogger on how to design a post.

I can’t wait till I have more time and can get Thrive Themes up and running (been saying that for over 6 months now I think, lol) and doing cool posts like this.

I like posts like this. We did a few ourselves on NH…

http://nichehacks.com/profitable-affiliate-sites/

http://nichehacks.com/million-dollar-affiliate/

http://nichehacks.com/successful-affiliate-thisiswhyimbroke/

A lot of people found them really useful.

Few people said the 5 Ways To Create An Affiliate Site post helped them pick their business model and go on to profit which is nice.

Keep up the good work.

Reply
    Gael Breton - September 5, 2015

    Hey man,

    Thanks for dropping by, yep, love your analysis, I wanted to do an “authority sites” version of it and Yep, Thrive is the sh*t and there’s plenty more cool stuff coming.

    Reply
Asfand Yar - September 10, 2015

Good to see how all these sites are earning. TheWireCutter, in particular, belongs to my niche – Amazon Associates et al. In short, Keep it up, Gael.
Cheers,
Asfand

Reply
Robert Giacomelli - September 11, 2015

Hi Gael,

Great post i would like to mention. Am a newbie to your site but found it very helpful and the content you share is just awesome. The examples you have given on affiliate is very impressive and would surely follow the given steps and ideas.

Thanks for sharing this with us. Cheers!

Reply
Paulo Teixeira - September 12, 2015

great post, I will use your tips to improve my work with affiliates. ;-)

Reply
Arun - September 21, 2015

hi geal,

Can you tell the plugin using in widgets to display social icons( follow us)?

Reply
Kevin - October 2, 2015

The Wirecutter is the best example of an affiliate site that I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t even put it in the same category as what you’d think of as an affiliate site, aside from how they make their money. Brian Lam’s a great example of someone who sticks to a principle and then grinds it out to the nth degree. Can’t say how many times I’ve used that site (and TheSweethome) for product reviews.

Nice post Gael ;)

Reply
    Gael Breton - October 4, 2015

    Yup, great inspiration there, I think most IMers should look at these people rather than gurus as models :).

    Reply
Josh - November 4, 2015

Hi Gael,

Cheers for this, I’ve just found your website and its be incredibly useful so far.

I do have a question, though, you state that longer articles are better (which I understand). I’ve found a niche that has a few keywords with very high CPC (no real affiliation program can be used though), with a few thousand searches a month. For each keyword I could probably 500 words on each keyword. Should I do this, or should I compile them into one big article? They keywords can be linked to each other, for example, “how to start running”, “basics of running” etc. (Those obviously aren’t the keywords, and more can be written on those). What would you recommend?

Cheers,

Josh

Reply
    Gael Breton - November 5, 2015

    Hey Josh,

    Welcome to the family!

    There are different ways to skin that beast. I personally would make a page for each and go super deep into each and still make a long piece. It’s hard but it’s the best way to get the most traffic.

    Reply
Adam - August 3, 2016

Hey Gael,

I just came across this post while researching some information on building out a couple of sites. I really appreciate you taking the time to look at different ways to earn. It’s tough sometimes to stay focused on one thing at at time, when there are so many ways to go about making a living online. These 5 sites show that you can be diversified in how you earn, but you have to focus on your niche and it’t content first and foremost.

Thanks again!
Adam

Reply
Thomas - August 10, 2016

Hey Gael. I see that you have some great saved template which you put to good use there. Wow. At Alexa Rank 1901, MoneySavingExpert.com is an absolute authority among authority sites. Gotta love that line “invest in ethics”. Maybe you should put that as part of your brand somewhere in the homepage. :)

Among those sites, I still found 50em.com to be one of the most superficial ones. As some would say, working as an affiliate is similar to that of an employee, in that if the company discontinues the products, or stop the affiliate programs, the money would stop coming in as well. The hypertarget focus of 50em.com is well appreciated and a great lesson though.

I couldn’t agree more on the advice on providing long-form content. In fact, most of modules we created are probably still longer than the ones found on AuthorityHackers, and 8000-words is considered normal. With the difference being that since they are technical in nature, they probably take 1.5 more times to create than a regular post written in English. :)

Reply
Dweepayan - August 26, 2016

Greetings Gael, I’m truly cherishing these posts you are assembling. I truly cherished the 50em.com example.It’s an extraordinary approach to offer high ticket subsidiary offers.

Reply

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