SES London – Affiliate Marketing Doesn’t Equal Search

February 17, 2010

At the second day of the Search Engine Strategies London conference, I attended the session named “New Affiliate Opportunities and Strategies”. While I have the out most respect for the people speaking and their experience and skill set, I feel that the session failed to deliver anything relevant to more than a handful of affiliate rookies and possibly even making them a massive disservice by equating affiliate to search.

Here’s the rant. To start things off, the first session covered basic SEO 101. I surely wouldn’t put this in the section of “new opportunities and strategies”. During the second session there was a recommendation for budding affiliates to look into gambling and forex trading sector. Aren’t these incredibly competitive? IMHO – if you’re not already in this niche, odds are that you’re not very competitive and likely will never make any considerable money out of this via search engine traffic (regardless of if it’s organic or pay per click).

Another suggestion for when researching a niche to select as an affiliate, was to analyse the keyword competition and consequently opportunity. I think this hit the core of the problem with the whole session – whether or not it was at SES the fact remain the same - affiliate doesn’t equal search engine marketing. Having experience as a former affiliate and having many conversations with networks and merchants, it’s quite clear that they are looking to move their current over-reliance on search affiliates in favor of new innovative channels to both spread the risk and increase the size of the pond they fish from.

A more reflective presentation was delivered by Matthew Wood of Affliates4U fame. My key takeaway was his approximation that in the UK there’s only about 500 affiliates that are actually making any decent money. And if my notes (or ears) don’t fail me, this “decent” amount was from £500 monthly (to the infinity, almost…). So in summary – IMHO – from a merchants point of view and the industry as a whole, affiliate marketing is a brilliant and growing business that is really working the long-tail (and I’m a big fan of affiliate marketing). But if you’re looking to quit your day job, odds are that you won’t.

Update from Matthew Wood (18 feb 2009, and 22 feb for typos):

“I probably was a bit unclear.. I was saying at each affiliate network… With say 10 networks around that would be about £5,000. Naturally many are earning significantly more. Of course, I dont send the payments, so its just a prediction.”

Even if the SES conference is all about search engines, which probably biased the presentations in both content and suggested tactics, I wouldn’t recommend any new affiliate to focus so much on search engines as a traffic source. I raised the question at the end of the session:

“Is there still room for fresh-faced affiliates to make a mark through search, or should they look at other opportunities, such as social, etc…”.

The response was simply that – yes – there are still niches out there and you don’t have to be an SEO guru to make it happen. I’m not sure I agree. If you’re aiming for nothing more than just a hobby site to possibly pay for a couple of pints at the pub, then go ahead and put in nights and days of hard work to earn that round of drinks. But if you’re looking to create a long-term full-time business, sorry, you’ve missed the gold rush of search engine optimisation and ppc arbitrage, and need to look at creating your own brand with a broader stream of quality traffic.

Did you attend the session? Please share your views in the comments.

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SES London: the ultimate list of blogs about it » malcolm coles
February 17, 2010 at 10:19 pm
February 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm


Rob Barham (An Affiliate) February 18, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Well my golden rule of SEO is forget SEO and concentrate on traffic… Funnily enough once you get traffic the rankings look after themselves. As for gambling / forex sectors, I tend to agree. The key thing is to pick a niche in which you have knowledge / passion / contacts… That way you’ll still be plugging away when the others have gone down the pub to whinge about the hours they put in with small returns.

Magnus Nilsson February 18, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Like your approach to affiliate marketing, think its exactly what it’s all about.

Matt Bailey February 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Good article Magnus, and have to say I was a bit puzzled when I saw the line up for the session. I suppose the fact that the session was at a search conference should mean that it will be about search strategies for affiliates but I get the impression that the session wasn’t properly thought out.

If it was a session about utilising SEO within affiliate marketing then it should have been billed as such and I think the panel on hand were more than qualified to do this. However it was billed, as you say, as a glimpse into the future of affiliate marketing which it failed to deliver.

Clearly SEO and PPC will continue to be vital within affiliate marketing, especially as consumer behaviour in search engines continues to evolve. However I see the role that affiliates play changing from being people who redirect traffic to people who add something that a merchant themselves can’t/won’t to the consumer journey. I think this was a point that could/should have been stressed more.

Magnus Nilsson February 22, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Thanks for the comment. Agree with the lot, especially the role of the value add. Re the presentation, I actually touch on the subject of expectations in an article over at

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