I love looking at other successful affiliate sites.
Even if they’re not in my market I find there’s always something to learn. There could be something cool about how they layout their content; Or something interesting about where they place their monetization; Or about how they optimize their site structure.
I love looking at them, and the more obscure they are the more interesting I find it.
But there are thousands of great sites other than those that are growing quickly, doing innovative things, and profiting heavily that have lots to teach us about how to make more money on our own sites.
Below are 6 sites like that, along with short breakdowns of how well they’re doing, what’s working for them, and what they could improve on.
(NOTE: These sites aren’t our own, but if you want to see some results from our affiliate marketing, you can download free our 5 Steps Report showing how we built an affiliate site to earning $17,968 commissions in a month.)
This is a great example of a simple, plain-looking website totally crushing it with little more than a tonne of high quality, high-value content.
BoM reviews everything from saws, to snowblowers, and they do it well.
It’s primarily a review site, but it’s a Digital Asset by our guidelines in that, on top of straight product reviews and roundups it publishes a lot of informational content in the form of guides and how-tos.
They obviously started with a domain name and a theme that was broad enough to allow future development into many different product areas. With time, they’ve taken on one section of the market after another and built a high traffic – I would bet very high-profit – site web property by doing so.
What stood out to me here was the high amount of traffic relative to the Domain Rating.
These people haven’t built a huge number of links relative to their traffic. They have clearly invested more money and effort into content and it’s paying off.
How They Make Money
This is a straight-up Amazon affiliate site. They do “best of” lists, as the name implies, and individual reviews of the products on those lists.
As far as I could see they don’t run any ads and they don’t sell any products of their own. They are collecting email addresses so it’s possible they have another monetization channel there.
What We Can Learn From BestofMachinery
- A simple, clean layout is a big draw: While there’s nothing fancy – or even pretty – on this site, the content is well-spaced, logically laid out, and easy to read.
- Content depth helps: On their “best” articles they typically do 10 products. Their roundups are rarely less than 2000 words, and they usually add on to the end of these articles – because it’s valuable and Google likes it – some general question answering about the product. For example in their article on pressure washers for cars, they have sections at the end like “Soap vs Detergent for Cleaning Cars”.
- Content Volume: This site is less than 2 years old but they’ve published around 900 articles. My guess is these people had a nice budget to start with and invested heavily in writers. Even if that’s not your situation, it’s a reminder to – in the beginning – publish like your life depends on it.
- Pop in #1: On their best posts they have a cool pop in widget that tells readers before they’ve scrolled what the #1 choice is.
What They Could Improve
The primary thing this site is missing – and I dare say they will need to improve if they want continued success moving forward – is their on-page E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trust).
The authors on this site don’t have their own author pages. They don’t have pictures. They don’t have listed credentials, even if those credentials are just “I tried 5 different pressure washers in order to write this article”.
Of course, this isn’t a market you would expect to require a high level of E-A-T, and I think that’s why they’ve gotten this far without an issue.
But they have competitors that do this. And when it comes to a situation where Google is considering whether to rank them or a site with identical content quality but much higher Author E-A-T, they won’t be able to win.
If you’ve been deep in your little Amazon affiliate cave for too long, this site will provide a gentle shove outward.
CruiseHive is a site for people who take cruises. They offer tips, guides, videos and instructions on how to make the most of your cruise experience.
Of course, that has a lot to do with buying the right things, from the right parking (where you put your car while you’re away on a ship!) to the right luggage, to the right cruise itself. Those things give this site plenty of potential to monetize while providing very valuable assistance to people.
You’ll notice they’ve needed a lot more focus on link building and promotion than BestofMachinery, owing I would bet, to the higher competition in their market.
How They Make Money
This discussion is a lot more interesting. We’ll start with the obvious first:
- Amazon: They do drop Amazon affiliate links, like this one, in their Miami cruise parking article (note that this is an affiliate link for a product that the article isn’t explicitly about. Many affiliates forget those opportunities):
- They’re also experimenting with a little Amazon shop:
But I’m totally certain that this isn’t where this site is making most of its money.
- Promoting cruise related products & services: In their posts, they promote non-Amazon affiliate programs for products like cruise parking and hotels with shuttles near the cruise ship ports.I saw a post where they were using the partner program through Viator.com to promote a parking service and a link to a Hilton hotel booking page on TripAdvisor.com that they were promoting through Viglink.com.Affiliate programs like these can offer huge EPCs and commissions so they’re interesting to look out for in any market.
- Promoting Cruises: They’re also allowing booking of cruises through Cruiseline.com. Their relationship with Cruiseline isn’t exactly clear (it’s more than a standard affiliate link relationship by the look of things) but they’re certainly earning money when people book cruises through CL, having come through them.
- Advertising: They have an Advertising page, where they’re offering ads and partnerships that are undoubtedly paid. This could be text links, or sponsored content, or banners, but the specifics aren’t publicly clear.
What We Can Learn From CruiseHive
- There are plenty of ways to monetize: Even what they’ve done doesn’t scratch the surface of the possibilities. Part of our job as site owners is to do business development. That is, constantly be looking for new ways to generate revenue both from our existing processes, and processes that our existing teams and resources could easily develop.
- Cool Facebook Subscription Trick: I would bet the owners of this site know that their demographic’s primary social media platform is Facebook, and that’s why they’re offering this…
- Deals Content: They have a Deals section where they create content on deals for particular cruise types (Eg Disney Cruises). Most markets have a “deals” segment; eg snowblower deals, pressure washer deals. This segment can provide plenty of new organic traffic opportunities (they can be keywords) and the traffic can convert well since the deals are time-restricted.
What They Could Improve
I can’t be sure that this would be worthwhile relative to their other sources of revenue, but I do think it’s interesting to mention, given the possible application in other markets.
One thing I noticed is that they mention a lot of smaller private parking garages near cruise terminals and link to them with no affiliate or tracking links. Presumably, this is because the smaller garages don’t have affiliate programs, but they could be contacted for a private deal to be arranged. Small businesses like that would love to have new leads and I bet many of them would pay.
This is an extremely successful content site that I imagine – but of course, I don’t know – started small and is now run by a team of employees in an edgy office in some expensive city. (I read the about page after writing that sentence, and at least the first part turns out to be true.)
They mainly write about designer handbags, but as the about page explains: “If there’s a subject in which modern, educated, affluent women are interested, you can bet that there are detailed discussions of it on our forum.”
Although they monetize with affiliate links, that’s far from all they do to generate revenue, as we’ll see below.
You could say that this is not technically an “affiliate site”, and you would have picked up on one of my secret motives in writing this article, which is to help affiliates like us think more broadly about what’s possible in the content publishing businesses we run.
Purseblog’s combination of product-driven content and engaging entertainment and lifestyle material make it a Digital Asset that we could do a lot to model.
(NOTE: PurseBlog also employs a favorite strategy of ours, which is to enter a big market but from a very unique angle. This strategy helped us grow an affiliate site to earning more than $17,000 in a month, and we outlined it in our free 5 Steps Report)
The Ahrefs numbers here tell a very incomplete story.
Additional data from SimilarWeb tells us that their total traffic is likely more than 1.5 million a month and that a huge amount of it comes from shares on various other sites (though curiously not very much from Social, which I find hard to believe).
How They Make Money
- Ad Networks: They run tonnes of Adsense on the site. Probably too much really, as it’s extremely distracting from the high-quality content, but I trust they know what they’re doing, and that the ads are performing well.
- Affiliate marketing: They promote department stores like Nordstrom.com as well as high end online stores like Net-a-Porter.com. They do a lot of highlighting of relevant sales and even when they’re not explicitly promoting a product they talked about, they encourage readers to click their links before shopping to help generate commissions.
- Private Advertising: I saw an intriguing thing on their Advertise page. It looks as though they have privately arranged advertising partnerships with many of the brands they cover. This means they’re likely getting paid for writing content that – for most of us – would just be informational, and without monetization potential. Posts like this one on Fendi’s Fall 2019 Couture bags for example.
What We Can Learn From Purseblog
- Forums work: At least when done well, and for the right market. A look at their Top Pages in Ahrefs tells us that their forum is the most visited thing on their site by far.
- More User-Generated Content: They do these things called Confessionals where readers of the site write in about themselves and their stories and it makes for fascinating voyeuristic reading for the community.
- Design is as important as your market thinks it is: Aesthetically, Purseblog is very sharp. The fonts hint at opulence. The black and gold theme conjures art deco glamour. The artwork and photography are fitting. The crucial point is, for Purseblog this is important: Their readers have an obvious interest in aesthetics. BestofMachinery, and its men shopping for pressure washers have no such interest, and design work there, other than basic functionality would not be so well rewarded.
What They Could Improve
There are a lot of posts – like the Fendi bags one above – where they are writing about a kind of product that their readers might want to buy, and the affiliate programs they work with stock similar products, but the posts contain no affiliate links for those products.
For example – and assuming this isn’t precluded by their private arrangement with Fendi – that article could have a section after all the runway photos like “Inspired? These Fendi Bags From 2018 Are Beautiful” where they list similar Fendi bags currently available at Net-a-Porter with affiliate links.
This is an example of a really elegant authority site (an odd compliment given the subject matter…) that’s winning mainly due to their outstanding content.
They do reviews and buyer guides of ATVs and related products. But like any good authority site, they’ve expanded to serve their market more completely, developing how-to content for ATV riders, news content, and video.
They don’t have a fancy layout or a complex strategy but for a hobbyist site, they’re performing very well, with plenty of room left to grow.
41,000 visitors from organic search per month, with a traffic value of $28k. Because this site is about such a high-end item, I would bet on their actual revenue being a higher fraction of that $28k traffic value. I’d guess from $5,000 to $10,000 per month.
How They Make Money
- Affiliate marketing: On posts like this, on portable generators, they’re doing pretty standard Amazon affiliate promotion. They have list articles and reviews. They also have some affiliate links for products through Viglink.com. Curiously, there’s a large ommission to their affiliate marketing that we’ll discuss below.
- Adsense: They’ve monetized some pretty valuable real estate (like the website header) with Adsense, to boost revenue per visitor. I’d be curious to see how it’s performing.
- Taboola: At the bottom of most articles I saw, they have sponsored links from Taboola, a popular display ad network (kind of… I know they wouldn’t describe themselves like that :))
- Advertising: The Advertise with us link at the footer of the site allows businesses to pay privately for different types of ads across the site.
What We Can Learn From ATVRider
- Aesthetic Details: I love that it’s a simple site, but the little details all work so well. The headline font isn’t Arial, or Georgia or Times. It’s a little bit boxy and utilitarian, and it looks like it belongs on words about ATVs. There’s nothing “special” about the design, but it doesn’t look at all cheap. That’s an achievement, and I think it’s mainly because of the details.
- News Content Works: You might wonder why they would publish news style articles like this, about some random regional quad bike race winner. The answer is backlinks. That article picked up an (I’m sure free) link from FoxNews.com!
- “Upgrade” List Posts: They know the main product their audience reads them for is ATVs, but they don’t stop at just selling those. They have killer posts like this one, where they recommend all kinds of upgrades to the main product (like a $5,000 turbo kit…)
So many niches could use this kind of content. Considering buying a meat smoker? Here’s a list of 10 epic things you’re going to need as well: A meat delivery service, providers for wood and charcoal, and a monster knife to quickly slice up that succulent meat you spent 8 hours cooking.
Not only could it make for a great article for someone who’s already on your site, but some topics like this would have keywords with search volume. Think keywords like meat smoker accessories and meat smoker upgrades.
What They Could Improve
- New Affiliate Programs: I’m not even going to call this an improvement. I’m going to assume they know something I don’t here. But for some peculiar reason, a number of their posts I saw about ATVs don’t include affiliate links to those ATVs. A quick check made me think not all ATVs are available through affiliate programs. But there are a lot of affiliate programs. We’ll be left to wonder.
- Updating old content: Some of their best-performing pages are a few years old, and with plenty of room for addition. By adding to these posts, and coding in a feature to show the last updated date, they’d certainly see an increase in quality organic traffic.
- Private Partnerships: If I had all this targeted ATV traffic, and no good affiliate programs to send it to, I’d want to test gathering leads and doing deals to sell them to ATV dealerships. I can imagine a form that a visitor can click into, asking them to enter their postcode, and telling them the lowest prices on a particular ATV from a nearby dealer. This would take coding of course, but when you’ve got $5,000 a month revenue to play with, this is plenty achievable.
Imagine you start a new site, mainly just promoting products on Amazon, and in your first year, you reach $3,000 a month. Day 1 start, day 365, this little thing is paying you $3,000 a month.
That’s a pretty exciting prospect for most people.
Imagine you stick at it for another year, mainly doing the same things, and you’re suddenly earning $12,000 a month. During the holiday season, nearly everyone who does Amazon affiliate marketing increases their revenue by 5-10x, so in that month, you might earn $70,000. You’re now in the top 9% of income earners in America (source).
… In 2 years.
That’s something pretty close to the story of PoolCleanerBlog.com, as far as I can see.
It’s doing one thing, doing it really well, and doing it a lot. And it’s paying off in a big way.
112k uniques from search a month, with a $128k traffic value.
They’ve built probably the expected number of links for that amount of traffic and this kind of site, and their DR is basically what you’d expect given the age and effort too.
For this site, everything you can want to know is in the content and links. But mainly the content.
How They Make Money
Affiliate marketing: That’s it. They’ve decided to specialize in promoting products from Amazon, and they’re doing it well. They don’t run other ads I could see. They don’t gather emails. They don’t do sponsored content. They don’t even seem to promote products from other affiliate programs, which is a point we’ll come back to. They’ve obviously systematized a process of content development that’s working, and they’re pushing that system as hard as they can.
What We Can Learn From PoolCleanerBlog
- Have Better (Probably Longer) Content: Take a look at articles like these. That’s almost 5000 words of content on a single page. Many they have are larger. I’m not saying you should make articles as long as you can. But when your topic requires it, and there’s a lot to cover, you’ll likely get beaten by a deeper, more comprehensive article that has answered more questions than you have. PCB understands this, and they’re taking advantage of it.
- Get a Process, Then Run It: All the articles on this site look exactly the same. You just know this site has a good SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for how to create their articles and the people on their team are running that same system day in, day out. They’re not trying to find the perfect keyword, and the perfect product to promote. Instead, they’re publishing these great articles on everything they can find. They know that when an article hits big, it pays for, then earns way more than 5 other articles that didn’t earn as much as you expected.
What They Could Improve
- Authoritative Links: While this site has gotten some good links, their DA (according to Moz) is still pretty low, at 26. With time, they’ll benefit greatly from publishing more of the kind of content that can attract bigger links. Not unlike we saw with the link from FoxNews.com to ATVRider.com above.
- Amazon Buttons: Amazon can be touchy about any button linking to them that doesn’t have their branding. PCB are using a button for their CTAs that is blue and white, rather than being branded to Amazon, and that’s a risk they don’t need to be taking.
- Non-Amazon Affiliate Programs: One thing any Amazon affiliate should do once they have a promotion going well… is to check whether there’s another online store they could sell through that isn’t Amazon. Commissions can be higher, cookies can be longer, and you can avoid the risk of having Amazon randomly shut you down for an accidental mistake (other private affiliate programs are much friendlier).
We’ve covered a number of sites that are clearly run by people or small teams “just like us”. To mix things up a little – and open your mind to new ideas – I want to introduce to the list an affiliate site you might call “next level”.
FinancesOnline.com (FO) is a site that helps business people select software tools for various purposes, from accounting to CRM, to analytics. More than just reviews and lists however, FO integrates various tools and features to help it’s market make better buying decisions.
This site shows us how far affiliates like us can really go in terms of adding value. They’ve branded themselves as a “software discovery platform”, which is both clever and accurate. At no point does being on this site feel like you’re on an affiliate site, despite the fact that affiliate marketing is almost all they do.
The numbers here speak for themselves. This is a wildly successful site that will now be run by a decent sized team. The numbers are a huge underestimate too, with their About Us page saying the real traffic is more like 34 million a month!
It’s interesting however that if you look back just 5 years, it was mostly like the other smaller affiliate sites on our list, getting less than 50k organic visitors a month.
This graph also says a lot about the mantra of organic search marketing. If you can stick in there and keep publishing valuable material, the value of your site can keep appreciating with age.
How They Make Money
Affiliate Marketing: This is their primary business model and they do it so well. They are particularly strong with product comparisons, having developed their own scoring system to compare one product to another (a process which can be done on a smaller scale for smaller sites like ours too). They also benefit from being in a market where many affiliate programs will be recurring commission, and many also offer (and may pay affiliates for) free trials.
What We Can Learn From FinancesOnline
Where do I begin? Forget the fact that many of these features are hard to new site owners to implement. Try to learn from the principle at work in each of these, and think about how some version of it might be implemented on your site someday.
- Their Product Reviews: Take a look at one. See the sticky call to action that stays at the top of the page as you scroll? See the cool graphic section titles that break the page up? See the matter of fact tone? Short paragraphs without fluff? See the “Positive Social Mentions” feature? The sidebar feature for “ask vendor a question”? (Which I have to believe tags the asker with an affiliate link so when they later buy, FO gets the commission). They’ve thought up countless small features to add value to product reviews and increase affiliate commissions.
- The Search Feature: In the sidebar of many product reviews is a search bar that helps direct readers to the product that’s best for them, based on criteria they select. In other words, it directs readers to the product that they’re most likely to buy from FO affiliate links.
- The Value Additions: If there’s a general point we can all learn from this site, it’s to ask the question: “How can I be more valuable to my readers?” It might seem like all you’re doing is reviewing toaster ovens… but the people finding your content are begging you to make their lives easier, and there are so many ways you could do it.
How could you help them make a better decision? A quicker decision? Save money? Do more with the product once they buy it? (so they come back to you when they want to buy the upgrade or accessory). Thinking like this makes us better, more profitable affiliates.
What Could They Do To Improve
I don’t have the guts to write a single thing here. They’re as close to perfect as an affiliate site gets.
I hope you’ve found plenty of value in this list. Our plan is to update it regularly and share new sites when we come across them.
One big benefit of looking at really successful affiliate sites is motivation. These sites offer us a glimpse at what ours could become if we work hard enough and smart enough, for long enough.
So many of their stories (like the one on the Purseblog about page) are like our stories: It’s someone with a crazy idea, who went for it and didn’t let go. 10 years later they get to make a living doing something they love, getting millions of visitors a month who admire and appreciate their work as they earn a small fortune.
Want to take this further?
Download our 39 page 5 Steps Report and see the key 5 steps required to build an affiliate site to earning a full time income.