People are always asking me if affiliate marketing is a real business. Yes, it certainly is!
Not only is it possible to earn decent money with an affiliate marketing side hustle, but it also could replace your full-time job. It’s even possible to achieve the ultimate entrepreneurial success: selling your business for a big windfall.
I should know from personal experience. I sold the website Investor Junkie for $6 million in 2018. Investor Junkie’s income was based solely on affiliate-marketing revenue.
After my sale, I was curious to find out how many others have sold websites that made money only from affiliate marketing.
The number of blogs that sold for seven figures or more surprised me.
It turns out I’m not a unique snowflake. There have been many others.
So I created this list.
The first requirement for this list is that the site must have a substantial amount (over 50%) of revenue from affiliate marketing. Because I don’t have direct access to the accounting records, this is something of a guess. However, it’s easy to deduce that, when a business sells for seven figures, yet offers no products and has no or few ad banners, most of the revenue has come from affiliate marketing.
The second requirement is that I include only information that is publicly verified. For your reference, I cite the source. As a disclaimer, I have no insider information about any of these transactions. All of this information – including that relating to my own sale — comes from public records.
Obviously, popular sites that haven’t been sold, such as NerdWallet, aren’t on the list. NerdWallet employs more than 350 people and would easily make it on this list if it were ever sold.
I Don’t Trust Blog Income Reports
Call me a skeptic, but I don’t trust those popular “how I make money from my blog” posts.
On the one hand, it’s a great way to get a “voyeuristic” peek into how the sausage gets made with affiliate marketing. This makes these types of posts very popular to read. But on the other hand, these posts are unreliable. Revenue numbers can easily be fudged.
There’s a classic New Yorker cartoon that sums it all up perfectly.
It’s hard to discern the fakers from the makers.
So take what you read online with a grain of salt. Just as with many Instagram pics, it’s not necessarily reality.
However, even if half of the revenue numbers listed on the Interwebs are true, it is still an impressive feat nonetheless. It all attests to the fact that affiliate marketing not only can be a full-time job, but can also make you wealthy.
Unfortunately, my list excludes the small deals that don’t get press coverage. For example, Matt Giovanisci sold his Amazon affiliate marketing site Roasty Coffee for $55,000. While that deal is impressive, it isn’t verifiable by a third-party, so, unfortunately, I excluded it from my list.
We can assume that the websites with undisclosed sale amounts sold for at least seven figures. This is based upon my knowledge of the industry, the estimated traffic, their staff size, and the merchants they worked with, along with discussions with fellow bloggers.
It’s worth pointing out that the true test of a company’s worth is when it is sold. You may deem your company to be worth seven figures, but in the end, it’s worth only what someone else will pay for it.
This list is by no means exhaustive.
Obviously, my list of successful affiliate marketing blogs is heavy on personal finance. That’s mostly because personal finance was my own affiliate marketing niche, and I know it well. In addition, affiliate marketing in the personal finance space is very profitable. But it’s certainly not the only niche with money-making potential. So don’t come to the conclusion that you must create a personal finance blog to be successful.
That said, if you know of any affiliate marketing websites outside the personal finance sphere that have sold, please let me know by commenting below. I would like to add more sites to this list.
A better takeaway is that almost all of these sites are basically product review blogs. They either outright review products in their niche, publish comparison articles, or create listicles that highlight various vendors.
Another key point with these blogs is that they rely on SEO. Even if the owner has other means to bring traffic to their blog (i.e., paid traffic, social media, email, etc.), most sites rely on organic search.
Sold Affiliate Marketing Websites
It should be noted that a few of the websites listed above (Get Rich Slowly, Consumerism Commentary, Five Cent Nickel, and The Simple Dollar) have been sold multiple times. For example, J.D. Roth sold his site Get Rich Slowly in 2009, only to buy it back in October 2017. The terms of the buyback weren’t disclosed, but I suspect he acquired it at a substantial discount from what he sold it for in 2009.
The table above lists the first sale only.
Affiliate Marketing Examples
Let me break down some affiliate marketing examples and what I think made them successful.
Sold For: $5.82 million
Acquired Date: July 2018
Acquired By: XL Media plc/WebPals
Reasons for Success
I should know a lot about this website, because it was my own. I started it in December 2009 and then sold in July 2018.
I believe Investor Junkie was successful for a few reasons:
- Detailed reviews and comparisons
- Constantly updated
- More than just content to keep readers engaged
To highlight the last item, I believe content (copy) is a commodity, especially with SEO. It’s an arms race among the competing websites in your niche. There are only so many ways you can discuss how to open a Roth IRA account.
Content is easily replicated by others. But a functionality such as a calculator, widget, etc., is much harder to replicate. This can give you a competitive advantage.
Sold For: $30 million
Acquired Date: Oct. 2016
Acquired By: The New York Times Co.
Reasons for Success
There are many sites like Wirecutter, but few execute as well. When I was growing up, Consumer Reports was the authority on consumer product reviews. But in the 2000s, the publication seemed to have lost its way. It didn’t adapt to the online revolution very well.
This opened up opportunities for new entries into the market. Wirecutter snuck in and was successful because it:
- Hired domain experts to review consumer products
- Had detailed reviews and cited external sources
- Focused on the “best of” review format and didn’t publish many individual reviews
A good portion of Wirecutter’s affiliate revenue comes from the Amazon Associates program. I’m willing to speculate that the site is Amazon’s largest affiliate.
Wirecutter’s reviews are some of the best out there. If you plan on writing any reviews in your niche, I suggest you look at the format the site uses and how can you improve upon it.
Student Loan Hero
Sold For: $60 million
Acquired Date: July 2018
Acquired By: LendingTree Inc.
Reasons for Success
Student Loan Hero filled a niche relating to a growing problem in the United States: student loan debt. Estimated total student loan debt is over $1 trillion.
Student Loan Hero was designed to help students decrease their debt load. The site was successful because it:
- Offered more than content — calculators
- Had a comprehensive SEO strategy covering every aspect of student debt and ancillary topics
- A free membership area to ensure repeat visitors
The lesson I’ve learned is, as a business, debt pays much better than investing. This is thanks to the very nature of our society. Unfortunately, there are more people in debt than investing.
With affiliate marketing, it’s certainly possible to achieve whatever you consider financial success. You might not want a seven-figure exit from your business. You might be satisfied with creating a part-time side hustle.
I created this list for inspiration and to share my insights as to why I think these sites were successful.
Now, an affiliate marketing blog outside the personal finance realm can definitely achieve this level of success. I know many affiliate marketing bloggers who make nice six- and seven-figure annual incomes.
To put it simply, affiliate marketing is a very possible business opportunity, not some hyped-up fantasy.