Case Study: Do Ad & Affiliate Networks Work for Smaller Blogs?

Do ad & affiliate networks work for small bloggers?

My blog is at the small end of  a mid-size blog, and I feel like I’ve tried every source of revenue over the years: text link ads, independent advertisers, affiliate networks, sponsored posts and tweets, running an independent shop… the list goes on.

In many ways, it's the hardest place to be when you want to monetize your site: if you base your blog ad rates on CPM (cost per mille or cost per impression), you may find your rates competing with much larger blogs who undercharge for their ad spaces.  If you’re an advertiser, well– would you rather spend $35 for an ad on a site with 30,000 page views/month or one with 100,000 page views/month?

In the past few months, I've scaled back the ways I’m willing to monetize my site, and I’ve been focusing on affiliate networks and ad networks. I prefer these because they’re a passive approach to monetizing my sites: I’m not pressured to keep up with renewal dates with indie advertisers, create new content for sponsored posts, or risk penalties for placing a text link ad.

rewardStyle

I’ve been using rewardStyle for the past few years now and there are many, many aspects I love: the analytics are clear, interactive, and easy to use. The Link Ninja app is great, especially for building clean and beautiful widgets– this really saves my life!  The range of advertisers they have is great (though I'd love see more plus size brands represented), and having an account manager who is easy to reach is superb.

But as a program based on commissions, I’ve gotten frustrated at times.  Since opening my account, I’ve earned about $750 in commissions– and have received two barely at $100 payouts. (I have commissions from NOVEMBER 2012 that haven’t cleared!)

Ed note: All rewardStyle graphs have been removed at rewardStyle request for violating their terms of service.

For April, ‘ve had over 1,600 people click the links– with only 9 people buying items.  This created a coversion rate of of .56%.  This is compared to my conversion rate for the month of April, which is higher than my yearly average of .46%– which means that some change I've made has worked in my favor!  For the year, you can see that I've had over 4,000 people click on links… and only 20 people buy as a result.

What I can learn from these statistics is simple: the women who read my site click through to products, but a very small majority of them actually buy.  Where rewardStyle is great is by tracking your best performing links.  I know women who come to my blog are more likely to buy a Marc by Marc Jacobs purse or a plus size swimsuit from Modcloth than they are to buy a piece from an outfit I wore.

I know that rewardStyle is great for producing evergreen content because these links also correspond with my most trafficked posts. My most popular posts via Google searches are for Marc by Marc Jacob purses, plus-size swimsuits, and plus-size little black dresses.  You can see from above that 5 of the 10 links above come from those posts.  

ShopSense

I started using ShopSense after reading Taylor’s Case Study: Affiliate Earnings from rewardStyle vs. ShopSense.  What I took from her post that can be applied to my own experiences is this: as a small to mid-size blogger, my regular audience is women who love clothes and love to shop, but are often on budgets.  They may click through to check it out, but they’re not going to buy.

shopsense3

Much of my success in using ShopSense comes from my ability to use it on sites I guest post or freelance on, like Already Pretty.  My posts from Already Pretty have a much higher click rate, and you can see those spikes.  I also don’t post as often as Taylor does, but you can see how each day has a few cents trickling in.  It may not be as much as a successful commission from rewardStyle, but it adds up quickly.  With the right traffic and post, you can see the earning potential available at ShopSense.

shopsense2

ShopSense has really limited statistics for you to use; above you can see what I earned in one week with ShopSense, how much was earned each day, and what tool was used.  API means a link was clicked, and widget means I used one of their display tools.  While it isn't a lot, I've earned $40.55 within a month and half of using ShopSense– about half way to the payout level of $100.  If I used this affiliate marketer more aggressively, then I'm sure I could reach payouts more quickly.

For my site, ShopSense has been great to use in conjunction with rewardStyle because I can target where they're both used.  I use ShopSense for posts that are lack a call to action: what I wore, style advice, or posts where women want to look, but not buy.

In addition to ShopSense and rewardStyle, I thought it was worth quickly mentioning ShareASale and my successes with it.  I use ShareASale in a limited capacity as it works with a few brands (City Chic, eShakti, and Monif C) that the other two do not, but that yield a high return of sales for me.  These are brands that I love and wear; with the lower $50 payout threshold, it's easy to get payouts every month.  This is really to emphasize the point of knowing your audience, what they're buying, and where it's best to use each individual affiliate network

Google Adsense

I only recently began re-using Google Ads.  They’re easy to set up, and you see them running on most sites (including Amazon).  They really are the most passive means of advertising, and you can filter what topics you do–or don’t– want running on your site.  Just install a bit of code, and you're in business! Like rewardStyle and Shopsense, you have to meet the $100 payout threshold to receive payment.

Since installing it on my sites (one ad on Dramatis Personae and one on Style in Cinema), I’ve seen the following profits coming in in the last month (after having installed them towards the end of March):

googleads

As you can see, my last payout was in February 2012, and it's passively earned $53.95 in the 14 months since.  For the month of April, I've received $19.43 and 1.84% of the people who view my site click on an ad; compare this to the .46% conversion rate at rewardStyle.  That's over 3 times as many people!  While I'm still early in the phases of this new Adsense relationship, I can see it being a fruitful way to boost up my income, especially as my site grows larger and gains more traffic.

The monetization process is a long, slow, and really tedious process.  Finding the best route for you blog means having a greater understanding of your readers, who else may be visiting your site, and WHY they are visiting.  Then you have to experiment to find the best balance, which can be another long journey.

If your blog is in the small to mid-size range, I'd love to hear what monetization techniques you've had the best success with, and why!

[Image source: Shutterstock.com]

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28 Responses

  1. maddie

    My blog is a sewing and pattern making blog and I feel that my readers are different from a normal blog’s readership. We’re a close knit community and if you read the comments on our blogs, it’s usually the same people posting. I think if I used Rewards Style of Google Ad Sense, my readers would look down upon me as cheap, fake, and a cop out. I know this might sound CRAZY but I seek out and contact potential advertisers each month. It’s a lot more work than posting a link but I believe my readers appreciate it. They know that each month, I am bringing them fresh shops and blogs I have personally selected. I also think that this encourages them to click on them more.

    Reply
  2. A Girls Fancies

    Wow. It’s like an eye-opener post. Thank you so much.
    I use none of these, as my blog is teeny tiny and I don’t have it monetized. At this point in time I don’t think I need it. But for future maybe. Bookmarking this post.

    Also, discuss about actually being ‘accepted’ by these services. I have read a-lot about this. What to do if a blogger doesn’t get accepted?

    Thankyou.
    Sana from A Girl’s Fancies. x

    Reply
  3. Rachel

    Thank you for breaking down rewardStyle’s new analytics chart for me a bit; it has me totally baffled! I dread the day they take away the ‘View Old Analytics’ button! While I use rewardStyle, I actually love to pieces the other affilate programme I run; Skimlinks. I’ve described a bit more about how it works and how I use it in this blog post: http://www.rachelphipps.com/2013/03/full-disclosure-how-i-earn-money-off-of.html but it basically has a £7/$10 payment threshold for cleared commissions so you can get paid quicker (and it is great for smaller size blogs), I can’t think of a site that is not on the network, and it is basically an installed plug in that turns all links that is not already an affilate link into one, so it is much less were for you than if you were using rewardsStyle or Shopsense.

    Reply
    • Bike Pretty

      I used Skimlinks at a previous job and it was extremely easy to set up and definitely takes a lot of hassle out of setting up affiliate programs.

      The only caveat is to find out what do if you decide to stop using Skimlinks on your site!

      Reply
  4. Sarah's Real Life

    Thanks for being so frank and open about how much you’re making from your blog! I’m always curious but obviously it’s not polite to ask another blogger how much money they make.
    Anyway, I also use rewardStyle and like it. I haven’t had much trouble with really old commission staying open. I’ve found similar trends to yours – lots of people click on links, but not many buy. I have more success using RS links for sale announcements (linking just to the homepage of my favorite stores) on Twitter and my personal Facebook page. Everyone loves a good sale!
    I also use Beso, which I think is like ShopSense, although I don’t use ShopSense so I’m not positive. Since I figured out my readers’ habits and started using mainly Beso links instead of RS links, I’ve been making a couple bucks a day from pay-per-click links. Not enough to live on obviously, but when I get a $50 check it’s a good excuse to buy myself a new jacket or something 🙂

    ~Sarah of Sarah’s Real Life

    Reply
  5. Jesse

    Hi IFBers!
    Can I suggest checking out Affiliate Window’s offerings. We run affiliate programs for fashion brands such as Nasty Gal, Jack Wills, Lord & Taylor, Superdry, Monsoon, Accessorize, Hurley, French Connection Canada and many more! We provide a searchable directory of advertisers, fully editable profile to showcase your service, fast, in-depth reporting to see how you are performing, as well as bi-monthly payments following merchant approvals.

    If you’re interested in learning more about our affiliate network and the services we can provide to bloggers, please feel free to send me an email at jesse.ashkin@affiliatewindow.com

    Happy Blogging 🙂

    Reply
  6. Sabrina + Mariana

    I use Shopsense mostly because my readers prefer to browse rather than buy immediately. I wish they provided good stats like the ones from rwstyle though, they’re so useful.
    I’m enrroled in shareasale but haven’t done much through them. I do like Skimlinks though, it’s quite easy to use.
    xo
    http://polkadottedpearl.com

    Reply
  7. Kory

    I’ve never really been a fan of Google AdSense, but with such small income coming in through my blog, I’m definitely going to reconsider and check them out again. Thanks, ladies!

    Reply
  8. Bike Pretty

    Amazon Affiliates
    It’s super easy to sign-up and there are a lot of products, even fashion products.
    You’d be surprised what you can find on there when you do a targeted search. Also, everyone ends up buying something from Amazon eventually, so you might still get a commission, even if it’s not for a product you originally linked to.

    Reply
  9. Sheryl Blasnik

    I am also on Reward Style, Skimlinks and ShopSense. I have had the greatest amount of sales from Reward Style but…. Ashley: My conversation rate is only 16%. I am wondering if it is better to have more clicks OR to have less clicks but a higher number of clicks convert to sales in the long term picture?

    Any thoughts? Any ideas of HOW to INCREASE my rate of conversion with Reward Style?

    Thanks

    Sheryl

    http://fashiondevelopmentgroup.com

    Reply
    • Ashley "Ashe" Robison

      Hey Sheryl,
      That’s a great question! I think a 16% conversion is amazing! It means that you’re able to convert a lot of those clicks into sales– and since rS pays for sales (not clicks), you’re on the right track. If you were using ShopSense, I would say you want more clicks (and sales don’t matter as much). But with rS, you’re definitely on the right track!

      As for how to keep increasing the conversion rate… boy! That’s a tough question, and I can only speculate (since my rate is so low). I would guess some good ole sleuthing through your analytics may help– what items are people clicking on and why? Do you promote sales & get a high number of sales from it? Are your outfit posts where its at? Knowing what is causing your audience to buy may help you replicate it!

      Reply
      • Sheryl Blasnik

        Ashe: Your conversion rate is so much higher than mine. I use social media like a hound dog. Check out my Twitter feed @FashionistaNYC… It is loaded with “sales” tweets!!! I stumble, pin, facebook and google every post.

        I am not a style blogger and do NOT do outfit posts so that puts me behind in a sense. I can’t show off my own sense of styling.

        The posts that get the greatest number of “social shares” are my SHOPPING posts. I average about 250-300 shares but that does NOT translate to sales.

        I want to jump on the band wagon and nail this now because there are so many Friends and Family Sales and that is where I am using my rS links.

        Thanks for your reply.

        Sheryl B
        Fashion Development Group

  10. Fran

    I use Shopsense 80% of the time. My blog is a “budget friendly” blog and my readers are women on budgets as well. We like to window shop, and see what others are purchasing, so for my readers, they do a lot of clicking through but probably not that much buying, which is why I use Shopsense. I convert the links into bitly links though to see which ones get clicked on more. This teachs you some things, like what your readers are more likely to click on, and it allows you to quickly reuse those links. I’ve definitely changed my linking approach now that I know what is clicked on more.

    For the other 20% of the time I use Rewardstyle. I use them for the “higher ticket” items. If I use shopsense for a pair of boots I’m wearing, I may get like 15 clicks on it, which ends up being like $0.75, but if I use rewardstyle for these expensive boots and someone buys them, that’s $50. It’s taking a risk that sometimes pays off.

    Reply
    • Ashley "Ashe" Robison

      Fran, I had noticed a lot of blogs converting their affiliate links into bit.ly links, and didn’t know why– so thank you for sharing that! I assumed I could track the same data via rewardStyle, but it’s great to think about filling out ShopSense’s (lack of) analytics through the bit.ly program!

      Reply
  11. Jennifer Nini

    This advice is fantastic! I have been blogging for three years but have only recently decided to focus on it full time and work part time! I don’t have much to show for the three years of blogging but this blog has helped me to focus on monetization a lot more!

    Also I have a giveaway for those of you residing in the US! Ends April 29 2013. Details of how to enter are listed in the blog post! xxx

    http://ecowarriorprincess.net/2013/04/earth-day-2013-the-leakey-collection-ethical-jewelry-give-away/

    Reply
  12. Jaclyn

    This is really awesome advice! I was wondering though, do you have a time when blogs should start monetizing? I started my blog a few months ago, and this is something that I would love to try, but I don’t know if I should wait or simply start now. Does this turn away readers?

    Thank you!
    Jaclyn
    Written in Fashion

    Reply
  13. Miranda

    Great Post! I have been wondering about how bloggers live and make money. I think I might start with skimlinks, but I don’t know if it will be worth while with how many followers I have. How many followers should I have before starting?
    Miranda
    mirandarue.wordpress.com

    Reply
  14. Arielle Berze

    I’ve only just started blogging in a more serious fashion (no hopes of going pro yet) but I’m glad for the information on how to start monetizing. I had no idea about these affiliate programs, but they look so easy and user friendly to use! Thanks for the tips!

    Arielle from Tangled Musings

    Reply
  15. Dreamy

    Hi, I hope someone can help… I have been asked by an agent, representing an enormous London department store (my blog is TINY, I don’t understand why they would contact me! But anyway….), to put together a Polyvore-type outfit with links to products on their site. She asked how much I would charge for such a thing, but I have NO idea! 50p, £10, £40? Help!

    Reply
    • Ashley Robison

      Hi Dreamy,
      What they’re looking for is the SEO ranking from your site to help build up their website. If you choose to do it, definitely don’t undersell yourself! Define how many links it is, and how much you want per link. Set a rate for yourself of £10-20 per link or more depending on your site’s size (or if they want 5, give them a deal at £40 or £80). If they counter with a number that seems unreasonable, you’ll know– and say no!

      Reply
      • Dreamy

        Thank you Ashley! I charged at the low end of what you suggested and the agent seemed very happy. I might ask for more as I gain confidence. I My first blog-earnings! 🙂

  16. The Shoe Diva

    I recently just started using both Google Ads & Shopstyle. My blog readership is pretty small & I’ve still managed to make a little income from Shopstyle. I will check out RewardStyle. Thanks for breaking down how this works & I am now more encouraged by the pennies that are trickling into my accounts 🙂 I know that the more I work at it, the larger the numbers will become.

    Reply