Today in the crosshairs: Amazon niche sites.
More specifically, the bajillions of “blogs” that are monetized primarily or solely as Amazon affiliates.
Like some sort of super-fungus, Amazon spores have dispersed through the cyberworld. The Amazon affiliate program is the largest affiliate program in the world. In fact, becoming an Amazon affiliate is a rite of passage for many bloggers.
(Full disclaimer: I am an Amazon affiliate myself!)
Only Amazon knows exactly how many affiliates there are. Current estimates range from 100k to more than a million. Something like 1 out of 5 visits to Amazon.com arrive through affiliate referral links. The company claims more than 40% of all US online sales (around $260 billion), with expectations to seize 50% within a few years.
That’s incredible. Despite efforts from Walmart, Target, Ebay, and other ecommerce giants, no one has even come close to challenging Amazon’s dominion. There’s still only one shark in the pond.
(At least, so far. All empires end in a graveyard eventually.)
And I get it. It’s so easy! So long as you build a halfway decent, unique, content-driven website (and don’t engage in gray/black-hat techniques), Amazon will likely approve you for their affiliate Amazon Associates program.
Should you do it, too?
In the Crosshairs: Amazon Niche Websites
Building a consistent revenue stream from Amazon affiliate marketing is a whole other discussion, and not one we’re getting into.
Instead, I want to talk about Amazon niche websites: the blogs who sell their heart and soul to Amazon. They don’t merely leverage the Associates program as a monetization strategy; they build their entire site on it. Amazon is their foundation.
You know what I’m talking about.
- The “product review” sites with lists like Top 10 Best Microphones for New Vloggers where all top 10 microphones, conveniently, are listed on Amazon (and for a good price, too!).
- The e-commerce storefronts with an Amazon-inspired UX and strangely garbled product description text (likely rewritten from the Amazon descriptions).
- The mommy bloggers and fitness bloggers who casually sprinkle 10, 20, even 30 affiliate links to Amazon products and ebooks in every. single. webpage.
Many of these websites are built following a simple process:
- Use a bot program to crawl an e-commerce website.
- Pay an overseas writer/GPT-3 natural language processing to spin the content.
- Copy and paste the product details into your web pages.
- Pay for a big backlink profile (DR 20+)
- Sign up for an affiliate Amazon program and rake in the cash!
Since when did blogging become merely outsides sales for Amazon?
I mean, what’s the line between being an Amazon affiliate and an Amazon clone?
And is there a future for these Amablogs? (Yes, I just made that up. But I’m going with it.)
An Amazon Crystal Ball Story
The other week, I was shopping for cycling shoes online. So where did I go first?
Amazon, of course!
Here’s what you should know about cycling. People will spend more money on their bikes than their kid’s college fund. It’s a sport full of big, bold brand names like Shimano, Bontrager, SRAM, Giro, Pearl Izumi, etc.
So I expected to find everyone who’s anyone on Amazon.com.
Instead, I saw brands like WOFADA, Ksmhmm, R ROYDEAR, BETOOSEN, and Tommaso.
Never heard of those brands?
Yeah, neither had I.
No, I didn’t buy any cycling shoes from Amazon. I’ll tell what I did; I went to Moosejaw.com (shout out) and spent an extra $30 to buy a brand-name pair of high-quality shoes from a retailer I trust (and who has some of the best side-splitting marketing material of any outdoor e-commerce retailer).
You see, Amazon’s success is now both asset and liability. It’s the preferred storefront for foreign knock-offs and dropshippers.
How long, I wonder, until all the OG brands retreat to more qualified retailers?
First Blood Against Amazon Affiliates
It all started with Panda and Penguin.
Panda and Penguin were two Google algorithm updates (from 2011 and 2012) designed to clean up the internet of spammy sites and useless recycled content.
Google thought they would impact around 0.1% of English search queries. Instead, they impacted about 3%. That’s 30x the estimate!
And boy, did they go around kicking ass and taking names. Millions of websites essentially vaporized, with traffic dropping by 90+%.
After Panda, autoblogging sites and storefronts that CTRL+C’d Amazon (or other e-commerce retailers) quickly realized merely regurgitating content wasn’t enough to attract search engine traffic.
So they got wise. And by wise, I mean they started farming out “product reviews” for $3 to overseas writers.
Trick the algorithm.
Get that cookie.
And lest you pat yourself on the back and say proudly, “Glad I’m not one of those churn n’ burn scumbags,” a lot of sites and people affected were people who had worked to build what they thought was a relevant, useful website. They weren’t black hat webmasters. But they still failed the sniff test.
If you look at every major known Google update since – RankBrain, Medic, Bert, and other Core Updates – the common theme is the elimination of thin content.
Want to learn more about Google Updates? Here’s a good roundup post from Search Engine Land.
Like your mama said: If you don’t have something
nice unique to say, don’t say anything at all.
Do Amablogs Have a Future?
Can we extrapolate the intent of future search engine algorithms? Can we forecast the future viability of certain content?
I think we can.
Search engine optimization has moved far beyond keywords. It’s now all about semantics and search intent, topical relevancy, UX and page speed.
And very, very rarely do I ever encounter an Amablog designed around those principles. The vast majority suffer from myopia: GET THAT 24-HR COOKIE!!! The entire website is an obvious sales funnel to …
Instead, if you want to know what good affiliate marketing looks like, check out some of the following websites.
All of these websites rake in insane amounts of money, mostly through affiliate product marketing. They aren’t manufacturers; they don’t make anything. What’s their game plan?
In comparison, Amablogs use the written word as a battering ram. Flood Google with enough just-barely-unique-enough spun content, they reason, and the traffic will come. These blogs don’t cultivate a loyal readership; they just want more search impressions.
It’s the whole “if-I-can-capture-1%-of-1%” mentality. To them, growth = scale.
But good affiliate websites use the written word as a scalpel. If you want to know exactly what makes an extension cord good or bad, I’m sure there’s an article at the Wirecutter that will give you the low-down on jacketing, strain reliefs, amperage, etc.
Parting Thoughts for Bloggers
I, personally, am not hopping on the Amazon Associate niche website train.
Here are my three reasons:
- Google is out to kill thin, soulless content. If you’re not putting out unique information and cultivating a readership, you are already under fire.
- While I don’t believe Amazon will disappear anytime soon, I believe high-quality brands (read: brands that will offer higher commissions!) will slowly migrate to alternative retailers. As a result, Amazon will continue to slash affiliate rates.
- I hate hamster wheels. If a bot can do it, a bot will do it, and I’ll be out of a job. Amablogs have a low barrier to entry, a short content lifecycle, high turnover, and no readership loyalty. That’s too much work for too little reward.
If I’m right, then I’m saving myself umpteen amounts of work, and I’ll be the last one laughing.
If I’m wrong, then please save me a seat on your yacht.