What is a Thin Affiliate Site?
I used to make a fair amount of money from what are called thin affiliate sites by Google, these are affiliate sites that ONLY have content provided by the affiliate (the content is ‘thin’) and have no added value. About five years ago (2005ish) Google became very good at automatically spotting and penalizing thin affiliate sites, traffic to these sites dropped from tens of thousands of visitors to the low thousands of visitors a year (clearly penalized), so I stopped making new thin affiliate sites.
Making Money with Amazon Affiliate Stores
Before the Google crack down I had thin Amazon affiliate stores that took about an hour to create (thin Amazon affiliate stores were really easy to make via a PHP script) that made thousands of dollars a year from tens of thousands of search engine visitors.
Taking into account creating the site, registering domains, setting up hosting on my dedicated servers, adding links from various sources (the part that took most time, though back then I treated these site like any other site: needed a fair number of links) an average Amazon thin affiliate store would take no more than 10 hours of work the first year (probably averaged around 6 hours a site and most of that was link building) and under an hours maintenance each year after (assuming scripts didn’t break).
If you can make $1,000+ a year from 6 hours work it’s a no brainer, one of my thin affiliate sites was making $10,000+ a year from AdSense and a similar amount from Amazon affiliate sales.
Have to admit despite this I only made about 20 of them and most of those I never got around to the promotion part (adding links which is essential) as was VERY busy with SEO clients at the time (I was still building my SEO client base).
Thin Affiliate Site Google Penalty
Over the last few years I’ve built the odd thin affiliate site (no Amazon sites) to test the current Google algorithm, but not put serious time into it. To give more control I’ve used affiliate datafeeds that take more time to create a site from. I’ve tried not linking to the affiliate links/sales pages (so can’t sell any of their products: just the basic affiliate content, would only make money from AdSense), downloading and hosting the affiliates images on my server, adding language translations (that took quite a bit of time to setup and test and didn’t help!) and even running search and replace text on the datafeeds, image names, etc… to change them a bit. In every case the sites have not performed like my earlier Amazon thin affiliate stores (no big successes) and my first thin affiliate sites that did well were 100% automated.
However, I was looking through my AdSense revenue from some of these thin affiliate stores (I didn’t have many of them) and though the AdSense impressions (traffic) is pathetic considering thousands of product pages (obvious thin affiliate site Google penalties), overall they are making a profit IF I ignore my time: an SEO client will pay well over $50 an hour, so to break even on my time an affiliate site should make a minimum $300 in the first year**
** Note: I tend to check these things out to see if I can make them work (it’s an SEO challenge trying to ‘beat’ Google :-)) rather than to make money per se (though making money is also nice :-)).
Since I have a dedicated server that I use for important websites that make a fair amount of cash, adding thin affiliate sites to that server doesn’t cost me anything (a little bandwidth). So my costs of adding a new site is under $15 a year, to break even on a domain purchase the domain has to make $20 a year.
I have obviously penalized thin affiliate sites that I’ve put no time into for a few years that over the last 12 months have made over $100 from AdSense (one thin affiliate site made over $500). To me $100 a year is not a lot of money and I wouldn’t normally aim to build a site that only makes a $100 a year. That being said I have a powerful dedicated server that’s under utilized (could have 1,000+ domains on it easily) and if with a little effort (only adding a few links per domain) I can make $100 per domain per year there’s an argument for creating 100 thin affiliate sites, especially if I can get that 6 hours per thin affiliate site creating time down to a few hours (which I have :-)).
Making Money from Google Penalized Sites
If I create 100 thin affiliate sites at a cost of $15 a year, my costs are $1,500.
If they make on average $50** each per year that’s $5,000.
Profit = $3,500
** Making $50 a year from AdSense means averaging just 14 cents a day :-)
If the average thin affiliate site takes 3 hours to create (300 hours for 100 domains) you make about $11.66 an hour on the above numbers in the first year.
For me that’s not worth my time beyond SEO/money making testing, though if you take a three year time frame and don’t put much time into maintenance (sites don’t vanish after one year and you don’t have to do a lot of link building, it’s not going to rank high in Google anyway), it’s not a bad return on your time: 300 hours for building the thin affiliate sites, 50 hours maintenance, profit over three years $10,500 so $30 an hour. Longer the time scale you look at this, more interesting it becomes.
I had about a dozen domains that used to have Amazon thin affiliate sites on them, but Amazon changed their XML feed and the PHP Amazon script I used to use (5 years ago) stopped working, so I deleted the content of the domains and 301 redirected them to other sites. Over the last month or so I’ve added new thin affiliate sites using various affiliate datafeeds into a WordPress database to those domains as a test, adding those to the domains I’ve tried other thin affiliate sites tests to over the last few years results in 20 thin affiliate sites.
Some of the domains already have a handful of links to them (hence the 301 redirects), I’ve added a few links here and there, but nothing serious, so unlikely I’ll see any high PR thin affiliate sites from this.
When I get the time I’ll create half a dozen thin affiliate sites on newly registered domains as fresh tests.
Will be interesting to see what they make over the next 12 months.
It’s early days with the thin affiliate sites as a set, so far with about 1 months data it’s looking OK overall from a scaling perspective. They are averaging just under $13 a domain a month from AdSense, but they vary a LOT, the best domain made ~$60 and worst $0.
I’ve been surprised at the number of affiliate sales with such a low number of visitors, this months comes to around $90 in affiliate sales for all the sites. Not all the domains link to affiliate products, (recall some thin affiliate site tests I did didn’t link to the products sales pages as a test: the test didn’t work) even some of the new ones that I planned to link to the affiliate sales pages are not linking to affiliate sales pages because the affiliates went offline as I added them: used one large datafeed to make a bunch of sites and days after creating them the affiliate stopped paying!!! So well over half the traffic doesn’t even have the potential to make an affiliate sale.
Overall the domains have made around $340 over the last month, if it continues that’s around $4,000 a year for 20 domains ($200 a domain).
Scaling to 100 domains would result in $20,000 a year with a cost of ~ $1,500 : profit $18,500 a year. If I took into account the cost of a dedicated server which you can get an OK one for $80 a month, that’s a profit around $17,500 and it’s scalable to thousands of domains.
I have no plans to scale this at this time (too busy with real SEO work), but will definitely add some newly registered domains to complete the thin affiliate test.
Making Money Through Affiliate Marketing
There’s more to making money from affiliate sites and Google, the above is ONLY about making money from search engine traffic, Google doesn’t have a monopoly on all web traffic. Thin affiliate sites that are penalized in Google could make a lot of money by being promoted through Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social networks or through your RSS feed subscribers.