Non-Success Stories: 30+ Affiliate Marketers Share Their Niche Site Missteps

Tired of reading email subject lines like “How I built a $100K/month blog in 6 Months”?

You’re not alone.

Oftentimes, hearing from successful niche marketers can inspire and motivate us. If you’re still struggling to gain traction, though, others’ tales of triumph may do the exact opposite.

That’s why I decided to ask readers and podcast listeners to share stories about sites that flopped, faltered, or failed to live up to their expectations. Big thanks to everyone who answered the call!

As expected, I saw a lot of recurring trends across the responses. Keep reading to learn about some of the most common challenges — and how to avoid, mitigate, and/or fix them.

If At First You Don’t Succeed… Welcome to the Club

Let’s get one thing straight first: we ALL make mistakes.

I’ve made more than my fair share, but I’ve been able to course-correct, analyze, and keep on keeping on toward my goals. A big part of my motivation comes from teaching others what I’ve learned (good and bad) along the way.

Speaking of teaching…I have a new course called Multi Profit Site.

It’s a response to the shift away from Amazon Associates Program as the primary monetization. Amazon is part of the equation but there are other ways to earn too.

It’s launching this week with launch enrollment prices lower than they’ll ever be, until June 19.

Learn more about Multi Profit Site

Also, remember that “success” looks different to everyone.

For one person, making an extra couple hundred bucks each month would be a huge win! They could cover some utility bills or tuck it away for an annual family vacation.

For someone else, the goal might be fully replacing current income and being able to quit an unfulfilling job.

Whatever your definition of success (and failure), we’ve all experienced the ups and downs that come with trying something new. I hope this post helps remind you that you’re not alone and mistakes are part of every eventual success story.

5 Common Pitfalls

Based on the data I received, and 7 years of coaching and teaching niche marketers, I’ve compiled some of the most common bumps in the road.

1) Throwing Spaghetti at the Wall

Gut instinct can only get you so far, especially when it comes to building a viable niche site.

One of the quickest paths to failure is heading out without a road map.

Many folks assume that simply by trying “a little of this and a little of that,” they’ll eventually stumble upon a silver bullet. To be clear, strategic testing can be a really good thing, but you should establish a baseline first so you know what’s working and what’s not.

You may have experienced this pitfall if you:

  • Operate without a plan: You dive in without any idea how you’ll get from point A to B. Content isn’t based on keyword research or competitive analysis, but rather whatever strikes your fancy at that particular moment.

“I had a general idea about what affiliate marketing was, and I knew how to build a website. But I never got further than buying a domain and publishing a basic ‘coming soon’ page because I didn’t have a clear path for what to do next. I kept researching what to do instead of actually doing it.” – Sandro

“I bought a ‘Done for You’ site in 2017 and monetized with the Amazon Affiliate Program. I worked on it for about a year, but it failed to get traffic or revenue. I had trouble executing and focusing on the tasks that mattered.” – Dave

  • Get distracted by shiny objects: New mentors, new courses, new Google ‘hacks,’ new keyword research tools, new plugins, new get-rich schemes… bring ‘em on! You try everything but rarely stick with anything long enough to see if it really works.

“I happened to read somewhere that blogging is a way forward, so I decided to turn my article directory into a career blog. I started to run PLR (Private Label Rights) articles through software that rewrote them for me, but the result was complete gibberish. Then someone on a forum said Google really likes user-generated content, so I decided to add a forum to the site. I started looking for the next thing, and another forum said directories were the way to go. I added a directory back to the site, but that didn’t work out either. I was left with this monstrosity…that didn’t really rank for anything.” – Hando

“Get one trusted mentor and stick with them even when it is tough.” – Sandro

“Focus on very few tasks, (or ideally, one) task at a time, and do it well.  Don’t work on multiple sites until you have some success and systems in place to scale.” – Dave

  • Build a bunch of sites at once: Though it sounds good in theory, splitting your focus between several niche sites right off the bat rarely (if ever) works out in the long run.

“I started my first website about 8 years ago and decided to go with Adsense. Later I changed it to an Amazon Affiliate website and used both methods to monetise. When neither of those worked, I made the biggest mistake ever — setting up another 10 websites, believing that if my existing site was making $100 a month, then 10 of those would get me to $1,000. You will not be surprised that none of that worked. At one stage I had 14 websites with about 50 articles on each one, and was making a massive $300-400 a month. Over time I have written over 1,000 articles and how I wish they were now only on 1 or 2 websites.” – Enda

2) Undervaluing Keyword Research

There’s a big difference between a rambling blog and a quality niche site. Keyword research must be the foundation upon which everything else is built, and you need to be strategic about the type of content you produce from day one.

One of the biggest mistakes I see new bloggers make is undervaluing the importance of keyword research.

It’s easy to understand why, as SEO can be pretty intimidating and confusing if you’re new to it. (That’s why I came up with the user-friendly KGR method.)

The best niche sites are driven by keyword research, and early content focuses on low hanging fruit like long-tail keywords and keywords with zero allintitle. It sounds counterintuitive to target small terms, but they can drive early traffic to your site and provide invaluable motivation as you start making a few sales.

You may have experienced this pitfall if you:

  • Take the Field of Dreams approach: It’s a great movie, however, it’s not a useful strategy for building a niche site. You can publish the best content in the world, but it won’t generate a dime if no one is searching for it or it doesn’t rank well on Google.

“I thought ‘just build it and they will come.’ After all, who wouldn’t want natural, non-toxic, affordable solutions for a new baby?” – Jen

“I was looking for an easy way to get results. I thought that if I put the website up, the internet fairy dust will come along and people just come and love it. I was not offering any value to anybody, was concentrating on dubious tactics, and jumping from one idea to another.” – Hando

  • Target competitive terms too soon: You want to drive traffic and make money, so you need to go after keywords with huge search volumes right? Nope — at least not in the beginning. Trying to rank for super competitive, high-traffic keywords is a sure way to waste time and money. Wait until your site is more established and you have the Google credibility to compete on a more even playing field.

“I didn’t really know who the site was aimed at. Based on the course I can now also see that the keyword research was off. I had some good KGR terms, but most [keywords didn’t have any buyer’s intent]. Your course has helped me see how I can pivot the site and make money in the future.” – Mark

“There wasn’t enough relevant content to start with, my niche was too broad, and my content topics were all over the place.” – Steve

  • Discount outliers: Factors like seasonality, audience demographics, and popularity can have a huge impact on your site earnings. You may find a few keywords with massive traffic and low competition that make you think you’ve struck gold. Not so fast. Consider whether terms (or your broader niche) are only relevant during a particular time of year, searched by people with low disposable income, or are dropping in popularity each year.

“I spent about 18 months building a site based upon keywords in the “Doctor Who” niche. What I didn’t realize was that although the keyword volume looked good, the traffic was mostly in October from people looking for Halloween costumes. To make matters worse, searchers were usually teenage girls looking for ideas who didn’t actually have money to spend. Seasonality is real. Make sure you consider who your target customers are and why they would be searching your target keywords.” – David

3) Setting Unrealistic Expectations

There’s a popular saying, “Perception is reality.”

If you expect an avalanche of traffic to your new niche site, thousands of dollars per month right away, and no bumps along the road, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. On the other hand, if you’re in this for the long haul and willing to put in the work, you may be pleasantly surprised as you steadily gain traffic and boost earnings over time.

You may have experienced this pitfall if you:

  • Expect traffic fast — or forever: While my KGR formula can help drive early traffic to your niche site, sustained high-volume traffic takes years to build — not days or months. Even once you have a decent amount of traffic, a Google algorithm update could set you back overnight.

“I told myself that if my niche site didn’t show signs of working after a year then I would join the Five Figure Niche Site course. After a year, website traffic is only 1,500 – 2,700 visits per month, and I’ve earned about $20 total. I joined the course and can now see several reasons why the site didn’t work. More importantly, I can see how it can work in the future.” – Mark

“After a year, my site was just getting 5 visitors per month (at most) so I decided to stop working on it.” – Luis

“The first six months were tough, as traffic was low due to several issues. After I got those fixed, things started moving along very well. – Gustavo

“Over about a year, I expended much sweat to bring the traffic up to 13k visitors per month (writing the articles myself and not buying backlinks – all clean and white hat) before the Google September 24 update slammed the site and I lost 70% traffic overnight. That’s not the failure since then I brought traffic back up to the former amount. The worst part is that no matter how much I try and how much money I spend, Google absolutely will not allow me to rank within the first 10 pages for the “best of” buyer keyword of my main type of item. The site doesn’t monetize nearly as well as when I would rank for this keyword.” – Greg

  • Bank on quick cash flow: In the early days of any niche site, a single sale is a huge victory! Sales require traffic, and traffic takes time. Set goals that inspire you to work hard, but don’t inflate your earnings expectations for the first couple years. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

“My site was initially a gig I saw on fiverr to create a site filled with Amazon products. I thought that this would be all I needed to generate income. It didn’t budge, so then I spent money on PPC and Facebook… which was just throwing money away.” – Troy

“I thought I’d try to do affiliate marketing more seriously than I had over the years. I launched a couple of sites, but still didn’t really get the traffic. I’ve done a blog since 2007, and I’ve tried affiliate marketing on it — again with limited success. I launched a podcast in 2018 to try and drive more traffic to the site.” – David

“After two months and 24 articles, I had earned $17.” – Zain

  • Quit your day job too soon: I make a good living from affiliate marketing, and I did quit my career in project management to pursue this line of work. That said, turning in your resignation letter the day you buy your first domain is a recipe for disaster. Niche sites aren’t a ‘get rich quick’ sure thing. Take the time to test your idea, build your traffic, and solidify your monetization strategy before kissing your reliable paycheck goodbye.

“Eventually I have gotten to $4,000 per month, but it has been painful. It took a long time to get to where I am now, as some sites did nothing, three of them got hacked and literally vanished overnight, and more than once I truly wanted to throw in the towel. It was highly frustrating, but thankfully my day job was there.” – Enda

“Get a good paying job and save as much money as you can so you can have a good budget. Doing everything yourself and not having a budget is not the path you want.” – Anthony

4) Failing to Crack the Monetization Code

There’s no single formula that guarantees your site will make money. (I wish there was!) There are, however, some best practices and proven methods that can increase your chances. Most sites are monetized using a combination of affiliate programs (e.g. Amazon Affiliates), display ads (e.g. Adsense), and digital info products (e.g. online course).

Within each monetization method are even more decisions, like what ad density to choose, whether to use text/image affiliate links or a mix of both, and how to build up an audience who wants to buy your info products.

Striking the right monetization balance involves trial and error, and you have to be willing to try new things if the old ones slow or stop working.

You may have experienced this pitfall if you:

  • Put all your eggs in one basket: Focus is a good thing, but it can be risky to have a single monetization method. Companies control their own commission rates, and they can (and often do) change them without warning. A large percentage of your earnings can vanish overnight if your main partner lowers payout rates — or ends their affiliate program altogether. Instead, choose a few strong affiliate partners and experiment with display ads as a starting point.

“Initially, I only planned to use Amazon Affiliate links for monetization. The more I thought about it, though, the more it made me nervous. I didn’t want one company controlling my site’s capacity to earn, so I added display ads through Mediavine and expanded to a few other direct affiliate programs. Amazon has cut commission rates several times in the past year alone, so I’m glad to have different levers I can pull.” – Christy

“I churned out lots of interesting conversational content, but struggled with monetisation.” – Stewart

  • Keep trying to get water from a stone: One of the hardest things to do after you’ve put a ton of time and/or money into a site is to admit it’s not going to work. If your goal was to make money (versus write for the joy of it), and you’ve tried everything you can think of, it may be time to raise the white flag. Take what you’ve learned, and put your effort into a new site that can help you reach your goals.

“I started a micro niche blog (not Amazon Affiliate) [that got up to] 27k in organic traffic. Then I monetized it with Google Adsense, but it doesn’t earn the amount I was expecting. I’m only earning 0.30$ or 0.30$ a day, which demotivated me enough to stop publishing content. I have also integrated my blog with Ezoic but nothing happened — I’m only earning 0.2$ or 0.3$.” – Mian

“My niche isn’t as high paying as most, and essentially it stopped being worth the time. ” – Victor

“I had plenty of visitors and subscribers to my site, but they never converted into customers for my own products or affiliate offerings.” – Jenny

  • Spend more than you make (for too long): Everyone’s budget is different, and some people can afford to pour a lot more money into a new site. That isn’t a guarantee their site will make it back though. Some of my most successful students have built sites with meager (if any) budget. They put in the sweat equity, and it pays off. Others decide to invest in hiring writers, purchase more powerful keyword research tools, or hire coaches to help guide them through the process. Whether you have $100 or $10,000 to put toward your site, set a limit for how much you’re comfortable investing in the site before it starts paying you back.

“I hired a writer way too early, spent a ton of money, and never critiqued the writer about work quality. Turned out, even for question and answer type posts, she was writing listicles. I expected someone else to do the hard part of writing and I’d see the money come in, which didn’t happen obviously.” – Ninad

“I didn’t take into consideration how much I was spending to make money or how to monetise the site.” – Victor

“As a professional photographer, I spent way too much time making things look pretty instead of focusing on monetization.“ – Anthony

5) Underestimating the Heavy Lifting

If you want your niche site to become a significant revenue driver for the long term, you have a lot of work ahead of you. It’s important to realize this up front and build a site that is sustainable for your lifestyle, budget, time, and level of interest.

Creating a site you can’t (or won’t want to) maintain isn’t advisable.

You may have experienced this pitfall if you:

  • Have technical, language, or legal difficulties: Issues with hosting, plugins, and site speed can set your site way back. Producing content in a second language can also be quite a challenge and impact visitor experience and how highly Google recommends your posts.

“My site had technical issues in the beginning and many errors (e.g. meta descriptions, 404 errors, 301 errors), as well as some articles Google judged as duplicative.” – Francis

“I was once shut down for two days by Hostgator, the hosting company I still use, for overloading their servers. The 403 error message decreased my traffic even more!” – Edgar

“My first site got taken down after I got legal letters in the mail.” – Mike

“I am not a native speaker of English and never use English for daily communication or work.” – Ryan

  • Didn’t expect to work hard: While it is possible to outsource pieces of your site over time, don’t assume you can throw money at a niche site, never lift a finger, and scoop up cash. Hiring dirt cheap writers, devaluing quality content and design, and applying a ‘set it and forget it’ approach doesn’t pay off (literally).

“I didn’t put enough time into growing the previous affiliate sites since I was always so busy with other businesses.” – David

“I didn’t account for how much work a niche site takes.” – Victor

  • Create an unsustainable model: Selling online courses can be great. Facilitating forums and Facebook communities can be rewarding. Running a membership site can be worth it. If you hate dealing with customer emails, don’t have time to moderate comments, or find social media frustrating, these ideas might not be for you. Think hard about what you like to do and are good at. Build your site so it is sustainable for your unique preferences, skills, and lifestyle.

“The site became an albatross — so much effort with little to no reward. I felt like I had wasted so much time and wound up leaving the site alone for many months.” – Steve

“I  learned quite soon that getting a forum off the ground was way harder than I thought. As I had no budget to work with, there was no chance to get it to the critical mass where it would have taken off. My forum remained a ghost town.” – Hando

“My goal is to spend more time living my life, so I want my niche site to give me more time and money to do so. That’s why I haven’t set up any high-touch Facebook groups, courses requiring customer service, or membership subscriptions. Though my monetization approach is straightforward (e.g. affiliate + display ads), the site is able to keep running while I’m off doing my hobbies, hanging out with friends and family, and enjoying life.” – Christy

“There is only one of me, and my time is precious, so do the IMPORTANT things.” – Sandro

Parting Thoughts

Though I asked people to share their non-success stories, the responses were far from gloomy. It was great to read how much folks had learned through their failures and to hear from so many of you who are still putting in the hard work.

I want to wrap up with a few of my favorite pieces of advice from your fellow bloggers:

“The important thing is to keep trying, keep learning, and take action even if you’re failing. Failure is the indicator that you should be doing something differently. This is a good thing. Fail forward faster.” – Steve

“Don’t be afraid to learn. After two years of ploughing through niche site marketing unsuccessfully, I finally feel like I’ve cracked it. Now I have another site that’s already doubled my first site’s income in just a few months.” – Stewart

“Create a quality site you’re truly proud of — traffic and earnings will follow.” – Christy

“My first sales came from KGR keywords, and that got me motivated. I then focused on creating more content. Now I’m generating $1000-$1500 per month.” – Troy

“Focus on your readers’ problems. Have ONE ideal reader – don’t try to reach everyone. Learning is great, but starting is better. And keyword research — wow!” – Jen

“Build your first site without outsourcing whatsoever. It helps to know the basics.” – Ninad

“Have a plan. Build something that is useful and helpful to other people. Don’t look for shortcuts. Be willing to put in the hard work. Concentrate on one thing until you make it work.” – Hando

“Choose something that you love and know about because by doing so, even when you are not making money, you will keep it up and running because you love working on it and providing information.” – Edgar

“Good content is the key.” – Keerthi

“The secret to getting done is getting started.” – Sandro

“I now earn around $4,000 a month mainly from Amazon across three websites. Be fully prepared to either write or pay for quality content and publish regularly.” – Enda

“There are many variables that affect the success of a site, and there are sometimes multiple paths to success. It is best to test your ideas on a small scale, see what works, then do more of that.” – Dave

“Just take action. It is not going to be perfect when you start, but you have to start. You will get better.” – David

“Select a good niche upfront, not only focusing on your interests.” – Luis

“Get really clear on what makes your site unique, who your ideal audience is and if they are the right match to what you’re offering.” – Jenny

“Don’t stop learning, but realize that online courses aren’t perfect.” – Sami

“Never give up before the first year. I thought about it many times, and now I’m quite happy that I persisted. My site is far from providing the results I’m looking for, but I’ve learned a lot. I know that I can keep growing this site and that I have the knowledge to start a second site which can do better than the first.” – Gustavo

“KGR works. Be patient.” – Ryan

Introducing Multi Profit Site

The goal:

Create an authority website from scratch with a blended monetization approach to diversify and help create a defensible business using affiliate marketing, display ads, and direct relationships.

It’s launching this week with launch enrollment prices lower than they’ll ever be, until June 19.

I’m building a site inside the course, along with the students so you can see exactly what I do.

Learn more about Multi Profit Site

About the Author: Doug Cunnington is the founder of Niche Site Project. He shows people how to create Affiliate Sites using project management and a proven, repeatable framework. Doug loves creating systems, using templates, and brewing beer (but usually not at the same time).

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5 comments… add one
  • As I read more and more, Doug’s content, the more and more I lean towards joining the Multi Profit Site or 5 Figure Niche Site Project.

    I know my site is worth more than what I’ve worked on it. Thanks to Doug and his KGR Formula.

  • Hello Doug,
    I started reading about the KGR method on another website (I think it was Mangool) and the great content made me go through links and I ended up reading all your posts! Thank you for sharing your experience, it’s really useful.
    I started my journey a year ago and I’m still trying to see what works for me best based on my budget and goals.
    Thanks again.

  • Gautam

    I can relate to lots of points out of this 30-list!
    Now is time to leave the past and move forward with the MPS with Doug’s help & IMG community! Talk to you all in a year. All the best to everyone in your online entrepreneurship journey!

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