If you want to make money online, there are two proven methods for doing so: affiliate marketing and creating membership sites. Both options work well to help generate income from your website. So which one should you choose? In this article we’ll cover the pros and cons of membership sites versus affiliate marketing to help you decide which option is best for you.
Membership Site vs Affiliate Site: Which is Best?
Whether or not you have a following or existing website, getting started with either approach is achievable for most. If you want to monetize your existing website or use your expertise to start generating online income, both affiliate marketing and creating a membership site can work for you. However, as you’ll soon learn, each option has its pros and cons.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Before we get started, it’s worth pointing out that although there are many forms of affiliate marketing, this article refers to the practice of adding website links that take users to other websites where a purchase can be made. You earn a commission for each customer you refer. The Amazon Associates program is a great example of this type of affiliate marketing. Add an affiliate link to your website that takes a visitor to Amazon and you’ll earn a percentage of whatever they spend in the next twenty-four hours.
What is a Membership Site?
For the purpose of this guide, a membership site is a website with areas available only to registered members who make either a one-time or recurring payment in order to access membership content. A tool like MemberPress makes it easy to launch a membership site.
With that cleared up, let’s continue our look at affiliate marketing versus membership sites.
WordPress software is perfect for creating affiliate websites and membership sites. And startup costs are going to be relatively low compared to most income-generating projects because the WordPress software is free, and all you need to launch your website is a domain name and web-hosting account.
As your project grows, you may want to upgrade to more expensive, higher-performance hosting, but for getting started, a $3.95-per-month shared hosting plan will do.
We do, however, recommend a few other commercial products. If you want your site to have a professional appearance, regardless of whether it’s an affiliate blog or membership website, choosing the right premium WordPress theme can quickly make it look credible—and for less than one hundred dollars.
A free plugin like Pretty Links Lite can help you manage the commission-earning links on your affiliate website, whereas for those starting a membership site, a premium plugin, such as our very own MemberPress, comes highly recommended.
The winner in regard to startup: an affiliate website, as you don’t need any premium plugins.
Website Building Skills Required
While WordPress isn’t the most user-friendly website-building software, it is one of the most powerful. Once you’ve registered a domain name and purchased some web-hosting space, WordPress provides you with everything you need to start publishing online.
Once you’re familiar with WordPress, creating an affiliate website is relatively straightforward. At its most basic level, it’s simply a case of publishing blog posts and linking to affiliate offers. Launching a membership site, on the other hand, requires you to master the tools that will handle the membership functionality of your site. You’ll also have to handle payment-processor integration, establish pricing strategies, and map out more sophisticated content structures.
The winner in regard to website-building skills: an affiliate website, as even a basic blog post can generate income.
When it comes to monetizing your membership site, your main option is going to be charging a fee for content access. With that, you have a good amount of flexibility. Recurring subscriptions and charging a one-off for lifetime access or access for a fixed period are popular options. With a good membership tool, you can easily create multiple tiers or packages, giving your users plenty of choices. You’re also free to charge what the market will bear. Price testing is easy too, as you’re in control of the process.
With affiliate marketing, you typically earn a percentage of what your visitors spend on the partner website. Some products and services you can promote are more profitable than others—the amount you can earn per successful referral ranges from less than one dollar to over one hundred.
The winner regarding monetization: It’s a draw. It really depends on the value of the offer you present your visitors.
Whatever type of site you’re building, you’re going to need traffic, and your goals and the earnings potential of your website both play a large part in dictating how many visitors you’ll need for your site to be successful. If you already have a platform, such as a popular website, a large following, or a well-known brand, you can start sending traffic to your new site right away.
If you don’t, you’re going to have to either earn organic traffic from the search engines and social media or pay for exposure through advertising and other arrangements.
There’s been endless talk over the years as to whether or not Google hates affiliate sites. The consensus seems to be that Google gives priority to useful content in its search-engine results. As affiliate sites are often not of the highest quality, it can be difficult for them to rank successfully. However, if you work hard to ensure your content provides real value, the fact that your site is monetized with affiliate links shouldn’t hold you back.
Membership sites face their own hurdles in trying to rank well in the search engines. Putting all your best content behind a paywall won’t win you any favors from Google. Understand that you’ll need to make some high-quality content freely available on your website if you want to receive organic search-engine traffic.
Paying for traffic can be expensive. Therefore, the potentially higher margins from a new membership-site registration versus an affiliate commission make paid traffic a more viable option for membership sites.
The winner regarding traffic acquisition: membership site, as the potential lifetime value of a member can make paid traffic affordable.
Within most niches, you’ll find countless high-paying affiliate offers to promote on your site, which means plenty of opportunities for growth and expansion once your site takes off.
Furthermore, an affiliate site is a great way to test the market. If you’re able to successfully promote other people’s products to your audience, you stand a good chance of promoting your own. Whether this involves launching your own digital download or importing products from China to sell on Amazon via their fulfillment program, the potential for growth is there.
Once your initial membership product is successful, you can think about creating additional courses. Expanding into related areas and creating follow-on courses are just two options for growing your membership site. And feel free to raise your membership fees as your course content grows or your product becomes more popular.
The winner when it comes to growth potential: It’s a draw. There’s no limit to how far you can take your website with either option.
Why Not Do Both?
Although it’s best to focus on one business model until your project is established, there’s no reason why you can’t add a membership component to your affiliate site or start earning affiliate commissions by publishing referral links on your membership site down the line.
If your membership course coaches people on fitness, you could add affiliate links to fitness equipment for sale on a site like Amazon. A membership course on photography could be a profitable addition to an affiliate site that reviews cameras.
In the end, there really is no winner when it comes to affiliate sites versus membership projects. Both models have their pros and cons, and in most cases, both monetization options can work well together on the same site.
If you want to keep things simple and are happy to focus on creating great content, promoting your website, and making money by helping others sell more products, an affiliate website may be the best option for you.
But if you want to build a real business and are happy to work directly with your members and relish being in control of every step of the user experience, from the first visit to collecting payments, consider a membership project.
Thanks to WordPress and its offerings of themes and plugins, starting either project is relatively straightforward. Whether you’re willing to show up every day and put in the work or not will be the biggest contributor to your success, not which type of website you build. If you want it badly enough, you’ll make it work!
Which type of website are you going to build—an affiliate or membership site? Let us know in the comments below.
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