Case Study

A failed affiliate site that might be worth bringing back to life

Online marketing is all about testing what works. Failure is part of that process. A case study about why a site failed and whether it can be brought back to life

#Fail

You’ve probably had a website or online project that failed to take off in the way that you initially expected it to.

From the idea implanting itself into your brain, to the registering of the domain name and building of the website. You are full of giddy excitement. You are convinced that this one will be a ‘winner'

This site will be the site that will finally help you retire before 30/40. Or settle on that small tropical island. Or (insert dream here).

Donotbuythis.com was not that site for me.

Donotbuythis.com

Do Not Buy This is a product website with the strapline: The ultimate list of awesome stuff you don’t need. 

The site showcases geeky/luxury/fun/stupid products & gadgets. The reasoning behind the name, Do not buy this, was that these were items you did not actually need. But you probably wanted them anyway.

donotbuythis

The products on the site could usually be found on Amazon or Firebox. So the site made money by refering people to the product as an affiliate.

It’s certainly not an original idea. The market leader for product sites like this is thisiswhyimbroke.com which is rumoured to make $20k a month.

The problem

I was not the only prospector in this gold rush, many similar sites popped up around the same time. But at the time I strongly believed that my site would be better. Giving the user extra value with my selection of products and interesting reviews all packaged together on a nicely designed site. 

But it wasn’t to be.

The market was indeed saturated and I wasn’t going to be retiring thanks to this website anytime soon. After spending time building it and writing several product reviews it seemed like this site was going nowhere fast.

So I gave up. Left it to its own fate in the wild. Uncared for and alone.

Alone in the wild

In December 2014 after reading Chris Guthrie’s blog about his huge Amazon.com success, I was reminded about the website that I had so excitedly created but then left to fester.

So I decided to pay a little visit.

First impressions

I cringed at the design. What I thought looked decent a few years ago looks dated to me now. It could be so much cleaner.

donotbuythis blog post

The content though was actually pretty good. Some of it even mildly amusing - even if i do say so myself!!!

Some of the pages had even picked up some good comments on the facebook social plugin I had installed. There was clearly some social interest.

Next I checked the site’s Amazon affiliate scheme earnings.

Suprise - It did actually make some money!

The biggest issue with the site was the monetisation strategy with Amazon. I never felt the return i was getting was worth pursuing compared with the amount of money i was bringing in with Adsense and other affiliate type sites. So I kept my focus on those instead.

However, over time it had consistently trickled sales. Even in its abandoned state!

In the space of 2 years from late 2012 to late 2014 it had made $667.42 in commissions from Amazon. And some Firebox commissions too.

amazon earnings

Not in any way a life changing amount of money but certainly a nice discovery from a site I had abandoned.

Lessons learned

So why did this site not become the consistent earner I had originally hoped it would?

Late to the party

Not many sites on the web can claim to be enitrely original, but within its own niche this site was clearly late to the party. The market leader had gone viral, a few others made a dent but there was little room for anybody else to do the same.

Expecting to much

Donobuythis.com did not do what I had hoped. But looking back it could have done so much better that it did. With a more aggressive strategy and persistence it perhaps could have made up to $1k a month in commissions.

I just stopped adding content

What if had continued posting articles for the past 2 years and driven traffic? The products were relatively easy to add and its the kind of site that people love to share with their friends. I should have played the long game and not expected instant results.

Badly placed affiliate links

Looking at the sites competitors, they all link right through to the product on Amazon from the homepage. I linked to the post/review and then out to the product. This was clearly driving down conversions.

The name

Perhaps the site's name actually creates a negative impression and actually stops users buying anything! I did ponder this when I set it up but thought I was being clever with some reverse psychology wizardry. 

One mans failure is another mans success.

This site still actually made some money which i’m genuinely thankful for.

It just didn't make the money I expected it to. It still was successful in covering my costs and teaching me valuable lessons.

In 2012 i had a different focus. I was looking for that one golden goose that would bring me tons of profit.

My focus now, is on multiple income streams so perhaps this site could yet be part of my portfolio.

Back from the dead

Since the site was launched i’ve learned a ton more about driving traffic & social media.

I now wonder if perhaps I abandoned the site prematurely. Time has allowed the site to become a bit more established with a few hundred visitors a day who are actually visiting the Amazon links and purchasing products. I wasn't thinking in the long term.

I’m toying with the idea of bringing the site back to life. But with much smaller ambitions than before. 

What could be done better?

  • Drip feed articles and keep the site alive, I would potentially outsource them. I think i placed way to much emphasis on writing interesting reviews when its all about driving users to the product.
  • An aggressive facebook strategy laser targeted at the right audience. The site had been picked up on facebook and has several comments with the facebook widget. These are the kind of products that go viral with people sharing them with their friends on Facebook.
  • A new cleaner design.
  • Links on the homepage. Like similar sites in this niche. Donotbuythis.com needs to send as much traffic as it can directly to the product. This site should do the same by linking from the homepage to the affilate site.

What do you guys think?

Speak to any online marketer and they will tell you they have a site just like this. It takes failing and multiple testing to realise what works. Getting started on a project teaches you so much more than sitting back and overthinking things.

But perhaps this one still has some merit and was abandoned too early. I’m thinking of keeping it on as a small case study to see if we can get some solid income coming in.

One to leave well alone or one to bring back from the dead? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Watch this space.

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About the author

Paul Messenger

Paul Messenger is the founder of moneytuts.com, blogger, designer and online marketer.