Display Ads vs. Affiliate Income (Which one should you focus on)

There are many ways to make money with a niche site, and display ads and affiliate marketing (especially Amazon affiliate sites) are the two most popular methods.

While you can use both of these methods on the same site, you need to choose one of these as the primary source of income.

This helps while planning your niche site and keeps you focused when scaling it.

I have tried my hands on building both types of sites, and I prefer using display ads as the main source of income (just a personal preference, affiliate folks are awesome too).

In this article, I want to compare both of these monetization methods and the key differences that I have noticed.

I also want to highlight how it changes the way you build sites and the good, the bad, and the ugly of these two monetization techniques.

For the purpose of this article, I will consider a successful site to be one that makes $5K a month. Of course, there are many sites that make much more, but let’s stick to $5k for the sake of this article.

Note: This article is not about which method is better. The answer to that, of course, is – it depends. The aim of this article is to cover some of the finer things that are often ignored, but should rather be the main drivers of your decision.

Choosing the Right Niche

Display Ad income is dependent on your site’s traffic. The more traffic you get, the more money you make.

While the actual RPM (i.e., revenue per 1000 visitors) would depend on the niche and the traffic demographics, the overall traffic would have a direct correlation with the income.

Considering a conservative $10 RPM, you will need a total monthly traffic of 500,000+ page views to make $5000.

Since you need a lot of traffic to make money from display ads, you can not go too narrow in your niche selection.

For example, if you’re in the pets niche, you are better off creating a site about dogs instead of a specific breed (say, German Shepherd).

On the contrary, the RPMs for an affiliate money site are a lot higher ($80-120, or even higher in some cases).

This would also depend on the average price of the product in your niche, and if you have selected your niche carefully, you should easily end up making ~$100 per thousand visitors.

To make $5000 with an affiliate site, you will need only ~50,000 page views. This means that you can choose a niche that is not as broad as the one you would need with display ads.

This influences the way you do keyword research.

For making money with display ads, you will choose a niche where you can find hundreds of good keywords. But you need significantly fewer keywords to start an Amazon affiliate site (where most of the keywords are about product roundup reviews and comparison).

My approach: I go for niches where I can find a lot of info keywords to write about. AHREFs is my choice of tool to do keyword research, and if I can’t find hundreds of questions related to a topic/niche, I stay away from it.

Content Creation

A site monetized with display ads would need a lot more traffic as compared to an Amazon affiliate site. And to get this traffic, you will also need to publish more info content.

The time you would take to write 1000 words would be somewhat similar whether you write information content or affiliate site content.

And in case you outsource the content writing, the cost would also be roughly the same.

But since you need more content with display ads, it takes a lot more time/money.

On the flip side, info content is easier to rank (if you pick up low competition keywords). With product roundup reviews or single product reviews, you’ll have to spend time/money to actively build links.

All in all, to make the same amount of money, you’re likely to spend less time/money on an affiliate site as compared to the info content site.

My approach: I focus on question type keywords where the purpose of the article is to answer the question. The formatting is quite straightforward and something I have trained my writers to do. For every article, I get, it takes me 30-40 minutes to publish it (this includes proofreading, minor formatting, and interlinking with other articles)

Time to Monetization

If you have an affiliate site and the first person that visits your site makes a purchase, you generate some commission right away.

On the contrary, it would take you some time (at least a few months) to get the ad income coming. To begin with, you need decent traffic to get approved by good ad networks (such as Ezoic, Mediavine, or AdThrive).

Most of the people start with Google Adsense, and even there you need some content and traffic to get approved – with a decent chance of getting rejected.

There are other networks as well that you can apply to once you have more traffic than their requirement:

  1. Ezoic – needs a minimum of 10K page views in the last 30 days
  2. Mediavine – needs a minimum of 50K sessions in the last 30 days
  3. AdThrive – needs a minimum of 100K page views in the last 30 days

Below is one of my new sites (10 months old) that’s getting $10+ RPM with Ezoic.

Ezoic RPM

Since new sites often take months to rank, it could be anywhere from 6 months to a year for you to get approved by an ad network and make some money.

This is the primary reason I believe you should start with a site that’s focussed on Amazon affiliate. You can easily apply and get approved for the Amazon Affiliate network and can make money with only a few pages views a day.

For beginners, it’s a fantastic motivation to see that money can be made online. While it may not break the bank, once you make a dollar (or even a few cents) online, it makes it real.

My approach: I am past the beginner’s phase and I can afford to spend some money and wait for the traffic to build up. So, it works fine for me to take the display ads route. But if you’re a beginner, know that display ad would need time, while an affiliate site can be monetized a lot faster.

Return on Time Invested

I hear this quite often that an affiliate site is more lucrative and has way better RPM (earning per 1000 visitors) than the one monetized with display ads.

This is 100% correct!

But I don’t agree with the metric being considered.

The limiter in my online business is not the traffic but my time, and I need to optimize for that. This means that I need to make sure I earn more $$ per hour of my time invested (not more $$ per page view).

If I can get 10 times the page views in an hour’s work from my display ad site (as compared with the affiliate site), I would be a fool to still think that the affiliate site is better.

Now, this sounds about right in theory but does this actually work in real life. Can I get 10 times more traffic with info articles as compared with product reviews and round-ups?

Yes, you can!

There are a lot more low competition info keywords that you can write about.

Of course, this also takes more time in writing these articles (but I am considering that you will be outsourcing the content writing anyway)

These keywords are easy to rank and often end up getting thousands of page views a month.

Many nay-sayers argue that you shouldn’t worry about keywords with low volume (0-10 in AHREFs) as these don’t get a lot of traffic, but my Google Search Console disagrees.

On the contrary, affiliate keywords are harder to rank, and it would need some links in most cases. Info content, on the other hand, can rank with no links (or very few links).

Since affiliate sites can make money faster, your return on time invested is better with an affiliate site in the initial stage.

But since it’s easier to scale an info content site, the return on time invested is better with a display ad site.

One exception to this rule is when you quickly grow and sell your affiliate site. In that case, you get a better return on time invested and also don’t have to worry about the scaling part.

My approach: Managing a portfolio of niche sites means that I am short on time. Having display ad focussed sites allow me to outsource most of the stuff and makes it easier to scale.

Content Publishing & Upkeep

Affiliate content takes more time to publish than info content.

I am not talking about the writing part itself, but everything around it.

To begin with, you need to find the products that you will be reviewing. Assuming you outsource the content writing, it would still take more time to format the affiliate articles and publish it.

On average, most top 10 round-up review articles would be around 3-4k words. In the same word count, you can publish 2-3 info articles (which takes less time in formatting and publishing).

But the big difference is in the upkeep of the content. The products in affiliate round-up articles often go out of stock or become unavailable.

In such cases, you need to find other products that are available and update the round-up article. And if you’re using multiple different affiliates, it could take even more time to keep track and keep these articles updated.

On the contrary, info articles don’t need a lot of upkeep. In many cases, you don’t need to update these ever, and even if you do, it relatively easier.

Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is another area where you need to experiment and spend time.

On the contrary, all good ad networks would take care of maximizing your ad income by testing ad sizes/positions and making recommendations in case there is a scope of increasing the income.

My approach: I focus on keyword research, outsource content writing, and have a schedule to publish content regularly + a little bit of link building if needed.

Incremental Value of a Backlink

Info content site needs more investment in the content but less in link building. With affiliate sites, link building is equally important.

With info articles, if you do your keyword research right, many of your articles will rank with no link building. And many more will start ranking if you build a handful of links.

Affiliate sites, on the other hand, need a lot more links to get on the first page and make sales.

You also need to do a lot of active link building with affiliate sites, while with an info content site, you may likely get some organic links (as people don’t mind linking to good information articles).

The incremental benefit of a backlink is a lot higher with information content as compared with an affiliate site.

My approach: I start with publishing 40-50 articles on a site and wait for it to get some traffic. As soon as I see movement in rankings, I build a few links and publish more content.


If you are a beginner who does not have the money to outsource content writing, it’s best to start an Amazon affiliate site.

Unlike an information content site, you don’t need a lot of content or page views to start making money from an affiliate site.

Creating info content sites is a great business model if you can outsource the content creation part. Since this is easier to scale and has less upkeep, you can grow this a lot faster than an affiliate site.

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