PPC affiliate marketing: does it still work?

Johannes Rastas
More from Affiliate & Partner Marketing Strategies

When talking about PPC affiliate marketing, it’s important to make a distinction between two different types of performance-based marketing. What is usually referred to as pay per click affiliate programs are programs where marketers, also called publishers, get paid by displaying ads next to their online content. Google AdSense is the most popular example. In these programs, marketers are paid for bringing traffic (clicks in most cases) to the merchant’s website.

Confusingly enough, PPC affiliate marketer can refer to any affiliate marketer who uses paid advertising to promote affiliate offers to their audience. In this case, affiliates have to invest their own money up front to create ad campaigns for the products they’re promoting as affiliates. These PPC affiliates are usually paid only for conversions, i.e. when an actual sale occurs.

The two often get mixed up. However, the former is strictly about monetizing your website with display ads, whereas the latter is more about using PPC strategies to do affiliate marketing. In this article, we will focus on the feasibility of doing affiliate marketing by running paid ads campaigns to promote affiliate products. Is it a viable option at all? You will find out about the challenges that most PPC affiliates have to face and the strategies that can make it work.

Challenges in PPC affiliate marketing

Knowing what challenges could lie ahead will help you prepare an effective strategy for your ad campaigns.

Low profitability

The most obvious challenge in using PPC for affiliate marketing is related to profitability. You run the risk of paying for ad campaigns that don’t make any return.

The concern about profitability is a deal breaker for many. And it is perhaps in most cases better to focus your affiliate promotion efforts on other channels. Since you’re only earning a commission of the purchase price, your campaigns have to be carefully planned and structured to make a profit.

Limited tracking

Tracking the performance of your ads is an integral part of testing and optimization in PPC. As an affiliate marketer, you cannot simply create and add UTM codes to your URLs to track your conversions because you don’t own the websites for the products you promote.

While you cannot directly track your conversions, you can still track the clicks and impressions of your ads and all actions on your affiliate landing page. You will also get access to an affiliate dashboard that shows all the traffic and conversions that you bring to the merchant’s website. 

chart about affiliate traffic and conversions

Low click-through and conversion rates

As an affiliate, you’re only able to bid on non-branded keywords that are usually highly competitive and attract more top of the funnel traffic than people who are ready to convert. This can result in both low CTR and conversion rates, which poses another challenge to profitability.

performance data comparing branded and non-branded keywords

Ad policy violations

Advertising platforms such as Google Ads have policies that forbid the use of bridge pages. That’s why your affiliate landing page needs to provide valuable content on its own and cannot just send the visitor from one page to another, i.e. be a bridge page.

Occasionally, affiliates might get their ad accounts suspended if the ad support team is not familiar with the difference between an affiliate landing page and a bridge page. The solution is to make sure that your page offers something that the merchant’s page you’re linking to doesn’t provide. 

Hard to scale up

Since you’re bidding on clicks, scaling means simply paying for more clicks. But your conversions don’t necessarily grow in line with the increase in clicks. More clicks also demands a wider audience, which doesn’t come easy especially if you’re promoting a niche product. 

graphs about clicks and conversions

Strategies for PPC affiliate marketing

How to make money with PPC affiliate marketing? Well, setting up a campaign is just the start. 

You will have to carry out constant testing of your ads, keywords, and your own landing pages to optimize your campaigns and keep your costs down. You will also need to organize your ad groups and break everything down into relevant segments.

google ads campaign data

Before delving into the PPC affiliate strategies, here’s a quick checklist of things to consider:

  • Make sure the affiliate program allows you to use paid ads;
  • Always link to your own affiliate landing page, not directly to the merchant’s website;
  • Build a landing page that offers additional value to users, e.g. using your industry experience to create guides, tutorials, use cases, reviews, and comparisons;
  • Choose your ad platform, e.g. Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads etc.;
  • Never use branded keywords;
  • Monitor your performance and optimize by testing;
  • Start with a small budget and scale it up once you get positive results.

Start with organic traffic

The use of organic traffic in affiliate marketing was contrasted with paid advertising in our earlier post about SEO vs PPC. There we concluded that using SEO and PPC together to maximize your traffic and conversions is the optimal choice if you have the resources for it. With PPC, you can get instant results and drive a lot of traffic to your affiliate site. And with SEO, you will improve your site’s ranking and build authority, which will also increase your conversion rate.

As already pointed out, to avoid getting your ad account suspended, you need to build an affiliate landing page that offers value, i.e. generate organic traffic. Once you have laid your organic foundation and made sure that your website can cover the costs of advertising, consider adding PPC to the mix.

This organic foundation also builds your trust and authority for consumers. Warming up your traffic means that you need to provide value up front. PPC alone can bring you a lot of cold traffic but that traffic is not worth much, unless you warm it up with some organic content.

Focus on keyword research

Making the most of your keyword research means favoring high-intent keywords. People who use these search queries are more likely to follow through on their actions. For example, review and comparison keywords are typically used by those who are already closer to conversion. These users are at the stage where they’re researching and evaluating different products. 

Effective keyword usage requires constant testing and updating your lists according to most recent trends. The challenge is that you need keywords that are both specific and targeted but also attract enough traffic and are not saturated with too much competition. 

And because you’re bidding on keywords as an affiliate, you have to be extra careful with your ad spend. Try to focus more on exact match keywords. They give you more control over what exactly you’re bidding on and help you minimize costs. With broad match keywords, you may accidentally bid on related keywords that are not relevant enough and just drive your costs up.

Make your ads appealing

To make every ad dollar count, your PPC ad copy needs to be compelling, too. Similar to the content on your affiliate landing page, your ads should hook the user with its catchy headline.

Even though you’re not bidding on branded keywords, the content of your ads should be closely tied to the product you’re promoting. Just like the content on your landing page. Address the problem that your affiliate product is able to solve and give tidbits of information on how your affiliate page can guide them in using it.

In addition to choosing the most relevant keywords, use action verbs and include a clear call to action at the end. Below is an example of compelling PPC ad copy:

ppc ad of supermetrics affiliate program

Build compelling landing pages

There is no PPC affiliate marketing without a website. An affiliate landing page is where users land after they click the link on your ad. It’s also where you create useful content related to the product you’re promoting and insert your unique referral links to the merchant’s website. In the Supermetrics partner program, these links have a 90-day cookie life. So, as long as users who click your referral link make a purchase within those 90 days, you will receive your affiliate commission.

As an affiliate, you add an extra step to the sales funnel. That’s why your landing page must provide additional, unique value for the visitors. To get started, take a look at the landing pages of some of the top affiliates. Study their content and how they present the affiliate offer.

Google analytics dashboard

In the above example, our affiliate has built dashboards and written a post around them where he showcases the value of our tools. In addition to including the affiliate link, he also promotes his own consulting service. All of this content is related to the affiliate product and provides value to users.

To give a good impression, pay attention to your website design and make it as user-friendly as possible. Video tutorials are a welcome addition. And avoid bombarding your landing page with multiple affiliate offers. It’s usually better to focus on just one affiliate offer at a time. 

Remember to also engage your audience. Ideally, you will establish a community on your affiliate website. And it’s your job to nurture these visitors until they’re ready to convert. 

Organize your campaigns

In PPC, you will first create a campaign. This campaign is then home to ad groups. And finally those ad groups are the container for your keywords. 

In terms of targeting, you might want to create separate campaigns at least for different geographical areas. This way, you’re able to narrow down which countries comprise the most attractive segments for your ads. Keeping them separate makes it easier to control them.

The next stage is to create ad groups for each set of keywords. Most likely you will want to focus more on targeted keywords with high purchase intent instead of general keywords.

ad campaign structure on google ads

Maintain a high quality or relevance score

Ad platforms give you a rating of the quality and relevance of your ads and keywords. It shows how well your ads are being received by your target audience. The score is affected by a number of factors, including your CTR, the quality and relevance of your landing page, the relevance of each keyword to its ad group, your ad text, and your account’s performance.

This score impacts your ad’s visibility in the search results, so try to do what you can to improve it. For example, you may optimize your landing page, refine your ad text, add negative keywords to exclude irrelevant queries, discover new relevant keywords and organize them into groups.

Create several ad groups that use a different set of ads and keywords. For example, split guide and tutorial keywords, review and comparison keywords, and discount keywords (if you’re allowed to use them) into separate ad groups. This will also help you monitor which groups have the best conversion rates.

Collaborate with in-house affiliate program managers

This is one of the most important strategies that you shouldn’t ignore. If you’re an affiliate for an established brand, they surely have their own marketing department that runs PPC campaigns. That’s why you need to inform them in advance if you’re planning to promote their offers using PPC and get their approval first. Also, read carefully their affiliate terms and conditions.

As an affiliate marketer, you shouldn’t try to compete with the merchant’s keywords. That would simply be a waste of your budget. Discuss with their in-house affiliate managers how you could complement their efforts and what platforms and keywords you could use in your campaigns.

Some merchants don’t allow their affiliates to run Google Ads campaigns for them. And in addition to not being allowed to use brand keywords, there can be other limitations regarding your ad copy, banners, or the use of discount codes, for example.

Track and optimize your performance

Depending on the scale of your PPC campaigns, you can choose to track your performance directly on the ad platforms and use Google Analytics for monitoring your landing page, or you could pull all of that data into one spreadsheet or dashboard with a tool like Supermetrics.

The last option is recommended if you’re running your ad campaigns on a larger scale. You can then blend data from different platforms and join up to 5 data sources for each chart or table.

Once you’ve collected the data, it’s time to analyze which campaigns, ad groups, and keywords are giving you the best results. Increase the budget for the top-performing campaigns and drop the low-performing ones. And keep an eye out for new trends.


To make money with PPC affiliate marketing, you might have to resort to less popular advertising platforms or targeting locations that the merchant’s in-house PPC team isn’t covering.

Your key to successful ad campaigns is to be transparent. Consult with the affiliate program managers and get their approval first. And make sure that you have an effective landing page that provides content for potential customers they cannot find on the merchant’s website.

There is no successful PPC affiliate marketing without an organic foundation. Just like SEO, PPC is highly competitive, which means that you need to put in the effort, monitor your performance and be constantly on the lookout for ways to optimize your campaigns.

Check out more affiliate marketing strategies in the article: Expert affiliate marketing strategies to boost your affiliate conversions. And join our Supermetrics partner program to earn 20% recurring commissions from each sale.

About Johannes Rastas

A Partner Marketing Manager at Supermetrics, Johannes focuses on expanding the Supermetrics partner program and collaborating with their existing partners. He also works with SEO and content on a daily basis. Feel free to contact him on LinkedIn.

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