Is Affiliate Marketing Worth it in 2021?

Are you wondering if affiliate marketing is still worth pursuing in 2021? Should you still invest your valuable time in affiliate marketing, or is the market saturated and would it be a Herculean task to achieve success as a newcomer?

Whether you’re interested in earning a passive income with affiliate marketing or looking into leveraging affiliate marketing to promote your own products or services: we’ve collected some figures to help you overcome that hesitation.

Why you might be doubtful whether affiliate marketing is still worth it in 2021

There are two camps for whom the question of affiliate marketing is still worth it might be relevant:

  • Advertisers, who would leverage affiliate marketing to have others promote their products and services
  • Publishers, who are the ones advertising the products and services of the advertisers to build a passive income

The latter are probably the ones who are most hesitant whether affiliate marketing is still worth it, if you haven’t started out yet. 

As with so many other examples when it comes to earning money, it might feel like you’ve “missed the boat” on affiliate marketing. Just like you wish that you would have invested in Bitcoin a few years ago, you might sigh and tell yourself that you should have started with affiliate marketing earlier. 

Perhaps you feel like the market is already saturated. That all the profitable niches have been filled by now and those websites are very difficult – almost impossible even – to beat. 

This might be true for some niches. For the most lucrative and popular topics, like insurances, travel, photography and cooking, there are many websites that you would have to compete against when you’re just starting out as an affiliate marketer. 

In those cases, starting out with affiliate marketing in 2021 might not be worth your time and effort. Pick your battles!

However, as you’ll discover if you keep reading, the affiliate market is still growing. More money is being spent on affiliate marketing every year, and new opportunities for topics and niches keep popping up. 

Would it have been easier to start an affiliate business ten years ago? Perhaps, but keep in mind that you wouldn’t have had at your disposal all the information, affiliate marketing networks and attribution tools that we have today, which makes it easier than ever for newcomers to learn the ropes. 

Is it still worth starting with affiliate marketing in 2021? Yes, it sure is!

Affiliate marketing trends in market sizes

Alright, we promised you numbers, so let’s dive in. We’ll be looking at the development of the market over the past five years.

According to a 2016 research by eMarketer, retailers in the U.S. spent about $4.7 billion on affiliate marketing. This represented about 7.5% of their total digital spend. 

The affiliate marketing forecast by Forrester, also from 2016, predicted that the US affiliate marketing spend would grow to over $6.8 billion by 2020, contributing to about $70 billion in sales. They foresaw a steady rise in annual spend (in millions):

  • 2015 ($4,206)
  • 2016 ($4,779)
  • 2017 ($5,370)
  • 2018 ($5,943)
  • 2019 ($6,397)
  • 2020 ($6,815)

According to this 2018 report by Statista, we can expect this upward trend to continue. Statista predicts that the US affiliate marketing size will grow to a whopping $8.2 billion by 2022. We should keep in mind that this prediction stems from a time when the world hadn’t even heard of COVID-19. Since the corona crisis seems to have sped up digitalization and online shopping, this number might turn out to be a low estimate.

This sentiment is underlined by the Awin 2021 report on affiliate marketing. According to this report, the US affiliate market has already passed the $8.2 mark that Statista foresaw for 2022.

It’s probably not surprising that the US is by far the biggest market when it comes to affiliate marketing. What’s more, they’re still the fastest growing market globally, according to Awin’s predictions. 

Digital ad spend (USD)(M) Affiliate ad spend estimate (USD)(M) Projected ad spend growth 2021
US 142,400 8,500 20%
UK 19,600 264 16%
Eastern Europe 8,900 170 11%
Germany 8,300 672 12%
Australia 6,600 264 8%
France 5,500 330 18%
Nordics 5,300 212 6%
Brazil 3,800 152 13%
Italy 2,800 112 15%
Netherlands 2,500 150 6%
Spain 2,200 88 14%
Belgium 1,300 52 10%

In short: the affiliate marketing market size has seen an exponential growth over the last couple of years, and is expected to keep on growing. That doesn’t signal a market that has been saturated and isn’t worth getting into, right?

The consistent growth of the spend in affiliate marketing means that new advertisers will constantly be drawn to this lucrative way of marketing their product. This means an ever growing variety of products and services to promote as a publisher.

The market isn’t saturated, because the market keeps on expanding at an impressive rate.

In other words: there are always new niches to fill. Affiliate marketing is still worth it in 2021, you just need to find the topic that’s right for you, where the competition is still relatively low.

Is it worth starting affiliate marketing in 2021 as an advertiser?

We’ve mainly been talking about getting into affiliate marketing as a publisher so far. But, it should have become clear from the figures presented above, affiliate marketing is also still very much worth getting into as a publisher.

According to Hosting Tribunal, affiliate marketing accounts for 16% of all ecommerce orders in the US and Canada, making it one of the biggest online income sources.

With the rising popularity of online shopping, blogs, vlogs, influencers etc., affiliate marketing is simply one of the best ways to market your product online and reach your intended audience. 

With other online marketing channels – such as Google Ads or social media marketing – getting more competitive and expensive, affiliate marketing offers a great alternative to boost the awareness of your brand, product or service.   

Conclusion: is affiliate marketing still worth it in 2021?

As this Google Trends graph shows, interest in affiliate marketing has quadrupled over the past five years. The recent corona pandemic gave this an extra boost, with people seeking to earn (extra) money from their homes and businesses trying to market their products and services online.

This growing interest was reflected in the rise we’ve seen in affiliate marketing spends in the US, but also globally. 

It is clear that affiliate marketing is still worthwhile for advertisers, who keep finding their way into the affiliate marketing market. According to Hosting Tribunal, it is competing only with email marketing for the position of highest grossing online marketing channel for ecommerce companies.

This ongoing growth of the affiliate marketing market means that affiliate marketing is still worth it for new publishers as well. The expanding market means new advertisers, products and services to promote. New niches to fill. 

What’s more, more people are shopping – and searching for information about products and services – online than ever before. According to Search Engine Land, 15% of daily searches on Google have never been searched before.

This means there’s plenty of opportunity to focus on topics with relatively low competition, which certainly makes affiliate marketing still worth it for both advertisers and publishers. 

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