Sustainable Growth

What is Affiliate Marketing | aka Commerce in Media

Solving the age-old human clash in media — editorial vs. revenue — is the only way publishers can benefit from affiliate marketing and commerce

Media companies that solve the following clash will have more success than others in the 2020s as it relates to determining what is the company's affiliate marketing/commerce/performance strategy: 

  • Editorial talent —> "We want to use our voice to do what's best for the brand, and the brand's integrity; we never sacrifice authenticity." 
  • Revenue leadership —> "We want to use spreadsheets to earn as much revenue as possible, as soon as possible; we never sacrifice revenue."  
    • Problems arise when either:
      • Revenue leadership sells inauthentic content partnerships that ruin the brand's voice and integrity (i.e. endemic audience churns to brands that haven't sold out")
      • Editorial leadership only writes for the audience of today, rather than that of tomorrow (i.e. audience stagnates and eventually churns out to other brands creating more novel content).

Media brands and companies that succeed in managing alignment between editorial and revenue leadership create the ideal outcome: rapid and sustained revenue + audience growth, which leads to re-investment into the editorial and revenue teams (in the form of higher salaries, better benefits, more teammates, etc.).  

Keep in mind that the solution to making affiliate and commerce successful for editors and revenue leadership lies in creating human and people connections. Both sides need to feel heard and share in the accountability and benefit of any and all generated success.

Google's Role In Affiliate Marketing and Commerce for Media

There's nothing more valuable for publishers than free traffic. Same for any business really — when your customer acquisition cost equals zero, profit margins on any and all revenue earned become exactly that: profit and more cash on hand (—> the lifeblood of a business). 

Now, in the old days a person researching a project in a specific endemic category, e.g.

  • DIY - how to tile a bathroom
  • Culinary - learn to cook a specific recipe
  • Automotive - fix a certain car
  • Home - decorate in a certain style
  • Outdoors - choose the best fishing lure
would call a friend, open the Yellow Pages, go to the library, or purchase a magazine. 

Today, however, people — zillions of them — go to Google. Every month, hundreds of billions of search queries hit Google's servers in the U.S. alone. For each query, Google indexes billions of pages and returns them to the user sorted according to its proprietary black box* algorithm for topical relevance.

So, publishers looking for free audience growth can benefit from the massive demand that already exists for their endemic content within Google (we covered the fundamentals of SEO for publishers in detail here if you want to learn more). However, publishers looking to benefit from what is affiliate marketing (aka Commerce) need to take three more logical steps: 

  1. Search query time horizon matters: there's a difference between searches for news, e.g. "Nintendo Switch launch features" and advice, e.g. "best Nintendo Switch games." Some searches will have high traffic, and then peter out, while others will remain consistent over time. 
    • Editorial and revenue leadership need to align on a strategy for both, as recurring revenue de-risks the long-term viability of the publishing business. 
  2. Search query intent matters: there's a difference between search queries with high purchase intent, e.g. "best fishing lure for walleye," vs. high-interest intent, e.g. "how to tie a fishing lure." Both searches are part of the same funnel, with the onus on publishers who want to increase audience and revenue via affiliate to cover both types of content. 
  3. Search query timing of year matters: there's a difference between search queries with a high connection to a specific time, vs. "prime day deals on curtains" vs. open-ended with regards to time, e.g. "highest-rated curtains on Amazon." Editorial and revenue teams need to be able to capitalize on these types of recurring small-window opportunities, in addition to more macro search interest. 

—> *In fairness, Google has given guidance to publishers and others: improve your site's E-EAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust).

    • This means, essentially, that sites should create the best possible content and experience for web visitor traffic. In practice, faster page load times, stable and organized codebase that plugs into Google, rich and unique content from expert editors, links from other credible sources, relatively long average time spent per visit/session, social validation —> the list goes on. 
    • Remember, headlines matter. One example —> If traffic exists for "best whiskey gifts," your headline could try to subvert the traffic in a new-interest direction via "Best whiskey gifts that aren't whiskey."

Human Partnerships Are the Key to Earning Value from What is Affiliate Marketing in Media


The goal for any revenue team is to help editorial earn money from their expertise via product content partnerships that authentically grow audience and revenue according to logical, data-driven insights confirmed via Google Search Console (or other analytics platform).

  • It’s important to remember that Commerce is a long-term play, .i.e. together the team invests now in order to achieve a future benefit. Success comes when publishers effectively align the core brand values of today with a larger-scope audience of the future. 

How Commerce Works

#1 - Expert content from experienced editors

Publishers create expert content written by legitimate authors about products & services that match with the (specific) audience’s demand, e.g. (nb: same as above):

  • DIY - how to tile a bathroom
  • Culinary - learn to cook a specific recipe
  • Automotive - fix a certain car
  • Home - decorate in a certain style
  • Outdoors - choose the best fishing lure 

#2 - Authentic Merchant partnerships

Publishers establish partnerships with merchants who sell the best endemically vetted products & services that solve endemic problems.

For their advice and vetting, the publisher receives a cut for any referred customer from the online seller of the specific items (e.g. in automotive:,,, because their advice and perspective create higher conversion-to-sale for the merchant. 

#3 - Commission for expert advice 

As readers search for expert advice, click, and then purchase, the publisher and merchant track referred customers via “affiliate links” that the publisher adds to the underlying code of its website and/or other content (“The Drive’s objective review of Meguiar's Ultimate Liquid Wax,” Outdoor Life's objective review of hunting rifle scopes).  

Critical Terms To Consider When Determining What is the Best Affiliate Marketing Strategy in Media

  • Content driven via search demand data: it takes many names, e.g. "commerce content" or "performance content," but the idea is articles, videos, and other types of product validation content, including product reviews, product round-ups, top ten lists, or other advice and counsel that drives revenue via affiliate links. 
    • Remember, SEO needs to be a part of this decision as well —> they can add a ton of value finding content categories that are achievable to own in search given the site's domain rating. 
  • Affiliate links: convert editorial expertise into recurring revenue for publishers. Links to articles with affiliate links inside them should be actively shared by the publishers across website recirculation modules, social media, and syndication.  
    • Remember, website development matters here. At the end of the day, maximum conversion comes not only from expert advice but also seamless checkout experiences. Your underlying CMS adds a ton of value in this respect.  

What is Affiliate Marketing Success in Media


When successful and done right, affiliate/commerce/performance content creates 4 benefits: publishers, people, products, and the planet. 

A simple metric for ensuring that revenue teams work well with editorial teams: diversify the merchant partners whom the sites work with to earn affiliate, commerce, performance, revenue, etc. The more merchant partners, the better, just the same as in programmatic advertising.

Commerce Team Responsibilities

At the end of the day, commerce and conversion are the same. To increase conversions, generate traffic, as well as optimize processes around the following parameters: 

  • Sustainability - Incorporate sustainable practices across commerce content, like options for refurbished or used products, or buy-for-life options. Publishers can learn from e-commerce companies, such as Wayfair, who succeed in this best practice.
  • Earnings - analyze traffic alongside revenue data to establish (and diversify) merchant partner relationships. Publishers can earn significantly more money when commerce folks negotiate optimal commission rates with merchants according to overall audience demand and conversion.
  • Research - Collaborate with editorial teams to create content briefs that align on the most strategic and best keyword families to target with our expert content, e.g. lime green paint example from Domino. 
  • Partnerships - Amazon OSP, for example — other channels that publish content enhanced by expert editorial advice and perspective.
  • Conversion - Upgrade websites’ taxonomy and infrastructure to accommodate A/B testing for commerce traffic and site conversion to affiliate. 

What is Affiliate Marketing in Media | Glossary of Industry Terms

  1. Evergreen content: content (video or written) that remains relevant to its user for months or years, vs. days or weeks (e.g. evergreen = “which car wax lasts the longest” vs. news = “car wax company releases new product to last longer”)
  2. Service journalism: articles that answer questions from an audience, e.g. how-tos, reference guides, and product reviews. Often confused with commerce journalism, performance content, affiliate articles, etc. 
  3. Affiliate links —> affiliate partners: affiliate links track conversions referred from a publisher to a merchant partner. Affiliate partners are merchants providing products and services to a given enthusiast audience.  
  4. SEO: the process of improving a site’s infrastructure and content to improve its navigability by, and visibility in, search engine results (NB: S-E-O = “search engine optimization").
  5. OSP: an Amazon program whereby brands post editorial content directly onto Amazon product pages.
  6. Lead gen: revenue earned by referring leads to a brand-relevant service partner (e.g. referring users to streaming services) where commission gets paid for leads, vs. all the way down the funnel to a purchase.
  7. Organic Affiliate, Trackonomics: platforms for creating, analyzing, and optimizing affiliate links and content at scale
  8. Recurring revenue: For publishers, recurring revenue business models lead to higher revenue at a lower cost, as well as stronger endemic audience relationships

Key Takeaway

Commerce content has value to journalists because articles written today can drive consistent, dependable traffic in the future.