Thoughts on Website Monetization And Affiliate Links

I’ve been tinkering with this website pretty consistently over the last three-and-a-half years. Throughout that time, I have maintained interest in ways I could make the website pay for itself. Portrait art and web development are hobbies for me, so I have never really sought to monetize them heavily, but I have long believed it would be nice if web hosting and other expenses could at least be revenue neutral. I’ve tried quite a few different solutions, including traditional ads, an online store, affiliate links, and some other things – I thought it might be useful to share some of what I’ve learned. In this post, I’ll go through the methods I’ve tried and discuss how effective I thought they were. At the end, I’ve also included a brief FAQ section summing things up.

Note: The opportunity to try any of these revenue-generating ideas is dependent on 1) which WordPress.com plan you’re signed up for, or 2) if you’re using a hosted (or self-hosted) WordPress.org site.

Traditional Web Advertisements

Early in the site’s history, I tried using WordPress’s built-in advertisement platform called WordAds. Essentially how it works is, dozens of entities (like Google Adsense, Amazon A9, Yahoo, etc.) bid to serve their clients’ ads through WordAds, bolstered by cookies from websites you visit and your computer’s IP address. I used WordAds for about a year, with ads in three places on the site; at the bottom of posts, the end of the sidebar, and the bottom of the site. In that year, I made just under $30 total…basically a couple bucks a month.

Eventually, I decided it wasn’t worth it. Although I always use an ad-blocker, I know not everyone does. When looking over the site with the ad-blocker turned off, I found the experience jarring and aesthetically disruptive to have random ad images intermixed with my artwork. The last straw for me was that, one day when I was checking out the ads looked, I experienced a pop-up ad. I didn’t think that was supposed to happen, but it was extremely annoying, so I disabled them for good.

Online Store and E-Commerce

Eventually, for my next attempt at generating some site revenue, I decided to try opening an online store. I had no clue what I would even sell, but as with many website projects, part of my motivation was just the fun of experimenting. I used WordPress’s built-in store functionality called “WooCommerce” to set it up. It was pretty easy, but to be totally honest, it hasn’t gained much traction. I have sold some books, but haven’t done any commissions or sold other physical merchandise.

I started building the online store by adding a product for art commissions, then explored other options like printing shirts. I’m sure there are many options, but I linked up this store with a plugin for a company called Printful. I didn’t want to buy anything myself, and Printful does “print on demand” gear that works well for someone like me who doesn’t want to spend more money upfront. Eventually, I also linked some art related items to Amazon through affiliate links (which I’ll discuss in more detail) and to books I wrote.

I’ve included some examples from the store above. The e-commerce experiment didn’t really provide any traction towards making my website self-sustaining, but I am pretty happy with how it looks and the basic functionality. I also messed around with some of WordPress’s more basic payment functionality outside of WooCommerce; I placed a “donate” page that I essentially abandoned. You can even set up premium or subscription content within WordPress (or linked to Patreon), but I’ve never been a huge fan of that style of walled-off information. That’s not something I’ve really explored much, but I have heard it works well for some.

I think the lack of success with e-commerce stuff is less about the tools and more about my lack of effort in promoting it. I had fun building it, but sort of lost interest after I was done! That’s not really a recipe for success. I would probably call this realm of monetization my least successful.

Affiliate Link Programs

On to the last revenue-generation method I’ve attempted – affiliate links. I guess I have to thank Google’s news algorithms for this, because I first read about this from an article in my Google Discover Feed. If you aren’t familiar with affiliate programs, the idea is actually pretty simple: Some companies will pay a small commission if you refer traffic to them. You are assigned a unique identifier and links from your website are tracked, expiring after a set time frame. The amounts very, but in my experience it amounts to a few cents here and there. But those small amounts do add up, and in the short time I’ve tried embedding affiliate links, I’ve already matched my earnings from traditional ads!

In my opinion, this has been the most promising path towards a financially self-sustaining website. I’m not there yet, as commissions haven’t really come close to my total costs for web hosting. But it’s very interesting. And my favorite aspect of affiliate linking is that it’s very unobtrusive – I don’t need advertisements popping up all over my site to make it happen. When your blog is primarily about artwork, I think the visual presentation is fairly important. It’s not entirely without downsides though. In my experience, the most useful affiliate program (Amazon) is somewhat difficult to obtain permanent status with if you run a low-to-medium traffic website. This is because you have to have several qualified (i.e. visitors who aren’t you) purchases within a set time frame, and if you don’t achieve that, you need to apply again. It actually took me a couple of tries to finally get it. There are other programs too – I’ve also tried CJ Affiliates, which is a collection of a bunch of companies you can choose from.

As I mentioned, the aesthetics of affiliate links are much better than traditional web ads. You can use simple hyperlinks, embed clickable buttons, or even your own ad widgets that are more under your control. I’ve included some examples below for reference showing some of the styles available (disable your ad-blocker temporarily if you are having trouble seeing them). I just like this solution much better – with the old school ads, content is at the discretion of whatever company wins the bid. With affiliate stuff, it’s up to you!


Hyperlink affiliate link example:

If I’m writing about this book Pencils and Process, I just added an affiliate link! This is the most unobtrusive option, as it’s just a regular old hyperlink.


Clickable affiliate button example:

If you can’t see the buttons due to an ad-blocker, it’s basically just a cluster of fairly basic clickable images. I’ve included one for Amazon, Fanatical, and CDKeys. Clicking on the button links the user right to the website, with your referral code tied to their purchase if they decide to buy something.

Fanatical.com - Big savings on official Steam games

Custom affiliate embedded ad example:

Again, if you use an ad-blocker, you probably won’t be able to see the example below. Essentially, this is a very basic banner ad. This is getting a bit closer to traditional ads, but as I mentioned previously, you have control over what is showing up here. So, instead of being at the mercy of someone else, you get to decide what’s shown on your site.


So, that pretty well covers what I’ve tried to make this website “revenue neutral” and pay for itself. As I mentioned, I am still not really close to achieving that goal. But I feel like combining occasional affiliate link commissions with some book sales may help me inch closer. I even started another website dedicated to product reviews to see if I can give myself a boost in Amazon clicking. I hope this post has provided some useful information to someone!

FAQ/Summary

I’m going to wrap this post up by including a FAQ section for what I’ve covered so far. Sort of a general summary of questions on this topic. I’m not sure that it’s necessarily that valuable, but I’ve never used this widget so I thought it would be fun to try. So, Frequently Asked Questions about what we’ve already covered:

  • How does WordPress WordAds program work?

    Essentially how it works is, dozens of entities (like Google Adsense, Amazon A9, Yahoo, etc.) bid to serve their clients’ ads through WordAds, bolstered by cookies from websites you visit and your computer’s IP address. WordAds then provides ads to the locations you’ve designated on your website.

  • Does WordPress WordAds program earn decent money?

    Not in my experience. But maybe if you have a very high traffic website. I used WordAds for about a year, with ads in three places on the site; at the bottom of posts, the end of the sidebar, and the bottom of the site. In that year, I made just under $30 total…basically a couple bucks a month. My site averaged just over 1,000 visitors and 1,800 views per month during that time.

  • Is WooCommerce on WordPress good for an online store?

    It was pretty easy to set up products, but my store is not exactly a powerhouse, so I can’t speak to high volume/transaction situations. The interface itself looks nice though, and there are a ton of options for customization. I think the structure and tools available work well, and it’s a good e-commerce path to take. But it was definitely my least successful attempt at website monetization.

  • How do you add products to a WordPress WooCommerce store?

    I started by building a product for art commissions, then explored other options like printing shirt and hat designs. I’m sure there are many options, but I linked up my store with a plugin for a company called Printful. I didn’t want to buy anything myself, and Printful does “print on demand” gear that works well for someone like me who doesn’t want to spend more money upfront. I also set up some affiliate links to Amazon for art supplies I use most frequently.

  • How do affiliate link programs work?

    The idea is some companies will pay a small commission if you refer traffic to them. You are assigned a unique identifier and links from your website are tracked, expiring after a set time frame. The amounts very, but in my experience it amounts to a few cents here and there. But those small amounts do add up and I’ve had decent success compared to other site revenue methods.

  • What is the best affiliate program to use for linking and referrals?

    I’ve had the most success with Amazon’s program, probably due in large part to Amazon’s domination of consumer goods markets in the U.S. Some other affiliate programs have higher commission rates, but they lack Amazon’s massive reach.

  • Do affiliate links have different styles? Are they customizable?

    Yes to both! Programs have different formatting options, but generally you can utilize a simple hyperlink, a small clickable button, or even a more robust custom banner ad.

10 comments

  • Interesting post Jon.

    I’ve never bothered with adding advertising on my site but last year I switched back from paying for a hosted WordPress.Org to a free WP site as it didn’t make any sense to keep paying out. It was eating into any of the money I’d sold any artwork for.

    I realised that I’d effectively given away several artworks just to keep my website alive for (realistically) not many followers. It was at that point I decided to move to a free site and let WordPress get revenue from their advertising if they want it.

    I’ve also changed my main URL to point straight to my Etsy shop in the hope that I can make some sales to get into the green πŸ˜€

    • Hey there Steve! I do remember reading about your journey moving to and from .org, it was a learning experience for you I’m sure, but also for people who follow your site. At one point, I thought about trying to port this site over to .org, but I remember reading about what happened to your followers and other issues and it scared me away from doing it. I ended up making a completely new/unrelated site via .org just to try it out without messing with my current setup.

      That balancing act is really tricky, man. My goal has always been to approach “revenue neutral” with the art hobby if possible, but I’m still not there. Even considering the affiliate links, book sales, or anything else. I really don’t think I could do it with paid web hosting! So I totally get the move you made connecting to Etsy.

      It’s quite a balancing act, isn’t it?

      • Yes, the heyday for me on WordPress seems to be the first 18 months after setting it up.

        After that, despite the art being better, the format being more professional and the posts being more informative – the fact is that the stats took a nosedive.

        Now I think of it just being as much a reference for myself as much as anyone else. I’m not a stats driven person at all so it doesn’t bother me if I’m writing to myself.

        I wanted to keep the stevekiddart.com domain name so it made sense to point it to Etsy for now and then change it back to a ‘proper site’ when I’m rich and famous 😜

      • That’s very interesting, I always wonder the “whys” of site traffic. Sometimes, things just take hold and people check stuff out. But then some topics or posts that I think are quite interesting don’t go anywhere at all. I’ve never been able to figure it out, to be honest. Like, my all-time most popular post on WordPress is a basic thing that just lists Excel functions that I use the most. It was never featured anywhere in particular that I’m aware of – it’s just consistently stumbled upon via Google apparently.

        That’s very true about your art though. I can see a real difference between the pieces from when I first started following your old site way back when. I had to do a doubletake on one of the recent cars you had on Instagram – I thought it was a photo at first, but then I realized it wasn’t! By the way, what is the current best path to your latest stuff? Is it Instagram or via that Etsy/stevekiddart.com portal?

      • Thanks for compliment and interest. Instagram and WordPress will have the latest stuff posted.

        Etsy is just the shop so only features a small subsection of what I create, ie. no sketches, or other rubbish that isn’t worth selling πŸ˜‰

        Though as with the stats there’s no apparent logic as to what people want to buy. Instagram stats are odd as well, my most popular post was neatly deleted at one point when I was doing a tidy up πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

      • Ahh I gotcha, yes that makes sense. Although, in keeping with what we’ve been talking about with traffic/online interest being unpredictable, I wonder if some of your informal stuff would sell too? Like the casual sketches and whatnot? Haha, you never know eh?

  • Thanks for this, I’ve been meaning to set something up on my page that makes transactions more easy and you’ve give me some really helpful pointers here!

    • Excellent! Quite glad this is useful!

      I hope your ecommerce experiments go well. As I said in a previous comment, I’m definitely no expert, but please feel free to post again if you want some feedback or brainstorming. It’s always interesting to see how others approach things as well

  • Your topic is exactly what has been on my mind for the past two days! Thank you very much for giving so much useful information!

    • That’s awesome, I’m glad to hear you found it useful!

      I’m by no means an expert at this, but if you want to bounce anything off of another person who has experimented with this stuff, feel free to pop in. I’m always glad to brainstorm with another art blogger!

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