Free vs Paid Traffic for Affiliate Marketing: Which Should You Choose?

Free Vs Paid Traffic For Affiliate Marketing

One of the major online marketing debates is about free vs. paid traffic for affiliate marketing.

Anyone who is dipping their toes in the field of internet marketing needs to understand the difference between the two.

Just like a “real” brick-and-mortar business, your online business needs traffic too. Your traffic is the number of people who visit your website and purchase the goods and services on offer.

Therefore, it is essential that every website owner who is interested in affiliate marketing should generate a sound strategy to bring more traffic to their website.

Main Sources of Traffic for Affiliate Marketing

The concept of traffic is easy enough to understand. However, people often get flustered when thinking about how to get traffic. This is where the debate on free vs. paid traffic for affiliate marketing arises.

Essentially, paid traffic is that which you pay to get while free traffic is that which you don’t need to pay to get. However, it is not so simple. Speaking broadly, most traffic is either generated through search engines or social media.

Free Search Traffic

This is the biggest source of traffic. Not only is it free, but the volume is huge. That’s because people are always on the search for one thing or another, and so the search engine is the very first place they go. Therefore, the fight for free, natural, and organic keyword ranking is of epic proportions.

This is where search engine optimization comes in. SEO is all about getting ranking in the search engine result pages for competitive and valuable keywords. The best thing about search engine optimization is that once you set it up, you can leave it as it is for a relatively long time (it is best to keep tweaking your SEO strategy every few weeks), and it will still generate you good results.

If you do not update your website and SEO strategies at all, you will start to slip, but it will be a few months before your site disappears from the front page.

Therefore, free search traffic is one of the most valuable, relevant, and sustainable types of traffic, as well as the cheapest way to get yourself heard. However, it is the most difficult type of traffic to achieve in large volumes.

Free Social Traffic

Social media marketing can get you this type of traffic. This involves creating and uploading your content on social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and more.

This is one of the best and most effective kinds of strategies since Facebook alone has 2.4 billion monthly active users, and the potential to attract traffic is huge.

However, a lot of people may chance upon your Facebook page while they are casually browsing, but they may not be actually interested in your content and may not want to buy anything from you.

So, social media can generate a large amount of traffic, but converting people from that traffic can be hard.

Paid Search Traffic

Just like organic traffic, paid search traffic requires a lot of planning and investment. However, since it involves money, it can lead to bigger rewards more quickly.

The internet is the advertisers’ playground, and you can do dozens of things to earn money online.

If you are experienced in online marketing, you may have used Pay-per-Click or PPC advertising. This strategy involves an ad platform that is paid to host your ad. You pay for every click on your ad that directs traffic to your site.

It takes a lot of work and skills to set up a PPC campaign properly; however, once it’s done, it can potentially get you some serious money. A popular PPC platform is Google Ads.

Beginner affiliate marketers should not bank on PPC since the learning curve is quite steep. It can also be very expensive due to the high competition. If you want to succeed at PPC, you need to understand all its optimization strategies and best practices.

Paid Social Traffic

Paid Social Traffic Through Facebook Adverts Manager

Social media not only offers you free marketing options but paid marketing options as well. Those who do social media marketing know that the biggest, most lucrative, and most well-known social media platform to generate paid traffic for affiliate marketing is Facebook.

Other platforms include Instagram (owned by Facebook), YouTube, and Twitter, which can help you get a good amount of traffic to your website.

The big catch in paid social media marketing is that it can be very expensive. In fact, Facebook charges quite a bit for placing ads on its platform — and no wonder, since the traffic opportunities are huge. Additionally, you need to continuously monitor the performance of the ad, and tweak it before you can get an optimal ROI. But before you drive straight into Facebook advertising, it is best to start small and test a winning campaign.

Free vs. Paid Traffic for Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is all about promoting your products to encourage people to go from point A to point B.

In online marketing, there is something known as a sales funnel, which is the means from which you make a person aware of a product and service to eventually buying it. Most businesses or individuals have multiple sales funnels for a single product, which are used to target different types of traffic. The issue is to get people from different demographics to come towards your business.

For this, you need to use different marketing angles and campaigns. For example, if you are Chick-fil-A, you may also want to attract people who need healthier choices. Therefore, you may want to display that you offer fruit cups and milk on your menu.

Not every single angle will work, but you need to remember that even huge conglomerates have difficulty in engaging customers. But you need to take each step as a learning curve.

If you prefer to go the route of paid traffic, you will find that you will get traffic almost instantly. However, you will need to pay money for it. On the other hand, free traffic can be anything that redirects traffic to your website, whether it’s through a search engine or a social media platform. But the big difference is that free traffic source requires a lot of time to give you results.

Free Traffic Sources for Affiliate Marketing

Here are some of the best sources to generate free traffic for affiliate marketing:

Search Engine Optimization

SEO involves optimizing your website in ways that are approved by search engines. If done right, your website will appear on the top of the search engine when a visitor types in specific keyword queries.

This is one of the most favored methods by online marketers, as it is very cheap and has a higher return on investment than paid marketing.


The basic principle behind blogging is to communicate with like-minded people. Although blogging is a cost-effective means of attracting traffic, it takes a lot of time and effort. If you don’t pay attention to your blog for a few weeks, all your hard work can easily fail.

Blogging is also a highly competitive industry. There are over 31 million active bloggers in the United States, and 77 percent of all users read blogs. The more bloggers there are, the more your competition grows. For organic traffic, the biggest problem is to get your blog noticed amidst the clutter. To do that, you need to boost your search engine rank and share your content.

Even so, it is almost impossible to know what type of content will work from the get-go. Hence, if you are using your blog to generate traffic for affiliate marketing, you need to experiment with your blog, listen to criticism, learn from it, and give a few months for the traffic to come.

So, if you are going the blogging route, patience is the key.

Facebook / Twitter

With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, social media is on the rise. Both these platforms allow you to build your profiles, pages, and groups. Facebook has over 2.4 billion monthly users, while Twitter has 330 million monthly users, which means you can tap into all types of demographics for your traffic.

Out of the two, Facebook provides more functionality. The more authentic your interactions, the more visible your page and profile will be on Facebook. If you already have a blog, you can definitely create a Facebook page for it to promote your affiliate links.


Social Media Like Instagram is A Great Free Traffic Source

Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social media networks in the world, so it’s no wonder Facebook bought it for $1 billion in 2012. Therefore, it is a good way to get traffic for your affiliate website. However, the biggest issue with this platform is that it does not allow you to share links. The only place you can share a link is in your bio or your story, which only lasts 24 hours. So, you need to be very clever about what sort of link you want to post there.

You can generate a lot of traffic on Instagram by growing followers and encouraging them to click your link. Some of the best ways to increase traffic to your channel are by:

  • Following people who are following your competitors. The reason is that these people are showing they like to engage in content similar to yours.
  • Like, follow, and comment on people’s photos that use hashtags in your niche.
  • Post engaging content along with your relevant hashtags.

These are some of the few simple steps that can help you get started with your Instagram page.


YouTube is one of the best and most effective ways of generating traffic. However, it doesn’t take the first spot because many people find it hard to make engaging videos. Fortunately, today, videos are becoming increasingly easy to make. If you are camera-shy, you don’t need to place your face in your video. All you need to create a great video is some PowerPoint slides and basic animations.

If you would like your video to be more fun, graphic, and interactive than a PowerPoint presentation, you can take advantage of online apps and tools, like Canva and Animaker.

Another great idea is to take a longer blog and turn it into a video. Once you start uploading your content, the videos will start to rank, and you will see traffic rolling into your affiliate website.

YouTube is not just one of the best mediums to find DIY, how-to videos, or tutorials, but its videos typically show up on the top of the search engine results.

Online Forums

Online forums like Reddit are another great way to ensure traffic to your affiliate channel. The first thing you need to do is to find an online community in your niche. You can do it by Googling a phrase like “niche forums.” Replace the word “niche” with whatever your niche is. The search result will come up with several such forums.

You can sign up for these forums and start communicating with other members. However, it would be best if you were careful not to spam the space. The best way to drive traffic to your affiliate website is to offer valuable content and placing a subtle link at a relevant place in your blog. You can also add a link to your affiliate website in your profile or signature if the forum allows that feature.

Post every day, and soon people will start subscribing and liking your website.

Q&A Websites

One of the best Question and Answer platforms is Quora, which can be a great source of free traffic for affiliate marketing. The biggest advantages of these sources are that people are actually requesting you for help, which provides you a great opportunity to share valuable content with them.

If your posts are useful and valuable, it will establish you as an authority in the industry, and people will definitely visit your website. But just like in online forums, you should be careful not to spam. This will drive the other members away. Make sure you give answers to the things people want. Register yourself for a free Quora account.

Paid Traffic Sources for Affiliate Marketing

Paid sources are a quicker way to generate traffic to your affiliate website. However, it may not be very sustainable.

Google AdWords

Pay-per-Click is one of the fastest ways to drive traffic to your affiliate marketing website. It involves bidding on a keyword and position of your ad. Every time a user clicks on an ad, the advertiser has to pay the publisher. However, a miscalculation can result in a heavy blow to your wallet.

Google AdWords is the biggest player in the market when it comes to PPC. When you type in a search query in Google, the results page will show one to four ads at the top of the results page before listing the organic websites. This can help you optimize your paid ads for people who use Google to search for similar queries.

Google makes 90.46 percent of online searches, so Google Adwords can be a great traffic-generating option for entrepreneurs who have enough money. This is because people trust that Google will give them the most relevant answers to their questions. Hence, it is a good place to start advertising for affiliate marketing.

Bing, owned by Microsoft, is another major source of PPC marketing.

Facebook Ads

Since Facebook allows you the opportunity to target every type of demographic, Facebook ads are very popular among affiliate marketers. The Facebook algorithm saves everything you place in your profile, be it your interests or activities, and uses this information to help you run ads for your ideal demographics.

However, before you decide to jump into Facebook Ads, test it out with a small budget as these ads can cost you a pretty penny. Plus, they also need to be continuously monitored, adjusted, and paused, depending on how much traffic you are getting.

Because it has a huge user base, Facebook also has the most advanced marketing options and the best user targeting capabilities that it continuously updates. It helps you get the most relevant traffic by based on what Facebook pages users like, what groups they are members of, and other related information.

 It also allows you a retargeting feature. This involves placing a hidden Facebook Pixel on your website so that you can recapture the attention of users who have already visited your websites.

Instagram Ads

In the past five years, Instagram has become a social media giant, thanks to features like Instagram Stories, Instagram Live, and IGTV. It also gives you an option to monetize your channel and optimize engagement through Instagram Ads.

Instagram is the most favored platform by millennials who love visuals over text. If your affiliate marketing content is targeted towards the younger generation, then Instagram can be a great place to start experimenting.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing to Get Paid Traffic

An influencer is someone in a particular industry who inspires their followers to take certain actions. One of the best parts of being an influencer is that you are not confined to a single traffic source. You can market your affiliate products everywhere. You can experiment with multiple types of traffic sources because you already have an interested audience who are willing to buy from you.

Influencer marketing works best for those people who have amassed a huge number of followers on social media, and who are considered an authority in a certain niche. However, you can also become a micro-influencer by creating great affiliate marketing content.

The beauty and lifestyle industry has some of the biggest influencers in the world.

Therefore, if you have your own brand or want to earn some extra income through affiliate marketing, dipping your toes in influencer marketing can be a great idea.

Native Advertisement

Native advertisements are designed to look and feel like the part of your websites. For example, if you take a look at CNN, there are several related articles mentioned on the site. Although the sponsors’ name is added to them, users cannot tell that the article is not created by CNN at a cursory glance.

Native advertisement is a great way to attract traffic to your affiliate website if you calculate the numbers right. Such advertisements are charged on a CPM (cost per thousand) basis, which means a specific rate for every 1,000 views the advertiser gets.

Native advertisement needs to read like an article, should be relevant to the publisher’s content, should add value, and must be considered authoritative.

Some popular native advertisement networks include Yahoo Gemini, Outbrain, RevContent, and Taboola.

Free vs. Paid Traffic for Affiliate Marketing: Pros and Cons

Both free and paid traffic sources come with their benefits and limitations. Here are some of the most common ones.

Free Traffic Sources: Pros

Free: The biggest advantage of free traffic sources is that you do not need to pay a penny to have people visiting your website. With some basic tech and SEO knowledge, you can optimize your website in such a way that it can drive traffic towards your affiliate marketing website in hordes.

Less Demanding: Another great thing about free traffic sources is that you do not need to monitor it constantly; it can be left alone for at least a few days.  

Pays Off in the Long Run: With free sources, the traffic flow can continue for a long time, even when you have stopped working on the campaign. Most people like to work on free traffic-generating sources because if they build some great content once, it can drive traffic for a very long time, without any added effort on the part of the creator. Plus, the traffic is more relevant and has a better potential of translating into leads.

Free Traffic Sources: Cons

Requires Effort: Just because it is free does not mean it is easy. In fact, generating traffic through free modes is much more difficult than traffic through paid modes. So you might need to wait months for your efforts to come to fruition.

Success Not Guaranteed: One of the biggest concerns when using free sources to get traffic is that you have no way of knowing whether you will get any relevant traffic. If you missed something or did not manage your efforts well, you may not get the results you were looking for.

Paid Traffic Sources: Pros

Quick Results: Paid modes do get you faster traffic. In fact, you can reach thousands of people in a matter of hours. All you need to do is monitor your ads, see if they are working, and adjust your spending depending on the ad’s performance.

Easy Reach: One of the biggest USPs of paid traffic sources is that you can easily reach thousands of people effortlessly through specific keywords.

Scalability: Another big advantage is that you can scale up your campaigns if they seem to be working. If you test a campaign with a small budget, but which brings you a good number of converting visitors, you can add more money to the same campaign and get even more such traffic to your affiliate website.

Paid Traffic Sources: Cons

Costly: Since paid marketing requires money, it can be quite costly, especially if not done right. Hence, it needs to be constantly monitored and tweaked.

Doesn’t Guarantee Leads: How many times have you clicked on a Facebook ad just because it looked attractive, but you had no intention of buying the product it offers? Even though paid marketing tactics get more traffic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will convert to leads.

So paid traffic can be quite risky if your offer does not suit your specific traffic.

Steep Learning Curve: It takes a lot of learning to get paid marketing right. This is even riskier since it involves money. If you want to have a profitable campaign, you need to understand all the factors that can help you get traffic. Then you will need to analyze them and optimize them for your specific campaign or budget.

This can be quite challenging to do, especially for beginner affiliate marketers who do not have much experience in the field.

Free vs. Paid Traffic for Affiliate Marketing: Which One Should You Go For?

Now that you understand the differences between free and paid traffic, your next question should be which marketing tactic you should consider. But, it is important to understand that both free and paid traffic marketing are great ways of drawing in visitors. In fact, most affiliate marketers use both to drive the required number of traffic to their affiliate website.

One great determinant to decide which mode of marketing you should go for is your budget. If your budget does not allow you to spend on paid campaigns, then you need to stick with organic traffic. However, if you need concrete results, you need to employ good strategies for the free mode as well.

If money is not a concern, however, and you need quick traffic, then you can experiment with several different forms of paid advertising.

Personally, the best way to get traffic for affiliate marketing is to use both.

  • You can get free traffic from optimizing your website for search engines.
  • You can get free traffic from your blog
  • Social media channels and online forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and Reddit also provide traffic.
  • You can get paid traffic from experimenting with small campaigns on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.
  • You can also get a small PPC campaign running if you have extra money to spend and can constantly monitor your ad’s performance.

If you are still new to the game, keep your paid marketing campaigns small and manageable so that even if they fail, they won’t result in big losses. Experiment with them frequently and learn from the ads’ performance. However, your affiliate marketing efforts are the most successful once you start getting free, sustainable, and long-lasting search and social media traffic.