Organic Traffic vs Paid Traffic: Which Should Affiliates Use in 2023?

If you’re new to affiliate marketing – or online marketing in general – then this article will do two things for you:

  1. Introduce you to the overlapping – but distinct – worlds of organic traffic and paid traffic.
  2. Help you decide which route you should take first in your affiliate marketing business.

NOTE: Both types of traffic are valuable and important, so I don’t want you to think that there’s only ONE choice here. But you have to start somewhere, right?

Now, as someone with a professional background in organic traffic and SEO, I will share my own thoughts on organic traffic – but for paid traffic, I asked for some insights from ClickBank’s resident paid traffic expert, Jake Newby!

Also, this article comes on the heels of our article on the different types of affiliates, so you can check that out for a more detailed breakdown some of these choices in your affiliate marketing business.

Now, are you ready to see which comes out ahead in the eternal battle of organic traffic vs. paid traffic? Read on!

What is Organic Traffic?

organic traffic

Organic traffic refers to all of the unpaid (“free”) traffic channels where people can organically discover your company or brand.

Organic traffic is usually subdivided into organic search (pages found through search engines like Google) and organic social (posts or videos displayed on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok).

Your main considerations with organic traffic are competitiveness, engagement, and search volume or reach.

NOTE: Some people may refer to organic traffic as “free traffic,” but this doesn’t mean it’s 100% no-cost. As we’ll touch on later, you make up for a much lower financial investment by investing more of your time, effort, and expertise.

What is Paid Traffic?

Paid Traffic

Paid traffic refers to all of the digital traffic channels where users can be served paid digital advertisements (including text, banner, video, native, and more).

You’ll most often hear people in the affiliate marketing industry talk about Facebook Ads, native ads, YouTube Ads, and Google Ads, but there’s a large and growing list of more than 20 paid traffic sources you can look at for your paid marketing campaigns.

Your main considerations with paid traffic are audience targeting, cost per click, and conversion rate.

NOTE: Paid traffic is also known as pay-per-click (PPC), because advertisers will generally pay for each of the clicks they get on their ads. It’s also possible to pay per 1000 impressions or per lead, but PPC is the standard for most paid advertising platforms and media buyer affiliates.

Organic vs Paid: A Quick Comparison

So, how do organic and paid compare when it comes to affiliate marketing – and how do you decide which one is right for you?

In the past, we’ve compared organic traffic to a reliable old Toyota Corolla, which is sure to get you where you want to go, but might take a while to get there. And for paid traffic, we likened it to a Ferrari that can get you where you want to go much faster, but costs a HECK of a lot more!

Of course, there’s more to the two than that. Here is a quick comparison chart that shows how the two types of traffic stack up:

Overall, organic is better for building brand authority and trust with your customers over the long term. Paid is better for testing your funnel and getting sales now.

But let’s take a deeper dive into each option.

The Case for Organic Traffic

If you’re new to affiliate marketing, I would absolutely start with organic as your traffic source – either by building your own affiliate website, social media account, YouTube channel, or podcast.

Whether you go the blogging route, the social influencer route, or a hybrid approach through sites like YouTube, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, there’s a LOT of value in building an organic presence somewhere online!

Here are a few of the reasons why organic traffic is the right place to start as an affiliate.

1) Organic is a long-term, compounding investment.

My favorite benefit of organic traffic is that it compounds over time. If you think of SEO or social media as an investment, you can capitalize on your old work for months or even years after you’ve created it!

While very few investments are truly passive, all of those old videos, podcast episodes, blog posts, or social posts you created are still working for you in the background, getting found in search, growing your email list, and earning you commissions when new visitors click through your affiliate tracking links and make a purchase.  

All content has a shelf life, but would you rather create content that only benefits you for several weeks when it could benefit you for several years?

2) Organic lends your brand credibility.

When you create organic content, you’re putting something out there that represents your brand. If you can infuse your content with value and authenticity, it communicates that your company is trustworthy – and possibly even a thought leader in the marketplace.

The way the internet is going post-iOS 14 update, affiliates are seeing a lot more success when they put themselves out there and focus on building a brand. And there’s no better way to prove your worth than with quality organic videos, podcast episodes, blog posts, or social posts that deliver real value.

Plus, there’s another HUGE benefit of organic content, which is the ability for new people to discover your brand organically on an evergreen basis. Anyone can pay for an ad, but at least in theory, organic content is a meritocracy where the best content rises to the top.

So, if you create engaging content that appears in Google search or in people’s feeds on social sites like LinkedIn, that’s a thumbs up from these platforms and their other users that you’re worth listening to!

3) Organic provides your business an economic moat.

Allow me to briefly channel Warren Buffett and say that your best way to find sustainable business success is through economic moats (i.e. competitive advantages that protect your business from would-be competitors).

Even as an affiliate, you know that your business is at risk if anyone can come along and just copy what you’re doing to find success. With paid ads, even successful affiliates face challenges from people who just copy their ad copy and creative.

But if you’ve built up a successful website, YouTube channel, or blog, you know this isn’t something that happens overnight. The amount of effort you’ve put into building your organic content will pay off in protecting you from competitors who want to piggyback off of your success!

The Case for Paid Traffic

Now that we’ve looked at the advantages of organic traffic, I’ll let Jake share his thoughts on paid traffic for affiliates, and when it makes sense to go that route.

Jake says if he were brand new to digital marketing/affiliate marketing, he would go straight to paid media. This is the traffic channel where you pay for digital ads to get placed in front of your audience on popular online platforms.

When it comes to recommended traffic sources, most of them work just fine, but here are the most common:

  • Facebook Ads
  • YouTube Ads
  • Google Search Ads
  • Native Ads
  • TikTok Ads (up and coming)

Here are a few of Jake Newby’s top reasons why paid traffic is the best place to start for new affiliates.

1) Paid gets you results faster.

Organic is great, but if you’re a beginner, Jake recommends that you save up some money to spend on ads and go the paid media route at first.

The reason? You’ll get more satisfaction and faster results out of paid ads compared to organic.

He’s not wrong – it personally took me over a year to get my first sale on ClickBank from the affiliate website I built. By comparison, in his 7-Day Challenge course inside of Spark, Ben Harris started from scratch and got a ClickBank sale in less than seven days!

It’s incredibly valuable to see those quick wins early on, both for your own morale and to validate that you’ve found a winning combination of offer, audience, and messaging. (But the big caveat here is that paid ads require you have to warm up cold traffic quickly, which isn’t always easy to do.)

2) Paid shortens the feedback loop.

In any business, you need to make sure there’s a product-market fit. For affiliate marketing, you don’t have to worry about the heavy lifting of offer creation, but you do need to make sure you’re getting a solid offer in front of the right people.

Along the way, you’ll have to ask yourself: Are your efforts working? Is the content resonating with your audience? Did you choose the right offer to promote?

All of these are important questions to answer. With organic traffic, it may be months before you generate enough traffic to adequately answer all of those questions (think 10,000 visitors over 6 months instead of 6 weeks). In other words, you have a long feedback loop to slog through before you can see if your work is paying off.

But with paid traffic, you skip the line. With a much shorter feedback loop of just weeks instead of months, you can test your assumptions and answer these questions quickly.

3) Paid is a tester’s paradise.

There’s nothing quite like paid ads as a tester’s playground. What’s a hook that will resonate with your audience? What’s a message that people really respond to?

As an affiliate, you have a golden opportunity to understand your audience at every stage of the buyer’s journey, carefully curating a funnel from paid ad to landing page to sales page. Here’s one example of a funnel below:

By tweaking your copy and creative at the ad level and on the interstitial landing page, you can find out what matters to your audience.

Of course, even the platform you choose can have an impact, so don’t be afraid to test the same kinds of ads in different places, from YouTube to TikTok to native!

Types of Content to Create

When you think about organic traffic, you’ll primarily be creating educational and informational content featuring:

  • How-to guides and tutorials
  • Listicles
  • Buying guides
  • Product reviews and comparisons
  • Interviews

The point is to answer the questions of information-seeking prospects and give them buying recommendations so they’re moved to make a purchase.

For paid traffic, your content is usually centered around curiosity or persuasion. You’re creating some kind of text, banner, or video ad that teases or hooks a potential buyer and makes them want to engage more with the rest of the content in your funnel.

From your initial ad, you might point them to an affiliate bridge page featuring:

  • A quiz
  • A downloadable lead magnet
  • A calculator
  • A video
  • A blog post or advertorial

The point is to quickly move the user from curiosity to the sales page so they can make a purchase.

How to Start With Organic Traffic

The way to approach organic traffic is to think about who your audience is and why they’d come to you for content.

As an example, a pure affiliate website is all about helping readers who are ready to make a buying decision. It’s pretty clear that if you publish a buying guide blog post or YouTube video about the best training methods for dogs, you’re speaking to pet owners who are ready to buy.

And ultimately, that’s your job – affiliates make their money by promoting products!

But you still get to decide where and how you do that. Personally, I prefer getting organic traffic through SEO content on a blog or website, but it’s perfectly valid to attract an audience with a podcast, social profile, or YouTube channel.

Just be sure to pick one and give it some time before you start trying to do too much all at once.

Measuring Your Organic Content

In the world of organic content, there isn’t really a single metric that matters.

However, I can tell you which ones I care about in my role:

  • Total pageviews or sessions. How many times did a piece of content get viewed on my site?
  • Total pageviews from search. How many times was the content found via organic search (primarily through Google)?
  • Average time on page. How long did people spend reading and engaging with the content I’ve published?
  • Total blog subscribers. How many people are opted in to receive weekly emails about new blog content?
  • Rankings in Google. How many target search terms do I have ranking in positions 1-3 in Google? And how are the most important and relevant pieces of content ranking?

These are a great overview of the numbers that show whether your organic campaign is effectivetha. But naturally, those are more specific to SEO content.

For organic social, you’ll care about your total follower count, your reach/impressions, and engagement indicators like total likes, comments, and shares.

For YouTube, you’ll care about total subscribers, average watch time, views per video, and engagement indicators such as total likes and comments.

In addition to these high-level numbers for your chosen organic traffic source, you’ll ALSO want to see growing affiliate revenue – isn’t that what all this was for in the first place?

One metric that might help with gauging your performance is earnings per click. You might also care about the conversion rate for individual pages, especially if a few of them are driving most of your sales.

In the end, you’ll have to decide which numbers will help you figure out how successful your organic content is.

How to Start With Paid Traffic

The way to approach paid traffic is to think about how users are most likely to engage with ads on your chosen platform.

Jake’s biggest suggestion is to pick one ad platform and stick with it! Do research on the front end to understand what advertising on these platforms looks like, as well as the state of mind of your potential buyers – and then run with your chosen platform for a full campaign.

With Facebook, for example, users are often mindlessly scrolling through their feed, so you need to put something in front of them that catches their attention, makes them stop scrolling and consume your content, and then leaves them feeling compelled to leave the platform and go to your landing page.

Below is an example of one of our own Facebook Ads promoting Spark by ClickBank, our affiliate training.

With Google Search Ads, on the other hand, it’s about meeting your buyers where they’re at. Often, they are already actively looking for “x” and your job is to create an ad that appears as relevant as possible to help them solve “x.”

With that said, if you are brand new to marketing, just pick one traffic source and stick to it. Don’t fall victim to the shiny object syndrome and hop around from traffic source to traffic source.

Learning how multiple ad platforms work from a technical perspective while you are ALSO learning how to market as a whole AND getting familiar with the direct response space is surely a recipe for failure.

Success involves testing and optimizing one variable at a time. When in doubt, start with Facebook.

Measuring Your Ads 

There isn’t a baseline across the board for what makes a “successful” ad campaign.

But if there were… it would be return on ad spend (ROAS). Most ad platforms have ROAS built in, but it’s calculated like this:

Commissions earned/ad spend = $$$

Note that you’re not counting total sales generated when you calculate ROAS – you only count what’s coming into your pocket at the end of the day. (In other words, if you get a 50% commission on a $100 product that you promote as an affiliate, your return on ad spend isn’t $100/ad costs – it’s measured from the $50 you get to keep.)

If you make the ROAS calculation and you get a number above 1, then congrats – you are profitable!

If you do the calculation and you get a number lower than 1, then you need to make some adjustments somewhere in your funnel or try again with a new combination of offer, audience, and messaging.

Most of the time, poor results come from lack of testing creative. This isn’t always the case, but as Jake can attest, testing is the most important aspect of digital advertising. If you are getting started with Facebook, this is definitely the case.

Facebook’s AI gets better and better every year, so from a targeting perspective, that means there’s more wiggle room for you to not be as specific in your audience upfront. In fact, most of the campaigns we run at ClickBank are completely broad with absolutely no targeting whatsoever or adsets with very large more broad interests in them.

Overall, a truly successful campaign will have a ROAS of at least 2:1 or 3:1.

Combining Organic and Paid Traffic Strategies

So, you’ve got the idea that organic and paid are separate routes to affiliate success.

And when you’re new to this industry, it truly does make a ton of sense to focus on just one thing at a time!

But as you grow more experienced – and especially if you can hire additional help to help you out – then things get really interesting! You start to have the possibilities of combining strategies!


Well, at ClickBank, we conceptualize our marketing as a series of orbits which correspond to the buyer’s journey. Within the outer orbit, you have things like LinkedIn posts, YouTube videos, and live events where people can discover us.

Example of a content model for marketing
Example of a content model for marketing

At the outer orbit level, people are more problem aware. As potential customers get more familiar with ClickBank, they move inward and start engaging more with our organic content, including our podcast, YouTube channel, blog, and LinkedIn content.

This allows us to educate them on affiliate marketing AND ClickBank, nudging them to solution aware and product aware. And hopefully, all of this content helps them to know, like, and trust ClickBank so that they choose to start working with us!

Obviously, selling ClickBank’s services isn’t the same as promoting a dog training program, health supplement, or text-to-speech software offer – but the same principle applies!

Rather than think of organic and paid traffic each as distinct silos, look at where every piece of paid and organic content is reaching people in the buyer’s journey, and figure out the ONE thing that each piece of content must do to keep people moving forward towards a purchase.

Here are a few specific examples of how paid and organic content can work together to help your business grow.

Tactic 1: Pointing Paid Traffic to a Successful Blog Post

You’ve put the finishing touches on an amazing piece of content on your blog. In a few weeks, it’s ranking at the top of Google and gets a massive average time on page of more than 7:00.

People are clearly loving it!

You now have the opportunity to turn this blog post into a pivotal piece of your funnel, driving paid search and social ad traffic to a proven page that your target audience is excited about.

And if it isn’t already, you can monetize the post by creating an opt-in to grow your email list or some calls-to-action that point visitors to your chosen affiliate offer.

Tactic 2: Picking Organic Content Topics Based on Your Best Paid Ads

You’ve tested 10 different hooks for the health and fitness offer you’re promoting, and you see one that’s outperforming all the rest.

Now that you know this message is getting a lot of attention from your target audience, what if you expanded on that idea and turned it into a long-form blog post or YouTube video?

Your paid ads have already done the hard part: determining which topic or topics is the most engaging to your target audience.

With that knowledge in mind, you can move forward on a quality piece of organic content that you’re certain your ideal customers will appreciate!


I know that was a lot, but we have all kinds of content on this blog and on our YouTube channel that covers the ins and outs of specific affiliate marketing tactics.

It was my hope that this post on organic traffic vs paid traffic would provide a solid overview of the different routes you can take to build a successful affiliate marketing business.

Unfortunately, there’s no way I could cover ALL the steps of organic or paid traffic in a single blog post, but hopefully this has helped you decide which one to start with!

If you’re looking for additional training on generating traffic, I highly recommend checking out ClickBank’s official affiliate marketing education platform, Spark by ClickBank. You can also read my overview of Spark By ClickBank here.

Whether you choose organic or paid as your starting traffic source, I wish you the best of luck on your affiliate journey!