Making sense of affiliate marketing thumbnailThis is the ultimate Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing review for 2019.

We recently spent 20+ hours reviewing the premium training materials for Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s popular affiliate marketing course.

If you want to know:

  • The hidden costs of the program
  • If the course lives up to the hype (hint: it doesn’t)
  • Why it’s especially BAD for new bloggers
  • Michelle’s path to affiliate marketing success (nobody talks about this)
  • If her students are actually getting results

Then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s get started.

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing – Key Points
  About

A popular affiliate marketing course from millionaire blogger Michelle Schroeder-Gardner.

💰  Price

$197, or two payments of $99 (discount info)

😍  Pros

Active and supportive community, some decent lessons.

😩  Cons

Shallow, generic training. Few practical examples. Missing crucial info.

  Verdict

A disappointing affiliate marketing course that should have been a $10 ebook.

Overall Rating
1.5/5

About the Author

Niall Doherty​Hey, I’m Niall Doherty.

I quit my last 9-to-5 job back in 2010.

Since then, I’ve earned my living online doing a variety of things:

  • Blogging
  • Web design
  • Advertising
  • Online courses
  • Ebooks

At the end of 2018, I decided to focus on affiliate marketing.

Several months later, I was already earning more than $1000/month in affiliate commissions.

Affiliate Payments may oct
Total affiliate payments received in six months (May-Oct 2019). See my finance reports for latest earnings.

All that to say: I already knew a bit about making money online and affiliate marketing when I signed up to Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

Table Of Contents

This review is a joint effort between Niall Doherty of eBiz Facts and Conor Monaghan of One Minute English.

Our process:

  1. We joined Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing in October 2019.
  2. We went through the course materials and took more than 220 pages of notes (seriously)
  3. Niall joined the MSoAM private Facebook group and had a look around, posted some comments.
  4. We discussed our impressions of the course, what we liked, what we didn’t like, etc.
  5. We agreed that Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing was NOT a good course and we would NOT recommend it to others.
  6. Niall searched online for other reviews of the course to see if there were any key points we missed.
  7. Niall wrote a first draft of this review.
  8. We sent the draft to our Freedom Business Builder community and asked for feedback.
  9. We made our final edits and published the review.
  10. We sent the review to Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and asked if she had any comments or corrections.
  11. Michelle replied and we added her notes where appropriate throughout the review.

Note: We earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase through referral links in this review. Read our full disclosure here.

Who is Michelle Schroeder-Gardner?

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is an American blogger who regularly reports monthly earnings of $100,000 or more. She started her blog – Making Sense of Cents – in 2011 at the age of 22, and has since received numerous awards and recognitions for her work.

Here’s how Michelle describes herself on the Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing sales page:

About Michelle Schroeder gardner

Michelle publishes regular income reports on her blog – until Dec 2018 here and more recent here – and has reported significant earnings over the years:

Michelle Schroeder gardner
Source: Michelle’s 2018 income report

Since 2016, she has reported earning approximately $50,000 each month from affiliate marketing alone, and often much more…

Michelle Schroeder gardner
Source: Michelle’s March 2018 income report

Best I can piece it together from Michelle’s own income reports, her road to affiliate marketing success unfolded like this:

  • August 2011
    Started her blog
  • May 2012
    Earned $672 in “extra income,” including $350 from sponsored posts on her blog.
  • September 2012
    Earned $2,425 in online income (no breakdown provided).
  • December 2012
    Earned $5,645 in online income, noting that, “this includes staff writing, blog, virtual assistant tasks.”
  • June 2013
    Earned $10,192 in extra income, including $1,200 as an affiliate.
  • October 2013
    Michelle quit her day job as a financial analyst and earned $10,442 from “managing other bloggers’ websites, my blogs – direct advertising & Adsense,” $760 from “staff writing,” and another $400 from affiliate marketing.
  • February 2015
    Earned $23,758 total, $11k of that from selling a website, another $11k from ads, partnerships and freelancing, and $1,630 as an affiliate.
  • March 2015
    Michelle’s affiliate earnings really started to take off here. She reported affiliate income of $5,910 and $17,051 overall.
  • July 2015
    Earned $25,138 total and $14,110 as an affiliate. Bluehost was noted as the “main source” of affiliate income. I believe this was the first month that more than half of Michelle’s income came from affiliate marketing.
  • June 2016
    Earned $68,440 total and $52,280 as an affiliate. Michelle reported that $36k of her affiliate income came from Bluehost, and almost $12k from survey companies.
  • July 2016
    Michelle earned another $47k from affiliates and $50k from the launch of her new course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.
  • December 2018
    Michelle reported that her “affiliate income was at a similar level as the previous month,” when she reported $57,946 in affiliate earnings. She also announced that, going forward, she would no longer be reporting detailed income numbers (for valid reasons, IMO).

What is Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing?

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s premium course that promises to help you earn affiliate income from your blog.

Here’s how the course is described on the sales page:

Making Sense of affiliate marketing description

The course has proven very popular.

In February 2019, Michelle reported her earnings from sales of the course:

Making sense of affiliate marketing revenue
Source: makingsenseofsense.com

That works out to about $37k per month, which means an average of 6 people PER DAY sign up for Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

How much does Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing cost?

Since its launch in July 2016, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing has been available for a one-time cost of $197, or two payments of $99 per month.

Those are the prices you’ll see on the sales page for the course. Both options give you lifetime access to the program, including future updates.

While doing research for this review, I noticed that many people also search for:

  • making sense of affiliate marketing free
  • making sense of affiliate marketing free download
  • making sense of affiliate marketing download
  • making sense of affiliate marketing coupon
  • making sense of affiliate marketing coupon code

With that in mind, here is some additional info related to the price of the course:

  • Can you download Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing for free?
    I haven’t looked for a free download and I’m not going to. I paid full price for access, because I don’t feel comfortable pirating courses. Michelle does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee (more info below), so you can simply buy the course and get a full refund if you’re not happy with it.
  • Is there a discount or coupon code for Making Sense of Affiliate marketing?
    There is an option to “Add Coupon” at the checkout…

    Making sence of affiliate marketing coupon discount
    …so I did some searching, but wasn’t able to find a valid coupon ☹️

    Michelle has apparently offered up to 20% off the course for a limited time in the past, but there doesn’t seem to be any regular or scheduled promotion. If you want to hear about future discounts, your best bet is to sign up to Michelle’s mailing list and wait for an announcement. (You’ll find a sign-up form on the Making Sense homepage.)

  • Hidden Costs
    Be aware that you are advised to spend money on other products and services after you sign up for the course. None of these costs are mentioned on the Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing sales page, but I’ve detailed them for you below.

How is the course structured?

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is organized into 6 modules with 40+ lessons, and several bonuses. When you join, you also get access to a private Facebook group (more about that here).

You can see the full curriculum on the course sales page (about halfway down).

The course is hosted on the Teachable platform and looks like this once you’re logged in:

Making sense of affiliate marketing course layout

The layout is simple and easy to follow.

Is Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing any good?

Unfortunately not. Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is more a list of “things to keep in mind” than it is a practical instruction in affiliate marketing.

Here’s a quick overview of the biggest issues I found:

  • The training is shallow and generic, with very few in-depth lessons or practical step-by-step guides (examples)
  • The course mainly tells you WHAT to do but rarely HOW to actually do it (examples)
  • There is zero SEO training in the course (examples)
  • There are several hidden costs (examples)
  • Despite claims to the contrary on the sales page, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is NOT “a great learning tool” for new bloggers (examples)

The course isn’t all bad – some positives listed below – but overall it fell well short of my expectations and does not compare favorably to some other affiliate marketing courses I’ve reviewed…

Course Rating Review
Authority Hacker (TASS) 4.5/5 Authority Hacker review
Income School (Project 24) 4/5 Project 24 review
Affilorama 1.5/5 Affilorama review
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing 1.5/5 Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing review
Wealthy Affiliate 1/5 Wealthy Affiliate review
ClickBank University 0.5/5 ClickBank University review

Refund Policy

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. To receive it you must show “that you went through the course and took action.” I personally received a full refund without any trouble.

Here’s how the guarantee is described on the MSoAM sales page:

Making sense of affiliate marketing refunds

I’m not a big fan of such “conditional” refund policies, but I have heard from at least one person who bought the course that she received a refund with no trouble, and I also received a full refund upon request

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing refund
Screenshot from my online credit card statement, showing a full refund of my purchase of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

To request the refund I simply emailed michelle@makingsenseofcents.com.

I sent along a first draft of this review in the same email, and wouldn’t have been surprised if Michelle had refused my request after reading all this. But, to her credit, she put through the refund right away.

PRAISE FOR MAKING SENSE OF AFFILIATE MARKETING 👍

There isn’t a lot to like in the course, but let’s start with some positives regardless.

(or click here to skip ahead to the criticism)

Active + Supportive Community

The best part of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is the private Facebook group. You’ll find lots of aspiring affiliate marketers active in there, as well as quick responses and frequent posts from Michelle.

Making sense of affiliate marketing facebook group

Once you join the course, you must send a request to join the Facebook group and wait to be approved. (I was approved within 24 hours.)

Stats for the group when I joined:

Making sense of affiliate marketing facebook group activity

That works out to about 3 new members and 3 new posts every day.

Most posts receive responses within a few hours, and often a response from Michelle herself.

Examples:

Making sense of affiliate marketing faccebok post

Making sense of affiliate marketing facebook post

Making sense of affiliate marketing facebook post 1

Michelle seems to regularly take time to interact with members of the group, check out their sites, and offer specific feedback.

Example:

Making sense of affiliate marketing facebook post 4

However, the group does fall short in a couple of ways:

  • The vast majority of members – or at least the active members – seem to be brand new to affiliate marketing and don’t have much in the way of their own expertise to share (see my analysis of reported “wins” in the group further down)
  • While Michelle is very active, I find it hard to trust her advice and recommendations having gone through her course and getting little value from it.

So while the Facebook group is probably the best thing about Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, I see it mainly as a place to connect with other newbie affiliate marketers, and not a great source of affiliate marketing help and info.

White Hat Throughout

You won’t find any grey or black-hat marketing tactics or strategies inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. Michelle repeatedly recommends an honest and ethical approach.

Examples:

Making sense of affiliate marketing white hat
From a MSoAM lesson entitled, “How To Determine What Your Readers Want”
Making sense of affiliate marketing whit hat 2
From a MSoAM lesson entitled, “How To Build Trust”
Marketing sense of affiliate marketing white hat 3
From a MSoAM lesson entitled, “The Things You Do NOT Want To Do”

Also covered in the course are topics like:

  • Requirements and disclosures
  • Nofollowing links
  • Nexus tax

All told, it’s clear that Michelle is eager to help her students stay out of trouble and avoid shady marketing practices.

Which is something that CAN’T be said for affiliate marketing courses like Wealthy Affiliate and ClickBank University (reviewed here and here).

Lifetime Access, Free Updates

Unlike some other affiliate marketing courses, there is no recurring payment for Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. After paying for the training up front, you get lifetime access to all the course materials, the private community, and future updates.

Of course, the training is disappointing, the private community ain’t great, and there have been very few updates to the course since 2016 🤔

Moving swiftly along…

Some Decent Lessons

Some of the lessons inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing are worth your time, especially if you’re new to affiliate marketing.

Interestingly, the two lessons in the course I consider the best were not taught by Michelle at all.

They were bonus lessons from guest trainers…

Making sense of affiliate marketing pinterest lesson
Screenshot of a 33-minute video lesson about Pinterest inside MSoAM.
Making sense of affiliate marketing facebook ads lesson
Screenshot of a 39-minute video lesson about Facebook Ads inside MSoAM.

I thought those lessons were the best mainly because the trainers showed real, visual examples of what they were talking about, and the video format was much more engaging the the usual “wall of text” lessons in the course (more about that below).

Generally speaking, if you’re an established blogger but brand new to affiliate marketing, you’ll learn a few things from the MSoAM course.

But you’d be far better off investing in an alternative course from the top of our list…

Course Rating Review
Authority Hacker (TASS) 4.5/5 Authority Hacker review
Income School (Project 24) 4/5 Project 24 review
Affilorama 1.5/5 Affilorama review
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing 1.5/5 Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing review
Wealthy Affiliate 1/5 Wealthy Affiliate review
ClickBank University 0.5/5 ClickBank University review

CRITICISMS OF MAKING SENSE OF AFFILIATE MARKETING 👎

Shallow + Generic Training

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing claims to be “the step-by-step affiliate marketing strategy course,” but the material lacks depth and specifics. You can find better training on pretty much every topic the course covers freely available on the web.

Perhaps the best example of this is Michelle’s lesson entitled, “Teaching With Tutorials.”

I was excited for this lesson, after seeing it described like so on the MSoAM sales page:

Making sense of affiliate marketing exact steps

Unfortunately, the lesson turned out to be only 612 words long, with no screenshots…

Making sense of affiliate marketing full lesson
The entirety of the lesson.

And as you can see, the “exact steps” at the core of that lesson are incredibly generic…

Making sense of affiliate marketing full lesson steps

Seriously, those were the steps.

Good luck turning that advice into $300, let alone $300,000.

Michelle’s lesson on creating reviews isn’t much better, amounting to 1182 words and four screenshots.

Making sense of affiliate marketing creating reviews
The beginning of Michelle’s 1182-word lesson about creating affiliate reviews.

I couldn’t help but compare that to the multiple lessons on the same topic in a course called The Authority Site System (reviewed here)…

The Authority site system content creation module
Overview of the Content Creation module inside The Authority Site System

That training amounts to approximately 3.5 HOURS of detailed, over-the-shoulder video instruction, and comes complete with handy templates you can use. 2

Meanwhile, Michelle covers the same topic in a 1200-word blog post 😕

Here’s another example of shallow and generic advice within MSoAM:

Making sense of affiliate marketing look at statistics
From a 1300-word, 1-screenshot lesson entitled, “How To Have Affiliate Marketing Success”

What struck me while going through the course is that, for almost every topic covered, you can quite easily find much BETTER and more UP-TO-DATE training freely available online.

For example, take this lesson:

making sense of affiliate marketing 80 ideas

Each of these articles I found via a quick search are superior to that lesson:

I dare say the same is true for every lesson inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

And sure, MSoAM at least has all the info organized for you in one place.

But my faith in the training became so low as I went through the lessons, that I regularly found myself jumping over to Google to find more in-depth and up-to-date info.

And almost always, I found it.

Lots Of Telling, Little Showing

Throughout Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, you’ll see many claims and recommendations, but very few citations or detailed instructions.

For example, you’re told to evaluate the management of each affiliate program you’re considering, but never shown how to actually do that…

Making sense of affiliate marketing management
Um, okay. But HOW do you evaluate if an affiliate manager is great or not??

Michelle tells you that interviews are a great way to promote affiliate products, but doesn’t show any data or examples to back that up…

Making sense of affiliate marketing great decision
How did you KNOW it was a great decision??

You’re told to “grow your email list” and “track how you’re doing,” but never given any specific instructions or walk-throughs showing you how to do that…

Marketing sense of affiliate marketing grow email list

You’re told it’s important to “be an expert,” but this is the extent of the “instruction” you’re given on how to do that…

Making sense of affiliate marketing be an expert

You’re told that some strategies on social media don’t work very well, but not given any examples or screenshots of such strategies, or shown any data…

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing didn't work

You’re told about “an important number to calculate,” but never shown how to actually find the data required to calculate it…

Making sense of affiliate marketing ctr

You’re told it’s a good idea to create “a help sheet,” but never shown what such a sheet looks like, or what it should contain exactly…

Making sense of affiliate marketing help sheet

You’ll find many more examples of TELLING but not SHOWING throughout the course.

Learning affiliate marketing this way is like learning how to fly a plane by reading 100 pages of text with a dozen photos sprinkled in.

And instructions like this:

Remember to always lower the landing gear as you approach the runway.

But I’m not going to tell you where to find the switch for the landing gear.

Nah, that’s not important.

Zero SEO Training

In contrast to every other affiliate marketing course I’ve seen, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing completely ignores SEO and offers no training on the topic at all.

This is incredible to me.

For reasons best summed up by these three findings of a 2019 study of 3.25 billion site visits:

Growth badger traffic study organic
Source: What 3.25 Billion Site Visits Tell Us About Google, Facebook, and Where Different Niches Get Their Traffic (growthbadger.com)

So that study basically says that most website traffic comes from organic search, regardless of niche.

Given that, you’d think Search Engine Optimization (SEO) would be a key thing to cover in a course about affiliate marketing 🤔

But these are literally the ONLY two mentions of SEO I found inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing:

Making sense of affiliate marketing seo
From a MSoAM lesson entitled, “Creating Successful Affiliate Reviews”
Making sense of affiliate marketing seo 2
From a 2-page bonus PDF inside MSoAM entitled, “How To Increase Your Page Views”

To summarize:

  • Organic traffic from search engines accounts for most website visits.
  • SEO is how you get more of that traffic to your site.
  • Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing barely mentions SEO.

🤯

The reason for this massive oversight would seem to be that Michelle has never relied much on organic traffic to her own site, which she readily admits:

Michelle Schroeder gardner learning seo
Source: How I Made Money Blogging In September 2019 (makingsenseofcents.com)

In that same article from September 2019, Michelle reported her traffic numbers:

Michelle Schroeder gardner learning traffic

Ahrefs estimates that only about 20% of that traffic comes from organic search:

Making sense of cents ahrefs
Source: Ahrefs keyword research tool

While Alexa.com puts the estimate at closer to 30%:

Making sense of cents alexa
Source: alexa.com/siteinfo/makingsenseofcents.com

Either way, that’s unusual.

Most blogs get the majority of their traffic from SEO. But Michelle’s seems to get most of its traffic from social media, particularly Pinterest…

Making sense of cents pinterest traffis
Screenshot shared by Michelle within MSoAM, showing more than 200,000 visits to her blog from Pinterest in a single month

Which perhaps helps explain why there are two lessons about Pinterest inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

Still, the fact that Michelle herself doesn’t seem to have much experience with SEO shouldn’t excuse the complete lack of SEO training in the course. Not when SEO is such a key part of affiliate marketing.

I’m left wondering why she didn’t just bring in an expert to teach a few SEO lessons in the course, like she did with the lesson about Facebook Ads 🤷‍♂️

Michelle’s comment after reading this review:

Most of my traffic does not come from Pinterest. That used to be the case, but now it’s only around 10%.

Michelle’s Unusual Path

Two things stand out about Michelle’s path to affiliate success. The first strikes me as a big advantage most aspiring affiliate marketers never have, while the second makes me wonder how Michelle would fare starting a new site from scratch.

First:

Michelle was consistently earning about $10k per month online and had built up a big audience BEFORE she started focusing on affiliate marketing.

Here she is in December 2014 noting that her site was already receiving around 100,000 page views per month…

Making sense of cents december 2014 traffic
Source: $14,136 in October Income – My Monthly Online Income Report (direct link to the comment)

I went through her income reports for the six months PRIOR to that comment (Jun-Nov 2014) and calculated her earnings:

  • Average online income per month: $14,304
  • Average affiliate income per month: $651

Given that, the “formula” for Michelle’s success would appear to be as follows:

  • Start earning significant income online in a variety of ways (except via affiliate marketing)
  • Use that success to build up a big audience (100,000 visitors per month)
  • Then focus on promoting products and services to that audience and quickly build up your affiliate income.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that approach – and fair play to Michelle for pulling it off – but I see it as an approach very few people can emulate.

It essentially boils down to this:

  • Earn lots of money online
  • Leverage the attention that comes with that to earn even more money online

Second:

As far as I can tell, Michelle has only ever earned significant affiliate income from one website: makingsenseofcents.com.

In contrast, the creators of courses like Authority Hacker’s TASS and Income School’s Project 24 – reviewed here and here – have built and earned significant affiliate income from MULTIPLE websites.

Authority Hacker success case study
Above: screenshot of the case study detailing how Authority Hacker sold an 18-month-old site for mid 6 figures

Not to take anything away from Michelle’s success as an affiliate marketer: she’s clearly worked hard and smart to build her audience and her income, and has been at the top of her game for several years.

But successfully EARNING affiliate income and successfully TEACHING affiliate marketing are two very different things!

Personally, I’m wary of learning from someone whose success is limited to a single site.

Especially when that site had 100k visitors per month before it ever earned significant affiliate income.

Michelle’s comment after reading this review:

I don’t think my path was unusual, and I also do not think it’s odd that I only have one website. I like affiliate marketing because it can make my blog more passive, and I like a more personal blog that I can focus on better. That being said, I have had other websites that I have sold in the past so that I could just focus on Making Sense of Cents.

The reason why I waited to earn affiliate income is something I often talk about. I didn’t start my blog to make money blogging, so I didn’t even know what it was.

90% Text, Very Little Video

Most online courses these days make heavy use of video to teach the material. But the lessons inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing are mostly text, usually to their detriment.

Here’s a prime example:

Making sense of affiliate marketing lesson text

Another:

Making sense of affiliate marketing lesson text 2

Most of the lessons are like that: walls of bland text, with only the occasional screenshot to break up the monotony.

Of course, not every topic would be better addressed in video format, but several undoubtedly would.

Such as:

  • Google Analytics
    How about a quick screencast showing what the most important metrics are and where to find them in the GA interface?
  • Content Creation
    I’d love to see a full walk-through of Michelle’s content creation process.
  • Social Media Marketing
    How about a screencast showing how Michelle selects and schedules her social media updates?
  • Email Marketing
    Michelle mentions email marketing and its importance several times. A screencast showing how she prepares and sends out an email to her list would have been great to see.

As it is, you’ll find only three video lessons inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, and none of them are from Michelle ☹️

Michelle’s comment after reading this review:

For me, I enjoy text courses more than videos, and that’s why I decided to make a text-based course. This is stated on the sales page, so that everyone is aware before purchasing. I have received many emails from readers who have thanked me for offering a text-based course, so I am glad that I did it.

Hidden Costs

There isn’t any mention of additional costs on the Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing sales page. But once inside you’ll see a number of recommendations for paid products and services.

Such as ConvertKit:

Making sense of affiliate marketing convertkit

Tailwind:

Making sense of affiliate marketing tailwind

And Facebook ads:

Making sense of affiliate marketing facebook ads

That last one had me scratching my head, because later in the course guest trainer and Facebook Ads expert Monica Louie tells you explicitly NOT to boost Facebook posts…

Making sense of affiliate marketing facebook boost

But I digress.

Here’s what troubles me about the recommendations of paid products and services within Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing:

  • You’re rarely given an alternative!

For example, there are tons of alternatives to ConvertKit. (We’ve listed several here, with price comparisons.)

A notable alternative is Mailchimp, which offers a free plan that lets you email up to 2000 subscribers.

Surely that would be worth mentioning to new bloggers who want to test the waters with email marketing? (I stand corrected on this. See below.)

But that example pales in comparison to this one:

Making sense of affiliate marketing legal templates

In that lesson – which is really just a short webinar that turns into a sales pitch – it is recommended that you buy a bundle of “website legal templates” that’ll cost you more than $100, even with the discount code.

Now I’m no expert when it comes to the legal stuff, but this struck me as odd since I’ve never seen anyone else – in any of the other affiliate marketing courses I’ve reviewed – suggest that you should pay for such templates.

The authority site system free templates
Instructions on how to do the same thing for free inside The Authority Site System (reviewed here)
Project 24 free templates
Similar story inside Project 24 (reviewed here)

With that and the ConvertKit example, I have to agree with another student of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, who messaged me the following:

“Michelle really lies in a grey area of promoting what will make her money first and then if that helps the reader all well and good.”

Michelle’s comment after reading this review:

I disagree with the hidden costs section. You don’t need to do Facebook ads, and Tailwind and Convertkit can be done without it. I’m not a fan of Mailchimp because of their personal finance clause in their terms & conditions. I do talk about other free options, but that was through email. I need to add that to the course. The amount of things that a blogger could spend money on is endless, or it could be nonexistent.

For the website legal templates, I don’t always recommend bloggers get a free one. I do have a legal background, though, in my previous career, so I am more careful in that area when it comes to helping people who are not familiar with the legalities of running a business.

I asked Michelle to elaborate on Mailchimp’s “personal finance clause,” and she referred me to Mailchimp’s Acceptable Use Policy, which does indeed list “affiliate marketing” as prohibited content.

A fair point then that affiliate marketers should NOT use Mailchimp.

However, it’s worth noting that ConvertKit’s Acceptable Use Policy also has some restrictions on affiliate marketing, including a prohibition on “CPA affiliate type sites or similar affiliate type of sites, network marketing sites, affiliate educational offers, insurance sales or promotions.”

From my quick research, it seems most email marketing providers have something like this in their terms of use, but you should be fine so long as you’re not spamming people relentlessly with affiliate offers.

To summarize: Michelle’s reasoning for avoiding Mailchimp checks out. Best not use it for affiliate marketing.

New Bloggers Beware

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing promises to help you, “whether you are a brand new blogger or if you’ve been blogging for years.” Unfortunately, the course isn’t very helpful for anyone, but especially not for newbies.

You’ll find the following in the FAQ’s section of the MSoAM sales page:

Making sense of affiliate marketing new blogger

I found this to be a very misleading claim, given that:

  • There is NO information in the course about how to set up your blog from scratch.
  • There is very little information in the course about how to drive traffic to a new blog.

In fact, the whole course seems to assume that you already have an established blog with a decent amount of traffic, but you’re not sure how to monetize it.

Which makes sense, because that’s the situation Michelle was in back in late-2014: she’d been blogging for 3+ years by then, and her site was getting 100,000 visitors per month.

But she didn’t know much about affiliate marketing, and wasn’t even earning $1000/month as an affiliate.

If you’re in a similar situation, Michelle’s course might give you a few helpful tidbits.

But “a great learning tool” it certainly is NOT, regardless of whether you’re a new or experienced blogger.

The PDF Problem

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is littered with PDF “worksheets” and bonus “lessons.” Aside from the content of the PDFs being mediocre (at best), the format will have you scratching your head.

For example, I’m still trying to figure out why on earth this worksheet from the course is offered as a PDF:

Making sense of affiliate marketing

To be clear: that PDF is NOT one of those editable PDFs that you can download and start typing into.

No: apparently you’re supposed to download it, print it out, prepare your ink and feather quill, and actually handwrite usernames, passwords, and URLs onto the paper.

Here’s another one:

Making sense of affiliate marketing 2

Some of the PDFs ask you to handwrite whole paragraphs, for no particular reason:

Making sense of affiliate marketing 3
Page 1 of a 2-page PDF

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why these “worksheets” aren’t offered as simple Google Docs or Google Sheets that students can easily copy and then edit themselves.

That’s what you see in other affiliate marketing courses, like The Authority Site System

The Authority Site System niche spreadsheet
One of the many spreadsheets provided for you to copy inside TASS (reviewed here), some complete with formulas to save you even more time.

Some of the “bonuses” inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing are also offered as PDFs, for no apparent reason.

Like this one:

Making sense of affiliate marketing 4
A 2-page PDF entitled, 9 Things You Must Do When Something Goes Viral.

And this one:

Making sense of affiliate marketing 5
A 2-page PDF entitled, How To Increase Your Page Views.

I’m not sure why those “lessons” aren’t offered in HTML format, like the rest of the course materials.

My best guess is that putting such thin content in a PDF makes it seem a bit more substantial.

Michelle’s comment after reading this review:

Many students like the printables, and yes, they print them out. I have received numerous pictures from students who have printed everything out and handwritten everything in, and enjoy it.

Bogus Bonuses

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing comes with several “great bonuses,” but most of the bonuses are incredibly disappointing.

Here’s how one bonus is described on the sales page:

Making sense of affiliate bonus promo

I don’t know about you, but when I’m told a PDF will outline EXACTLY what I must do to increase my page views, I expect more than 2 pages of info…

Making sense of affiliate marketing 5

…and empty tips like these…

Making sense of affiliate bonus snippet

Making sense of affiliate bonus snippet 2

(For the record, I didn’t see ANY additional info on guest posting or creating headlines within the course. Those brief mentions are as good as it gets.)

Here’s a list of the other eight bonus lessons inside Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, with my notes for each:

  • How to Always Get Approved To An Affiliate Program
    A decent text lesson from Justine Grey, who has managed affiliate programs for companies like Shopify and FreshBooks. I’ve rarely had an issue getting approved to an affiliate program, so I’m not sure how useful this lesson is, but at least it’s fairly thorough and insightful.
  • How To Drive Thousands of Visitors To Your Blog With Pinterest
    A 33-minute screencast lesson from Lauren McManus of Create and Go. Outdated in places, but thanks to the visual examples it was easy to digest and probably the best lesson in the entire course. (Note that the final 2 minutes are a sales pitch for Lauren’s Pinterest course.)
  • 9 Things You Must Do When Something Goes Viral
    A 2-page PDF with generic tips such as “reread” and “have fun.” Some proper training on how to actually create and promote viral content would have been a million times more useful.
  • Worksheet – My Affiliate Products And Services
    An incredibly impractical 1-page PDF. A Google Sheet would have made way more sense here.

Making sense of affiliate marketing

  • Worksheet – The Perfect Affiliate Link Checklist
    Another 1-page PDF that shouldn’t be a PDF. The top of it looks like this…

Making sense of affiliate marketing 6

  • How to Maximize Your Reach, Your Impact, and Your Revenue with Facebook Ads
    This 39-minute video lesson from “Facebook ads coach and strategist” Monica Louie is a solid introduction to FB ads, and probably the second-best lesson in the entire course.
  • Editing And Writing Strategies That Will Take Your Content To The Next Level
    A guest lesson from professional blog editor Ariel Gardner. Decent info but severely lacking specific examples and screenshots, and essentially a big wall of text…

Making sense of affiliate marketing lesson text

  • How To Legally Protect Your Blog
    A 21-minute lesson from lawyer and blogger Liz Stapleton, where she basically tells you why you need privacy policy and T&C pages on your blog, then pitches you her $100+ templates bundle. (As mentioned previously, other affiliate marketing courses show you how to add such pages for free.)

Out of those 9 bonus lessons, I’d say only four of them are decent – not great, but decent – and the rest are a waste of time.

Other Issues

If I’m not careful, this review will end up being longer than Michelle’s entire course. So let’s quickly rip through a few other things that bugged me about Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing…

  • Rarely Updated
    Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing was launched in July 2016, and seems to have been updated very rarely since. I often found myself googling to check if the info in the course was still relevant.
  • Manually Check Affiliate Links Every Month
    Instead of installing a free plugin to check for broken links automatically – like this one – Michelle advises that you spend time every month “just clicking any and all links”…
Making sense of affiliate marketing check links
From a MSoAM lesson entitled, Maintaining Your Affiliate Marketing Strategy.

Making sense of affiliate marketing insagram

Michelle’s comment after reading this review:

Instagram can actually be quite good for driving traffic, and is wonderful for engagement.

Engagement, probably. But I’ve still never seen any data to support the claim that Instagram is good for driving traffic. And if you can’t drive traffic, you’re kinda screwed as an affiliate marketer.

(If you do know of any Instagram data or studies that show it’s good for driving traffic, let me know in the comments below.)

  • “The Tool You Need To Master Affiliate Marketing”
    That’s the title of one of the lessons inside the course. The tool is a free plugin called Pretty Links, which basically cloaks your affiliate links. To say that you “need” such a tool “to master affiliate marketing” is just silly. (And you’ll find several videos about the plugin on YouTube that are far more helpful/insightful than the lesson in MSoAM.)
  • Students Criticising Bluehost
    Over the years, Michelle has earned more affiliate income from Bluehost than any other company. I don’t actually have a problem with Bluehost – they’re probably fine if you’re a new blogger testing the waters – but it was interesting to see so many complaints about the company inside the MSoAM Facebook group:

Making sense of affiliate marketing bluehost

Making sense of affiliate marketing bluehost 2

Making sense of affiliate marketing bluehost 3

  • Misleading Plug For Swagbucks
    This isn’t in the course, but I feel compelled to mention it anyway. From one of Michelle’s most popular blog posts:

    Makins sense of cents swagbucks
    Source: How To Make Money Blogging (makingsenseofcents.com)

    I’ve personally reviewed Swagbucks in-depth, and implying that you can earn $500 on there is nothing short of ridiculous. Our testing showed that you can only earn about $1 per hour on Swagbucks, so reaching $500 would take you three months of mind-numbing 40-hour workweeks.

    A skeptic might say that Michelle recommends sites like Swagbucks NOT because they help her readers earn money, but because they help HER earn money…

    Making sense of cents survey sites
    Screenshot from one of Michelle’s income reports, showing that she earned more than $10k in a month by referring people to survey sites like Swagbucks.

    (To be clear: it’s totally cool to be an affiliate for sites like Swagbucks – I’m an affiliate for them myself – but it’s not cool to post misleading information about how much people can expect to earn from those sites.)

BOTTOM LINE

Are students getting results?

As noted previously, about 6 people per day sign up for Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. Given that, there is a strange lack of student success stories.

As of this writing, there are a total of eight testimonials on the course sales page.

The first three are hugely impressive, like this one…

Making sense of affiliate marketing testimonial

The fourth speaks to a small, quick win…

Making sense of affiliate marketing testimonial 2

And the rest don’t reveal any specific results achieved, instead just offering general praise for Michelle and the course.

Example:

Making sense of affiliate marketing testimonial 3

It’s also worth noting that the first testimonial above is from 2017, and the lady who wrote it seems to credit her blogging success to a different course elsewhere:

Mom resource eba testimonial
Source: How I Made $100,000 Blogging & How To Make Money Blogging (momresource.com)

But perhaps more telling are the student comments in the weekly “Winning Wednesday” posts within the MSoAM Facebook group…

Making sense of affiliate marketing wining wednesday

I went through 6 weeks of those posts, and found comments like these:

Making sense of affiliate marketing wins

Making sense of affiliate marketing wins 2

Making sense of affiliate marketing wins 3

I counted 30 top-level comments from those 6 weeks, and found that only 3 reported significant income earned from affiliate marketing.

Maybe it’s just me, but I would have expected to see far more wins being posted, given that ~250 new people join the course every 6 weeks 😕

That said, given my impression of the course, I also would have expected to see far more CRITICISM of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing online.

But that’s not the case, either.

While there are some lukewarm reviews to be found, this comment on Reddit is about as critical as it gets:

Making sense of affiliate marketing reddit comments
Source: Anyone taken the Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course? (reddit.com/r/Blogging)

Here’s what’s weird though:

  • Given the poor course material and lack of success stories, I can’t imagine many MSoAM students are actually getting good results. But neither do they seem to be asking for refunds or posting bad reviews.

Perhaps the explanation is that Michelle herself is very likeable, and few people are willing to criticize her course for fear of blowback from her fans.

Or perhaps Michelle’s own success as an affiliate marketer is so massive that people assume they themselves are at fault when her training doesn’t work for them, and so are disinclined to ask for a refund.

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments below.

Who should take this course?

I can’t in good conscience recommend anyone sign up for Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

Not when there are a number of better alternatives available (see below).

There are some decent teachings and ideas within the course, but nothing is covered in-depth, there are significant gaps in the material, and you can easily find better training freely available online for 90% of the topics covered.

Here’s how my co-reviewer summarized his impressions of the course:

“Compared to Income School and TASS, this course just does not cut it for me. Too much stuff left out, too much theory, and not enough practical examples.

I would give it 2 stars as it does give you some examples due to Michelle’s experience of running a successful blog. But key info like keyword research, actually writing the content, SEO/backlinks are all missing.

A series of blog posts or a book would be a more suitable medium.”

To piggyback on that last point, I believe Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing would be much better presented as a $10 ebook or Udemy course.

In those formats the training would still be fairly useless, but at least it wouldn’t be massively overpriced.

Better alternatives to Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing

I’m on a mission to review all the top affiliate marketing courses.

Here’s my progress so far:

Course Rating Review
Authority Hacker (TASS) 4.5/5 Authority Hacker review
Income School (Project 24) 4/5 Project 24 review
Affilorama 1.5/5 Affilorama review
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing 1.5/5 Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing review
Wealthy Affiliate 1/5 Wealthy Affiliate review
ClickBank University 0.5/5 ClickBank University review

Consider the other courses in the above table as premium alternatives to Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.

Here are some cheap alternatives:

And here are some free resources you might find helpful:

Your Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Review

Have you ever signed up for Michelle Schroeder-Gardner’s affiliate marketing course?

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