the new normal 2021 header

What happened in affiliate marketing in 2020 & What does it mean for 2021 advertising?

1081 754 Magdalena Kukułka

2020 has been a crazy year. A global pandemic is just not something that could have been predicted. The whole world has been affected by lockdowns, economic shifts, and changes in various markets. After a seemingly normal beginning, everything started to gradually evolve into the world we know today. 

Affiliate marketing, despite being one of the lucky industries that avoided experiencing the worst consequences of COVID-19, has also been touched by the changes. This year has been a rollercoaster of emotions but there’s also a lot we’ve learned from it. 

Read the article for a recap of 2020 events in the world of affiliate marketing and learn how to make money from it in 2021!

Clearance sales & Weight-loss niche

The beginning of the year started as usual, with a smaller albeit still sizable surge in post-holiday sales. E-commerce was on the rise again, and while most people cashed in on the December shopping craze, some decided to wait. January sales are always overshadowed by Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing day, however, it’s still a great marketing angle.

Throughout January, shops will be getting rid of their last year’s inventories, and who doesn’t like that kind of deals? Heavily discounted items, free shipping, vouchers, bonuses, and so on – while it’s not the same as the Q4 shopping craze, it’s a good opportunity to make money. 

Do you know what else people do in January? They step on the scales after the Holiday overindulgence. The beginning of the year is also the time for actively working on one’s new year’s resolutions. The nutra vertical and weight-loss niche is usually the most potent angle, bringing all kinds of diet programs, pills, exercise routines, and healthy cookbooks to needy customers. 

Covid or not, once the holidays are done, it’s worth starting the new year with some e-commerce and nutra offers. 

january summary

The sports betting rush & the Super Bowl finals

In 2020, the Super Bowl went exactly like planned. Sports betting and e-sports have become the hottest topics while Americans became completely immersed in the excitement of the biggest sporting event of the year. But in the world of affiliate marketing, the spotlight fell on more than just sports verticals. 

In the big game guide to affiliate advertising released at the beginning of this year, we talked about many supporting verticals that were perfect for the occasion. Online casinos and gambling, e-sports, gaming, nutra, streaming, lead generation, and hobbies were all playing second fiddle. Put a football angle on anything and it will do well during the Super Bowl season. 

Luckily for the 2021 season, the confirmation has been made and, Super Bowl is not a matter of if anymore, but only of when. While the world is already excited about the announcement of the headline performer (spoiler alert – it’s The Weeknd!), the exact plan of the event is still unknown. The date is yet to be announced, with rumors about potentially postponing it to March. The stadium capacity will also be reduced to comply with covid regulation.

One thing is certain. Affiliate advertising will not suffer due to these changes. People might stay at home but it only means that online sports betting will get even more attention.  

january-march summary

Valentine’s day surge in online dating & adult content 

Let’s not forget that February isn’t only about football. Although not everyone is a fan of Valentine’s day, everyone will get on board with the promotions. Let’s face it, celebrating love is quite universal. 

V-day is for buying presents for your significant other, for your closest friends, for family members, for pets, or even for yourself. But in the world of affiliate advertising, it’s also for finding a special kind of friend – on online dating and adult content sites. Whatever the circumstances outside, this day does not lose its importance.

Covid or not, Valentine’s Day brings a lot of opportunities for scaling your campaigns. E-commerce will once again take the first place among the most profitable verticals. But the dating and adult niche are anticipated to be a very close second. Unfortunately, this year, romantic getaways might lose popularity so you shouldn’t put too much faith in the travel vertical just yet. 

february summary

Cashing in on the US tax season 2021

Tax season is the one thing that will most likely remain unchanged no matter what. Everyone living in the US will be worrying about filling out their tax returns sometime between January 27th and April 15th. That’s why marketing the 2021 US Tax Season is going to look almost exactly the same as the year before.

Starting in January, but really coming to prominence in March, the finance vertical will be the one that’s trending. Additionally, finance-related lead generation and software downloads will spike again with the return of tax-filing products and their affiliate programs. Millions of people across the US and Canada (starting their tax season craze soon after the US) will look for help with taxes. 

The global pandemic did not affect the tax season. If you specialize or feel comfortable in finance-related verticals, this is the time for you to shine. 

february-april summary

The influence of Chrome updates on affiliate marketing

Every time Google comes up with yet another update, affiliate marketers begin to worry all over again. Is push dead? Is pop dead? Is affiliate marketing dead? The simple answer is no. As scary as the changes might seem, the affiliate marketing community is just too strong to give up that easily.

Despite the uncertainty, things turned out to be fine. The changes observed by marketers were small and not particularly significant. Over half a year later, push traffic is just as effective and just as available as it used to be. Slightly cleaner, with a slightly more interested user base. Either way, no negative outcomes could be observed.

There are probably more changes coming, though. Google always tries its best to protect its user base from malicious or intrusive notifications. But that also means push traffic will be cleaner and you’ll have a better chance of your ads getting noticed.

Allow Push Notifications Pop Up Window

The first effects of coronavirus on digital advertising

This year’s affiliate marketing concerns began with the Chrome 80 update, and then before they had a chance to de-escalate, the pandemic hit. The most frequently asked questions about affiliate marketing in times of coronavirus ranged from worries about failing businesses to worries about increasing competition among affiliates.

Affiliate marketing did change because people went into lockdown and almost the whole travel industry was temporarily put on hold. Despite these hardships taking their toll on one niche, other niches, such as VPNs or utilities became more profitable. 

In 2021, the effects of these changes will still be visible. It’s hard to tell whether the travel industry is up for a comeback or not just yet, but what we know for sure is that the coronavirus angle is slowly losing its magic. Panic shopping is more or less over. The vaccine is coming. 

In 2021, it’s time to account for both —  the lockdown advertising trends & the post-coronavirus trends. 

Affiliate marketing as a perfect Work From Home solution

Soon after it became clear that coronavirus is here to stay, the world went into lockdown. People started working from home and some, unfortunately, have lost their jobs. All of a sudden there was a surge in ‘work from home’ and ‘make money online’ searches. 

Affiliate marketing is obviously just the thing people were looking for. But affiliate marketers had other exciting challenges to face. First of all, due to the shift towards working from home, there was a surge in desktop traffic. Additionally, verticals such as streaming, gaming, education, apps, and anything adult-related were suddenly more popular.

In 2021 we are still likely to reap the benefits of work from home. Many companies will offer hybrid working models from now on, so desktop traffic can no longer be overlooked. As long as social distancing is in place, surveys and sweeps, gambling, gaming, dating, crypto, and e-commerce will be hot.

After all, WFH or not, affiliate marketing is always a good business idea.

Push traffic cleanup & doubling push ads ROI%

Let’s not forget about Zeropark’s very own little project. Well, maybe not so little. We did double the ROI of our push traffic, after all. We’ve been working on this project for quite a while and the results did not disappoint. 

While everyone was concerned with the state of affiliate marketing in times of coronavirus, we thought it might be a great time to do some spring cleaning. In May 2020, we finalized the push cleanup project which resulted in removing 35% of the inventory. It’s safe to say that while we still enjoy being the traffic source with one of the biggest inventories, we can take greater pride in its quality.

Key Outcomes of Push Traffic Cleanup

Covid is not going anywhere. But neither are sports.

Surprisingly – or not – the pandemic was not that easy to get rid of. The initial changes caused by lockdown and economic shift turned out to be here to stay. At this point, affiliates were prepared. In some areas the changes were palpable – the travel vertical was nearly dead, but in other areas of affiliate marketing, the changes merely provided new opportunities. 

All the verticals that came to prominence when the pandemic started were still going strong. With so many businesses restricted to their online branches, online shopping was trending along with the usual forms of entertainment, gambling, gaming, streaming, and online dating. 

Additionally, there was a surge in sports betting and an increased need for antivirus and VPN software. Albeit the sporting scene was very different in form, people still rooted for their favorite teams and still bet on their victories. 

One thing we can be sure of – 2021 will not skip out on the biggest sporting events. You can bet your bottom dollar that sports betting will be hot again as soon as the sports season starts. 

sports season summary

Let the Q4 shopping craze begin!

Soon after the sports season finishes, there is yet another huge series of events in the world of affiliate marketing. The culmination of marketing efforts every year – Q4. 

E-commerce advertising is taking over while people all over the world are hunting for bargains and Christmas presents. 

COVID-19 changed a lot when it comes to e-commerce. Luckily for affiliate marketing, most sales moved online. The predictions for 2020 were very optimistic. All of the huge shopping events were expected to be just as successful as in times before the pandemic. 

Starting with Amazon Prime Day, which was moved to the 13th of October, to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday and finally Cyber Monday, affiliate marketers all over the world had plenty of opportunities to test and flawlessly execute their e-commerce marketing strategies. 

Although online shopping takes up the bulk of October, November, and December advertising, sweepstakes, gambling, and app downloads are just as popular and lucrative. Even though Cyber Monday seems to be the culmination of the major events, there is still Boxing Day left on the 26th of December. 

In 2020, there certainly was a drop in sales in physical stores. With many restrictions still in place, that’s the anticipated outcome. Online sales during Black Friday, however, are reported to have totaled $9 billion in spending. Actually, if we take into consideration the period between Thanksgiving and Sunday (yup, the number does not include Cyber Monday, which alone scored $10.8 billion in spend) the online sales in the US only came up to $23.5 billion. That’s a 23% increase from last year! 

We don’t know yet what 2021 will bring in Q4, but what we know for sure is that this year has changed a lot. To disperse the overwhelming number of orders, many retailers started their promotions sooner. This trend is anticipated to stay. What we can expect in 2021 is an even bigger shopping hype, lasting way longer than just a Black Weekend or Cyber Week. 

october-december summary


2020 has been a crazy year. But it has also taught us a lot. Affiliate marketing survived and even managed to grow. If you had any worries about starting then (or now) we’ve hopefully managed to prove to you that this business is not going anywhere. 

Judging by how 2020 went, that’s what we can expect for 2021:

  • In January, it’s best to run e-commerce, nutra, and weight-loss offers because of the post-holiday dieting season and inventory clearances.
  • From January to March, sports bettering, e-sports and gambling are the hot verticals because of the NFL finals and the Super Bowl.
  • February is the month of love so Valentine’s Day e-commerce, dating, and adult niche offers are selling like hotcakes.
  • From February to April, Americans and Canadians will be thinking about taxes so finance offers, lead generation, and downloads are the hot verticals.
  • As soon as the sports season begins, the sports betting vertical will be a good niche to get into.
  • Lastly, from October to December, the whole world is crazy about the holidays so e-commerce, sweepstakes, gambling, and dating are just the right thing to promote.

Actually, judging by the outcome of the biggest shopping events in 2020, affiliate marketing in 2021 might become even more profitable, especially for the e-commerce vertical. As the years go by, people become more accustomed to shopping online which leads to shops putting in more effort to provide a smooth and pleasant customer experience. 

We don’t know how 2021 will turn out… But we know affiliate marketing is about to be just as good. Or even better! It’s definitely not too late to join.

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