Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Overall Key Points
Have you just discovered Michelle’s Making Sense of Cents blog? Read about her on a website article?
Or have you been on her email list and thinking about buying her affiliate marketing course? (I discovered her on an interview podcast by Side Hustle Nation).
In either case, eventually, you’re going to be introduced to her main course Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, and wonder if the course is any good.
I took Michelle’s course a few years ago and I’m finally writing an honest Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing review.
I’m not some guru affiliate trying to sell you her course by the way. I just happened to be one of the people who became successful with affiliate marketing websites, and Michelle’s course was one of many along the affiliate journey that I took.
If this is good with you, you’re in the right place. Here’s what you’re about to find out:
- Exactly what Michelle does and does not teach in MSOAM.
- The pros and cons of the course.
- If her students have success.
- If it’s worth getting and MSOAM is for.
Let’s get this rolling.
Table of Contents
- Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Overall Key Points
- Who is Michelle Schroeder-Gardner?
- What is Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing?
- Course Structure and Delivery
- How Much Does Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Cost?
- What I Liked About Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing
- What I Disliked About Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing
- Is Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing A Good Course?
- The Bottom Line: Is It Worth Getting?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Alternative Affiliate Marketing Courses
Who is Michelle Schroeder-Gardner?
Before we start this Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing review, let’s first meet the instructor: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner.
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner is personal finance and lifestyle blogger based in the US who earns over $100,000+ every month. She started her blog, Making Sense of Cents, in 2011 which allowed her to pay off over $38,000 in student debt (in less than eight months).
Since starting, Michelle’s made over five million dollars from her blog and has received several awards for her work, including several Best Personal Finance Blogger recognitions.
Michelle publishes her annual income reports on her blog and has done so since 2013.
Image Source: Michelle’s Annual Income Report
You can find more of her recent reports on this page of her blog.
In her latest income report, Michelle broke down her income like this:
Where the majority of her income is from affiliate income.
In 2019, Michelle started taking a break from being a full-time blogger after years of making money online. She didn’t state an exact income for the year but did say it’s similar to her 2018 annual report.
Here’s a short interview of Michelle at Fincon to get her story up to nowadays from her perspective. Michelle does a lot of interviews, but she doesn’t have a YouTube channel. This is a video interview I found of her lately.
With her story out of the way, let’s talk about her affiliate course.
What is Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing?
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is Michelle Schroeder-Garner’s course, which teaches new bloggers how to have blogging success with affiliate income.
Many people find out about her flagship course through her successful blog, Making Sense of Cents, where she blogs about finance and making money online. One of her blog’s prominent call-to-actions is her blogging course.
Which naturally leads people to her make money blogging course Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. That said, her course doesn’t have a section on how to create a blog from scratch. That’s what her email course is for technically.
Her flagship course is purely about affiliate marketing. Over the years Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing has made Michelle’s business over one million dollars in a two-year timespan. It’s been good for her, but has it been good for her students’ blog income? Keep reading for more info.
Course Structure and Delivery
I’ll cut straight to the chase with course delivery. If you’re expecting to hear and/or see Michelle explain and teach the affiliate marketing online business model, you’re out of luck. This is a text-based course.
Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is hosted in the Teachable platform and organized into 6 modules, 48 lessons, and 9 bonus lessons (3 of which have video — not from Michelle).
This is what the course structure looks like when logged in (100% completed for this Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing review).
You also get access to the online course’s exclusive Facebook group in the introduction section.
For more details on the course curriculum, you can find the names of each module, lesson, and bonuses on the sales page.
How Much Does Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Cost?
The Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing online course is available for a one-time payment of $197 or two $99 monthly payments.
You’ll get lifetime access and course content updates with either of the two pricing options.
I purchased the course at full price years before I even thought about writing this in-depth review. Since then, I’ve seen the course get discounted at least once per year with a coupon code.
Usually, during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday time of the year, Michelle offers 20% off her course.
For more details on coupon codes, you can email Michelle (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask when her next promotion will be or join her email list.
The Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course does come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. However, it is a condition/action-based refund policy on the sales page that reads, “you must show me that you went through the course and took action…”.
I’ve seen many affiliate marketing course sales pages, and this is pretty standard in the industry, so be careful if you decide on the course. With that said, I have heard of people getting refunds for this course with little to no issue.
What I Liked About Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing
Let’s start with the pros that come with the course material. In the next section, we’ll go over the not-so-good.
Lifetime Access with Free Updates
Purchasing Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing gives you lifetime access to the course. There are no monthly or yearly costs for course updates like some blogging courses.
Although sometimes I wish Michelle would add new course content at least once per year. The course hasn’t changed much since it launched back in 2016.
To be fair, the course is mainly about how affiliate marketing works, but new affiliate marketing tips would make Michelle’s course even better.
Decent Golden Nugget Lessons
The main six modules are about affiliate marketing strategy, promoting affiliate links, and signing up for an affiliate program — the basics. The most practical lessons, in my opinion, of the entire course, are in the Bonus lessons.
Two bonus lessons, in particular, help get traffic to your blog and affiliate products are the Pinterest and Facebook Ads lessons.
Unfortunately, Michelle teaches neither of them! Her course is mainly about affiliate marketing, after all, and her part is done. She passes the baton to her other online marketing friends.
Let’s cover each of these two lessons real quick.
The Pinterest lesson is decent — actually, it’s a breath of fresh air after going through walls of text in the previous lessons. Lauren from Create and Go teaches it.
The video lesson is 30 minutes long and teaches how to get traffic to your blog posts from Pinterest.
But, as you may expect, a 30-minute video is nowhere near long enough to learn any traffic source. If you want to learn more about generating affiliate income from your blog, you’ll be softly pitched Pinterest Traffic Avalanche — one of Create and Go’s courses.
Now you could put the pieces together from Lauren’s Pinterest lesson and figure it out yourself, but if you need help, their course isn’t bad. My brother Chris has taken the course for his fitness blog and has had success from it.
The last thing I’ll say about Pinterest is that it’s not for every niche. Most Pinterest users are women, and a blog about dirt bikes may not do as well as one about home decor.
Next up is the Facebook Advertising bonus lesson. She explains how to get traffic to your blog with Facebook paid advertising.
I watched her video lesson, and it was good. I could tell she knew what she was talking about. She learned Facebook Ads from Amy Porterfield, so I knew she had some credibility too.
Although the substance of Facebook Ad fundamentals was there (a Powerpoint presentation), the practical examples were missing. There were no screenshots of an actual Facebook Ad campaign of accounts she managed. Instead, just stock images and text.
If you want to learn more, you may have guessed it, Monica has a course too!
To wrap this section up, I’m not fond of courses with upsells to other courses, but it makes sense with Michelle’s strategic positioning. Her course is only about affiliate marketing.
Ethical Affiliate Marketing Approach
In the blogging course community, sometimes there are a few crossroads where you have to decide how to run your affiliate business.
This can involve reviewing products or services you haven’t used yourself. Or reviewing a product that only shows the pros and not the cons. That’s not good for the reader nor the trustworthiness of your blog (or YouTube channel).
It’s excellent advice because all things have good and bad to them. I take this advice for every product I review on this site too. If there’s something I don’t like about an affiliate product or service, I’ll let it be known.
Same with Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing — you’ll see what I mean in the next section.
Michelle also teaches how to follow the FTC disclosure requirements on your blog. Basic stuff like affiliate disclosures on your blog and other social media platforms.
I think you get the idea of exactly what I mean by an ethical affiliate marketing approach now. For those of you who have some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) knowledge — you won’t find any gray or black hat strategies in this course.
The Facebook Community & Support
The course comes with a private Facebook mastermind group only for Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing students. The Facebook group consists of an active group of new bloggers learning how to generate affiliate income after taking Michelle’s course.
A big pro is that Michelle is active in the group and is usually one of the first to respond to student questions.
Michelle’s introduced Motivation Monday posts (and similar posts) to create engagement and motivation for the Facebook group in recent years.
Michelle has a lot of experience, and I think the additional questions students get answered by her make up for information holes in her course.
You’ll also see other students help out with questions aside from Michelle. All in all, the Facebook group are beginner students aiming to make an affiliate income/job-replacing income via their blog. It’s a great learning environment where posts don’t go over people’s heads.
What I Disliked About Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing
Okay, let’s start with the cons section and what’s not so good about Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. It wouldn’t be an honest review without this section.
Too Much Text, Not Enough Video
One of the first cons Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing has in my book is that it’s mainly a text-based course.
In 2021, blog post-type course lessons are not in style. Take the lesson below, for example, on How to Determine What Your Readers Want — it’s a 796-word lesson.
The How to Find Affiliate Programs is 1,032 words.
Unfortunately, most of the online course is made up of walls of text mixed with some example and stock images.
Text lessons are not ideal for a new blogger who wants to learn the ins and outs of analyzing their analytics and how to make more affiliate income from their efforts.
For instance, learning how to set up Google Analytics is difficult to understand and set up for a brand new blogger. A video lesson about it would’ve been great.
When she talks about email marketing (not just list building), Pinterest traffic, and Facebook traffic, it’d be great if she had video lessons on these.
Well… Michelle kind of does. But, they’re not by her, but by guest marketers who teach these subjects and how to promote affiliate products. She mainly covers affiliate marketing fundamentals and strategies for building a profitable blog.
To be fair, Michelle does preface that her online course is mainly text in the sales page FAQ section.
Which to be honest, I did not notice when I first bought the course.
A Lack of Over-the-Shoulder How-To Content
This con is related to the number of text lessons this course has.
In Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, there’s a lot of sub-lesson content containing statements, claims, recommendations, and questions that lack learning value because it is a text course.
For instance, there’s an early lesson titled How To Determine What Your Readers Want where Michelle poses a question of what your audience is asking for.
I would’ve love to have seen an over-the-shoulder video of her finding a common question in her audience.
It could’ve been her looking for questions in her Facebook Group (or other groups), checking out YouTube comments, forums, or better yet, using a keyword research tool such as Ahrefs, SemRush, or Google keyword planner to identify questions in her niche.
And the second bullet point in the image above is a recommendation to set up Google Analytics and perhaps set up a survey with SurveyMonkey.com.
But, how do you set up Google Analytics with WordPress?
Should I use the old version of Google Analytics, or should I use the new version of Google Analytics 4?
There are a lot of free YouTube videos, but using different versions. Clarifying this with a video would be amazing for a new blogger!
As for creating SurveyMonkey.com, I like it, but how is this recommendation applicable?
Do I hyperlink the survey to every blog post I publish?
Do I place it in a side-widget banner (and if so, how?)?
How about using the survey in an email broadcast message or autoresponder?
If that’s a good idea, how?
These are all questions that come to mind if I was still new. Let’s go through a few more examples of the lack of how-to content where video lessons would help tremendously.
From The Value of a Bonus.
This part of the course is about bonuses and kind of how it works.
My question is, as a pretend newbie:
How do I go about setting this up on my blog?
Do I provide instructions within the blog?
Do I create a separate page on my site with a form?
Do I ask them to clear their cookies first – because isn’t that a thing?
How would this work with email?
From Maintaining Your Affiliate Marketing Strategy.
Updating your top 10 articles is a very broad recommendation. Although she does go into some light specifics like updating links so you can continue to make affiliate sales, there should be more — in my opinion.
What about optimizing the content, so it ranks higher on Google?
What about conversion rate optimization (where to place affiliate links, button vs. hyperlinks, conversion colors, etc.)?
Other affiliate blogging courses I’ve taken go over not just updating articles but also optimizing it for search engines, so it gets ranked higher for more traffic. However, this is what’s called SEO — which unfortunately isn’t part of the course.
No SEO Blog Training
SEO, or search engine optimization, is one of the many traffic channels of digital marketing. Every affiliate marketing course I’ve ever taken that involves creating a profitable blog has always taught SEO.
However, not Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. This is an image from one of the bonus lessons titled: How To Increase Your Page Views.
Why isn’t it covered? Why skip out on Google — the most significant traffic source for an online business.
Michelle probably started to refocus on SEO when she noticed her organic traffic decrease from the looks of it. Signifying even more that she knows the value of organic traffic.
In the Ahrefs analysis below, you can see that her search engine traffic started declining before October 2019, but by that time, it was too late.
It looks like her site may have been hit by a Google core algorithm update that she and/or her team ended up recovering from temporarily.
Before her first significant dip in organic traffic — you may be asking how did she grow to over 120,000+ search engine visitors per month?
I haven’t asked Michelle, but my educated SEO hypothesis is that she was growing her blog’s social media presence and brand recognition (via interviews) which led to backlinks.
Over time her blog articles (and homepage) accumulated backlinks (a big SEO ranking factor) from major publications like Business Insider, Inc, Marketwatch, Forbes, Yahoo Finance, Huffington Post, and others.
This phase of MakingSenseofCents.com, plus her personal finance expert experience & story, is what possibly made her blog so successful.
Once upon a time, Makingsenseofcents.com may have gotten (it’s hard to tell) more traffic from social media platforms such as Pinterest and maybe Facebook Ads. These days it accounts for roughly 6% of her total traffic.
Most people find Michelle’s blog going directly to her site, and her second-highest traffic source is search engines, while social media struggles behind.
So, the story the images paint above kind of explains why SEO isn’t taught in her course and why it isn’t much of a discussion in the private Facebook group. She’s honest in saying that SEO is not her forte which is commendable.
However, for a blogging course, at least the basics of on-page optimizing should be included, especially when most of her traffic comes from Google organic traffic.
I recall an email where she promoted an SEO course a few years back. I forgot how much money it was, but it was an A-Z white hat SEO course she was helping a friend launch. I’m guessing it wasn’t a hit because it wasn’t added to the bonus section of the course.
Some Not So Helpful Course PDFs
Throughout the course, there are a few PDF worksheets that can be helpful. They include:
- Brainstorm What Your Readers Want.
- Affiliate Programs You Are Interested In.
- How to Pick The Right Affiliate Product to Promote for Your Brand.
- My Bonus Ideas.
- Improving Your Top 10.
- Creating the Perfect Affiliate Review.
- Strategies to Promote Affiliate Products.
- Regular Maintenance Checklist.
- Tracking Your Affiliate Income Progress.
- My Affiliate Products and Services.
- The Perfect Affiliate Link Checklist.
Most of these are good and come with good intentions. I don’t have many gripes against them except that they’re all mainly PDF files that you need to print out to use them.
I can see the value in printing out and documenting affiliate income — even brainstorming what your readers want so you can strategically make more money (this is a business, after all).
But, maybe I’m more new school. I like things in Google Docs and Sheets. I think all the PDF sheets could’ve fit in other tabs in the only spreadsheet download that comes with the course. The affiliate login tracking sheet.
This sheet can be helpful, and depending on your niche, affiliate marketing requires logging in to multiple affiliate program accounts to check income reports and more.
Upsells and Additional Costs
Since this is an honest review of Michelle’s course, I’ll give it to you straight. There is a business expense and are upsells in the course.
The first and optional business expense is email marketing software to communicate with your audience.
Michelle recommends ConvertKit (which now has a free version). I actually like that she recommend ConvertKit as it’s one of the better email autoresponders for affiliate marketers.
The free version of ConvertKit is excellent for starters, but if you need autoresponder automation, it starts to cost $29/month.
That’s technically a “hidden cost” because it’s not mentioned on the MSOAM sales page.
Next up are the upsells, which come in the form of the bonuses we talked about earlier. The following lessons contain guest video content by Michelle’s course creator and marketing friends that upsell their courses/services within Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing:
- Pinterest bonus.
- Facebook Ads bonus.
- How to Legally Protect Your Blog bonus.
The Pinterest course upsell is good. Chris, my brother who writes on our blog, has taken Pinterest Traffic Avalanche and praises it as they keep it updated.
I’m not too sure about the Facebook Ads upsell course by Monica Louie. I haven’t taken it.
The last video course is upselling a Website Legal Templates bundle via an information video (turned webinar sales pitch) by Liz Stapleton, a legal blogger.
Now, this is fine… but I’ve never seen another affiliate course recommend paid legal templates for privacy policies and terms and condition pages.
For example, The Authority Site System by Authority Hacker and Project 24 by Income School — two blogging courses targeting new bloggers — provide free template tools for such pages. I’ll just leave it there.
Anyway, upselling other courses within a course has been a method to earn money from course creators since affiliate marketing started.
To conclude, I don’t see upsells to other courses as a horrible thing. However, I do think they should be disclosed on the sales page.
Does Not Teach How to Create a Blog From Scratch
You know — when I first got the course, I was expecting to see Michelle guide me through creating a new blog from start to finish. Like an over-the-shoulder tutorial instead of her free email course that teaches how to set up a blog (via emails and articles).
But, then I had to remind myself that this course is strictly about affiliate marketing and how to increase affiliate earnings.
I read through the Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing sales page again to try and see about promises of starting a new WordPress blog from the ground up.
All I found was this.
Unfortunately, Michelle assumes that you already have a running blog or you’ve gone through her free email course.
This may not be an issue if you’re an email subscriber, but it’s not disclosing enough, in my opinion, to newcomer newbies that the course does not teach how to create a blog or the exact steps Michelle uses to bring traffic to her blog.
Instead, it’s purely about affiliate marketing topics, writing strategies on writing affiliate reviews, effectively communicating with your affiliate manager, etc.
Is Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing A Good Course?
I think at one point; this was a good affiliate marketing course for beginners. But, in 2021, it can use some improvement.
These days, the top affiliate marketing courses that get results for their students I see have video lessons and not a text-based course. They have blog portfolios (aside from their main site) and are not hesitant of at least sharing one of them with their members.
Additionally, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing felt like it was missing how-to content. The affiliate marketing strategy lessons are there, but not exactly what and how to do it.
Lastly, I was surprised there wasn’t a module dedicated to search engine optimization (SEO) for an affiliate marketing training course about making money blogging. It’s a great way to generate blogging income, and I’m pretty sure Michelle knows about it as she’s one of the best personal finance bloggers online.
Her blog, at its peak, was getting 100,000 website visitors from her organic traffic alone at one point.
The Bottom Line: Is It Worth Getting?
So, is Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing worth it? Will it help you master affiliate marketing?
Throughout my review, I’ve honestly shared what I thought were the pros and cons of Michelle’s course.
Based on analyzing the course and comparing it with alternative affiliate courses, I’m not as impressed as I once was when I first took it as a newbie. Thus, I lean more towards not recommending Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.
Simply because it just teaches the principles of affiliate marketing. Yeah, the bonuses on how to get page views to your blog are there, but they’re really just upsells.
But, in your journey as an affiliate blogger, you’re going to encounter the problem of getting visitors to your site after you figure out how to use your WordPress blog.
You’re going to run into other fellow affiliate marketers who have blogs and teach about SEO and getting traffic to their websites, getting traffic from YouTube, Pinterest, and how they make passive income with affiliate marketing and display ads on their blog.
Sure, MSOAM may help you make your first affiliate sale, but eventually, you’re going to want to scale and wish that the course had practical over-the-shoulder examples on how to do just that.
The affiliate marketing fundamentals taught in MSOAM are good, but they’re a tiny piece of the puzzle in the grand scheme of things. For courses that teach affiliate marketing plus traffic sources, see my alternatives section below.
Frankly, a lot of what’s taught I’ve heard and read for free in affiliate marketing and SEO blogging media around the web (even in her interviews).
This course can drastically improve if Michelle added more lessons on how to get traffic to a blog as a complete newbie. That means lessons on how to start from scratch — no email list or brand recognition. It’s a challenge, but I think it’s possible.
Anyway, just being honest. Who should take this course? (I’m not here to bash on Michelle’s course and tell you to stay away from it.)
I think if you’re a big fan of Michelle’s work and impressed by her story & brand, spend money on her course. She’s a successful affiliate marketer, and her course can help if you’re entering the world of affiliate marketing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some commons FAQs on Google about Michelle’s course.
Do MSOAM Students Have Success Blogging?
This isn’t easy to gauge, and I didn’t survey the FB group (I wouldn’t do something so disrespectful anyway). But, the MSOAM sales page gives us some clues.
Take these first two MSOAM students’ reviews.
I’ve checked both of these two ladies’ blogs, and they’re quite good. I like Rosemarie’s blog as she combines the mommy blogger and finance niche into her content.
Now, are they successful with affiliate marketing, and did MSOAM contribute to it? After analyzing their sites, I think so. Both Rosemarie and Saira make money with Mediavine (a display ad network that requires 50k visitors/month) and affiliate links.
It seems like they both were in the game before Michelle’s course. So, my final thoughts, although they are students having success — they’re not exactly beginners to affiliate marketing.
And then there’s Chris’s testimonial.
Again, not exactly a beginner, but he started with lower income numbers from his blog.
It’s hard to argue that people are not having success from the sales page. My recommendation is to pay attention to what part of their journey they took MSOAM.
I’ll let you be the judge of the rest of the testimonials.
What other costs come with Michelle’s course?
If you’re planning on growing your email list (always a good idea), Michelle will recommend ConvertKit, which can cost anywhere from $0-$29+/month. Additionally, there are other courses upsells within the bonus lessons for Pinterest and Facebook advertising.
Is there a Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Coupon Code?
No, there isn’t; however, there’s usually a discount code around Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You can check back here if you need it.
Can you download Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing for free?
Our team does not condone pirating anyone’s course. I paid full price years ago for the course and am only now reviewing it. Read this review in full to find out if it’s for you.
Alternative Affiliate Marketing Courses
Since Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing is more of a beginner course for those who want to make money with blogging, I’ve narrowed this alternative affiliate course section to two courses.
And they happen to be 2 out of the top 3 affiliate courses I recommend to anyone starting.
Authority Hacker: The Authority Site System
Authority Hacker is a company who teaches people how to build “authority websites.” Their flagship course is called The Authority Site System, which is tailored for beginners. It’s a complete step-by-step system for starting and growing profitable affiliate sites.
Their module lessons are broken down into both video and text-equivalent content per lesson page. The content covers affiliate marketing, how to start a blog from scratch with the latest and best tools, and how to get traffic from Google (the biggest traffic source online) with expert SEO strategies.
Highly recommend these guys for affiliate niche sites.
Check out their course: The Authority Site System.
Check out their free training here.
Also, read our review about their course for more information.
Income School: Project 24
Project 24, from the guys at Income School, is another excellent alternative course option for beginners. Their style is a little different than the Authority Hacker guys, but their students also get success.
They’re great for newbies because they teach their students how to get traffic from Google with less competitive informational keywords.
Additionally, they monetize their sites with affiliate links and generate passive income from blog visitors with display ads.
Check out their course: Project 24.
You can also read our Project 24 review here for more details.
By the way, the course is called Project 24 because it takes roughly 24 months for most people to get success blogging on average.
Income School is honest about this and paint a realistic timeline. If this comes as a shock, I hate to break it to you, but blogging is not a get-rich-quick scheme, and any honest blogger will let you know this.
For more affiliate marketing course options, check out our list here. Best of luck on your journey!