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Don’t Lose your Funds to Amazon – How to Stay Within The Operating Agreement

Posted By Guest Blogger 24th of May 2017 Blogging for Dollars 0 Comments

This is a guest post by Cathy Tibbles of WPBarista

Recently a lot of warning bells were sounding around the internet because of some changes to the Amazon Associates program. Looking at Problogger’s experience and the success of several other bloggers using affiliate sales, this post will take you through the importance of using Amazon Associates (or deciding if it’s right for you); and how to keep your account open and funds within your grasp.

How much can you really make from affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is earning income by referring products to your readers. When they purchase your recommended products, it generates a commission payment for you.

To earn affiliate income, two things must be true:

  1. you must have earned some credibility and trust with your reader
  2. the item must be in some way relevant to the reader

Over the last 13 years, Darren has reported $600,000 from Amazon affiliates alone! Smart Passive Income reported $94,824 in affiliate income for the month of January 2017. Google can provide a healthy list of monthly income reports if you’re interested in more; but keep in mind that those reports are from a small section of the blogging community that reports their income. My guess is a disproportionately high number of them are blogs earning over $1000/month.

If you want to create an affiliate marketing income stream, one of the best run-throughs is right here on Problogger – Podcast Episode 51.

The main reason bloggers prefer Amazon’s affiliate program is because it is so well known. Easily recognised companies have a higher perceived trust value to our readers, and we all know that more trust equals more sales.

The downside is the often lower ticket items coupled with lower commission fees. To find out if Amazon Associates is the right affiliate company for you, see Darren’s Pros & Cons list in this post.

That brings us to point number two in our research – what on earth happened to make Amazon the ‘bad guy’ overnight?

Amazon Affiliates Program Not Paying

Amazon Associates, the name of their affiliate program, is chock-full of legal jargon and difficult to understand. So I took apart the interesting (read: controversial) parts of the Operating Agreement and contacted Amazon directly for clarification.

Before we get into the consequences, let’s look at what actions are worthy of these consequences, shall we?

  1. Of course there are a bunch of regular things – don’t display their Special Links (affiliate links) on any site with illegal or inappropriate (R rated) content; don’t artificially boost clicks or impressions, and don’t generally be sneaky, crooked or malicious. Fair enough.
  2. This is the part everyone is up in arms about:

    “6. You will not engage in any promotional, marketing, or other advertising activities… in connection with… the Program, that are not expressly permitted under the Operating Agreement… For example, you will not engage in any promotional, marketing, or other advertising activities in any offline manner, including … email or attachment to email…”

    *Emphasis mine. More on this below.

  3. Every blogger using Amazon Special Links, must display this:

    “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”

  4. You may not use a link shortening service. They further go on to say that you can’t cloak, redirect or in any way obscure the link. I don’t know about you, but I have a ton of affiliate links that are organised with link shorteners to make it easier to link to! This is a no-no. In fact, the Operating Agreement says that you cannot use your own links in any way – you must use their supplied images, their links and their ‘code’.
  5. If you currently have posts or sidebars that pop-up, or any popup at all, they cannot contain any Amazon Special Link.And what dire consequences will Amazon level at you?

>>> Immediate account closure and forfeiture of all earned funds.<<<

From the Operating Agreement:

If you violate this Agreement… then, in addition to any other rights or remedies available to us, we reserve the right to withhold… any and all fees otherwise payable to you under this Agreement, whether or not directly related to such violation.

Yes, that says you will forfeit your fees, whether or not they are directly related to the particular infraction. I’m guessing even the rebels among us are motivated to stay in line, at least until we find new affiliate companies.

Now, let me take a moment to tell you why #2 above impacts 99% of bloggers …

99% of You are Violating the Operating Agreement

Do you use feeds? Are you familiar with that glorious machine-readable version of your blog that lets us download your blogs and read at our leisure. We use our own favorite feed reader like Feedly or Bloglovin.

Whether you know this or not, your feed (in WordPress) is always available and anyone can access it.

Interested in trying this?

Go to yourblog.com/feed and you can see a bunch of awful looking code-stuff. That, my friends, is your feed!

Another very common use of the feed, is to attach it to a mass email provider – like Mailchimp or Convertkit – and send your posts automatically to subscribers. Do you see where I’m going with this? If you link to Amazon Special Links within your posts and you serve your feed via email, you are violating the Operating Agreement. Promoting your Special Links in blog posts and blog posts via email have to be pretty much the same thing, right? That’s what I thought… so I asked Amazon. Here is Cody, the service representative’s reply:
“Associate links can only be used on approved websites and are not permitted to be used in e-mails, newsletters or in any off-line manner. Sending links via email will cause your Associates Account to be shut down indefinitely.”
Um. I guess they take a different view. So. Emails are out. Let’s talk about maintaining delivery of your posts to subscribers’ emails, and somehow keeping Amazon happy at the same time.

Amazon Special Links & Email Dilemma

Solution One:

  1. Move all Special Links to the bottom of posts in a “Shop This Post” area.
  2. Change your emails to send excerpts only. This can be done either in your settings, or in your email program.
The downside is that you’ll need to edit each post! Uggg.

Solution Two:

  1. For WordPress users, install this plugin (disclosure: happens to be mine!) and it will automatically change all links (in the feed only) to point to your site. (Cathy’s plugin has been screened by ProBlogger’s own developer)
Downside – The reader will expect to be taken to Amazon, and instead will be redirected back to the post, where they can click again to purchase. Two steps is not ideal, but at least you don’t have to edit each post, and you’re not in violation of the program. Do you have another solution? Let us know in the comments! And… like anytime our income is threatened, it’s a good idea to review your income streams and diversify!

Cathy Tibbles is the founder of WordPress Barista – your geeky girlfriends partnering with bloggers to take care of the technical aspects of blogging. 

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. Sidra Khan says: 05/24/2017 at 1:12 am

    really wonderful article

  2. Hi Cathy,

    Super helpful. I had no idea Associates were *this* picky LOL but I do get why. For this level of strictness you know way too many affiliates did dumb stuff, resulting in this level of strictness. Always a root cause.

    Honestly, even though I am an Associate I know I am 1 step away from being closed out because the rules and regs are so incredibly tight. So no skin off my back. Here’s my workaround; make friends with a gazillion bloggers who see I have 160 plus products on Amazon. Or more. I lost count

    Then as I build bonds with said bloggers the ones who are Associates simply see a bunch of Blogging From Paradise products to sell, post their Associates links on their blogs, and I generate sales each time an affiliate sells my eBooks or audio books or paperbacks. It’s less about me earning directly – although it is nice to get paid twice for each Blogging From Paradise product sold through my blog – and more about having a monstrous library of products to sell, so I can meet a ton of folks and they passively sell my stuff, earning a steady affiliate commission on my robust library of products.

    Emphasis on “passive”. Seriously. I doubled checked with Amazon and as figured, you cannot promote your products to Associates to goad them to sign up as affiliates. Really though, when you make genuine friends with Associates they organically see you are selling your stuff and if it vibes with their niche they simply sell, earning their affiliate chunk of cash and I win too as this means more sales and commissions for me.

    Big time win-win scenario here but it must happen organically and passively with no recruiting or goading or promoting of an affiliate opportunity involved. Which I get.

    So even if they shut me down I am still earning more and more through simply royalty payments from KDP as an author, and through audio books and paperbacks that I sell on Amazon as well. More about spreading the word and less about hyper focusing on a super fickle income stream that is regulated out the ying yang.

    SUPER helpful post Cynthia.

    Thanks for sharing :)


    • Exactly Ryan! You may not be able to “promote” your products to associates but they can’t stop friendship! :)

      And I’m with you 100% – that networking trumps any other income stream – indirectly. I’m constantly telling smaller bloggers to focus on networking – NOT design! OR SEO. It’s the networking!!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Hi Cathy,

    Great article, especially, for someone who is considering joining their affiliate program. I have been hesitant about joining it because I had heard that the commissions were so low. However, after reading those income reports, I may have to test it out on my blog.

    I have never used the Amazon affiliate program because at one point my state was banned from it. However, last I checked they had re-opened it back up for my state. Of course I’ll have to double check to make sure that I can join.

    All these rules, wow no clue on how strict they are. It’s nice to know the rules before hand to make sure that it will fit your blog. I can’t believe they won’t let you cloak your affiliate links. I actually just started cloaking all my affiliate links.

    I checked out your Remove Amazon Affiliate Links plugin. If I do sign up, I may have to consider using it to help me abide by their rules.

    Thanks for sharing these rules with us. Now I just need to decide if I actually want to take the time to join the program or not.

    Have a great day :)


    • Hi Susan! :)

      It’s really so easy to join and use that I would recommend it. It doesn’t hurt to add new streams of income, right?

      I added /aff/ and then the name after my url so I could track easily using analytics. Its even recommended in some HUGE plugins… but apparently that’s a no-no! Who knew? :)

      Thanks for reading & sharing!!

  4. John B. Manos says: 05/24/2017 at 10:38 pm

    Does this mean thirsty affiliates is dead? Meaning that I shouldn’t use any amazon link with that plugin (because it cloaks)?

    • Hi John,

      My understanding – is yes, anything that cloaks the URL is out. Even a simple redirect is out! I had no idea either until I started looking into this stuff!

  5. lisajh says: 05/25/2017 at 4:20 am

    Can someone explain what a special link is? I just use the text version anywhere I post. Does using the F word anywhere get considered R rated, or using the S word? I like to write off the cuff, so I’d hate if this were true.

    • Hi Lisa,

      I’m not sure about cussing in the post. I know the obvious R rated stuff – illegal stuff – but cussing depends on your audience *I* would think. But I’m not amazon!! They’re support team was super responsive when I asked questions – I highly recommend you just email them.


  6. I’ve been an Amazon Associate for about a year now and, yeah, it’s been a stressful ride. Luckily, I had a good idea of how strict they were before I signed up, so I printed every page of their Operating Agreement (as well as a few other of their resources) and spent several days going over them in detail prior to signing up. However, I still missed things. Luckily I discovered and corrected my transgressions before Amazon discovered them and nailed me. They’re pretty intolerant–it’s one strike and you’re out, forever. I just don’t understand why they aren’t a little more lenient and willing to help new affiliates through understanding some of these things. Luckily, I’ve survived thus far, but despite my best efforts to adhere to their agreement I essentially live in fear every day of being banned for honest mistakes or oversights.

    • Yeah, that’s silly to be making every effort honestly and still get penalized. Its the bad apple that makes it hard for all of us. I think that Darren’s advice is the best – spread out your income sources!

    • Agreed but there are different ways to see the same situation…

  7. Jane Rucker says: 05/25/2017 at 8:11 am

    Cathy–Thank you for this very informative post. I have not yet decided to become an Amazon Associate. It has only recently become an option for me as I live in Missouri, one of the states banned because of the sales tax issue. (The tax problem has been resolved thankfully.)

    What you have shared in your post along with some of the comments have been very helpful. I have been interested in affiliate marketing for awhile, but I want to do it the right way the first time!

    Thank you again!

    • In my opinion, the trick is to really truly promote only the products you love and to have your audience’ trust before you do so… but I’m not affiliate expert. I can just help you follow the rules technically! :)

  8. I wish you would address how they recently restructured their fee schedule a couple of months ago. My monthly Amazon Income went from $2,000+ a month to around $600 a month. Amazon Associates isnt worth my time anymore. Has Problogger avoided mentioning this? …or did I miss it. I bet Darren took a huge financial hit with this change.

  9. Hi Cathy,

    Super investigation upon the Amazon Associate policies. (Y)

    It’s amazing to read and understand the entire affiliate program of Amazon. I am new to amazon affiliate program so I will try my level best to adhere to the rules so that I could not lose my hard earned money/commissions.

    Thank you so much!


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  18. Paula Keen says: 07/29/2017 at 12:37 pm

    Super interesting and am glad to have come across this. Already shared it with friend bloggers, lol. I wasn’t sure what you meant by ” “Shop This Post” area “. Can you clarify? Thanks so much and look forward to getting this information put to action. :o)

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