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:
- you must have earned some credibility and trust with your reader
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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’.
- 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
- Move all Special Links to the bottom of posts in a “Shop This Post” area.
- 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.
- 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.