The Negatives of Affiliate Marketing
I signed up with Amazon over 5 years ago and I mainly had Amazon ads accompany my hubs here on HubPages. From there I started putting them on my blogs. I then went on to join other affiliate networks or programs like Linkshare and Commission Junction. At first, much like Darren Rowse over at Problogger years ago, on these blogs I had banners leading to said websites, without even bothering to link to specific products related to what I was writing about or anything strategic like that.
I’ve had some success with Amazon, but not much at all with some of the others.
In 2011 I signed up at ShopSquad, which is like a mix between an affiliate program/network and a social networking website, or at least it was until the whole place was changed the following year. I was chuffed to be a part of the website initially, because you act as an advisor and recommend products for people, using the same basic strategy of linking to products at supported stores and receiving commission if someone buys something, while ShopSquad takes a healthy 50% cut. Your responses to questions are more akin to the answers feature on HubPages – you don’t have to go and write a whole hub on the topic. Answers are limited to about 5000 characters (approx. 900 words), but the average one is about a paragraph or two at the most.
I thought it was the opportunity I'd been hoping for. But while I was originally impressed with the concept and how the site functioned, I was less than impressed with the ethics of the users on there and even those in charge.
All seemed well until I actually started to read the posts provided by other ShopSquad advisors when helping some poor, clueless shopper. They often copied and pasted product descriptions from product detail pages over at Amazon and the like, or even entire product reviews from CNET with little to no wording of their own. That and they linked to multiple products within the text when you’re only supposed to use the add products feature below the text to do this (like having Amazon product capsules on HubPages) – I observed these and some other unsavoury practices. And they were the ones making sales! I contacted ShopSquad about this and informed them of the users’ plagiarism and scraping transgressions. They got back to me and said they would look in to it and offered the excuse: “Sometimes our users get a little too excited and enthusiastic.”
Yeah, enough so that they must have highlighted some random text, hit ctrl+c and then ctrl+v in another browser tab all by accident. Whoops.
I then monitored those users who had committed these infractions, and it was quiet for a while. But it didn’t last long because after a week or so they were right back at it. The reason why ShopSquad doesn’t care, and why companies who run these affiliate programs in general don’t care is because these “people” are making sales and getting commissions, and most importantly making the companies involved more money. So what if they’re going about it the wrong way – spamming bulletin boards, email accounts, setting up spam blogs, and scraping content from elsewhere on the web? And when someone who tries to play the game the right way; follows the rules, comes along and who probably isn’t making any sales, no commission, and no money for the company, then it’s an issue that’s just swept under the rug. “Let’s not and say we did”, as Bill Maher would say.
You can just imagine if it were a real life scene, complaining to the boss about a fellow salesman’s questionable methods: “Oh come on, sport. Don’t be like that. You’ll do just fine. Work at it, and soon you too will be bringing in the big bucks! Tell you what, take the rest of the day off, okay? You’ll feel better tomorrow – and if you feel good, you’ll do good! Go get ‘em slick! Ata boy!”
This inspired me; fired me up to write this hub, and I decided I would go ahead and list some other things that are wrong in the world of affiliate marketing.
"Yeah, excited enough that they must have highlighted some random text, hit ctrl+c and then ctrl+v in another browser tab all by accident. Whoops."
Other things that are wrong with affiliate marketing
I’ve heard of situations where some have run ads on sites that involve gambling, narcotics or that had adult material or other offensive content on them – and these things are more often than not against the TOS of these affiliate programs. Then some person comes along and reports these sites only to see that in the end nothing is done – the site that infringed on the affiliate program’s TOS was still running those ads and was still operational, too. Why? Because it’s probably a really popular website that gets a lot of traffic and might well make a lot of money for said company through their affiliate program. In fact, the person who does the whistleblowing has more chance of getting his or her account shut down if they have one, just for continuously inconveniencing the complaints department. No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.
Another thing I find is unfair with these affiliate marketing programs is that people have to make a purchase within a certain amount of time. If they click through one of your links with your affiliate code in it, and they just browse, and don’t buy anything, then you lose out on your commission. This is particularly true with Amazon, where these cookies that they talk about only last 24 hours tops. After that, even if someone buys something through one of your links, you don’t get the sale, and you don’t make any commission.
Speaking of which, the commissions are rather low with most affiliate programs. You start off in the single digits, and if you’re lucky you might make it to 10 or 15%, and like I said above, if you manage your links through the likes of ShopSquad, then you get even less overall because they take a slice too. But this commission rate doesn’t last with the likes of Amazon, as you will drop right back down again in the following month. You literally have to make hundreds of sales a month if you want to keep up your commission rate, and have a hope in hell of reaching payout. This also applies to keeping your account active, because if you don’t make enough sales in a given time period, or even if you don’t log in in to your account once in so many days, it becomes dormant and eventually is shut down, so you’d have to reapply in these cases, and whether you’d be accepted again is another matter. But you still get the weekly newsletters in your email, so it’s not all bad.
They seemingly do all they can to make sure that you do well and make them money, but that you don’t make too much money yourself – and so the balance is maintained: tipped in their favour.
Then when it comes to reaching the payout threshold, a cheque is sent to you which you have to deposit in to your bank account, and most international companies don’t even bother putting the cheque in your local currency, so the bank takes a big chunk out of your pay cheque, not only depositing it, but transferring it from one currency to another. There are other payout options available, but you usually have to reside in the USA to make use of them, such as a direct deposit option. And if you want to use PayPal, there’s potentially a whole other world of complications there, particularly if you live abroad.
How Adbrite screwed me
Adbrite was an affiliate program or "online ad exchange" that existed up until some time in early 2013. I was an affiliate with this company, and was making money. Not a lot, but still. Then all of a sudden, I tried to access my account one day, and the website was gone, seemingly without a trace. I was still due a payment even though I hadn't reached the payout threshold. I wasn't warned or informed of the impending closure in any way, even though it was said all advertisers and publishers received an email. It just happened, and any money I made, I lost.
Moral of the story: affiliate programs don't last forever, and once they close up shop, don't expect them to honour any sort of agreement they might have made with you or even bother to give you due earnings.
More evidence of this favouritism is when they have these “In Your City” events or seminars – little camps for publishers and affiliate marketers. They are always hosted in various states in the USA but even though there are affiliates, publishers and even branches of that company that might operate outside of the States, they don’t have the same facilities or host similar events there.
As per usual, American companies don’t seem to acknowledge that there is a world outside of the USA. I maintain that you might make a decent living from this method of online income earning in America, but this is hardly true anywhere else. Reasons why it doesn’t work anywhere else in the world? For one, most websites and online stores receive American traffic. Americans have ready access to the world wide web, broadband services, and have fully embraced eCommerce. They have access to much better facilities over there in the first world. So their buying and selling and pretty much doing anything online works properly.
Websites operated anywhere else in the world probably don’t stand a chance if they only appeal to local audiences or rely on using local affiliate programs, because these affiliate programs in my experience sometimes want traffic that is local and not international. And to restate my previous point: most traffic (at least 75%) that arrives on any given website in the world worth mentioning is from the USA. This is a trend I’ve seen on all my websites, articles, blogs – you name it, using resources like Google Analytics. So we have no choice but to go with international affiliate programs and take the slim pickings; the scraps – because it’s worse if you want to go with the “local is lekker” philosophy. It just doesn’t work. And even if you do manage to get a payout from these affiliate programs, there’s a chance that pay cheque may not even arrive in any case because in the third world, particularly in South Africa, the system has long since malfunctioned, and corruption and incompetence are wide spread at every level, and this includes the Post Office.
So to sum up, if you live in the first world, especially in the USA and want to make a bit of money online as a supplement to your primary income source, go ahead. It’s the “Land of the Free”, “The Land of Opportunity”, and the “Home of the Brave”. Some even make a living full time with affiliate marketing. But if you live outside this wonderful, magical place, then perhaps be prepared to be disappointed.
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© 2012 Anti-Valentine
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