The Ugly Side of Affiliate Marketing

by on June 13, 2011

Everyone knows that I am generally a pretty positive person who tries to find the silver lining to every cloud. Today isn’t one of those days. Today is one of those days where I share my affiliate marketing experiences with everyone in the hope that you don’t end up in the same boat that I am in.

Most weeks go pretty much the same as an affiliate marketer. I’m 48 hours away from heading out on a vacation that has been planned for 18 months. I expected to do some last minute Father’s Day promotions, catch up on a few emails, and schedule a couple of blog posts. Instead, I’m literally fighting not to lose thousands of dollars in revenue a month for my business. Here’s how the last few days have played out.

  1. The eBay Partner Network announced out of the blue that they are dropping loyalty sites until at least October. If you check my front page, you will see that eBay is the most popular merchant on Sunshine Rewards. Nothing I can do about it. Just have to brace for losing the revenue and show my members other places to shop. But then…
  2. I also use my EPN account for all of my niche sites (with the separate domains listed as dropdowns in the account). I was notified Friday night that I can no longer use the account on any of those sites. What do I have to do? Apply for a new account and hope that I get approved quickly. Then swap out hundreds of links on those niche blogs in the next 48 hours. Accept that some of those links will probably not get swapped out.
  3. I launched a new site for Indianapolis Tutoring this weekend. I tried a new plugin that put Google Adsense in my sidebar. Apparently Google didn’t like it because they notified me this morning that they have closed my Adsense account. That screws up about 8 of my sites but isn’t much money. No reason was given how I violated their policies. I just enabled the plugin and put in my ID. However…
  4. Because my Adsense account has been closed, the Google Affiliate Network has notified me that they will also be closing my account. Totally, completely unrelated but it’s the way that they work. About 15% of my monthly sales revenue comes through GAN. If I can’t figure something out before I leave in 2 days, I could end up losing all of those merchants from Sunshine Rewards.
  5. Vera Bradley messed up their reporting last week. For every $18 purse that I sold, they reported the sale as 18 cents. I have 31 members from one day alone that are now starting to complain that they didn’t get their cash back. I’ve sent emails to everyone I can think of except the head of Linkshare to see what happened and if it is going to be fixed. No responses. What can I do? Probably nothing except try to explain to my members that it is now outside my control.

In general I love being an affiliate marketer. The biggest down side is that often there are things that are completely outside of your control. Merchants drastically decrease commission rates. Tracking goes out without compensation. Programs close with no notice. Networks drag their feet on paying you despite the terms that you have in place. What can you do? (Yes…it’s my “lemons into lemonade” moment…)

  1. Diversify. I stand to lose a lot of money if everything above continues to go wrong (and who knows what else). But it isn’t my entire revenue stream and it isn’t going to kill my business. I have lots of other merchants/networks and possibilities. I just have to remember to always keep them open.
  2. Keep accounts separate for different types of sites. By eBay problem wouldn’t be as bad if I had been running my loyalty site through one account and the rest of my sites through a different account all along.
  3. Know important people. Build your network so that when something does go wrong, you have better access to the people who can actually help you rather than only the generic email addresses and autoresponders that you get with most programs.

It’s going to be a long day for me sorting through these messes. But it’s the reality of affiliate marketing. We take the bad with the good, and the rest of the business is overwhelmingly good.

Update: Within an hour of this post going up, Google Affiliate Network disabled my account. Sunshine Rewards lost its links for every GAN merchant and I lost all of the revenue that hadn’t been paid to me yet over the last few months. I contacted every person at GAN that I know but so far the only response has been that unless Adsense accepts my appeal, I can no longer have a GAN account. I’m not hopeful that we are going to win our appeal because we still don’t even know what we did wrong to begin with and it is their policy not to share that. I’ve started switching links to other networks and notifying all of my merchant partners that I can no longer work with them. I’m definitely having a hard time seeing the silver lining in this one, but I’m a fighter!

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Thanks for reading! I am a lawyer, blogger, affiliate marketer, and consultant most known in the industry for my cashback site, SunshineRewards.com. You can reach me on Twitter @sunshinetricia.
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