The Ugly Side of Affiliate Marketing

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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Comments

  1. says

    Hi,

    I was wondering what happened with all the money that you generated from GAN account. Did they pay you out?

    We just had the same thing happened to me.

    Roman

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  2. roman says

    Hi Did you ever get money that were in Gen 3 account?

    I having same issue. Did you try legal

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  3. says

    Are you still an affiliate marketer for Vera Bradley? I am interested in becoming one – would like to write a blog article about my purse except I don’t know how to sign up! Can you help steer me in the right direction?

    Thanks,
    Nancy

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    • Tricia says

      Hi Nancy,

      You can apply for the Vera Bradley program through Linkshare. Hope that helps!

      Tricia

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  4. says

    Tricia, this thread is almost a year old by now so I wondered how things are for you now? It’s tough sometimes being an affiliate, especially when there is no warning to say what you may have done to cause you to lose your account.

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    • Tricia says

      Onward and upward! I just keep diversifying and speaking my opinions publicly. It doesn’t always help, but at least my business is still growing and others are finding out that we are all in the same boat. :)

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  5. says

    I though I was having a bad week, but you are bombed with no reason, or even an email of explanation from GAN :(

    At least you are smart and know there are so many other goof networks out there. I do hope u get your Adsense back too.

    Currently I just have to deal with an ex partner who wants to see any money I make online stop…
    As long as she is not a Network i can handle it.

    If I do have a Google Adsense Plugin on my WP blogs I will remove them pronto!

    Hope everything gets back to normal for you soon…

    Phoebe

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    • says

      sorry about the Typos.. I didn’t Proof READ :P

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    • Tricia says

      Thanks for your comments, Phoebe. Thankfully things are returning to normal! But I am definitely changing some of my business practices to be more diverse so that something like this won’t be as big of a deal if it happens again.

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  6. says

    Sorry to hear this Trisha.

    I faced a similar situation in 2009 when EPN terminated my account. The reason they said was “Your account is related to a previously banned account”. I had only one account. They never clarified what they mean by that statement. Many affiliates got the same termination email but no idea why it happened.

    It’s crazy that GAN account automatically closes when adsense is disabled.

    Merchants and affiliate networks are really suspicious about coupon/incentive affiliates. They have their own reasons for it. Many affiliates are doing unethical things with such sites.

    I hope you have permission from affiliate networks to do affiliate marketing with sunshinerewards.com

    Here is what I realized about affiliate marketing

    1) We are not our own boss. Someone from somewhere controls the game
    2)Never put all your eggs in one basket
    3)Research thoroughly before join an affiliate network/program

    I highly recommend you ShareASale network. I hear only good about them
    Join http://www.abestweb.com/forums/ if you are not a member yet. It’s a great place

    Affiliate marketing is just one online business model. Convert your knowledge in to information products. Info product marketing is a very profitable business model. As an infopreneur, you need not to deal with the crazy laws of affiliate networks.
    Nikhil has written about…How to Change Domain Nameservers to Web HostMy Profile

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    • Tricia says

      Thanks for your comments, Nkhil! We definitely have to jump through some extra hoops with Sunshine Rewards because it is an incentive site. Thankfully we have a really good reputation in the industry so we can usually get into programs. But it has taken a long time.

      I absolutely love Shareasale. Never had a single problem with them that wasn’t fixed quickly.

      And you can find me on ABW. :) I’m helpingmoms over there (from back when I only had one site–HelpingMomsConnect). I should probably change my username after all this time because no one knows me as that.

      Your suggestion about not putting all of your eggs in one basket is spot on. In this industry it really pays to diversify in so many ways!!

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  7. says

    Gosh, I’m so sorry to hear this Trisha.

    It reminds me of the story of Job from the Bible. Hang in there, and you will have more than what was taken away. Have faith.
    Silver Investor has written about…APMEX 24 hour “Flash” SaleMy Profile

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  8. says

    And to think I was complaining about my issues with a piddly little account this evening. If I think of something brilliant, I’ll let you know. Until then I’ll be praying for you and your business. Because from what I understand, it pretty much requires an act of God to set things straight in a timely fashion when something goes awry with Google. Wow…
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    • says

      Hi Tracy,

      That’s a really good question! Now that I am pulling it down, it quite possible could have come down just a little bit over the top of the ad. The ads were below the “Indianapolis Educational Resources” link, above that Wyzant Banner. You might be onto something!

      If you are right and that is all that it was, I am going to be so angry! While I understand that they have the *right* to disable my account whenever they want, I don’t understand why they would have killed my entire GAN and Adsense accounts, keeping thousands of dollars in commissions, for something that slight and accidental. Why not issue us some kind of notice or turn off the ads or something?

      I have never heard of the dropdown box issue and Adsense before. Thanks so much for this resource!

      Tricia

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  9. says

    Tricia –
    I’ll see if I can find out what the story is with VB for you tomorrow morning.
    Adam

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    • says

      Thanks, Adam. What started as one of my biggest issues of the day ended up being small potatoes when it was all said and done. LOL But the complaints from members are now starting to come in. I have to think that whatever happened to me happened to all of the other VB affiliates as well. I appreciate you checking up on it.

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  10. says

    Hi Tricia, so sorry to hear about this! I know the frustration to have so much of our livelihoods outside our control — it’s counter to why we went into business in the first place. From ebay and Google’s arbitrary actions with little opportunity for recourse, to the nexus laws being enacted by clueless politicians, it’s a very tough time right now. Just wanted to wish you the best of luck on your appeal.

    I’m spending the rest of the night removing what few adsense blocks remain on my sites. Any affiliate making money with GAN needs to either set up a separate Adsense account or safer, not use it all. “Don’t be evil” is a joke.
    Nick has written about…An Experiment- A Week Without FacebookMy Profile

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    • says

      Thanks for your support, Nick. I probably dug myself an even deeper hole by posting about all of this. But hopefully someone will benefit from it by making proactive changes and not ending up in the same boat as me.

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    • says

      Thankfully with eBay a lot of my main posts/pages are powered by my phpBay lite plugin. So assuming they approve my new non-incentivized account, I’ll just need to replace my account id in a couple of places.

      The GAN is the biggest freak out for me right now because I can’t do anything at all with 90% of those merchants who are ONLY on GAN. For the merchants on multiple networks, I can swap out all of my links pretty quickly.

      One more takeaway from this is definitely to do more redirects using PrettyLink or something similar in my blogs. It takes more time initially but when something like this happens, it will be worth it.

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  11. says

    Oh my Gosh! When it rains, it really pours! All that has happened to you lately is enough to make some marketers give up this business all together,
    That is the main thing I don’t like about affiliate marketing. There is so much that is out of our control.
    You gave some great recommendations that I intend to follow. Thanks and good luck!
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  12. says

    That is one thing I have always hated about Adsense/GAN. I don’t think I even have a GAN account. I have avoided it because I don’t want it linked with my adsense account. Seems like they should at least give you an option of combining the two accounts or keeping them seperate.
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  13. says

    Why do you think I stopped going on vacation? :)

    I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to segment your affiliate business. If possible, I recommend setting up a separate affiliate account for every web property you own. There are several advantages to doing this. First, it’s easier to get approved for certain affiliate programs. Second, if something like this goes down, it doesn’t affect the other sites. Finally, when you go to sell the site, you can simply hand the new owner the keys, without having to change links, etc.

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  14. says

    Man Tricia, sorry to hear about all that. What a nightmare!!

    I’m not sure about EPN, but some networks don’t allow for having more than one account. I guess you can do it if you have different business entities (eg corps, etc) but for an individual it could also be against a networks TOS. This is certainly an area that networks need to improve upon.

    I sure hope you’re able to get at least some of that sorted out before your vacation.

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    • says

      You’re right, Kellie. I actually emailed EPN back last week to see if I could create another account for my non-incentive sites and didn’t hear back. So I created one. I’m still waiting to see if it will get approved. The kicker with GAN is that in order to get paid by GAN, you have to have an Adsense account to associate it with. But Adsense does not accept incentive sites. It’s all so crazy. The bigger the network, the harder it is to get anyone with authority on the phone to sort it out. :(

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  15. says

    Hey Tricia,
    Really sorry to hear all that happened at once, very scary. Did eBay give any kind of explanation for what they did? Are they trying to test their own loyalty program?

    Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything rebounds before you head out on vacation!

    best,
    Carolyn

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  16. says

    Sorry to hear about all this mess, Tricia. How do things like this manage to happen at the most inappropriate time, I don’t know; but I can certainly identify…

    Re EPN: your experience is bringing up an interesting point (which would apply to any affiliate network really). Unless its specifically prohibited by the network, affiliates probably do want to start separate accounts for websites that operate under different models. Your experience with EPN illustrates it most vividly. But I’m also thinking of merchants who either pay different commission, or choose not to work with specific types of affiliates (e.g.: bloggers, couponers, SEM folks, etc). Once you get classified/grouped (within the merchant’s interface) as one type of affiliate, and they apply a “rule” (be it lower commission, or removal from the program altogether) you’re stuck… Once again, sorry to hear that all of this is happening with you at this time, Tricia. Try to have a good rest (on your vacation) regardless.
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