Affiliates Should Keep An Eye on Commissions

When I first started adding affiliate marketing links to my site, I watched my numbers like a hawk. I could tell you every banner that was clicked through, how much money I had made that day, and how far I was from getting my first check. Of course, I was lucky if I was getting 1 sale a day and sometimes it took 3 months to hit a network minimum to get a payment!

Since then I have become more lax about watching when the money comes in. Even if I track my earnings regularly, I don’t always check important things like when a merchant last paid the network, when a network last paid me, and if all of the checks I DID receive were correct. That’s a big mistake. If affiliate marketing is your business, you need to treat it like one and be sure that you are receiving every penny that is owed to you. Here are some ways that you can ensure that you get what you deserve.

Choose Networks That Make Merchants Pre-Pay

Every network does their payment system a little bit different. Some invoice merchants at the end of the month and give them X amount of time to pay, which means you get it Y amount of time later. Other networks make the merchant put money into an account or put a credit card on file to cover the commissions at the time of the transaction. This is preferable!

I understand that merchants want to pay later. But for many reasons this causes problems for affiliates. As an incentive site, it is hard for me to wait for 90 days to pay out my members when they make purchases. Even as a non-incent site, you may be putting out money in advance for traffic or advertising that is hard to wait 90 days to get back (especially if you are a new company).

Even if you can afford to wait for the funds, you do not want to take the chance of getting burned by a company that goes out of business. We have seen numerous merchants file for bankruptcy. Affiliates become unsecured creditors under the Bankruptcy Code. This essentially means that we are about last on the list to see any money. Even if they end up paying pennies on the dollar to their creditors, the network will get their cut first. A lot of affiliates lost out when big brand names like Linen ‘n Things and Entertainment Book filed bankruptcy, and I am guessing that we won’t be seeing any money coming from Coldwater Creek for the sales we sent this month.

You do not always have a choice as an affiliate, but if you do have the choice, go with a merchant on a network where the funds are guaranteed to get to the network. Even if the network holds them for 30 days, at least you know you are going to get paid. My personal favorite for this is ShareASale because they are very transparent about the process and let you know if a merchant’s funding dips.

Watch When Merchants Pay the Network and You

If you end up going with a merchant on a network that does not require pre-payment, be sure that you are watching to see when a particular merchant’s money is being added to your account. Most networks will have a place in their system where you can see what each payment you receive represents.

Linkshare has an interesting report under “My Account” “Payment Info” “Advertiser Payments History.” You can see a chart of all of the merchants for which you have generated commissions and when they paid their invoices. Sometimes it can be a little bit alarming. For example, it is the end of May and 1800flowers has not yet paid its February invoice for some reason (although it paid March).

Hmmm…flowers…February…I’m guessing they owe a lot of affiliates a lot of money?

Impact Radius sends out an alert when a merchant owes you money and is behind in paying. At that point it is too late to do anything about the past money but at least you can decide it you want to continue promoting the merchant until they get caught up.

Also be sure that the network itself is sending you money when it is supposed to. I realized one time that Google had been sitting on my payments for 3 months because I didn’t have something tax-related updated in my account!

Stay Updated on Major Commission Drops

I know you receive 1000 newsletters a day, and many of us are guilty of not reading them all. But there are some that you NEED to be reading. Merchants are dropping commissions left and right. You may end up being lowered to 1% or even 0% in a program. Chances are good that the merchant isn’t going to call and leave a message on your home phone when they do it. Many of them are quietly slipping them by affiliates.

I like to keep bookmarked the thread “The Ever-Decreasing Commission Rate Downward Spiral” on ABW. You won’t see everything posted but most of the time people do tend to post the really egregious ones. It’s an okay backup if you happen to miss an email. The more of us who contribute to the thread, the more useful it will be.

As an affiliate, there is no one looking after your commissions except for you. You have to place a lot of trust in the networks with which you are working to make sure that they are looking out for your best interests, giving you the tools to watch your money, and creating some kind of accountability with the merchants.

Have you ever found yourself missing a chunk of affiliate revenue? What caused it? Were you able to get it back?

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Cheat Sheet for Affiliate Network SubIds

I’ve written and spoken on many occasions about why affiliates should be using SubIds in their network tracking. Whether you are a cash back site figuring individual member credits, a PPC affiliate tracking keywords, or a content affiliate testing different types of links and strategies, you can benefit from appending SubID information to your links.

I use the SubIds so much it’s become second nature to me, but I know that it can sometimes be tricky to find the instructions depending on the network. so I’ve pulled together a quick cheat sheet for you to print out and post next to your computer or email to your content teams so that they can use them as well. I may not use all of the same networks that you do, but this will cover most of the big ones.

Creating Network SubIds

For each of these examples, I will be using YOURSID as the placeholder for whatever you want to include in the SubId field.

CJ (formerly Commission Junction)

?sid=YOURSID

http://www.tkqlhce.com/click-1903321-11358?sid=YOURSID

ShareASale

&afftrack=YOURSID

http://www.shareasale.com/r.cfm?b=539670&u=140920&m=49225&urllink=&afftrack=YOURSID

Linkshare

&u1=YOURSID

http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=wfhQUf6qWdI&offerid=214134&subid=0&type=4&u1=YOURSID

Affiliate Window (formerly buy.at)

This depends if you have the older buy.at links on your site or the newer Affiliate Window links.

If you have the older links:

&LID=YOURSID

http://buy-petmedication.at/sunshinerewards?CTY=3&CID=1252&LID=YOURSID

But if you have the newer links:

&clickref=YOURSID

http://www.awin1.com/cread.php?s=421467&v=5269&q=201377&r=135727&clickref=YOURSID

EEAN (formerly Pepperjam)

?sid=YOURSID

http://www.pjtra.com/t/4-98077-568-89424?sid=YOURSID

Impact Radius

?subId1=YOURSID

http://goto.orientaltrading.com/c/10146/79464/1985?subId1=YOURSID

Avantlink

&ctc=YOURSID

http://www.avantlink.com/click.php?tt=ml&ti=152225&pw=4205&ctc=YOURSID

Be sure to test all of your links after you add the parameters to make sure that they are both routing correctly and tracking properly. This is particularly the case when you are combining deep links with subIds.

If you use another network and know the SubId tracking, feel free to leave it in the comments!

(P.S. SubIds are just one of the hints that I mention in my 30 Affiliate Marketing Tips in 30 Days Series. Have you signed up yet?)

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Affiliate Marketing and FTC: Free Webinar

One of the most important and yet least understood issues in Affiliate Marketing right now is FTC compliance. In large part it is because the FTC continues to issue only “Guidelines” and “Settlements” and not really specific directives. But that is, for the most part, how the FTC operates. The FTC issues Guides that are “interpretations” of laws. In this case, they are are interpretations of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act prohibiting unfair or deceptive practices in commerce. Basically–false or deceptive advertising.

That’s where affiliate marketing comes into play. By virtue of making money off of our sites and social media accounts or reviewing free products, we fall under this law and these Guidelines.

Last year when the new .com Disclosures were released, I wrote about how they applied to affiliates (Affiliates Take Note: New FTC Disclosure Guidelines). Since then I have written and spoken about them several times and continue to receive many questions. While I can’t tell you definitively what you should be doing, I can tell you what the FTC has said, how others are interpreting it, and what some best practices are.

On April 8, 2014, I will be conducting a free webinar with ShareASale titled “The FTC and You!” You can sign up through their site, and spots are limited.

Here are some of the things that I will be covering:

  • How the FTC Guidelines apply to affiliates
  • Revised Endorsement Guidelines and .com Disclosures
  • Is a “Disclosure” link or button sufficient?
  • Top v. bottom of blog post disclosure
  • Disclosure on Twitter and Facebook
  • Specific examples from the FTC and other sites
  • Monitoring and enforcing disclosure in affiliate programs

Whether you are a blogger reviewing free products, an affiliate marketer, an OPM, or a merchant, you need to understand how the Guidelines apply to you. If you have any questions in advance of the webinar, let me know and I will try to work them in!

(**Disclosure about disclosure–I’m an attorney, but I am not YOUR attorney. What I say should be taken only as legal information and not legal advice. If you believe you might be in violation, contact counsel for assistance.)

Please help me spread the word about this webinar. So many people need this information and do not even realize it.

Plus: If you want to stay in the “know” about issues like this, 1) be sure to sign up for my newsletter (right sidebar), and 2) follow me on Twitter and Google+.

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Moments and Milestones from Affiliate Summit East

Affiliate Summit RockstarsAnother Affiliate Summit has wrapped up and as usual my suitcase is full of swag and my head is full of ideas. LinkedIn requests have been sent, Gmail is back down to Inbox Zero, and it is finally time to sit back and actually take everything in.

Each trip brings with it so many moments and milestones for me both personally and professionally. Some are about profit and others are just plain fun.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorites from Affiliate Summit East 2013 in Philadelphia.

  • Trying to use crutches while carrying bags and wearing dress shoes. I’m a failure. I gave up and just increased the ibuprofen/steroid cocktail. But it was worth it to walk up the Rocky Steps.
  • Having both Wil Reynolds and Scott Jangro mention my Venture Beat article in their presentations made me feel more like a Rock Star than even my crazy ShareASale party outfit.
  • Speaking of Wil, I really, really loved this–“Is your site the best answer or the best monetized?” I’ll be thinking about that and looking through all of my sites a LOT in the next several weeks.
  • I’m not sure I am a Philly Cheese steak kind of girl, but I gave it a shot.
  • Brian Littleton is one of the most fantastic people in our industry. Not only was he nice enough to jump in and solve a problem for me in a big way, but he is so smart and insightful that he was able to speak off the top of his head about a topic I prepared months for!
  • No matter how well you schedule, there will never be enough time to talk to everyone you want to talk to and do everything you want to do.
  • Aweber branded running socks are awesome.
  • Talking about how you make more money than other people will ALWAYS be a jerk move. You won’t make people jealous. You’ll make them not like you. That’s a whole post for another day.
  • Hand sanitizer probably doesn’t help when you hug everyone you see.
  • You can attend just about any session and come away with at least one tip you should be trying. I learned about contests, brand management, SEO, and what time of day I should be working the hardest. Totally random but all useful!
  • Just because someone is your “competition” doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends and maybe even be able to help each other.
  • Ben Franklin.
  • Ask other people what they are up to. Murray Newlands is the king of doing that. It never fails every time I see him he asks what I am doing lately and if there is anything he can help with. When you take an interest in others, they will take an interest in you.
  • Build on your connections quickly. Don’t stash away all of those business cards you received. By the end of next week, make sure to have followed up in some way with everyone you can–LinkedIn, Twitter, email, it doesn’t matter.
  • Good friends aren’t afraid to tell you when you are being grumpy and need to snap out of it (Thanks, Eric). Conference days are long and it is easy to get worn out!

Lastly, and most importantly:

  • Start planning for next time. I asked Shawn Collins when he will start the hard core planning for Affiliate Summit West. He said “tomorrow.” In a way, we all need to be doing that. Where do you want your business to be before you go back and see all of these people again? What do you want to have launched or relaunched in the meantime? How do you want to take what you learned at East and implement it before West? Now is the best time to start planning for tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who made the show a success for me. If I started naming names, I know I would leave people out. But you know who you are. :) What were your Moments and Milestones from the conference?

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I Was a Cookie Stuffer (and Didn’t Even Know It)

Affiliate Marketing Cookie Stuffing

This morning I got an email from ShareASale with the subject line “Sunshine Rewards: Urgent Compliance Issue.” That’s the kind of subject line that makes you stop in your tracks and drop everything else that you are doing.

With my heart racing, I immediately opened the email and read it as fast as I could. Skimming through I found the words “compliance team,” “forcing clicks through an image tag,” and “against the Terms of Agreement on ShareASale.” Holy crap! What have I done?? I’m a rule follower. I’ve been outspoken in our industry against cookie stuffing, cheaters, and even people who walk the line. Did I all of a sudden become one of them? I literally felt sick to my stomach. Like I had been called to the principal’s office for cheating. Only much worse.

Guilty As Charged

Thankfully Brian wasn’t vague. I’ve gotten the dreaded Google emails before that basically say “You broke the rules. We’re shutting you down.” Not only do you know you are in trouble but you can’t even figure out what you did to get there or how to fix it. In this case, I was directed to the page with the offending image. I knew which merchant was the problem. I didn’t know exactly what I had done to screw things up, but I also knew in my brain (and my heart) that no one in my company would have done it intentionally. [Read more…]

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