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.
Investigating the Problem
I headed straight to the coding in my Administrative Panel to see what was up. The first place I looked was the location where I should have entered the URL for the image for A Christmas Story House because that was the offending merchant on the page in question and I saw that the image was not showing up properly.
When I looked closely at the coding for the Image Source, I realized that it was my affiliate link rather than the image code. It was a simple mistake. One of us just pulled the wrong line of code from ShareASale when we were adding the merchant to the Admin Panel. But the end result was that we were in violation of the network terms of service. Even worse, we were one of “those” affiliates who we constantly take a stance against. Except that we did it on accident and they do it on purpose.
Now that my initial freakout is over, I have stepped back to see what I (and you) can learn from this embarrassing experience.
- Understand your own code or have access to someone who does. Because I know how my site works, I was easily able to figure out what needed to be fixed and fix it. If you have paid someone else to program your site for you, make sure that you take the time to learn from them how it works. Otherwise, have their phone number on speed dial and be prepared to pay them to help you fix problems when they happen.
- Pay attention to emails from the networks and your merchants. I will admit that I don’t read a lot of network and merchant emails. But I at least skim through the subject lines as they come in. If I had routed this to a folder that I only check every few days, I could have ended up in big trouble for not responding.
- Take responsibility. It would have been very easy for me to just ignore the email and assume that ShareASale was wrong because I know that I do not break (or even bend) the rules. Instead, I jumped in quickly and the result was that we got the issue fixed within 30 minutes and ShareASale has no reason to doubt me or my account.
- ShareASale takes compliance seriously. I’ve always known that ShareASale is more serious that most of the other networks when it comes to doing the right thing and getting rid of cheaters. Although I know that they did not think I was cheating on purpose, they didn’t let me slide. The contacted me and helped me find what I was doing wrong and fix it. And I have no doubt that if I had not responded to them in a timely manner, they would have had no choice but to shut down my account. It doesn’t matter that I have friends there. I have to follow the rules just like everyone else. And that’s the way that it should be.
- Periodically check your links. This is something that I should have caught myself. I would have seen the broken image on my category page if I had looked. I could have done a periodic sweep of my database for problems as well. But I didn’t. I will in the future!
In closing and just because I now have cookies on the brain, my favorite song about cookies.