My Amazon.com Associates Nightmare…

Several months ago I started doing some pretty big numbers through the Amazon.com Associates program.  Before that I reliably made $1,000 – $2,000 every month with them.

But then my sites really took off.  My commissions for May topped $6,300.  Now, I’ve been an Amazon.com Associate for a long time (6+ years) and that’s a lot of money for an Amazon.com affiliate.  Consider that a lot of book commissions are less than $0.50 and you’ll get some perspective.

Things just got better from there.  Here are screen shots of June and July… when things really went nuts for me:

Amazon.com Associates June 2007

Amazon.com Associates July 2007

Ok… you can see we’re talking about “real” money here.  And here’s where I get incredibly frustrated with Amazon.com.

By my way of thinking, If I have a sales rep that’s bringing me in $250,000+ in revenue per month I’m happy to pay him his commission.  If that’s not profitable revenue for me then I obviously need to make my own adjustments… but I’m happy to have a salesperson that can sell.  Right?

You would think that Amazon.com would be happy that I’m generating these kinds of numbers… but I get the distinct feeling that they’re trying every thing they can think of to avoid paying me and get me out of their associates program.  And, come to find out, this is quite common for the Amazon.com Associates program… punish those that do really well and make up for it in masses of newly minted associates that will drive traffic to their site without ever have to pay them significant commissions.  You see, Amazon.com pays tiered commissions (or referral rates) that start at 4% and grow to 8.5% (I think that’s the cap) depending on volume.

I routinely hit 8+% on my referral commissions.  And, somehow, I think that makes me an unattractive associate for Amazon.com.

Why do I think that?

As soon as I made my first sizable revenue jump Amazon.com sent me an email stating I was in violation of the associate agreement because I owned a domain name with the word “amazon” in it.  I was ok with that.

They gave me 10 days to cure the problem and relinquish the website to them.

No problem.  It was a domain that wasn’t used and had no strategic value to me.  And, I figured that was just Amazon.com doing some homework on an up-and-coming affiliate.  The domain in question was one I registered awhile back before I realized I couldn’t use it… and I never used it.

And here’s where I start to have my issues with Amazon.com.  First off, if Amazon.com doesn’t have the most arrogant affiliate program around, I don’t know who does.  And I got to experience that first hand with the domain issue.

Amazon.com sends me this email right as they’re supposed to pay me my check.  Understand that they already have a dreadfully slow payment process.  It can take as long as 3 months to get paid a commission (they pay 60 days after each month end).  It’s an affiliate program that can eat up a lot of advertising expenses before you start getting paid on the other end… especially if you want to play at the high levels.

So now they send me an email saying they’re not going to pay me until they resolve the issue.  This is after they’ve already had 60 days to notify me of the problem but didn’t.

I send back a response within the hour.  Then I wait for their reply (they’ve given me a 10–day window to resolve the issue or they will cancel my account without payment).  And I wait.  And I wait some more.

Turns out Amazon.com’s associates program is an absolute black hole once they’ve flagged your account.  I sent multiple email responses.  No answer… not even an acknowledgement they got my response.

After a week I start to panic.  What if they’re not receiving my emails for some reason?  I don’t want them to cancel my account over a miscommunication.

I send more emails with a receipt request.  Nothing.  I use their web contact form (which hilariously says they’ll usually respond within 24 hours).  Nothing.

I frantically search for a support phone number.  NONE!  The only way I can contact them is through their web support which they aren’t responding to.

I’m in a dead panic now.  There doesn’t seem to be any way to find out if they’ve even received my response.

Finally, 15 days after they imposed a 10–day absolute window to resolve the problem I get an email response from them.  Several days later the issue is resolved without further complictions.  Heart attack avoided.

By the way… if you ever need to contact the Amazon.com Associates department, here is the direct (unpublished) phone number: (701) 787–9740.  They were thoroughly unhelpful with my request… but perhaps you will have better luck.  It seems to be just an army of drones that are there to tell you that the appropriate department will contact you when they are ready to contact you.  Goodbye.

Anyway… that’s just the beginning.  I know this is turning into a lengthy rant.. but I’m beside myself right now with anger and I’ve got to get it out.  Maybe not the wisest move I’ve ever made, but maybe this will help somebody down the road.

So a few weeks later and now Amazon.com owes me my first really big check (see June’s results above).  I’m excited.  And they already seem to have reviewed my account so I’m sure there won’t be any problems this month.

How wrong I was!

Once again, right before they were supposed to pay me I get an email from Amazon.com.  Once again they’v had plenty of time to ask any questions prior to payment.  Once again I have the mysterious 10–day window to respond.

Here’s their new compaint.  They don’t understand how I am doing what I’m doing.  They are once again suspending payment until I expose to them my entire business model and show them what I am doing.  Including, if necessary, giving them all software, etc. in how I am doing it.

And, get this, they throw in that they don’t think I’m following the spirit of the Associates program (my words, not theirs).  They say the associates program is really just to introduce new buyers to Amazon.com and not for people that are already Amazon.com customers…

“the Associates Program is designed to introduce new customers to our website… Given the relatively slim retail margins on our products and our strong discount pricing, the referral fees we offer to our Associates can only be sustained by meeting new customers through our Associates.  These customers may return to us in the future for items unrelated to the topics served by the Associate web site, and this future business helps to offset the referral fees we pay.”

Again… I understand the philosophy.  But that’s not part of the associates agreement.  That’s an internal issue.  Besides… really?  They only want associates to introduce new people to Amazon.com?  Like there are a whole bunch of internet shoppers that don’t know about Amazon.com?  Give me a break.  If that’s what your associates program is for then say it in the agreement.  Nowhere in the agreement does it state I can only drive new customers to Amazon.  I’ve been selling Amazon.com stuff for years and this is the first I’ve heard that line.

Once again I reply immediately.  This time it does take me a little longer (and multiple emails) just to answer their questions adequately regarding my business model, software, etc.

Once again I find myself in the Black Hole of Amazon.com Associates.

It’s now been 3 weeks.  I have not received even so much as an acknowledgement from Amazon.com.  I have called their Associates department multiple times and even their legal department.  They can’t even give me an estimate of when my issue will be looked at!

What?  How can they do business like that?  I jokingly said to the first rep I talked to that it could spill over into the next pay period (October) and I still wouldn’t have a check… and he agreed!  The second rep (whom I just spoke with this morning… hence my vitriol) sounded almost as frustrated as me.  They have absolutely (according to them) zero ability to communicate with or check on the status of the people who are actually handling my issue.

The best they could do was confirm they received my emails.  Although they couldn’t confirm they had even been opened.

And they want me to just wait until they get around to my issue.  No timeframe.  No urgency.  No commitments.  Worst of all, no communication.  Nothing!

I’ts absolutely maddening!  On the one hand I absolutely LOVE the tools and the excellent API Amazon.com makes available.  Very few companies are as forward-thinking as Amazon.com along those lines.  But their actual human interface is appallingly substandard.  What a nightmare!

Maybe I’m just naive… but I really expected Amazon.com to roll out the proverbial red carpet for me.  That’s certainly what other affiliate programs have done.  Instead, they’ve made working with them absolute hell since I started generating real income with them.

Reading the forums it turns out there are quite a few assoicates who’ve had similar experiences.  Eventually Amazon.com asks them to sign a new associates agreement that severely restricts the products they can sell and get paid for.

I’m assuming that will be the end result here.  I’m sure Amazon.com will come back and tell me that if I want to get paid I will have to sign a new restrictive associates agreement.  In which case… what’s the point, really?  Like so many others in the past I’ll have to drop my Amazon.com promotions (and their great developer tools which are critical to what I do) and move on to some other vendor.  It’s completely stupid.

And I feel like I’m getting bullied by Amazon.com.  It’s unthinkable in my book that I still haven’t been paid for items I sold (and Amazon.com got paid for) over 100 days ago.  That’s a joke!  And I’m HOT about it.  I’ve always put up with their policies because they’re the “800 lb. gorilla” but I think I’m done with Amazon.com.  I know it won’t make a bit of difference to them… but I’ll sure sleep better at night without them yanking my chains.

So… you want to buy some exclusive technologies that will let you make a bunch of money from Amazon.com?  Well… for a few months anyway… right up until they have to write your first big check.  Then you’ll have to pass them on to someone else as well

What a relief!

It looks like the ClickBank sales reporting got a little behind today.  I’m still fairly new to actually driving affiliate sales through ClickBank, so I don’t know if that’s common, or not.

It’s only happened one other time that I can remember… but that time they announced they would be performing maintenance and things may be delayed or innaccessible for a few hours.

My final numbers for launch day ended up being in the money with a healthy margin.  Still not as much as I would have liked (based on my Affiliate Rockstar Experience)… but I’ve made a few adjustments and we’ll see how things go tomorrow.  At least I won’t have to make the wholesale changes I was afraid of.

Patience is a virtue… apparently it’s true

Analytics Installed… With a Bonus

Ok.  I’ve got Google Analytics installed on my review site.  We’ll see tomorrow what’s happening behind the scenes.

A few days ago I stumbled across a javascript that would allow me to track downloads using Google Analytics.  I thought it was interesting, but didn’t install it anywhere.  I went back to the script and saw that it will also allow me to track external links on my page.

That should give me a much better look at what’s happening on my page since it’s not a pure squeeze.  There is the option for them to click to the OAS sales page and bypass my squeeze.  Traditional Google Analytics would never show me this… it would be the same as a bounce from a user navigating to a new page.

But with this new script I should get a better idea what’s happening.

My plan right now is to sit tight for another half a day with my campaign and get more solid numbers.  Behind-the-scenes, though I am preparing a tighter squeeze for the clicks I am receiving.  Right now I figure I could at least use the traffic to build my own list, since I don’t really trust the OAS sales page at this point.

So I’ll have a review page ready that closes all the potential leakage points (that right now I’m allowing to leak to the OAS sales page) and forces the visitor through the squeeze to continue.

Oh… and the analytics script I’m using is available free from iQblog here.

What a Difference…

This launch has been way different from the last one.  I’m going to have to make some big changes to my campaign shortly.

From my side the numbers look very similar to the last launch.  My CTR isn’t quite as high (for the ARS launch my first day CLR was 13.44%).  It’s hanging around 9–10% right now.

Obviously that’s not too bad.  I’ll start tweaking my ad rotation either later tonight or tomorow morning.  I want to make sure I have enough impressions to make a statistically valid decision.

So far it seems like OAS is out of the gates slower than ARS.  I had 915 impressions on day 1 with ARS (which was actually the second day of the launch).  So far I have 525 with OAS and it’s 7:30 in the west.  It seems like it will be about 75% or ARS.

But here’s the most disturbing part of the Operation Affiliate Storm so far… The clicks aren’t converting on the sales page.  In my rush to get the website out the door I forgot to get the Google Analytcs up and running… my bad.  And, of course, this is exactly when I need to know what’s happening behind the scenes.

But here’s what I do know… according to ClickBank analytics I’ve driven 33 visitors to the Operation Affiliate Storm sales page and made… get this… exactly 1 sale!

Now, on a normal sales day that wouldn’t shock me… but with ARS at launch I was getting more like a 30% close ratio.  1 out of 33 is terrible for a launch promotion.  This is when all the numbers should be inflated and all the early buyers are whipping out their credit cards before they’ve even read the sales page.

That obviously impacts the financials of my ad campaign.  Hence, the tweaks I’ll have to make to my campaign.  I can obviously play with my bonus and see how much of a difference that makes.  The Site Sniper Pro bonus doesn’t seem quite as relevant to this launch as the ARS launch… but I may have to go this route.

These are the times when, as an affiliate marketer, I feel very alone.  Is this a general problem with the backend sales copy?  Is it a problem specific to my campaign?  Is this just what happens when I hit the launch date and tomorrow things will pick up as more people search instead of buy from email lists they’re on.

At the end of the day I’m ok with a lot of those reasons.  What I’m not ok with is a launch-day sales page that converts at 3%.  That just isn’t going to allow any of the other financials work for me.

Looong Night!

Whew!  I’m just coming off a very long night getting everything ready for the Operation Affiliate Storm launch.  I don’t remember what time it actually launches today… but I should be in good shape.

Here’s what I did last night…

Created my Squidoo lens (http://www.squidoo.com/using_operation_affiliate_storm/).  That was kind of herky jerky (is that even a word?) for me.  I’m not a Squidoo expert by any stretch of the imagination.  I understand what it does, but it’s not something I’ve used before in my marketing.

This morning I went back on Squidoo and joined 4 marketing related groups.  I haven’t been a good “squidizen” yet and browsed around the groups… but I’m really tired so I’ll get to that later.

I finished off my initial squeeze page for my review site.  It doesn’t look anything like what I thought it would when I started the process.  Overall I’m pleased with the result.

Unlike the ARS (Affiliate Rockstar Status) launch, I’m pushing an opt-in for the OAS launch.  We’ll see how it goes.

I’m also trying a few more aggressive affiliate that I’ll reveal and review after I’ve tested them and have solid numbers on their performance.

I also set up a simple 1–message auto-responder with GetResponse.  Obviously I need more than that… but it’s going to have to do for now.  Again… I’m really tired.

The last thing I did was create a good value bonus for the buyers.  When I did the ARS launch I gave Site Sniper Pro as the bonus.  That worked very well, but in the end I wish I could have used it for a backend sale.  It’s a high-margin, high-profit and high-value product for me.  Plus, it requires a higher support burden than other bonus products.

So for OAS I created a brand new keyword tool.  It’s based off some general keyword principles with the website keyword strategy from Gauher Chaudry’s Excellent Pay Per Click Formula.

Laser Targeted Keywords ToolIt basically creates a keyword portfolio for a specific product launch.  Most keyword research tools try to go very broad and find all the long-tail keyword related to a particular search.

My new tool does exactly the opposite… it takes a very specific product name, website and “buying” keywords and generates hundreds of variations of that product/website.  These keywords are specifically targeted for something like a product launch where you are trying to capture the hot buyers that are ready to go.

In my own Operation Affiliate Storm AdWords campaign I generated 1,125 keywords from just the product name, website, trigger keywords and various misspellings and connections.

I hope it works the way I think it will.

Oh… and I’m using position targeting for the first time.  I’m targeting positions 3–5 in my campaign.  I should be able to outspend everyone again since I’m giving a high-quality bonus… but the payout is a little lower and my bonus not quite as valuable as before.  I’m playing it a little safe.

And, since I just had to check Google to get my keyword count I also noticed the first round of my stats are in.

So far I’ve got 7 clicks on 43 impression (16.27%) with an average CPC of $1.11.  Unfortunately, my average position is 1.2.  So far the position targeting isn’t working.  I must be bidding way higher than everyone else.

Since the product isn’t live yet I can’t get a good read on the conversions, though.  This is my first experience with that challenge.  I’m basically flying blind until it goes live later today (although I did see that I’ve already got 1 opt-in to my auto-responder).

So far so good.

I should hit the sack.  I probably won’t… but I should