We all know there are a lot of blogs out there that promise to teach you how to make money online. You can bet that 99% of them aren’t making anything significant. Sure, there are folks like Pat Flynn who are making tons of money; I believe Donna Merrill‘s probably making livable money… if not more (I’ll let her tell you if she ever sees this lol).
after I finish this corndog
Truth be told, I’m not sure how to make money anymore by blogging. I say “not sure” because at a couple of different points I was making a nice bit of “side money”. I was averaging around $600 a month with this blog and later around $300 a month on my finance blog. Two years ago I was averaging around $250 a month on my medical billing website/blog; now it’s down to $100 every 4 months (curse you Google!). That’s certainly not livable money, but it was great making some extra cash without having to work very hard for it. Continue reading →
I’m going to tell a truth up front; I want to make money off my blogging efforts. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make money, especially if you put a lot of time into it. I may not be blogging 24/7/365 because, after all, I do have a life and responsibilities, but I put enough time into it that it wouldn’t be depressing if I started making money off it (by the way, did you ever notice that little blurb just underneath the commenting policy before you leave a comment? lol).
With that said, I decided long ago that the first thing I wanted to establish with anyone who ever visited any of my websites or blogs or even my videos is that I could be trusted, and that I had ethics that would preclude me from doing anything I didn’t believe in or that gave me the impression that I couldn’t trust the people who might want to work with me. To that end, let’s start with a video:
What Helps You Trust Others https://youtu.be/SIW8wPqCcNA
As you can see, I’m not overly trusting of a lot of people. Of course I trust most of you who comment here (okay, no I don’t lol), but in general I like to make people earn my trust, just as I work at getting people to trust me.
In the early days of this blog, I used to add a product at the end of every blog post. That’s when I used to be with Commission Junction and I was new to affiliate marketing. I was probably familiar with 50% of the items I shared, but I definitely wasn’t familiar with the rest of it.
I was trying to appeal to the people who were coming to the blog, which means that sometimes I had things like shoes, dresses and baby items… none of which I’d ever use. It took me a couple of years to realize that wasn’t the way to go and I stopped doing that, only posting things I actually used or knew about (which is why I link to a lot of books). I also never made any money from any of those things, and I didn’t deserve to (the only thing I ever made money off was that Mailwasher Pro ad over there on the left; I still use that and yeah, you should too. BTW, this isn’t an affiliate link, but a link to the original article I wrote about the product).
Don’t I look ethical?
Over the years I’ve come up with my own ethics as it pertains to affiliate marketing and accepting sponsored posts (which I don’t do on this blog or my main business blog). I used to apply these standards to guest posting on my finance blog when I accepted them and, because so many people didn’t follow through on their agreements, became one of the reasons I stopped accepting them. It was way too much time upfront and on the back end that it just wasn’t worth all the effort anymore.
A phrase I hear all the time these days is “side hustle”, which basically means finding ways to make money off your blog via ads and such. Many of these folk are doing it the right way, but I also know there are folks who are doing things that they really don’t believe in because, to them, it’s all about the money; money trumps everything.
Man… if y’all knew how much money I’ve let slip by me over the years because there were things I just wasn’t going to do you might want to slap me across the face and say “get real”. Hey, if it violates my own ethics or standards I couldn’t live with myself. This isn’t a religious thing either, since I’m a non-believer in anything like that. It’s just my belief that there are way too many people willing to do literally anything for money, and I refuse to be one of those people.
Anyway, that’s me. I’m not going to ask anyone if they believe in being ethical for money or if they’re being ethical in making money because I don’t want to put anyone on blast. Instead, I decided I’m going to share some of my positions regarding my ethics, or “rules” if you will, that help me determine what’s good and not good to do.
1. If you really don’t believe in a product or service, don’t write about it.
It’s rare that I’ve written about products on this blog other than when I’ve talked about books. I did write on that Mailwasher Pro item and since I’m still using it all these years later I think I’ve proven that I really believe in it. The last product review I wrote about was concerning the Fitbit Flex, and I was as detailed as I could be about how I use it.
My friend Pete sometimes writes product reviews on his main blog, but one of the best he ever wrote was when he talked about buying solar panels for his home and all the research he put into it before deciding on who to go with. Check out this post and notice the quality of the information he give about solar panels in general and why he selected the people he did. This is the kind of quality one can give you if they’ve actually used a product or service, and he’s not even making any money off it.
If you want people to trust you, your words will come across better if you’ve actually seen what you recommend personally, rather than many of the researched reviews about products that, if you’re actually paying attention to the articles, you realize folks have never used.
2. If you accept guest or sponsored posts, have a policy and make sure people read it before you work with them.
Some of you know I’m not big on guest posting, and I don’t accept it on any of my blogs unless I ask someone to write one based on their expertise. With that said, I do accept sponsored posts on 3 of my blogs (although only one actually gets requests), but I have one rule that I stick with.
That rule is… people need to use my name in the email. It might sound petty but I’ll tell you why I have it.
I learned that my finance blog is on a lot of lists of sites that accept guest posts. I learned about it 4 or 5 years ago. This meant that, though I have an advertising policy on that blog that most people aren’t even seeing it.
I know this because most of the email I get is something like this:
My name is XXXXXX and I recently found your blog and wanted to reach out on behalf of some of my clients.
Specifically, we are interested in guest posts and sponsored posts. Is this something you offer?
If so, could you please send over more information.
My gripe is that the advertising policy is right on the main page of the blog, with the link just under the About link. It’s nice and bold, very easy to spot. That I’m always asked about guest posting or sponsored posts and what it entails when everything is written in the policy is irksome.
Babies know ethics 🙂
The advertising policy also tells people to write to Mitch at the blog’s email address. I do that because it’s a test. See, I’m big on responding to comments (along with 29 other things as it regards blogging), and if I accept a comment on this blog I’m going to respond to it (because unfortunately we know that some comments won’t pass muster).
Thus, I expect anyone who wants to have a sponsored post on my blog to respond to any comments those articles get. A good test to see if people will pay attention to the rules is to see if they’ve even made an effort to see if there’s an advertising policy (or guest posting policy) on a site before reaching out to the person. If they don’t, it’s easy for me to tell. After all, the rules are in the policy; it’s not like I’ve made it hard to follow.
3. If you accept banner ads, at least check out the advertisers first.
I not only accept banner ads, but I’ll accept sponsored links on posts that are more than 6 months old. That comes with two caveats though. The first is that the link has to have something to do with the article. The second is that I get to check out all links before I approve them.
I check out all links and websites. There are topics I won’t accept, so if they have blogs I check those out as well just to make sure we’re on the same page. If I’m going to link to it I want to make sure it’s trustworthy because my name is going to be associated with it. We also know the Big G is always looking at everything we do online, and even though I won’t go out of my way to please them or any other search engine, it’s stupid to intentionally antagonize anyone right?
4. Have established policies or procedures that you want others to follow and that you yourself follow.
I shared my advertising policy for my finance blog above. I haven’t added it to either of the other blogs that I would accept advertising for because I’ve yet to be asked. I have comment policies on 4 of my blogs where they’re easily seen (if not always paid attention to) just above the comment area.
I also have a way to show people when I’m linking to an affiliate product (a light blue line under the link) and this year I’ve started adding a disclaimer at the end of any article that has a link in it (I used to put a note pretty much anywhere in the post). That’s actually requested by search engines, although I’m not sure how they’d know there was a notice or not.
5. Let people know whether or not you’re providing the service
You might be trying to make money by providing services instead of products. In that case, I’m going to assume that you’re including it in your articles when you write on certain subjects or in your About page.
However, I’ve also known people who say they’re providing services, then turn around and give it to someone else to do. If you have employees that’s fair, but if you’re giving it to someone you don’t know via Fiverr or some other service, that’s disingenuous and sneaky, especially if you’re not telling people that’s what you’re going to do.
I see that often with people who contract with someone to provide articles, then pass it off to someone else and pay them way less than what they’ll be getting. That’s when quality starts to fall, and you’re going to be the one who takes the blame and gets the criticism.
Your ethics don’t have to be my ethics when it comes to making money. All I’m suggesting is that you think about your ethics when you’re ready to start trying to make money online. In person people are pretty forgiving; online, not so much. Be honest and real; that’s all I’m asking for.
That’s an ominous title, so let me first say that I’m not ending this blog, not leaving my relationship, and nothing else bad has happened to me. Not that any new readers will care, but some of the consistent readers might be wondering what I’m talking about; all is good with me. 🙂
What’s not good is one of my websites, one that I’ve had since 2006. It’s called Services and Stuff, and I’m not going to link to it. The reason I’m not going to link to it is because when it expires in March I’m not going to renew it, and I’d rather not have to try to remember to remove the link from this particular article, especially since I have to try to remember to go back and remove it from any other articles I’ve added those links to over the years.
When I created that site, it was my intention to create kind of a portal site where businesses could add their links to and I could make money off it via affiliate marketing. The two images above represented “services” and “stuff”, since I hadn’t fully defined what “stuff” was going to be back then. It turns out that over the years I never fully defined what stuff was, so it turned into anything that wasn’t services.
The difference between my portal and all those directories you see everywhere else is that I was personally reviewing each site, which means people couldn’t just add their wacky sites to it. If a site didn’t fit my own quality standards, then it didn’t get listed. I also indicated that to anyone who visited the site, hoping that they’d see what a difference it was from other sites purporting to do the same thing.
I changed the initial look pretty quickly, within a couple of months actually, and what you see is what it looked like after the change. It was a lot cleaner than my original main page, which was more of a splash page without any real content on it. I thought I was on my way to making at least a few hundred dollars a day. Who doesn’t dream big?
early look after 2 months
Within a year I had added a lot more affiliate links and way more categories of both services and stuff. Yet I wasn’t making all that much money, and almost all of it was through Google Adsense, which isn’t always the best option because when people click on those ads they leave your site. Still, I was averaging maybe $2 a month; that’ll buy you a candy bar but not much else.
Over the next few years I’d keep adding pages and subtracting pages and adding links and removing links. When I wrote about leaving Commission Junction back in October, I was griping about not making a lot of money through its affiliate program. What I didn’t mention is that it and other programs of the past (like the Google Affiliate Network) kept adding and removing affiliates, sometimes totally shutting down, and most of the time they wouldn’t tell you they’d done it. Not only was that hard to keep up with but sometimes a link I’d added for one of those affiliate programs would expire, and they didn’t tell you that either. It was a lot of work for little money; sigh…
I knew problems were there long ago. Heck, my 2011 goals even mentioned that I was thinking about changing it to some kind of online store because my original idea wasn’t working that well. It took me 4 years to give that a shot, when I created a page of all the books I’d been recommending over the years on all my blogs and other books I liked. That all came crashing down with the B&N fiasco that I hadn’t realized occurred months earlier; now the only page I still have on there is my Fitbit page, which I’m not linking to yet because I’m going to move it elsewhere, possibly linking it directly to IJS… which means I have to change how it looks, which probably isn’t a bad idea. Luckily I went the route of not using CJ for any of those products; whew!
The last time I renewed the site was in 2014, and I did so because I was out of town consulting and I didn’t have any time to think about it. After all, it was kind of my baby, my dream, and I was holding onto it for all it was worth.
Well… it’s time to let it go. What you see above is what the page looks like right now… and it’s all wrong. The movies are old; about 80% of those affiliate programs are gone because they were part of CJ. All those other pages are still around, but there are banner ads on all of those pages and, frankly, I don’t have the time or inclination to go and remove them from each of those pages. Instead, over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to start removing all the content from that site. When I’m done, I’ll only have an index page, and I’ll probably link it to this article explaining why I’m shutting it down. I’ve given it a good 10 years; who wouldn’t agree with me that it’s time to let it go?
I should have done this years ago, but now that I’ve come to this decision, I feel a bit of pressure off my shoulders. It’s like when I decided in November to give up news and to focus more on happiness. Sometimes we all need to learn when something’s not doing us any favors, or some people are hindering our progress, and we just need to let it go.
At least it didn’t take me 18 years like it took Elsa! 🙂
I should have known this day was coming. I initially talked about it in 2011 when I wondered why I have so many problems with Commission Junction, an affiliate program I’d signed up with a few years earlier and actually loved to use for a long period at the time…until I started having problems getting paid. I then waited another almost 3 years before I asked is it time to get rid of Commission Junction, after a few more incidents that were, frankly, starting to get on my last nerve, once again not getting paid and having affiliates dropping me for, of all things, not making sales for them even while I was promoting them.
The final straw for me has been two separate incidents that have happened within the last month or so, and frankly, it’s making me wonder about affiliate marketing across the board. I don’t know anything about Amazon as an affiliate program, but it seems like it might be the only one that can be trusted since they’re running their own system. We’ll see about that later on; for now, let me tell my tales.
The first one involves Franklin Covey. I’ve always been a fan of their planners, having owned one type or another since 2005. Over the last few years, instead of going to Staples to buy one, I started buying them through my affiliate program, which was always allowed under Commission Junction’s rules previously. I only made a small percentage off buying from myself, but I bought planners for both my wife and I at close to $90.
I did the same thing this year… only I didn’t get paid for it. When I reached out to the Franklin Covey affiliate program, the person told me I wasn’t eligible to get paid for using my own program. I wrote back saying that was never the policy before, and it wasn’t anywhere on the Commission Junction page that I could find. She never wrote back, and that irked me so I went into the system, closed my Covey account, and went to my websites to remove any reference to them.
The next story involved Barnes and Noble. I’ve loved this bookstore since I discovered it in the 90’s, and I’ve bought almost all my books through them. I’ve purchased 4 Nook products for myself, 2 for my wife and one for my mother. I’ve been a B&N member for at least 10 years, maybe longer, and I’ve always supported them in every way I could.
Many years ago I learned that they had an affiliate program through something that used to be called the Google Affiliate Network. I signed up and was approved and started promoting books I reviewed through their affiliate program. I didn’t make a lot of money but no one could say I didn’t try. At some point they moved to Linkshare, which later became Rakuten, and I went over there, signed up, and kept promoting both books and DVDs through them. I never had to buy anything using their program because, as a member I would take my 10% discount and be happy with it, and of course I’d always already read the books or watched the DVDs before promoting them.
feel like I’ve been clowned…
At some point last year, it seems B&N had moved their affiliate program to Commission Junction… without notice. On a fluke, there was a book I recently wanted to promote, so I went to Rakuten… and no B&N! Research told me they’d moved, and I was irked because that meant all my book links had been bad for a long time.
Still… it was B&N, and my love affair with them said “okay, let’s just sign up with the affiliate program there and move on with life.” Hey, if I had to update all my links for all my sites then I was ready to do it. After all, I had a link on one of my other sites to lots of books, most through affiliates, and I figured it would be a relative easy switch.
Only… B&N rejected me. And without any reason… or notification. We used to get email notifications when affiliate programs declined us; not anymore it seems. I’m not sure if it’s B&N’s fault or CJ’s fault that I was informed, but that’s not the real issue here. My issue is that without knowing why I was rejected I have no way of deciding whether or not I agree with it or not; I can’t even appeal.
And… truthfully, I didn’t want to appeal. If you know anything about me, my number one morality and ethics point is “loyalty”. I’ve been loyal to these folks for all these years, even while their model and products have been failing. Frankly, I can get books less at Amazon, and I can get movies for much less at both Target and Walmart. The only thing I can’t get anywhere but B&N is their cookie… and now I’ll never get that again either.
To this end, I canceled my Commission Junction account last Thursday. When you don’t make a sale in 3 months or so they start feeding off anything you’ve earned. Because I’ve had so many of my sales not counted (even when other people have made purchases) and CJ says it’s not their problem, and affiliates don’t always answer, my account was down around $14 anyway; sigh. They wrote me on Friday as I was leaving town saying they’d closed my account and would send me a check; I guess I’ll be getting pizza whenever it shows up.
I’m not getting rid of my Nooks, but I’ll never buy another one. As much as I’ve enjoyed having them, these days I can’t even download most of the digital movies I have to the SD card because the movie apps (except Flixster Movies) say they don’t support the Nook, even though they also say they support Android and the latest Nooks are Android.
I’m ending my membership with B&N, and I’m canceling the magazine subscriptions I have with them. I’m unsubscribing from the newsletter, and as much as I can I plan on never setting foot inside one again.
What to do…
As for the Franklin Planner… well, I have a love/hate relationship with that. I love having it but I hate using it; how goofy is that? I’ll have to think about whether or not I’m irked enough to stop using it entirely, go to another planner, or set up a totally different system that would do the same things the planner does, only electronically (which I partially use now anyway).
With that said… this also now means a lot of work for me, and this is the thing to warn everyone else about that uses affiliate marketing plans. One of the things I’ve been doing since I worked on my mobile speed issues is going back through old posts of mine that I’ve been internally linking to, cleaning them up and removing old code. I’ve also gone back to the earliest of my posts to see if I need to either remove old code or make the posts private if they serve no relevance anymore.
What I’m now going to have to do is go through this blog, 3 of my other blogs, and my Services and Stuff website and remove lots of code all over the place. I’ve already removed the link to books that I had on this site and I won’t be putting it back until I remove all the books I had on there that were linking to B&N wherever they might be. I also have to now speed up going to my business blog and removing all book codes to old newsletters that I’d left on the site even though I’d stopped writing new ones in 2013.
Ugh! All of this is going to take a lot of time, which I really don’t have, yet I also know that cleaning up old, bad code is essential to helping my rankings continue to climb.
This is why it’s better to create and then market your own products. No matter what else happens, you own your own stuff and if you have buyers you’ll get to benefit from those sales without having to give anything to the middle person. Then again, I need to think about re-pricing some of my stuff; at least that’ll be an easy fix.
That’s my story. How have the rest of you been dealing with affiliate marketing programs over the years? Also, for those of you using Amazon, please clue me in as to whether it’s worth bothering to take a look at it or not.
Let’s look at this thing from the big picture perspective. How many ways are there to make money online? A bunch of ways truthfully, as I shared in this post years ago talking about how Lynn Terry does it and then talking about how one can legitimately make money blogging, saying it wasn’t how you were thinking.
I’ve said that over the years the one thing that’s made me any real money has been Adsense, and not on this blog but most of it on one of my other websites. I’ve made very little money via affiliate marketing, no matter who it is, and I did a six part series in 2011 talking about all the affiliate programs I’m connected with and how much (little) money I made from them all over the years if you want to check that out.
Frankly, the effort isn’t really worth it anymore, but I’m wondering if it’s ever been worth it. True, there are some people who make a lot of money online via their blogs and affiliate programs, but let’s think about a couple of things here.
One, how many of those affiliate programs are the same types of things we have?
Two, how many of those folks are getting paid a much higher rate than most people will get, mainly because of their associations?
Three, for that matter, how many of these folks make a lot of money by promoting each other’s programs and products as opposed to going the route that the overwhelming majority of us go?
Before I go on, let me state this for the record. I never begrudge anyone for making money or for figuring out how to make money. Unless they do it in an unethical way, I figure people are entitled to whatever money they make or whatever money someone is willing to pay them, even if I may not like them (for who they are, not for making money). Can we learn lessons from these folks? Absolutely, as long as we look at the right thing.
In this instance I’m going to use one of my buddy Brian’s favorite people, a guy named Pat Flynn, who publishes his monthly income report each month. This guy’s raking it in; there’s no disputing that. He’s working it like a pro; great for him. But let’s look at only his affiliate programs for a moment.
He shows that he made more than $38,000 in November for his affiliate programs; that’s fantastic. He made around $23,000 of that via BlueHost, and he made it via his YouTube channel talking about how to create a blog using them. YouTube is the way a lot more people are making money these days, and he’s a charismatic guy, so talking about it in a video and getting lots of visitors to it would sell a lot of product.
He made more than $3,600 via a program called Long Tail Pro, something I’ve never heard of, but it’s an independent program that he helps promote. Another $2,700 via LeadPages, $2,100 for the Thesis theme, $2,000 for Market Samurai and $1,400 for Aweber, and then lesser amounts for a lot of other things; I’m only talking affiliate programs here.
What isn’t he doing? He’s not using things like Commission Junction, Clickbank, LinkShare, Bidvertiser, on and on and on. As a matter of fact, most of the things he’s marketing other than BlueHost aren’t the types of things most of us probably think about when we’re thinking affiliate marketing.
I thought about pulling someone else’s monthly income report, decided I didn’t want to embarrass anyone, and instead decided to share one of my old income report from September 2010, before I stopped doing them, as a point of comparison. This was the most money I ever made in one month, $562, and that was because I sold one of my websites. Without that it would have been $262, and though I made more money than that later on, it was always Adsense, not because of affiliate marketing. I’m betting that many of you would love to make $200 a month, and that’s not all bad, but can any of us live off it?
I ask the question “is affiliate marketing dead” not because no one makes money off it, but after so many years and so many more people who have tried it and not made a livable income off it, which outnumbers those who do make a living off it 99.8% to .2% (and I think that’s generous), if it worth the effort to continue trying to make money off a model that, for most of us, is not only inefficient and cumbersome but we can’t even trust that they’re giving us the real stats, let alone will pay us? I add this as I just received my one and only payment from Amazon a couple of weeks ago for… 50 cents! Had them for 4 years and I made 50 cents; that’s a darn shame! lol
What’s your thought on this? I know some will think (even if you don’t say it here) that you’re going to be the one who breaks the mold & makes all the money. Oh really? By blogging? By lots of squeeze pages of products that everyone else is already marketing? I’m doubting it but I could be wrong; y’all let me know.