Welcome to another post about Behind Blogging, a look at things that most readers may not know about. I wrote a very detailed post last year that looks at things like affiliate marketing, blog-reader relationship and more. If you want to know about some of those things, check out that post.
Behind Blogging: The “Dark” Side of Affiliate Relationships
Today, I wanted to highlight something with affiliate marketing that can be confusing – both for readers and bloggers! As a blogger that has dealt with some of the top affiliate partners over the years, I have more than just an idea about how many things work – and they are not always clear!
This is why I refer to it as the “dark” side of affiliate relationships – literally, the opaqueness of dealing with affiliates that can confuse readers and confound bloggers, all at the same time.
What Is Affiliate Marketing and How Does It Work?
Before we dive into the “dark” side, here is what affiliate marketing is. Many bloggers may start out writing for “family and friends” but those who stick around do so because they are able to grow a reader base with content that many readers find useful. In order to justify the time (and some turn blogging into a full-time career) and to pay for things related to the blog, many blogs start using affiliate channels that value the high number of visitors that these blogs get.
In many ways, this can be a win-win for the blog and reader. If a blog is regularly writing about deals (whether it be travel, travel tech, etc) and readers find that useful content, why shouldn’t the blogger receive a commission on those deals they are already writing about and the reader is already buying as a result? The reader wins because they are still getting these great deals and the blog wins because it gets supported to keep hunting out such deals.
With FTC rules about disclosures, such relationships are to be clearly shown so that the reader can take into consideration that something a blogger is recommending is also something that pays the blogger should a sale be made. That disclosure can be a simple pay and header about such relationships.
Often here at Running with Miles, I always try to remember to tag an Amazon link (for example) with the words that it is an affiliate link so readers know I have a financial interest in that deal as well (even though I also write about that on my disclosure page and at the bottom of each post).
So, that is a brief look at the overall system of affiliate marketing.
The “Dark” Side of Affiliate Relationships
However, there is a “dark” or opaque side to these affiliate relationships. Bloggers are limited in what they can share with readers (or the public) as to what their payout is, what card or product is paid more for, what kind of bonuses may be available to the blogger for so many sales, etc.
Blogger/Affiliate Agreements Leave Readers in the Dark
Affiliates are very clear that there are many taboo things for bloggers in regards to these relationships. For example, with credit card affiliates, a blogger cannot tell readers which cards pay what amount to the blogger. Don’t you think you would like to know if a particular card is paying a blogger $250 for a conversion when they recommend it so wholeheartedly?
For the reader, this kind of information could be valuable when determining which card may be best for them. For example, there is one large site that recently was pushing the Delta American Express cards at the lowly amount of 40,000 miles. There was zero mention of the fact that you can only get one card bonus per card per lifetime – or that those cards just recently had bonuses that were much higher than that amount.
Most of the reason for that is that their affiliate agreement prevents such talk so they go along with that and it leaves the blog’s readers in the dark as to what they may be missing out on. Since that blog (or, rather, credit card company outlet) caters to newbies, those readers never know about those better offers.
Limited-Payout Bonuses for Bloggers – But, the Reader Does Not Know
Back when I was a direct credit card affiliate, I would receive e-mails telling me that there were increased payout offers on a particular card – but there was no higher bonus than normal for the reader. This would encourage blogs to start pushing this particular credit card even though nothing had changed about that card in the past 4 months.
For the readers, they see a number of these posts and assume something good is coming or that something has made this card more valuable. But, due to the blog/affiliate agreement, the reader never knows that the only reason the credit card is receiving extra attention is due to the extra bonus payouts for the blogger.
Better Bonuses Available Through Other Channels – But, the Reader Does Not Know
Some credit card companies refuse to allow a blogger to talk about a credit card offer that does not go through the affiliate channel – even if it is possible to just get the better offer directly at the credit card issuer’s own website. Part of that reason is for compliance (so the affiliate company knows the blog is adhering to the strict compliance rules and not doing workarounds) and the other reason is that the better offer is available because the issuer does not have to pay the affiliate payout.
This means that the affiliate amount can be translated to more points for the reader and affiliate companies do not like to confuse those offers on a blogger’s website.
Bloggers Are Left in the Dark with Affiliate Companies
Believe it or not, the blogger can also be left in the dark sometimes. Affiliate companies can break off the relationship at any time without giving an actual reason or without allowing an opportunity for the blogger to make a reasonable appeal.
Being Warned About Activity That Goes Unchecked On Other Blogs
Furthermore, blogs can be warned about practices on their website while other websites are allowed to do the same exact thing. For example, when I was a credit card affiliate, I would often get a warning letter from the affiliate company many blogs in this space use. It would be something small that I only did when I noticed that 5-7 other blogs were doing the same thing.
I would always ask how they were able to do it and if there was something I was overlooking. I would be told that they were also out of compliance but they were never sent warnings. It would only be me and even my affiliate manager would express curiosity at that.
Being Left in the Dark with Actual Conversions
There is one affiliate company I work with that will often send an e-mail to let us know that clicks and purchases made during a few day period did not track. Yet, they would assure us that they would make sure it was fixed and we would get the credit for it. How?! If they didn’t track them the first time, how I am supposed to know that whatever fix they say was made really was made in a way that fixed things for me?
Because I have no idea what is actually purchased through my site and by whom, I am left in the dark if the affiliate company fails to track it or they just don’t give me credit for it.
Here is another example when I was a credit card affiliate. There was one card offer that I knew I had at least 10 people sign up for through my website – and they were approved. When it came time for the payouts, I didn’t have anything on that particular card and the company actually used that as one of the reasons I would eventually be removed from the program. I told them I knew of 10 people that were approved (and there were actually 4,000 clicks on that link – using their own stats, it would stand to reason that I could have had as many as 70 approvals) but they said I didn’t have any.
In the end, after our relationship ended, I lost out on at least $2,000 because they failed in tracking. Yet, there was no recourse for me – I was completely left in the dark because they were the ones that maintained the links, the tracking, and the payout. They said the only way they would go back and assign the payout was if I had everyone who applied through my site send me their name, address, and social security number so they could check it. Yeah, I was not about to ask blog readers to give me that information!
Being Dumped – and Left in the Dark
There are many blogs and websites that are dumped from affiliate programs with a very vague (or incorrect) reason given for the break. This leaves no recourse for the blog and these programs are often very difficult to ever get back into again.
Because the affiliate company holds all the cards and the blog/affiliate relationship is pretty opaque, we are left in the dark about a lot of things. This leaves us very much at the whim of these companies that may either make a mistake with us or outright decide to end the relationship.
Hopefully this post gives you a glimpse into some of the “dark” side of affiliate relationships, both in how it affects the reader and the blogger alike. While it would be nice for things to be much more clear for all, the affiliate companies really prefer it not be like that. That ends up leaving a whole bunch of us in the dark at times.