The Rich Get Richer: Small Blogs Can’t Compete on Credit Card Affiliate Links

Travel Summary

This post has little to do with travel, and much to do with the business side of how I run the blog. If you’re looking for travel advice then you can feel free to skip this post.

I lost my credit card affiliate links. In my last post I gave a little bit of information because I wasn’t yet sure how I wanted to deal with it. Now that I’ve had time to think, and now that I’ve re-read the agreement I signed, I’m ready to explain what happened from my point of view.

If you were fortunate enough to take advantage of the 100K Amex Platinum offer this past January, chances are you heard of my blog at the time. Through a series of very fortunate and unusual circumstances, I ended up being the first blogger (to my knowledge) that wrote about the deal (note that I learned it from a FlyerTalk user). I wrote a play-by-play of how it went down and in my opinion it made for some fun reading. I was fortunate enough to eventually get paid for many of the people that signed up that day, but I’m not going to share how much. All I’ll say is that I got very lucky, and that it was a lot.

At that time I was using the Google Affiliate Network (GAN), which now doesn’t exist anymore. I’d already tried FlexOffers but wasn’t approved for any of the big credit card companies. GAN was simple to use, and while they didn’t have affiliate links for individual banks, they did have affiliate links to creditcards.com. The payouts were much, much smaller – usually in the order of 50-75% less than direct affiliate links, and I didn’t have links to individual cards (I got comparison pages instead), but it was still better than nothing.

Adsense is a separate program that is the easiest and most popular way to put ads on websites and get paid for it. I made between $1 and $5 a day from it, depending on the number of page impressions and clicks. The way the GAN system worked was it tracked the clicks and signups, then about 30-60 days later signups would show up in your linked Google Adsense account, which is apparently how Google tracks all payments to people.  Basically any money generated from the GAN combined into my Adsense account, which paid me monthly.

That worked great for about 4 months. I got the big payout from the 100K offer and a second, much smaller payment after that, but then my Adsense account was shut down. I tried to find out why, but all I got was this:

Adsense Shut Down

So basically they shut down my account but can’t tell me why, because I might be able to figure out how they figured it out. There was an appeal process that I tried, but I was again denied. My account was shut down without them even telling me why, and I did absolutely nothing wrong to my knowledge. I also had 4 figures worth of pending payments that never made it to my bank account because they thought I was cheating the system.

With my GAN account closed, I was able to get creditcards.com from another affiliate company named CJ.com. Again, they’re not as well-run as FlexOffers is. But with all the new readers I gained from the 100K offer, plus the MMS interview, I wanted to see what else I could get. I applied for Credit Karma’s affiliate program, which several bloggers use.

The application was easy, and after a phone call from my account manager and some signed documents I was ready to go. I not only had affiliate links again but the payouts this time were much more favorable. I still didn’t have direct links (still comparison pages), but I didn’t really care that much. From the phone call I learned that Citi and Amex like to see at least 10-20 sign-ups per month and Chase likes to see 20+ per month in order to maintain direct links. My account manager said I shouldn’t apply for direct links yet because if I get rejected, it’s hard to get them to reconsider. No reconsideration lines here.

I went along my business as usual using the new affiliate links from Credit Karma. I don’t tend to push links, and I’ve tried to leave them on my Credit Cards page for the most part, so I didn’t generate many clicks or sign-ups. I didn’t care much – I’m lucky enough to have a day job so anything I earn from the blog is extra. As much as I’d like to do this for a living, it’s just not realistic for me to do so, so a little bit of cash every month would be great.

So things were going well for 6 months. I never heard from Credit Karma except to find out my account manager left the company and I was assigned a new one. In the meantime I was able to get a few signups here and there from some very kind and loyal readers.

Then on 9/25 I got an email that said this:

Message 1

With some questionable grammar, my account manager asked me which direct links I wanted. This was completely out of the blue – I never asked for them, but they reached out to me to ask if I wanted them. I immediately replied that I would like them from Amex, Citi, and Chase – the holy trinity of credit card companies. I received this reply:

Message 2

I still couldn’t get Chase, but at least I can try for Amex and Citi. This was a huge deal for me, and I was very excited about it. I replied back with my unique visitor count and decided to see if I could get some info out of my account manager regarding how many sign-ups I need to get:

Message 3

No new info there. Oh well, I tried. She replied back asking me to make modifications to my Credit Cards page because basically the links were not arranged to her liking. No big deal – I was getting direct links soon anyway, so I made the changes instantly and she acknowledged them before I even told her I made the changes. So then I waited until I’d hear back regarding the direct links.

Except on 10/7 I received this email:

Message 4

Talk about a complete 180 degree swing! Just 2 weeks earlier I was apparently doing well enough to merit submitting my blog for direct links, completely unsolicited by me. Then suddenly I’m not getting enough conversions, plus “recurring compliance issues” was new to me. As my account manager noted, I had 3 conversions, or credit card signups, in August. Then she says I had 3 in September. First of all, that’s not a “downward trend” as she says. That’s a flat line – but perhaps it was a grammar error. Second, my account dashboard actually showed 4 conversions in September, which is an “upward” trend in my dictionary. I of course replied back to find out more:

Message 5

WOW! I need to be doing between $3K-$5K a month in commission in order to stay in the network? I’d quit my day job if I could make that much from my blog! After reading that I knew there was no hope. I decided to ask why I wasn’t told about this threshold:

Message 6

Basically a non-response. She wasn’t my account manager from the start, so basically she’s saying it’s not her fault. Oh well. I continued to monitor my account dashboard to see how my statistics would end up, and what ended up happening was slightly amusing. September actually ended up being my best month in terms of conversions and nearly the best in revenue, and I was having a decent October also (based on my short affiliate history at least).

Here are my final Credit Karma stats. It might be less or more than you thought, but I figure it would be nice to give you guys some insight as to what these numbers look like anyway.

Final CK Stats

 

My Thoughts

Bloggers are at the absolute mercy of credit card affiliates companies. If you don’t meet the minimum commission amounts, you’re out. If you don’t comply with every rule, you’re out. It sucks out there as a small-time blogger, because I simply don’t have the sign-ups to ever get to the numbers they’re looking for. I’m nowhere close.

My “compliance issues” were very minor – basically the links had to say Credit Karma and not the name of a bank. I fixed them, but it was too late. Again – I was a slave to Credit Karma here. They said to do something, and I scurried away to do it as fast as I could for fear of losing my links. It’s unfortunate that that’s how it works.

I’m willing to do that to a certain extent. I don’t mind swallowing my pride on stupid issues like that if it means I can take home a few hundred extra dollars a month. But I can only do so much, and it’s annoying when I comply as best I can and still get screwed at the end. Oh and by the way, they also decreased my Ink Bold payout by 27.5% without telling me. THAT was dirty. I sent my account manager an email when I noticed and never received a response.

Speaking of compliance, I re-read the agreement I signed. Near the top it says “Either party may terminate this Agreement at any time, with or without cause and for any reason, by giving the other party thirty (30) days’ written notice of termination (including written notice by email).” They gave me a whole 4 days before saying my links would be invalid. I thought about trying to enforce the 30 day rule, but I decided against it. I’d rather avoid these guys altogether.

There are certain pieces of information that I’m not willing to put in this blog post. This includes the payout structure. Send me an email if you’re interested about that stuff and I’ll see if I can help.

I have a lot more thoughts on blogging and affiliate links, but this post is already all over the place so I’ll leave it at that for now.

 

The Future

So what happens now? I have plenty of options. I’ve entertained the idea of applying for/joining a blogging network for quite some time. There are definite financial benefits to joining websites like Boarding Area or First2Board, but I’m not sure I want to go that direction right now. Note that although I’ve inquired, I haven’t been offered a spot with either – I’m mostly just thinking out loud.

I’ve also been approached by a couple of people to join as a writer for other websites. Again, I’m not ready to go that direction just yet. Then there’s the MMS job opening. A couple of people told me I should apply for it, but I’m not sure I want to do that either. MMS must be rolling in cash if he can hire people and provide health benefits also.

Oh, and I’ve always wanted to start my own network of blogs. That’s simply not possible right now based on my lack of tech/computer knowledge and lack of time, but I suppose we all have dreams. There are several services I wanted to add to the site, and one of them is coming very soon in the form of a partnership. For now, I have to ponder where to go from here.

In terms of affiliate links, there are other companies. I can always go back to creditcards.com if I wanted. I could take another shot at FlexOffers, even though it’s unlikely I’ll get any from them. I’d certainly like to make some money out of this blog with all the time I put in, but it’s hard for us small guys. It’s slim pickings for me at this point.

The bloggers who can do $3k-$5K+ per month are already living the dream – traveling, blogging, and making decent money. The small bloggers can’t meet the quota so we get kicked out before we have a chance to build anything. If you’re a small blogger, either join a network or know that you have to be in it for the long haul (as in years and years) before you make any decent money. And who knows if the game will even be the same at that point.

As of right now, the haves will continue to have, and the have-nots will only be teased with a taste of the high life before it’s rudely snatched away.

Comments

  1. Thanks for your “honesty” related to the blogger world…

  2. SuperKirby says:

    I hope eveything turns out well!

  3. Why don’t the small bloggers create some kind of ‘co-operative’? Allowing them collectively to meet the standards set by the affiliate networks, and enjoy the benefits. Obviously this is akin to a blogging network, which you say isn’t on your radar right now. Perhaps, a loop hole exists. It’s worth exploring. .

    • Travel Summary says:

      I’ve thought about it. It would require a revenue sharing type deal, which becomes complicated. I’m sure a solution exists, I just don’t know it yet.

  4. It’s really about compliance these days. The banks can get large fines if someone they have a relationship with advertises a card with incorrect benefits, etc. So every time a blogger gets put on a network, the bank has to have someone audit that site regularly. Which requires the limited time of a salaried employee. So they have established minimum thresholds for dealing with an affiliate.

    MMS didn’t take any links for over a year – waited to build a very large audience first.

  5. Interesting and enlightening read. It certainly gives us a peek behind the curtain

  6. Your post is certainly eye-opening. Make sure you study again and again some of the successful sites. Those sites MARKET themselves very well. Be very clear whether your content to your target readers are massive. If not, do not be afraid to change course. I wish everything works out.

  7. Not all bloggers on Boarding Area have access to all the direct links. Just something to consider (and possibly revise in your post).

  8. I am very sorry about the roller coaster you went through. It is very tough for us small bloggers to compete, no doubt. I have always appreciated your honesty in the posts. I hope something works out with another company. Actually writing for MMS may not be a bad idea, you would certainly do well at it.

    • Travel Summary says:

      Joining MMS would mean letting go of Travel Summary and all originality. Not sure I want to do that.

      • I can certainly understand that. What I meant to say was, that you are a very bright guy. Probably one of the smartest bloggers in the industry, based on your posts. Not quite like Matt from Saverocity. But then again, who is? :)

  9. Wow! Thanks so much for giving us a look, as dhammer53 said, “behind the curtain.”

    During aors, if a link I had in mind did not load for some reason, I would quickly search for another working link for the offer I wanted. I specifically remember this happening with a B of A Alaska Airlines card offer. Since I try to get the apps all done within a few hours of eachother, I paid more attention to finding a working link quickly than to whose link I ultimately used. Now I think I need to not just plan my apps, but also prepare more than one link for each, so I can work my way through them if need be. Then I’ll know my clicks really go to the people I truly want to support.

    I have known since shortly after my first, somewhat naive but successful aor, that this is a business for the bloggers who just wanted to “help” me. Your post sure adds colorful details to the old black and white picture I had.

    • Travel Summary says:

      I think it’s important for people to know how these things work. Some bloggers truly want to help, but there’s a bit of a conflict of interest.

  10. Hmmm. Makes me less inclined to want to support Credit Karma!

    • Travel Summary says:

      Me too! I signed up through my own links when possible, but if not I picked my favorite bloggers’ links.

  11. “$3k-$5K+ per month” that is peanuts for a monthly income. Maybe OK if you already have a job but as your only source of money, it is nothing today. So dont feel so bad. And dream big.

    I read 3 blogs: OMAAT, VFTW and Frequent Miler.
    Here and there I read you, Mommy Points ( not sure why, I am not a mommy, but I like her) and MMS.

    Why do I read them : OMAAT is unique. His blog is evolving all the time and Ben goes and travels everywhere. And the kid does a great job transmitting his ideas and shares his experiences. VFTW, is very very knowledgeable, he know his stuff. FM, provides ideas about manufactured spending. Not many bloggers dare to cross that line as it can affect their bread and butter ( CCs). MMS and MP, they can be informative here, I enjoy some of their writings and there and MMS comments are just hilarious.

    Today you had an honest and truthful insight. You need to find something unique and do it even if you dont make any money. Dont get discouraged, business lose and gain clients all the time. But those who do it with passion, are the ones to succeed. Blogging is an evolving hobby. It wasn’t here a few years ago and may not be here in a few years. Learn and evolve. You will succeed !

  12. Appreciate you sharing your experience. Some enlightening information for sure

  13. I believe something good is on the horizon for you. When one door close, a better one will come along. Thanks for sharing and expect good things to come out from this.

  14. Great insight TS. I found it extremely helpful as someone who’s fairly new to the blogging world & really like the honesty in the post.

    I think if you stay the course of how/why you wanted to create your blog , good things will happen eventually. Stick to your core values. Best of luck!

  15. Looks like the end is near for us small bloggers. However I’m still going to try posting good content!

  16. CC affiliate companies are great (at the beginning). Then they change from being nice to be pushy, to being demanding, then kicking you out all together. Best of luck to you in the future. I know something good is coming soon.

  17. Crikey – no wonder this “hobby” is so full of rampant pimping – and why blogs like yours proliferate with mostly worthless content.

    Why ANYONE uses an affiliate link to apply for a CC is beyond comprehension.

  18. Wow, I got the same thing, was accused of lying, and was dropped from Credit Karma last week as well. Same date, actually. There has to be something going on….too weird.

  19. BlackHill says:

    First of all my sympathies are with you. I encourage small time bloggers because they bring new ideas and new perspectives towards points and miles world. Don’t let this put you down. Take this as a perfect opportunity to come up with new and creative way to earn points/miles. I know there are some bugs that’s caused by system and there are some genuine opportunity to earn more points and miles. Make use of this time to expand your readers base with genuine and quality information regarding points/miles that way when you come back, you can come back really strong. All the best and waiting to see you come back soon with a bang.

  20. I just found this post. Thanks for the insight. I noticed you are now using Yahoo ads. Is that right? How does that compare to adsense in your experience and were you not able to get on board with another CC affiliate?

    • Travel Summary says:

      Correct, I’m currently using Yahoo. Adsense definitely paid better, but alternatives are slim. There are only so many cc affiliates, so right now it’s a no go.

  21. What are the benefits of joining boarding area? I noticed you can’t keep your domain name?

    • P.s I am definitely going to bookmark your blog . I also run a blog duh but I just opened it 15 days ago so your blog is good reference.

    • Travel Summary says:

      They now give a choice of keeping your domain name (being self-hosted) or joining their hosting services and going with a subdomain. Benefits are they will provide all hosting services for free (if you choose not to be self-hosted), they have TONS of traffic because of how well-established their website is, and your blog will get clicks from it, and they place ads on the blog and share revenue. Any money made from affiliate links is 100% yours, so the extra traffic is a huge benefit.

      If you’re a blogger, you generally want to get a bigger audience. Boarding Area has that.

  22. Jerry Mandel says:

    Did you try Barclays, Discover, Capital One, AMEX, Us Bank, Wells Fargo for affiliate signups?

  23. Alexandra says:

    Thanks for sharing. Hope you don’t give up on your blog. I like your honesty and passion. Please keep it going.

Trackbacks

  1. […] as today Travel Summary released this  post on how he is losing his Credit Karma Affiliate links: The Rich Get Richer: Small Blogs Can’t Compete on Credit Card Affiliate Links I wanted to help shed some light from my experiences in order to set your expectations […]

  2. […] Travel Summary loses his affiliate links (for the record, I got denied by AMEX and US Bank for direc… […]

  3. […] Summary lost his affiliate links, because he wasn’t making the company enough money.  CLICK to his post, in which he reveals details about commission, I am not allowed to tell you. The thing […]

  4. […] Travel Summary gets my applause for transparency and sharing the loss of his credit card […]

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