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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.