If you’re interested in making money online then at one stage or another you’ve joined an affiliate network or ten.

We tend to assume that that these institutions are above-board and act in a fair and reasonable fashion. But that’s not always the case.

Some are certainly above-board and honest in their dealings. Others, however, use umm…questionable…tactics in dealing with affiliates. Let’s look at some examples…

1. Clickbank

These guys are pretty honest as networks go. However, there are some “hidden” charges that you may no be aware of. We all know they take a percentage cut of any transaction (about 5%) that cuts into commissions. That’s expected. But they do impose lower limits on the amount of money they’ll pay out if you get paid by check. It defaults to $100 (any less in your account and they won’t issue a check) but that can be reduced to a $25 minimum by selecting a different option in your account setup.

They also charge for issuing checks. In total, I reckon about 10% of commissions goes in admin fees of one type or another.

The more insidious charge is the one they apply in the event that a customer requests a chargeback from their credit card company (though this applies to sellers rather than affiliates). Despite it having nothing to do with the seller and everything to do with (possibly unscrupulous) buyers, the entire chargeback fee is taken from the seller’s account, not Clickbank’s. There is no seller protection here. If a buyer requests a chargeback outside of Clickbank’s 60-day money back guarantee, the seller loses the sale foots and the bill for the chargeback to boot. Not exactly fair.

2. Google Adsense

As we all know, Google run the biggest online advertising network on the planet. To make it work, they need the support of the millions of webmasters who slap Adsense ads on their sites. True, those webmasters have the ulterior motive of making some cash from those ads. Google has the same ulterior motive.

It’s only right and proper that they have some rules governing where and how the ads they serve are used. And those rules are laid out for anyone to read on the Adsense TOS page. However, some of those rules are open to some interpretation. How you read a rule may be different from how the writer of the rule intended.

There was a time when, if your site was banned from the Adsense network, you could contact a person, ask what was wrong and how to fix it. It worked for both parties. Google was happy that your site was conforming to its TOS and you were happy that ads were appearing on your site.

Google has long since retreated to its ivory tower. Now there is no one you can contact in the event ads stop appearing on your site. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive an email telling you your site has broken their TOS. Many times though, there’s no email and no explanation. You’re left there wondering what rule your site has broken.

This happened to me a couple of months ago. I re-read the Adsense TOS and could see nothing in it that my site was contravening. There are public forums where you can ask questions of supposed Adsense staff. But being public, those forums are open for anyone to read. I like to have a little privacy in my conversations about delicate matters rather than exposing them to all and sundry. So a big thumbs down to Google for their tacky way of dealing with Adsense queries.

After a lot of digging, I found a URL where I could submit a query to Adsense staff without going through the public forums. They don’t advertise it and it’s buried deep, so it makes you wonder why they’re making it so difficult for webmasters to contact them.

I asked a simple question: what rule is my website breaking that’s getting it banned from Adsense. Back came an automated, stock reply that basically said: read the TOS. I replied saying I had read the TOS but must have taken a different interpretation of one of the rules and I asked them to clarify what rule was being broken.

They replied with an automated, stock reply that was exactly the same as the first. Thanks for the two-fingers, Google. So Google don’t want to know. They don’t care. Looks like they have a “plenty more fish in the sea” attitude. So how many small-time webmasters are getting their sites thrown out of Adsense without ever knowing why?

While my Adsense account is still up and running, I’ve heard from others that their entire Adsense accounts have been closed down. The excuse given is often “invalid clicks” intimating that you’re dishonest up front, trying to screw them and their advertisers out of their money. There are probably a few foolhardy people who take this approach, but the vast majority of webmasters are honest people who want to earn a bit of cash from their websites. It’s in their own interests not to screw things up.

Yet Google always assumes it’s you who’s at fault. The burden of proof should always lie with the accuser yet I know of no instance where Google has backed up with evidence the reason for an account cancellation. There’s nothing to stop an unscrupulous competitor from clicking madly on your ads (or hiring someone to do so) in an effort to get your Adsense account closed down for fraudulent clicks. Yet there’s never an investigation. You’re just summarily kicked out of Adsense. Guilty until proven innocent. No, that’s wrong, just assumed to be guilty with no recourse to due process.

And what about any outstanding commissions that are in your account. Google keeps them because, you’re guilty of fraud and shouldn’t get the fruits of your labors.

Now, how many times is something like this happening daily? How much money is Google redirecting to its coffers on the basis of supposed guilt for crimes not committed?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that the Adsense ads appearing on my sites have become less and less targeted over the last year or so. It has me wondering if Google have lost a huge number of advertisers either because they’ve been pushing small-time advertisers out of Adwords and/or because of the current financial climate forcing companies to reduce their advertising expenditure or cutting it entirely.

It may explain why they’re shoving Google +1 (and accompanying advertising) into everything they own – trying to make up for lost revenue.

3. Ebay

In the old days, if you sold something from Ebay as an affiliate you got a fixed percentage of the sale. Not any more. Ebay introduced a traffic quality score to weight the commissions you’re paid. If you send lots of traffic that actually buys something, you earn decent commissions. If you send them lots of traffic where only a small percentage buys, then you earn a piddling commission. It doesn’t matter that you’re not responsible for the traffic you send their way, unless they buy, you’re commissions are penalized. Great way to screw your affiliates guys!

4. Commission Junction

I used to get good results with them but they closed my account down in 2009, citing fraudulent clicks (the clicks cost the advertisers money). We entered a long exchange as I tried to fight my corner, in fact providing proof that I was not responsible for excess clicks. At that point, they cut off communication and refused to respond to any emails. They guy I could phone stopped taking my calls too. The result: cancelled account and over a grand in commissions not paid out.

Since I’d had success with CJ, I rejoined them. However, many of the merchants I had been an affiliate for wouldn’t let me join their programs (maybe I was blackballed internally), so the new account never made the commissions the previous one had.

Then just over a week ago when I tried to log in, up came a notice saying my account had been deactivated. I hadn’t received any email from them so assumed it was an error on their part. That’s when I found out that they don’t provide email support, only phone support. I rang, eventually got through the automated phone system and spoke to a rep. She told me to email a special email address with my query. I had to send the email from the email account registered with them when the account was opened. The rep did say the account was shut down for sending unresponsive traffic. Sorry, but it’s not my responsibility to massage the traffic that goes their way via my website. I send them traffic and it’s the advertisers responsibility to entice the visitor into buying. If the visitor doesn’t want to buy, the advertiser is doing a bad job. And CJ and their advertisers don’t appear to be taking into account the fact that people have a lot less disposable income these days.

My email address was still active. But it raised the issue that if I’d changed my email address since the time I joined CJ and forgotten to update my account with the new email address I’d have no way of contacting them as they’d just ignore any email from a different address. Another way a company shirks its duty in dealing with affiliates.

I sent my query to the address provided. Six days later I haven’t even had the courtesy of an automated response (in fact I never received a response). For all I know my email has gone into their folder named “Trash”.

CJ need affiliates to make their business work, yet when it comes to dealing with those affiliates, they’re pretty much nowhere to be found – they just don’t want to engage with their affiliates. Hardly good business practice.

Again, I wonder how may affiliates have found themselves in a similar situation. And, once again they’ve purloined my commissions.

5. Other Networks

Some networks impose a minimum payout limit, say make less than $50 and we don’t pay you. This, despite the fact that most issue payments via PayPal where mass payments are easy for a company. They know that many affiliates will struggle to make more than a couple of sales and so have no intention of ever paying those affiliates. Dishonest don’t you think?


Anyway, maybe you’ve had similar or different experiences with various advertising networks. Share your thoughts so we can all get a better idea of what it’s really like out there in affiliate land.


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