Last week, some of you may have noticed I posted a disclosure statement at the end of my posts that contain affiliate links. I hope you appreciate the open and honest approach I want to make in how Alterations Needed makes income.
I’ve tried earning income on Alterations Needed for almost a year now, and wanted to share my adventures in affiliate programs. For those of you who don’t blog, hopefully this will shed some light on how reading and clicking help your favorite bloggers get paid for their hard work. For those of you who do blog, hopefully you’ll find this interesting, and learn from my experiences.
Blogging is interesting in that, for most people, it begins as a personal outlet, or extension of a hobby. If the blogger is lucky, someone other than their mother enjoys reading their blog. If they’re even luckier, they get an opportunity to earn a small income for their hard work blogging. And an even luckier few, actually make a livable wage off their blogs.
I really love writing Alterations Needed, and spent the first year blogging without even trying to earn a cent off it. When I learned I could not only write a blog I love, for a community I’m passionate about, but also maybe even earn a little income from it, I had to give it a shot.
So, now to earning an income from blogging. This is where affiliate programs come in.
First attempt – Joining affiliate programs through affiliate networks, like Commission Junction, Link Share, and Google Affiliate Network.
For those of you who don’t know, Affiliate Networks bring together a bunch of different merchants, for which you can apply to become an affiliate. If you are approved for the merchant’s affiliate program, you can then get special links to put on your blog, that if a reader clicks, and purchases something, you earn a small commission. You have to first get approved to join the network, and then get approved by each individual merchant affiliate program you want to be an affiliate with.
When I first started learning about how people make money blogging, I learned about Affiliate networks. The ones I kept reading about were Commission Junction, Link Share, and Google Affiliate Network. Signing up for these networks weren’t very hard (except for Google, which rejected me the first time around, but finally accepted me after I tried again a few months later), but getting merchants to accept me in their affiliate programs was awful. I was finally able to get approved for Banana Republic, and a few other merchants like Shopbop.
Pros – If a blogger really likes something, and uses an affiliate link in their blog post about that product, and someone actually clicks the link and buys something…the blogger earns a commission. Yay! Just like a personal shopper!
Cons – Getting accepted to the merchants that a blogger writes about can be hard. Having to log into the program network website and find the special link for the product the blogger is writing about can be tricky and time consuming. Earning money can take a really long time. The links look weird and scary, and sometimes readers are afraid to click them. If no one buys anything through your link, you don’t make any money. If someone bought something through your link, and then returns it, your commission gets taken away. In order to get paid, your balance has to reach a certain amount, usually $50 or $100. For a small blog earning small commissions, reaching this limit can take forever.
My experience - Um…yeah…I didn’t make anything going this route. Time to look for something better.
Second attempt – Shopsense – The pay-by-click affiliate program for fashion bloggers.
Whether you are a reader or a blogger, you’re probably familiar with Shopsense. Fashion bloggers love using Shopsense, because all the merchants and items we love are available on it. It’s easy to sign up, easy to get a special affiliate link, and we make a small commission every time someone clicks a link, instead of hoping someone buys something.
For those of you who don’t know, Shopsense gives bloggers a special affiliate link that looks like: “http://www.shopstyle.com….”, like this one . Every time a reader clicks one of those links, that blogger makes about 5 cents. It doesn’t sound like much, but if all our readers click a Shopsense link every time they visit our blog, we earn a few dollars a day, which can slowly add up!
I was an early user of Shopstyle when it first came out, and found it useful to store and track the items I was interested in. When they announced they had an affiliate program called Shopsense, I was super excited, and started using it right away. I started seeing Alterations Needed earn money, and I was happy to finally be getting paid a small income for my hard work.
Pros - Shopsense is easy, and is the way I make the most income on Alterations Needed. Getting readers to click a link is way easier than getting them to buy something.
Cons – Shopsense is not transparent in reporting income to bloggers. You can bet Shopsense is making a ton of money off all us bloggers, but they don’t tell us anything about how we’re getting paid. They don’t tell us how much we’re making per click, or what links our readers liked best, or if anyone bought anything. If I don’t know what my readers like, how do I give them more of the great stuff they want? All Shopsense tells me is how much of a commission I made each day, so I have to trust them. They also only payout your balance if you reach $100.
I’ve also heard from other bloggers, as well as experienced it myself, that there is often a sudden drop in commissions from Shopsense. Since they don’t tell us bloggers what’s going on, we can only guess, but many bloggers believe Shopsense start bloggers at 5 cents a click when they sign up for the program, and then drops them down to 3 cents, or even lower, after a few months. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s equals about a 40% drop in earnings!
I’ve also read about how Shopsense uses their widgets and ad units to earn page rank and search engine rankings from our blogs, which is not very nice at all. Read this forum thread for more about that…
My experience - Shopsense is easy to use, and the biggest income earner for Alterations Needed that I’ve found. I hate that they keep me in the dark about so many things, but I need the income I earn to pay for internet hosting, and other expenses. I’ll drop Shopsense in a second if a better program comes along, so they better watch out and keep us bloggers happy!
Advice for bloggers - Most affiliate programs include a rel=”nofollow” attribute to their links, but Shopsense does not, which can hurt your search engine rankings. Make sure to add the rel=”nofollow” attribute to your Shopsense links so you don’t hurt your page rank with too many outbound links. Also, it might be a good idea to limit your use of the Shopsense widgets, to avoid the SEO and page rank stealing described in the forum thread I linked to above.
Skimlinks – Automatically turning links into affiliate links
Skimlinks is a company in the UK that, once you sign up for their program and add their code to your website, will turn any link into an affiliate link. That means, if a blogger features a product from Banana Republic, and links to the product page, when a reader clicks that link, Skimlinks automatically turns it into an affiliate link and the blogger earns a commission if the reader buys anything. If Skimlinks has a merchant in their network, then the blogger can earn commissions for that merchant.
I started using Skimlinks on the Alterations Needed Forum, because I wanted to find a way for the Forum to pay for all the money I had to spend to create and put it up. Putting up Shopsense links on the forum didn’t seem right, so I had to look for another way for the Forum to make money. What I found was Skimlinks. If a forum member shares a link to a product they love, and a reader clicks that link and buys something, the Forum earns a commission. Perfect! The forum members help the Forum earn money just by sharing the items they buy and love, and other forum members using their suggestions to make a purchase.
Pros - It’s easy! There are no special links to use, and the blogger is able to get access to hard to get affiliate programs that maybe she/he could not join on their own.
Cons - Skimlinks takes a commission, from the blogger’s commission, so the blogger earns less than they would if they joined the affiliate program for a merchant directly. Not all the affiliate programs a blogger might want to use are available.
My biggest gripe is the payout system. Skimlinks waits to pay your balance until you reach $50 in cleared payments. It can take 60-90 days for a commission to clear, so I often go months without a payment.
My experience – I like Skimlinks a lot. It gives the Forum an opportunity to bring in a little income, which helps pay for the cost of running it. I also started using it on Alterations Needed, for items I don’t have a Shopsense link for. It generates a little bit of income, but not too much. I really wished it had Banana Republic and Ann Taylor/LOFT as part of it’s program, so when a representative from a similar company called Viglink emailed me, I was excited.
Viglink – like Skimlinks, except worse
Viglink is a similar company to Skimlinks, and when I got contacted by a representative about them, I was excited to hear they had Banana Republic and Ann Taylor/LOFT as part of their affiliate program! Perfect! I write so much about those two companies, that having the affiliate programs for them was a must! I quickly switched to Viglink on both Alterations Needed and the AN Forum and hoped for the best.
Pros - Quicker and more informative reporting than Skimlinks. Responsive customer service (I had a problem getting it to work on the Forum and they quickly helped me out). Ann Taylor, LOFT and Banana Republic were part of their affiliate network…yay!
Cons - They tricked me! When I signed into Viglink, it showed me all the great merchants that would pay commissions for my sites, and I got really excited to see what it would do. Three months later….hardly anything at all happened. I didn’t understand. All these new merchants were available for me, but I wasn’t making any money. What was happening?
My experience - A Skimlinks representative contacted me, asking what they could do to get me to come back. I told them the only reason I switched was for Ann Taylor, LOFT and Banana Republic affiliate programs. Skiminks looked at my site and told me Viglink wasn’t even affiliating those links!
I did some searching through their hard-to-navigate help forum, and finally found the answer. The website shows you all the great merchants Viglink has in their network, but doesn’t necessarily add you to their programs. Almost half the merchants I thought I was affiliated with, I wasn’t. What a dirty trick!
After speaking with a Viglink representative, I learned the individual merchants decide whether or not to let a website be an affiliate. After a website sends good traffic to that merchant, they should be added as an affiliate. The fact that Viglink did not clearly show which merchants had not added me to their affiliate programs, and did not activate my websites after three months, even though I was sending a good amount of traffic, really turned me off the company.
Because Viglink does not clearly state which merchants a website is being affiliated with or not, I felt duped, and quickly switched back to Skimlinks.
Advice for bloggers - If you use Viglink, check your Viglink dashboard. Any merchants with a gray dash (-) under the “actions” column is not being affiliated on your site. To be activated for the merchant, you might need to complain to a Viglink representative. I really don’t like how Viglink does not clearly disclose this information from the beginning.
Skimlinks part deux -
Skimlinks has since added Banana Republic to their program, which makes me happy, and my representative assured me they were working on getting Ann Taylor and LOFT added as well. Once that happens, Skimlinks will be pretty much perfect.
Bloggers…if you sign up for Skimlinks through a link on my blog, Alterations Needed earns a commission!
There you have it! I’m currently using both Shopsense and Skimlinks on Alterations Needed, and just Skimlinks on the Alterations Needed Forum. Anytime a reader clicks a Shopsense link, like this one, I earn a few cents. Anytime a reader clicks a link from Alterations Needed or the Forum to a merchant like Banana Republic, and buys something, I make a small commission for that sale through Skimlinks.
Readers…so now you know how Alterations Needed makes a small income, and how you can help support the blog and forum if you so choose. If you love a blog, or want to help support a blogger, clicking or purchasing through their affiliate links is one of the easiest ways to pay them back for all the hard work they’ve put into giving you an enjoyable website to visit.
Bloggers…I think the key here is, even if I wasn’t earning income from Alterations Needed and the Alterations Needed Forum, I love them so much that I would still be blogging. If you’re blogging for the chance at making money, and not for the love of what you’re blogging about, stop. Even with all the affiliate programs I’ve tried, I’m not making even close to enough money to live off. I would love to be able to earn a full time income to run Alterations Needed and the AN Forum, but that goal may never be reached.
Disclosure - Clicking or purchasing through the links in this post may yield commissions for AlterationsNeeded.com. See the Alterations Needed Disclosure for more details.