The True Value of Review Affiliates

I love review affiliates

A successful affiliate program should account for at least 20% of overall sales regardless of the industry. In select industries with high commissions, the affiliate channel can account for 30% to 50% of your sales. Few people understand affiliate marketing in depth and even fewer people understand how different affiliate models add to the bottom line. One of my favorite affiliate models is the review based website.

Before I get into why I love the review model, I first want to explain how affiliate marketing works and why it has gone in the directions it has. Traditionally, affiliate marketing was driven on a last touch winner take all system. That means that if an end customer clicked on my affiliate link first and a coupon site’s affiliate link last, the coupon site would enjoy the entire commission for the sale. Clickstream based attribution employed by networks, such as ShareASale, have allowed merchants in recent years to share the wealth to all the affiliate that contributed to the sale. The end result of the overarching strategy is that successful affiliates chase the keywords people search for when they are close to making a purchase. The most important keywords in affiliate marketing are: best, top, review, buy, cheap, coupon, deals, discount, comparison, vs, etc. These keywords indicate the consumer is close to making their purchase. Conversion rates soar from .5% when you are trying to introduce someone to a new topic to 5%-20%.

Why I Love Review Based Affiliate Partners

  •  Long-Tailed Keywords

A review affiliate is more likely to write content intended to rank for keyword phrases with fewer than 1000 searches a month than a company will. This is simple economics of scale at play. An affiliate site is one person 9 times out of 10. If they can rank for a keyword or keyword phrase with relatively low search volume to gain another 10 conversions a month they frequently will because that amount of money matters to them. Many corporations are more big picture. They don’t want to focus on strategies or content that might generate another $1000 or $2000 a month in sales. They consider this  trivial. On the other hand, an affiliate might say, if I can generate $1000 to $2000 in additional sales for a merchant with a 10% commission that is $1200 to $2400 a year towards my overall income. If merchants can’t or won’t try to rank for these keywords themselves, it is better to let the affiliate do it and share in the mutual bounty.

 

  • Turning Your Competitors’ Traffic Into Your Conversions

A lot of myopic marketing people look at a review based affiliate and say that punk is riding on my coat tails for brand + review related searches. They would be absolutely right. What these people often ignore is that the good review affiliates also draw that same traffic from all of your competitors. They also generate substantial traffic related to model + review searches. These models are often sold on the other competitors sites. E.G.   x merchant is 10% of a given industry. A knowledgeable review affiliate is pulling traffic from your 10% along with the other 90% of the industry. Your are benefited by working with the affiliate in the most productive manner possible because they can drive your competitors traffic to your site at the point when they are closest to making a purchase. You not only gain a conversion. You steal one from the grasp of your competitor. What could be better?

 

  • Increasing Your Conversion Rate

The higher the cost of a purchase, the more likely the consumer is to search for reviews on both the product and retailer. This is just common sense. If you are buying a new pack of gum, you aren’t going to feel that badly if the flavor stinks or the merchant sold you a stale package. If you are spending several hundred or several thousand dollars, you are going to feel mightily burned if the product or purchasing experience stinks. Most people want to mitigate the risk by having others reassure them that they are making the right decision. Many merchants have horrible reviews when a search for site + review is conducted. Extortion schemes like Reseller Ratings and angry sites like Pissed Consumer, and Rip Off Repot abound. Many of the reviews on these sites only paint on side of the picture. Good review affiliates are also brand advocates capable of painting the other side. If a potential consumer conducts a review search and only sees a full page of 1 star reviews, there is a good chance you are going to lose the sale. If your skilled affiliate partners outrank these angrier sites and highlight why you are a good merchant, you will close the sale. At the end of the day, this is marketing 101. Unfortunately, a huge number of people at all levels in organizations don’t understand this simple fact. My suspicion is a lot of this ignorance comes down to ill informed greed. They can easily see on paper the 10% commission paid to the partner. It is harder to quantify the untold lost sales.

 

  • Helping Consumers Make An Informed Decision

Good review affiliates prepare the consumer for what to expect. They are likely to tout your strong suits most, but they will also reveal some of your warts. This process is important to help companies recognize better how they can improve. A skilled affiliate will outline the most important marketing points in your industry. If you get dinged on some of these points, determine how you can do a better job. Too many employees fall into a horrible pattern of group think and company worship. They are either unable to see the company’s flaws or incapable to discuss them with the team for fear of being accused of not having drunk enough kool-aid. If an affiliate points out the flaws, improvements can be made without making any employees into doubting outcasts.

Reason One Million And One Why United Healthcare Sucks

united healthcare sucks

United Healthcare has long been my least favorite insurance company in terms of interacting with the staff. Ironically, I have never had significant issues with the coverage. It has all been related to the customer support. They are the worst insurance provider about playing the transfer game. Each time I get transferred I have to explain my situation over again to the new rep. Their automated systems takes forever. The system asks for a member ID, and the first thing the rep asks for is a member ID. They have outsourced much of their support to the Phillipines. My calls consistently get dropped. The return a call system makes you enter your phone number despite the fact the system already says it pulled your number out of caller ID. In short, I typically have to call United Healthcare about 10 times to resolve an issue, whereas other companies get it right the first time. I envision some manager on their side applauding the fact that average call times are under 3 minutes, willfully oblivious to the fact that customers have to call in over and over again to resolve the issue.

tdi complaint form

What Did They Do This Time?

I had to refill a prescription in early January after recently having transitioned to COBRA. The COBRA hadn’t been processed yet, so I had to pay for my prescription out of pocket. This is no big deal and standard practice. When my COBRA kicked in a called the company asking how to be reimbursed. The woman told me to Google Optum RX reimbursement form. You can see the form that comes up here. I thought it was weird, but it seemed plausible since Optum and United Healthcare seem to have the same parent company, despite the fact no one at either organization would admit that. After seeing some weird pharmacist boxes on the form, I decided that I better call again. This time I was told to go to Myuhc.com, click on find a form on the upper right, and Health Reimbursement Claim Form. You can see a copy of the form here. The first half page of this form advises the customer to go online for quicker service. This sounded great to me since I hate to deal with paper forms.

go online

One of the first things that stood out to me was how vaguely the instructions were written. “Follow steps to submit a claim form.” Have they never seen the maze that is their own website! Anyway, I followed the path that seemed most logical.

claims and accounts

submit a claim for reimbursement

mail the form

The website dead ends with an address, saying to mail the claim form. This is after the first half page of the form I was told to use by a rep on the phone said to use the website. I thought that I must have followed the wrong navigation route, so I called yet again. The customer service rep told me that they have no digital system to transmit claims. What really got me is that when I said I am staring out a form that says go online, she was utterly indifferent. She didn’t even act like she might look into the issue. I mean this claim form is hosted on the homepage of the United Healthcare website!

 

Here Is Where It Gets Better

As I am talking to the CSR, she asks if I need the address for where to mail the form. I said no an El Paso address is listed at the bottom.el paso address

The customer support rep then commences to tell me that is the wrong address for my group and if I were to mail it to El Paso there is a strong possibility my claim would never be processed. At this point, I said first the form that I was told to use by a United Healthcare rep tells me to use a mythical online claim submission form. Then the address listed on the form would be a black hole if I were to mail the form there. This is all after being told to use the wrong reimbursement form by the first customer support rep. I told the representative that I had 0 confidence that United Healthcare would process my form correctly. She said oh no sir it will be handled correctly, just make sure you mail it to the right address. I literally felt like I was in la la land. The whole process took 2.5 hours of my life that I will never get back. I can only hope and pray that the claim will be processed correctly.

Can these giant mutli-billion dollar companies not allocate a few jobs for people to go through the system as a customer would to audit the user experience? I was given the wrong information over and over again in a manner that would have resulted in my claim not being processed correctly. Whose fault would it be if they didn’t receive my claim in time? Ugh

Update – February 12th, 2015

United Health Care added insult to injury today. When I logged into my account, I saw that my claim was denied. The reason given was that the form was mailed to the wrong address. The CSR claimed that the form I provided (as directed by a separate CSR) wasn’t even the right form. I was infuriated. He tried to tell me that my only remedy was to mail the correct documents to a different address. I turned into “that guy.” I initially demanded to have my call escalated. He repeatedly told me there was nothing they could do. I finally asked to be transferred to an American. She claimed that she would have them forward the form to the correct department, and I should be reimbursed in 10 to 15 business days. I’m not holding my breath, but I was glad to talk to someone who said they could actually fix the issue. It absurd to have the front line CSR’s be so poorly trained that they consistently provide incorrect information on basic issues.

united healthcare claim denied

Update – February 28th, 2015

I just logged into MyUHC. My claim is still listed as denied for the same reason stated previously. It has been sixteen days since I was told the issue would be fixed. To add insult to injury, the automated system hung up on me after saying our office is open from 8am to 8pm local time. It is currently 6:52pm local time. I am so angry I can scream. How can such a large company be so incompetent. One of the suggestions my mother gave was to file a complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance. I am going to call again tomorrow and reference my cause number. If the problem isn’t fixed, I will certainly and gladly file a complaint. You should see if your state has a similar online form if you are experiencing the same type of hell.

tdi complaint form

 

Update 3-11-15

I called back again today and spoke to five different people. The first call dropped as is common with United Healthcare. The part that gets me about the dropped calls is they never call you back when that happens. I can literally sink an hour talking to one rep and if the call drops, I have to start all over again from the very beginning. The people in the Philippines were telling me I needed to talk to my plan administrator through my work. This made absolutely no sense. United Healthcare had paid all the previous bills. I asked to be transferred to an American again. The American told me I had to file the claim with Optum (which as we all know is owned by the same parent company as United Healthcare). The Optum person escalated me to a supervisor. The supervisor said she escalated me to some specialty person. That person is allegedly supposed to call me back in 24 hours. It sounds like at this point United is trying to get me to start the process all over again and submit the claims to Optum a company they own in the first place. Let’s see if they actually call me back.

Update 3-12-15

I waited well over 24 hours and had no call from Optum / United Healthcare. I called in and demanded an American again. The representative in the Philippines tried to make me explain my issue. I became irate and he transferred me. I got a very nice rep named Josh. He called over to the Optum side and got the 24 hour response again. He said one of two things will happen, they will either issue the reimbursement or make me start all over with the paperwork again. He vowed to call me back during his offline time.

Update 3-13-15

I still never received the mythical 24 hour call back from a supervisor, but Josh stuck to his word. He called me back today and said they are going to process my claim and put the money back on my credit card within seven days. Since I have heard similar claims in the past, I am still cautiously optimistic. I was incredibly impressed by this particular rep since no one else at United Healthcare, including supervisors seemed to care.

Update 3-17-15

My prescription claim has now disappeared entirely from MyUHC.com. I logged into my bank account and finally saw my reimbursement! They didn’t even keep my $40 co-pay. It was a complete refund. A refund I worked damn hard for.

optumrx

 

Note About Filing A Complaint Against United Healthcare

During all of my calls, no one seemed to care when I said I was going to file a complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance. My mother assured me that this route would suck for them, but she wasn’t sure how long someone should have to wait. The other important fact is that you need written documentation of the events. This is hard to provide when everything is verbally said during a phone conversation. A couple friends pointed out that if you have Google Voice, it is easy to record a call by pressing 6. United Healthcare has the standard disclaimer, saying calls are recorded. My friends asserted (none of us are lawyers) that if they have that disclaimer, you are allowed to record the call without notifying the rep. If this is completely true, this could be an effective way to provide your states insurance commission with proof. If you are going through an ordeal similar to mine, you might want to investigate.

 

The United Healthcare Mission Statement – What a Joke!

The United Healthcare mission statement is a classic example of the disconnect between people who make decisions and espouse grandiose values and how their never ending cost-cutting measures impact consumers. I cringe to think how much the company spent crafting these lies.

united healthcare mission statement

How to File Insurance Complaints in Other States

Remember to start documenting early. Keep meticulous notes, and save every bit of paper. Try using the Google Voice trick to record the phone call if they have a recorded call disclaimer. (This is not legal advise. Check your local laws first.)

Affiliate Nexus Thresholds By State

A growing list of states are passing nexus laws requiring merchants to collect sales tax in states where they have affiliates. In many states with nexus legislation, there is a revenue threshold an affiliate must surpass for nexus to be created.

What States Have Nexus Legislation?

affiliate nexus mapaffiliate nexus key

I borrowed this map from CJ. I recommend looking at their site to find the most updated list of nexus states. It is a troubling list of growing states.

 

Nexus Thresholds By State

The amount listed by the state is how much an affiliate / publisher who resides in that state would have to generate in revenue for sales tax to need to be created. If you are an affiliate manager for a merchant who hasn’t outright banned affiliates from nexus states, I highly recommend having a written protocol in place. Everyone makes mistakes, but if an investigator ever comes knocking, you want to be able to prove to them that you had appropriate measure in place.

Arkansas – $10,000

California – $10,000

Connecticut – $2,000

Georgia – $50,000

Illinois – $10,000

Kansas – $10,000

Maine – $10,000

Michigan – $10,000

Minnesota – $10,000

Missouri – $10,000

New York – $10,000

New Jersey – $10,000

North Carolina -$10,000

Pennsylvania – No limit

Rhode Island – $5,000

Vermont – $10,000

West Virginia – No limit

 

Nexus Legislation Is Stupid

In some of the programs I have managed, we have had more foreign affiliates than Americans. It blows my mind that I can have numerous affiliates based out of China without placing the merchant at a competitive disadvantage, but one sale from an affiliate in West Virginia means we have to collect sales tax. The proponents of these bills also claim states will collect far more lavish sums than they actually do. My general skepticism is that many of these bills are lobbied for by large brick and mortar stores.

Workarounds

California has the most commonly used nexus workaround. It is a pain because the affiliate has to sign a new document every year. Here is a copy of the nexus affidavit I use for California. Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and New York have possible loopholes / workarounds regarding what is solicitation. A lot of that starts going over my head though since I am not a lawyer.

Internet Fairness Act

I never thought I would support a national Internet sales tax law. I support it now because the state by state situation is too muddy. Most smaller and mid-sized companies don’t have the resources to track all the bills going through the legislature. I can’t wait to see more evidence on how much additional revenue states are collecting in comparison to what they spend on enforcement and lost income tax from affiliates moving to other states or countries.

6 Ways To Save Money

1. Credit Cards – I realize that credit cards are one way many people accrue debt. I make money with mine. Advanced Warning – applying for a credit card is a hard pull on your credit report. Hard inquiries will temporarily reduce your credit rating. It is not wise to apply for many credit cards at the same time. You also shouldn’t apply for new credit cards if you know you are going to apply for a house loan in the next few months. Many people have strong enough credit that it doesn’t matter, but these are typically best practices.

2 Ways To Make Money With Credit Cards

Signup Bonuses

If you have already accumulated debt, you would be wise to search for a credit card with 0% financing on balance transfers (typically 6-18 months) and no transfer fee. The latter part is important because most credit cards offering 0% financing typically charge a transfer fee around 3%-5%. The Chase Slate card is the most common credit card offered with a 0% balance transfer fee within the first 60 days and 0% financing for 15 months. The other biggie with the Chase Slate card is it has no annual fee. If you are interested in this option, you might also check with Discover. Most of their offers involve a transfer fee, but I have had a fee sent to me with no fee and a 0% introductory APR.

chase slate card

If you don’t have credit card debt you need to refinance, the Southwest Airlines card by Chase currently has one of the best signup bonuses. You will receive 50,000 bonus miles (roughly $700 worth of flights) after spending $2000 in the first three months. There is a $99 annual fee that is not waived. Since there is an annual fee, I recommend using this as a churn card (you can currently only receive this bonus every 24 months). The standard benefits are not good enough to continue using the card after earning the signup bonus.

50000 points southwest airlines card

Cashback On Purchases

I typically earn about $1000 dollars a year in cashback by strategically using my credit cards. A lot of my earnings accrue from an old Citi Forward card that gives me 5% back (in thank you points) on restaurants and Amazon (book stores). Unfortunately, the newer terms are not as generous. It was intended as a college card, but obviously didn’t have the intended results for the Citi bottom line.

Current Cards That Rock

  • Chase Freedom & Discover – these cards are almost the same card from different companies. They both have no annual fees and offer 5% cashback on quarterly rotating categories. If you are good keeping track of the categories, you might as well get both cards. Chase Freedom frequently has a $200 signup bonus after just $500 worth of purchases in the first three months.
  • Penfed – this card is from the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. They are remarkably good all around financial institution. I found them originally because they had the lowest rates on used auto loans. Their credit card gives 5 points for gas purchases and 3 points for grocery stores. The rates used to be 5% and 3%, but they switched to a slightly less lucrative point system about a year and a half ago. The switch made the points a little less than 20% less valuable. Said another way, you will actually earn a little over 4% cashback on gas purchases. It is worth noting you will need to make a couple dollar donation to the American Red Cross to qualify to join Penfed if you are not part of the normal network. It’s one of those odd legacy credit union rules.

penfed rewards

 

  • Fidelity Amex – This is the only card I’ve mentioned that I don’t personally have. Why don’t I have it? I have a Bank of America card that gives me 2.5% cashback on all purchases when I collect more than $300 in cash rewards. Since I have never seen the BOA deal offered to the general public, the Fidelity Amex card is my recommended card for general day-to-day cashback. AMEX cards typically come with an annual fee. This card does not. The other component I love is that the earnings can be deposited into your IRA. This is a tremendous way to turn a little money now into a lot of money during retirement.

fidelity amex

2. Cashback Websites – In the affiliate industry cashback websites are referred to as loyalty sites. Discover Deals uses the loyalty site model. My favorite cashback websites are MrRebates and Ebates. Combine these cashback websites with deals from Slickdeals, Google Shopping and FatWallet to save more money. Be careful with Slickdeals and FatWallet. Many people go on a shopping binge when they first become part of the community. Google Shopping is the best and most widely used comparison shopping engine (CSE). The advantage is that many merchants put slightly lower prices on Google Shopping because they know they are competing with the masses. We actually used a source code embedded in the end of the tracking link that would set a cookie, resulting in 5% lower prices than if you hadn’t gone through Google Shopping. Pricewatch was the first CSE I used in the mid 90s. Unfortunately, they never evolved beyond computer parts and many bad merchants started gaming the system. People still game Google Shopping. It is important to stick to stores that are rated well. FatWallet merged with Ebates a few years back, but Ebates still tends to offer higher cashback rates. This screenshot will give a slight indication as to how long and how frequently I use MrRebates.

mrrebates account

 

3. Pay for Your Car Insurance 12 Months at a Time – many people don’t realize car insurance policies can be purchased in 12 month cycles. They think you can only buy the policy 6 months at a time. I have used this strategy with both Kemper Preferred and Progressive. If you think about it, a tremendous amount of what we pay for insurance is marketing spend. Insurance companies help create this problem by dicking over loyal customers. It is statistically proven that people who don’t switch car insurance companies end up paying more. The caveat here is you don’t want to lock in a rate for 12 months if you are about to experience a dramatic decline. Examples would be right before you turn 25 or when a wreck is soon to drop off your record. It would also be silly to pay for a 12 month insurance policy with a credit card with a balance. Think of it like an airline hedging their bets by buying oil an advance. If they think the rate is going to drop, they might lock in a relatively small amount. If they think oil prices are going to increase, they will lock in the rate as long as they possibly can.

one year long progressive policy

 

4. Haggle with the Cable Company – recurring bills are the bane of my existence. Even a little increase adds up to a substantial amount when you multiply it by 12x or 365x. I recently saw that my Time Warner internet bill had gone from a manageable $45 a month an unsustainable $70 per month. BTW, that is the exact phrasing I used when speaking with the Time Warner rep – this bill is unsustainable. The representative said that he needed to investigate. Within a couple minutes, he said that he added a 12 month discount rate of $39.99 to my bill. This was about the fifth time I had used this exact same strategy. I only encountered one woman who would not budge. If you happen to get that sad CSR, hang up and call again. The next person will hook you up. You need to put on your sales person hat in these situations. Be nice but be firm. Other strategies are to mention the introductory rates you have received from ATT or whatever competitor is in your area. Fortunately for us in Austin, this is about to become a moot point with the arrival of Google Fiber. I am only paying Google an initial fee of $300 spread over 12 months to add fiber to my house. Then they are going to give me Internet (5Mbps down and 1 Mbps up) free for the next six years. That is going to be a real win.

time warner bill

5. Ask a Bank to Waive Fees – I must make another confession here. I don’t always pay my bills on time. This has never been due to a lack of funds. It results from poor planning. Anyway, if you have a credit card and you were late paying, ask them to waive the fee. You can also use this strategy for over draft fees. Those were more of a problem several years ago when banks would purposely approve transactions to gain the $35 fee or reorder purchases to make clients accumulate additional late fees. This strategy again requires using your salesman hat. Be nice to the rep and emphasize the fact that you are a good customer.

bank of america chat

Note the banking representative asked me to setup auto-pay. I promptly took him up on this offer. I don’t pay the full balance through auto-pay, but I make sure that at least the minimum is covered to ensure I do not incur late charges. Discover setup this program for me with no work on my part. Bank of America required a somewhat tedious process, but it took less than fifteen minutes in the end.

6. Use an Off Brand Phone Provider – By off brand phone provider, I mean Cricket, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Metro PCS, etc. My co-worker said, “don’t only drug dealers use that” when I said I had switched to Cricket Wireless. The reality is that all the sub-brands use the exact same service as the larger brands.

  • Cricket – AT&T Owned Company
  • Boost / Virgin – Sprint
  • Metro PCS – they are actually owned by T-Mobile. They are purely using a different marketing strategy.
  • Straight Talk – weird mix of Verizon, ATT, and Sprint

If you do not believe what I just said or say their must be some disadvantage of the sub-brand services, marketing works well on you my friend. I don’t mean that to be a condescending statement. Marketing works well on me too. The only difference is that I have seen too many cases where people are able to charge 5x or 10x more on a product simply because they advertise it more.

Name brands (ATT, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile) provide great deals to people on family plans. They offer horrendous rates to people who are simply paying for themselves. The main advantage of major brand cell phone providers used to be that they would give you a shiny new iPhone every 2 years. While that is still true, you can buy a similar phone out of pocket and with no contract for just a couple hundred. The math doesn’t work out anymore with the name brand carriers. The same providers are providing the service in the back end.

I sincerely hope you take these strategies to heart. I am not bullshitting. I have used every single one of these methods and they will save you a substantial amount of money in the long run.

6/14/15 Update about Cricket

Since AT&T owns Cricket and merged legacy customers onto their network, AT&T branded phones will work on Cricket. These phones do not have to be unlocked to work. Here are the steps to make the AT&T phone work.

1. Call Cricket at 1-800-CRICKET to add the IMEI or add it in your online account settings.

2. Take the SIM card from your old device or have Cricket send you a new one. Once the sim is added the port will work.

Shop Discover Changed Their Name To Discover Deals

I recently received an email from Discover saying that ShopDiscover was retired and the new name is Discover Deals.

discover deals

 

Why Was The ShopDiscover Name Changed To Discover Deals?

My conclusions are purely speculation since I neither work at Discover nor do I have a contact to tell me the impetus of the change.

1. The word Deals is more likely to garner traffic likely to signup for a Discover card. Note, they went with 2 words this time. Discover hosts a huge authority website that is more likely to rank for Deal related searches and than Shop related searches. Over 90,000 people search for simply the word deals each month. Google considers competition for this term low.

deals traffic

2. Deals more accurately describes what Discover is offering. ShopDiscover implies Discover is selling you an item. The reality is they didn’t even highlight specific items. It was purely a cashback focused website that used affiliate links to give Discover customers a kickback on their purchases from merchants.

3. Discover Deals is going to integrate more coupons. They are targeting the RMN / Groupon models. Discover is light years ahead of the other banks on this front. I fully expect product specific deals to also be posted on the new site. This would allow them to target the Slickdeals / Fatwallet model. I am already starting to see coupons integrated on the new site.

discover deals coupon

 

How Does Discover Deals Differ From What Other Banks Are Offering?

Other banks offer attempts that are half-hearted at best. Bank of America uses a system that lets users add discounts to their credit card. The merchant list is incredibly limited and not consistent. BOA currently has 29 offers compared to well over 200 offers with Discover Deals.

bank of america deals

The Chase system is awful. It has roughly the same number of stores as Discover Deals. I believe they use to outsource their system almost entirely. The newer system looks better, but Discover is steal better because the cashback starts at 5% and goes in increments of 5. The Chase system shows a deal for Newegg at 2%, but that includes 1% that I would normally receive by using my card anyway.

chase cashback

Interesting Note

Some people at Fatwallet are claiming the new Discover Deals interface might not rely upon merchant affiliate reporting and instead matching an activated deal with a credit card statement (like BOA uses). This would be a radical change if true. I used Shop Discover all the time with my Visa that gives me 2.5% cashback on all purchases. I’ll update again after I make more purchases and get a better idea as to whether the system actually changed in this manner.

Why Fake New Ranks Well

Have you ever wondered why fake news stories rank so well? The short answer is they catch people’s attention. The related buzz in the form of backlinks and social signals are two of the most important factors in search algorithms. Authority (being recognized as an expert) and content (quality, length, volume) are the other biggies. One of the interesting aspects of SEO is that a site can usually rank well with just a couple of these factors. Think about it like this – a 200 word article on CNN.com about China’s oil usage is going to rank better than a 2,000 word article on AndrewWoolbert.com about China’s oil production. The content posted on CNN is super skimpy, but their site is a recognized news authority with tons of social signals and backlinks. Their site is also old and has millions of pages indexed. As you can see, the most important search factors tend to favor large corporations that can pay writers to produce daily content. It is sad in a way since the little guy will find it harder and harder to rank over time, but the algorithm is doing its job because most people would rather see the 200 word article by CNN.

Examples Where Fake News Ranks Well

dustin diamond murder

I decided to write this article because Dustin Diamond (aka Screech from Saved by the Bell) recently stabbed someone in a Wisconsin bar. I know this news was devastating to the three remaining die-hard fans of Saved by the Bell. A fake news site called Empire News took the story a step further by saying that the person Dustin stabbed died, and Dustin is now being charged with murder. This exaggeration was a stroke of genius for a site trying to gain traffic. My news feed on Facebook was filled with the story for days. The story was so rampant Snopes quickly chimed in to explain what actually happened.

snopes dustin diamond

Even now when I search for Dustin Diamond (completely logged out of my Google account), the Empire News article ranks 12th. This is right behind an article from the folks at People Magazine.

dustin diamond

Regarding the second example, I first must admit a deep, dark secret … I like to read what rich and famous people are worth. OK, my confession isn’t quite as bad as being an ax murderer, but I still feel a deep sense of shame with this revelation. Typically, either Celebrity Net Worth or The Richest come up first in the results. Those blogs are no Forbes in their own right. When I read their estimates I imagine some guy much like myself saying I think Britney Spears should be worth 250 million.

Now a spoof site called Media Mass has gotten into the mix and publishes some outlandish figures. They probably have some guy in the Philippines making $350 a month following the same template over and over again for a giant list of celebrities. I can tell by their Alexa rank that they receive an insane amount of traffic, and therefore, make a killing in terms of advertising revenue.

why fake news websites rank

mediamass

 

Is It Really That Simple?

Yes! These sites found a way to game the search algorithms. Personally, I hate the rise of these sites because I feel like an utter fool when I believe one of their stories, even for a split second.

 

How Do These Newer Sites Differ From The Onion?

the onion

Some readers might say hasn’t the Onion been doing this forever? In a sense they would be correct. I would still contend that the Onion is more deeply rooted in humor. Most readers can determine fairly early in an Onion article that it is a joke. Many of these newer generation sites are simply gaming the system. Here is a link to the the Onion Kindle store. If you click on that link and happen to make a purchase, I might make a few cents.

 

Why Is The Rise Of Fake News Sites Bad?

Any flaw in the system that makes search results worse for the end consumer is bad. Think about it this way, when I search for Britney Spears net worth, I want to see a ballpark estimate of how much she is actually worth. Relatively few people want to see some completely absurd figure. It is also bad because imitators are sure to follow and more search results are destined to be filled with junk results.

 

Do I See A Fix?

This is a hard problem to fix. The main signals to determine the worthiness of a website have served us well to this point. The most logical answer would be for Google to put up or down arrows on search results. This could create an automated feedback loop that could knock these fake stories down the ranking. Of course, this would require people to be able to recognize these stories as fake and take the time to provide feedback.

Let me know if you have any additional ideas.

Hidden Lake At Glacier National Park

hidden lake at glacier national park

 

Hidden Lake is a trail behind the Logan Pass Visitors Center. It is 1.5 miles to the overlook and 3 miles to make it to the lake. If you go all the way down to the lake, the steep switch backs are likely to leave you winded unless you are a beast. The other cool part about this trail is that you will see sheep. There is a chance of big horn sheep, but they are less likely.

As a side note, I told me co-workers this image looked mildly phallic. They told me I should go to the doctor and have that checked.

Bighorn Sheep At Glacier National Park

glacier national park bighorn sheep

 

The color isn’t the greatest and the focus could have been a tad better, but I assure you this wasn’t an easy picture to take. Most of the sheep I saw in the park required binoculars to see. This guy was close enough I could see him with the naked eye. I still had to have someone else point him out several times as my untrained eyes skipped over him repeatedly. I like to think I am better at seeing flowers than sheep.

Performance Bicycle Affiliate Program

performance bicycle logo

Performance Bicycle is where I purchased my current bike. In typical fashion, I spent five hundred dollars, rode it twice, and it has been sitting in the corner ever since. Unfortunately, I can’t blame in the bike shop for me not using the bike. What drew me to Performance Bicycle in the first place is they were one of the few shops that didn’t try to shame me for wanting to spend a mere five hundred dollars on a bike. When searching for a bicycle, I got the impression that biking was a far more snobby sport than I ever realized. The point is I liked Performance Bicycle, and they offer a solid affiliate program for people looking to promote bikes.

 

How To Join The Performance Bicycle Affiliate Program

You can join the Performance Bicycle Affiliate Program through either Avantlink or Commission Junction.

Personally, I would pick Avantlink because I think CJ is a pretty crappy network coasting on a brand name that was established years ago.

 

How Much Does The Performance Bicycle Affiliate Program Pay?

In both CJ and Avantlink, the base commission rate is 3% with a 30 day tracking cookie. Honestly, this is an uninspiring rate. If you can’t beat Amazon’s 4% base rate, you probably shouldn’t have an affiliate program in the first place. The good news is the promotional page for the Performance Bike Affiliate Program mentions rates up to 6%. There aren’t tiers or performance incentives to receive this higher rate. If you think your site is worthy to earn the better commission rate, you will need to email the affiliate manager. It’s at his discretion.

The current 3 month EPC (earnings per 100 clicks) is $16.94. The 7 day EPC is $21.65. These numbers aren’t horrible, but if I was going full force towards a project, I would like to earn more than 17 cents a click. CJ indicates the program has a 4 bar network earnings status. This indicates that a lot of volume passes through the program. 5 bars is the highest earnings level.

performance bicycle earnings

Sales volume is also at the 4 bar level in Avantlink. The AOV is an impressive $509.31. Unfortunately, the low commission rate means the average sale only earns a commission of $15. The conversion rate is listed at slightly over 2%. I would consider this pretty average for a program that isn’t laden with coupon and loyalty sites. Coupon and loyalty sites tend to skew conversion percentages higher since they represent the very end of the sales funnel.

 

performance bicycle numbers in avantlink

 

Who Manages The Program?

The program appears to be managed in-house on the surface. This is because the contact email is listed as affiliates@performanceinc.com. The reality is the listed affiliate manager, Brian Clark, works for an OPM called eAccountable based out of Colorado. When I emailed the contact address, I received a prompt reply from Jason Waring at eAccountable.

 

Company Background

Performance Bicycle was started in 1982. Home base is Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Catalog sales were the bread and butter back in the day, so migrating to ecommerce should have been a logical transition. They now operate more than 100 brick and mortar stores in over 20 states. Here is map of states with stores:

performance bicycle location map

I like the idea of maintaining a brick and mortar presence in combination with ecommerce for a product as finicky and expensive to ship as a bicycle. You can find more contact information here.

 

What Are Some Alternative Affiliate Programs?

  • Amazon stands out as the most logical alternative affiliate program. Their base rate is 4% and increases all the way to 8.5% with enough volume. I suspect Performance would counter by saying Amazon doesn’t have a brick and mortar presence and having a well assembled bike can make all the difference in the world. This is all true, but Amazon sure is cheap and their customer service sure is friendly and forgiving. Performance is also likely to sell bikes that Amazon does not stock.
  • Jenson USA is a more similar alternative. They offer a 5% base rate and tout an EPC over $80. This means the average affiliate is making almost 4x as much with the Jenson Affiliate Program.
  • Bikeparts.com pays referral partners 5% commissions using an in-house affiliate program.
  • Viglink – say you really like the Performance Bike program, but you don’t think the affiliate manager would see your vision and give you the higher 6% commission rate. You could always register for the program as a sub-affiliate under the Viglink umbrella. They are at the higher 6% rate. They offer a 75% / 25% split, meaning your actual rate is 4.5%. This is slightly lower than some competitors, but higher than the base Amazon rate at least. Also, Performance Bicycle has an established brand with over 100 brick and mortar stores. a 4.5% commission rate beats a 5% commission rate any day if the site converts better.

 

Two Tamrac Camera Bag Deals From Sears

Sears has two great deals on camera back today. The Tamrac Jazz 81 SLR backpack is $44.95 with free shipping. The deal is that you will earn $32.24 in Sears / Kmart points for later use.

 

tamrack camera backpack

 

This is a great bag for the price. In the picture it’s being used to hold 3 lenses, a DSLR body and a large flash.

spin_prod_884627612

 

The color choices probably aren’t what I would use if I was designing it from scratch, but they certainly aren’t bad. This definitely isn’t a hot pink camera bag that Sears is just trying to dump on the masses.

 

dslr backpack

 

The Sears price works out to be $44.95-$32.24=  $12.71 + tax for most people. How does this price compare? All but one other store I’ve found charges the same price as sears ($45) before the points are factored in. The only store I’ve found selling it for less is a new reseller on Amazon asking $30.49 after shipping. Overall, this appears to be a hell of a price if you will use the Shop Your Way Points.

 

dslr backpack

 

dslr backpack amazon

 

How Does This Price Compare To Similar Products?

I personally use the AmazonBasics SLR backpack. It is great quality and costs $29.99 shipped. Case Logic SLR backpacks cost even more at $49.99 and $69.99 respectively. Even compared to the low priced AmazonBasics deal, this offer from Sears for $13 after Shop Your Points is dirt cheap.

amazon slr backpacks

 

The second camera bag deal from Sears is even cheaper. You can buy the Tamrac Jazz 36 compact SLR camera bag for $25 and earn $21.24 in Shop Your Way Points for later use at Sears or Kmart. Sears is marking this deal as an Amazon price match. I’ve frequently seen Newegg and Amazon match each others’ price, but this is the first time I’ve seen Sears get into that game. Sears is fighting hard to offer the lowest costs on an assortment of items.

second camera bag

 

Here is what the second bag looks like.

spin_prod_884627812

 

Most merchants also charge $25 for this bag, so for just $4 after factoring in the Shop Your Way Points, this is a heck of a bargain.

tamrac 36 prices