The whole process of setting up an online business is not a sprint, it is a marathon. You will inevitably run into issues along the way, but the more you can educate yourself upfront, the better your chances are for success down the road. It is just as important to try and learn from the mistakes and pitfalls others have come across as it is to try and emulate the success of those doing well.
Along those lines, I wanted to be very open and share with you some issues and challenges that I ran into recently with my Forever Affiliate site #1. For site #1, I am promoting a particular product that I am passionate about and the product is a ClickBank product. If you’re not familiar with ClickBank, it is a huge online marketplace of affiliate products.
I will detail the specific issues I ran into, provide some lessons learned/actionable takeaways and also provide some recommendations based on my experiences.
Downside #1: Single ClickBank “Hoplink”
The initial downside that I ran into is that ClickBank, by default, only provides 1 link with which to promote the product of a particular vendor. They call that a Hoplink. Basically the vendor creates an all-inclusive “sales pitch page” on their own site and ClickBank provides you with an encrypted affiliate link to that page.
That is a “one size fits all page” and in most cases, anyone that promotes the vendor’s product would be taking customers to the same pitch page.
In my previous experience promoting affiliate products directly through a vendor’s in-house affiliate program, or through other affiliate product marketplaces, I was able to deep-link or provide links directly to specific products or promotional pages on a vendor’s site. ClickBank does not provide such options.
Specific vendors may attempt to provide custom links to things like a direct order page, but there is no guarantee they will work and ClickBank provides no support for and discourages vendors from doing so.
If you know that upfront, you are ahead of the game. Be sure to study and analyze the product pitch page before setting up your site. Be sure you are comfortable with the look and feel of the pitch page.
Try and put yourself in the shoes of the customer, would you want to buy the product from the pitch page after clicking through from your site? If so, great, if not, you probably want to try a different product/vendor.
Not having a good grasp of these limitations initially, I created my site with a ton of detail about the product and I am in effect “pre-selling” the customer on the product. By the time they get through my main post, if they were interested, they would be ready to place an order. I did not want them to have to scroll through pages of content on the pitch page to find the order button.
After speaking with the vendor about that, they did provide me with a link that would take the customer directly to the order page. I quickly checked out the link and saw my affiliate ID on the bottom of the final payment page when I tested it out, so I was assuming I was good to go. I found out more recently that was not the case.
The second issue I ran into was that the vendor used to offer a discounted version of their product via direct link on the top of their pitch page. That was something I spent a good deal of time and effort to promote and ended up ranking #1 and #2 on the first page of Google for the term “product name discount” recently.
The problem is that the vendor decided a few months ago that it was confusing the customer to have the discounted version with a few less features and they removed it from the pitch page completely.
Since I had spent all the time and effort to rank for the term, I immediately contacted the vendor to ask if there was any way I could continue to promote the discounted product. They said yes, but it was only available via a direct link on their site, it was not linked to in on any other pages and they didn’t know how I could promote the product and still get credit for the sale.
After scouring online forums and posting a few questions, I did get an answer. There was a way, but again there were no guarantees and it was an unsupported method. The way to do so was to format a link in this way: http://PRODUCTID.VENDORID_AFFILIATEID.pay.clickbank.net
I got the relevant details by viewing the page source on the order page for the discounted product. In order to get credit for the sale, the customer will need to order the product right away. That method does not set the typical ClickBank 60 day cookie, which would normally give you credit for a sale anytime within 60 days of when they click on your main link.
I was ok with that. Since the discounted version was no longer available (except via direct link that almost no one knew existed) I figured that was enough of a differentiating factor to drive more traffic to my site since I’m ranking #1 and #2 for “product name discount”. None of the other sites ranking for that term on either page 1 or 2 of Google were actually providing a discount. They were all false advertising.
I was getting excited, I felt as if sales were about to start to take off for that reason.
Fast forward to a week ago and I found out I have not been getting credit for clicks for at least the last 30 days for either the direct order link or the discounted product link. The way I figured that out is that I utilize the Pretty Link Lite plugin, which makes the long ugly affiliate links into friendly looking links.
The plugin also tracks the number of hits you receive for your various affiliate links. I realized I was not getting credit for the clicks when Pretty Link Lite showed 50-100+ clicks over the last month and my ClickBank stats did not record ANY clicks over the last 30 days.
The issue with the custom link to the order page, that was provided by the vendor, is that it just wasn’t properly tracking my affiliate ID and giving credit for a sale. I’m not sure if it was working initially or not now. My guess is that it probably was not working.
It is possible I just happened to have one of the 60 day ClickBank cookies set from testing my links previously and did not clear my cookies prior to testing the link out. I really thought I did clear my browser cookies first, but I can’t be sure.
In addition, my direct link to the product discount page now resulted in a message indicating the discounted version of the product was no longer available. I contacted the vendor and they confirmed that they did away with the discounted version of the product all together, as they felt it was diluting the brand and they actually decided to increase the price of their regular product on their main pitch page as well.
They did feel bad that I spent all that time and effort to rank for “product name discount” and the actual owner of the company contacted me back and offered to do a personalized video just for my site. That was a nice gesture and that is something I may take him up on soon, but it still was quite frustrating.
The moral of the story here is do not get fancy with ClickBank links. Utilize the main link that ClickBank provides and be done with it.
If the vendor is far more savvy and does have a mechanism for providing a primary link, a link to an order page and another link to a product trial for instance, you can have a bit more confidence that they may work reliably, but even still, there are no guarantees. I do promote one product where a ClickBank vendor has a mechanism for providing multiple links and they work, so not all vendors are created equal.
Be sure to check out the product pitch page very closely BEFORE you setup your site. If you don’t think the pitch page will result in sales, do not choose that product. If you like the pitch page/product, design your site content with the product pitch page in mind. You want to strike a balance between providing enough content to give the customer the information they were looking for, without duplicating everything already stated on the pitch page.
Make sure you test all of your links fully at regular intervals. That includes clearing browser cookies after testing each link. This may have helped me avoid the problem with the vendor provided link to the order page not tracking my affiliate ID, but I can’t be certain. I thought I cleared my cookies at the time when I tested the links, because I was aware of that issue. However, since I did not keep records of my testing, I am not sure. It would be best if you also keep a detailed record of your testing efforts as well.
That was a huge let down initially, as I’d spent all that time and effort to rank for “product name discount” only to have the rug pulled out from under me. I also have no way to know many sales I may have missed out on as a result of the both custom links not working.
However, after a day or so I was over it and began to look on the bright side. I learned how to get to the top of Google for a particular keyword phrase. I now have an “in” with the owner of the company/product. And now that I am only utilizing the 1 provided Hoplink, I can rest easier knowing that the link should continue to work without further manual intervention down the road.
However, that last one will not lull me into a false sense of security. I will certainly still test my links and stats on at least a monthly basis and will also be sure to check out the product pitch page to keep up with any changes the vendor makes from time to time. That vendor makes changes very often, so I’ll have to stay on top of that for sure.
Downside #2: Unfriendly ClickBank Payout Policy
Another rather large downside of ClickBank, in my opinion, is their unfriendly payout policy. This is particularly painful for beginning affiliate marketers, struggling for that first sale/payout.
There are several key factors:
- ClickBank requires a minimum of 5 sales before a payout will occur.
- ClickBank requires a minimum of 2 different payment methods, irregardless of the number of sales.
- ClickBank has a dormant account fee which kicks in 90 days after a sale. If you do not have any further sales for 90 days, your account balance begins to go down $1 per pay period. After 180 days your balance goes down $5 per pay period and after a year it goes down $50 per pay period. A pay period is either 1 or 2 weeks depending on your payment method and preference.
I think you can clearly see how those policies are very restrictive to those just starting out. Typically when starting out, it will take a while to get your first affiliate sale and when you do, the subsequent sales may also take some time. It can be quite a while before you gain the momentum of regularly recurring sales.
Additionally, if you happened to get say 10 sales, but for whatever reason they all paid with PayPal, you still would not qualify for a payout since you’d need to receive payment in at least one other form like a Visa or MasterCard.
I was not aware of this payment policy when I signed up for ClickBank and I have personally experienced the negative effects of this policy first hand and could very well experience it again soon. When I started with my online adventures almost 3 years ago, I had 1 sale of a WordPress plugin a few months after signing up for ClickBank and I was super excited, it was my first affiliate sale ever and it felt great! You’ll never forget that first sale.
Unfortunately, a few months later I noticed that my account balance had been decreasing by $1 each week and I had no idea why! After searching around for a bit I found out about the dormant account fee and I was helpless to do anything about it, other than to try my best to get additional sales. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to make an additional sale and my balance went to $0. That was truly heartbreaking and I lost a lot of forward momentum at that time.
I had one other sale about a year later for the same product, but that resulted in a return. Within the last few weeks I had one additional sale of that plugin and could run into that issue again.
Update on 10/28/2013: I found a clever way around the dormant account fees and a way to get some quick/inexpensive sales. Check out my post entitled “Stop Losing Affiliate Commissions With ClickBank” and the free “ClickBank for Newbies eBook” for full details.
I don’t want to point out only the negatives, there are several positives to ClickBank. They have one of the largest online marketplaces of products to promote, they usually require no additional approval to promote the individual products themselves once your main account is approved and they also have a great search function to filter down the potential products based on certain criteria. For those reasons, it is a very enticing place to go searching for products.
My recommendation would be to search out products with their own in-house affiliate programs initially. Most of my successful affiliate sales and payouts have come from products that have their own affiliate programs. None of those products have any minimum sales requirements or multiple payment method requirements, many allow for custom/deep linking to specific sub-products or promotional pages and all have processed and sent out payments in a timely manner. That is usually 60-90 days after a sale has occurred.
Andrew Hansen mentions in the Forever Affiliate program multiple different methods for finding the right affiliate products to promote, including lesser known tips and tricks for how to find products that specifically have their own in-house affiliate programs by utilizing specific search terms that aren’t common knowledge. That is where I would recommend focusing your efforts initially.
However, if you are coming across some great products to promote and the only option is ClickBank, that is fine too. A few weeks after I published this post, I can across a way to get past their restrictive payout policy. Check out the full details in my post entitled “Stop Losing Affiliate Commissions With ClickBank” and the free eBook “Clickbank for Newbies”.
If you have any experiences, either Pro or Con in relation to ClickBank, other affiliate marketplaces or affiliate marketing in general, I’d appreciate it if you could add to the discussion in the comments below. Thanks ahead of time and, I hope you found this post helpful!!