In this episode of Domain Magnate, Michael Bereslavsky speaks with Jesse Lakes (CEO of Geniuslink) about Amazon affiliate marketing, how to optimize affiliate links for conversions in as many countries as possible, and how to avoid getting in trouble with Amazon Associates.
As the former Global Product Manager for the iTunes Affiliate Program at Apple, and consultant to the Microsoft Store Affiliate Program, Geniuslink CEO Jesse Lakes has focused the last few years on helping Amazon affiliates monetize their global audience. He’s also seen, and learned first hand, the hard lessons about staying in compliance of Amazon’s stringent operating agreement.
SKIP TO THE GOOD PARTS:
- 0:52-1:59 What Geniuslink is and what it does
- 3:00 – 4:20 Genuislink’s funding situation and profitability
- 5:32 – 8:32 Other Genuislink use cases aside from Amazon
- 11:11 – 15:09 Areas where Jesse is seeing Amazon cutting commissions
- 15:09 – 19:14 How Geniuslink differs from OneLink
- 23:06 – 33:25 Some of the main reasons that people get in trouble with Amazon Associates
- 33:35 – 35:21 How to get out of trouble with Amazon Associates
Michael Bereslavsky 0:13 Hello there podcast listeners and viewers. In this episode, we have Jesse Lakes from Genuislink. Hi, Jesse.
Jesse Lakes 0:21 How’s it going?
Michael Bereslavsky 0:22 It’s good, good. So I think we chatted before once or twice, at least over emails, maybe over a call before as well. And we’ve been using Geniuslink for quite a while ourselves for for our portfolio site. I think for maybe a few years. We found it quite useful. But for those listeners who might not know what it is, can you tell us briefly; what’s Geniuslink? What does it do? And how do you start?
Jesse Lakes 0:52 Absolutely. We’re a link management tool specifically built around affiliate and in particular affiliate, large ecosystems that are what we call geo-fragmented. Amazon is the perfect example where Amazon has spent billions of dollars building out different storefronts all around the world. There’s now 20 different Amazon storefronts. And each of those storefronts have their own independent affiliate program, so amazon.com, everyone’s familiar with that. They do a great job for everyone to us, they can also ship internationally. But if you’re based in Germany, or the UK or Japan, it’s probably better to buy from amazon.de or amazon.co.uk, or amazon.co.jp. Because each of those storefronts have a local storefront, where the currency’s specific, the language is specific the shipping is fast and affordable. So genius link takes one link and works just across the board to use all the different storefronts, all the different affiliate programs, etc. Amazon’s one ecosystem we support we also support a growing number of other affiliate ecosystems as well. But at the end of the day it’s a link management tool to maximize your Amazon affiliate revenues and maximize affiliate revenues in general.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:59 And how big is it right now? Like how, how many clients do you have using it? Or how big is your team managing it?
Jesse Lakes 2:07 Yeah, so Geniuslink is the core technology, we have three different platforms, we have our book linker platform, which is specifically for authors. There’s about 15,000 independent authors on that platform. We’ve got the Geniuslink, or the kit platform. kit.co is a is a property we bought almost a year and a half ago, a little over a year and a half ago. It’s specifically for creators to share products that they know and love. That platform is about to hit half a million users. And the core Geniuslink platform we it’s about 11,000 users there as well. So yeah, lots lots of different properties, lots of different users using us for different use cases. But we support many, many, many over across those different platforms.
Michael Bereslavsky 2:54 Cool, and have you guys taken any funding, investors when you start this was just self funded.
Jesse Lakes 3:00 It’s been self funded. We’re very much in the bootstrap path. We we started nearly a decade ago, I said it kind of to the side. It’s been a couple years at Apple. But yeah, in early 2012, started hitting it hard full time. And we’ve been growing it organically ever since. It’s been a wild ride. And anyone that knows the bootstrap adventure, I guess VC Connect could probably say the same, but it’s, you live and die by that P&L statement which really forces you to make some smart decisions. And we’ve really optimized for the long term. And we’ve been, we’ve been lucky.
Michael Bereslavsky 3:34 And so are you profitable? How, how long did it take to become profitable when you started.
Jesse Lakes 3:40 It ebbs and flows, we will go from focusing on growth to focusing on profit to focusing on growth. It’s just kind of that cyclical thing. Yeah, that being said, again, because we are bootstrapped. We’ve been more profitable than not. But yeah, this this last time around. 2020 was a horrible year for so many reasons. But it was a really good year for ecommerce, because of being tangential to ecommerce and being focused on affiliate Amazon in particular, we saw some some crazy growth, which has been awesome. So I think we’re gonna be hiring three people in the next couple months. So yeah, it’s back to that good side of growth and the revenue supports it.
Michael Bereslavsky 4:20 Absolutely. 2020 was just amazing for ecommerce cause suddenly everyone is buying online. And yeah, and everything is just going online.
Jesse Lakes 4:30 Yeah. We’ll see what happens.
Michael Bereslavsky 4:32 So how many, how big is your team now? How many employees work for Geniuslink?
Jesse Lakes 4:37 Yeah, we’re 12 people right now. Twelve full time, mostly based out of Seattle or near proximity to Seattle. We went to full remote a little over a year ago. We also have a couple people in Montana, in western Montana, which is where my co-founder and I grew up, and have a pretty big network there. So yeah, it’s primarily those two geographic areas, but yeah, we’re finding that people are traveling more work. And we’ve got some team members that are about to move as well. So we’re slowly starting to distribute across the US.
Michael Bereslavsky 5:11 That’s great. So for Geniuslinks, so we ourselves, we use it mostly for Amazon affiliate sites. And we kind of looked into implementing it for other affiliate sites, affiliate programs. But that seems a bit complicated. So do most of your users just use it for Amazon or other some other popular use cases?
Jesse Lakes 5:32 Yeah, so we originally built out for the iTunes ecosystem back when it was iTunes, which is now your Apple Services, we have Apple Books, Apple Music, etc. So we definitely still support a number of clients kind of in the music space, you know, supporting music, space, through affiliate, etc. Amazon was the next ecosystem. Amazon’s obviously, it’s the largest affiliate program that we know of now, a million plus publishers, it’s also one where the use case is very, very strong. But we’re finding that a lot of clients will come to us for the things we can do for Amazon’s ecosystem. But one of those optimizations not only is to make sure that links work around the world, taking advantage those 20, different storefronts, 19 different affiliate programs, we’re finding that Amazon is a it’s a massive ecosystem, it’s a great ecosystem. It’s a it’s an affiliate program, once you start with, but at the end of the day, you only use an Amazon is it’s really akin to putting all your eggs in one basket, it’s a very fast and efficient, but it’s also very risky as well, Amazon, again, because they have a massive user base, they they’ve had to make some hard decisions. And one of those is around affiliate commission rates, we continue to see them cut affiliate commission rates. Thankfully, we’re most of the way through April, we haven’t seen a big cut. But three out of the last four years, there’s been pretty significant Amazon affiliate commission cuts. On top of that their compliance team, again, they have to deal with, you know, millions of publishers, they’re pretty strict. Now fortunately, once you kind of get on the bad side of Amazon compliance, it’s really hard to come back, I don’t know if you find that yourself where you get that dreaded email. And it’s really hard to kind of get back on their good side, get back to having your affiliate program open. So we’re finding is that again, while Amazon is a great place to start, and a lot of our clients are using us specifically for Amazon, we found that we have what we called choice pages. And it’s really kind of adopting that whole multi retailer strategy where an Amazon button may go first, but may include different other retailers as well, we’re finding that that actually can do a significant boost in your conversion rates and your commission rates more from Amazon to the others, but also helps to start to diversify as well. So if you have a button to if you’re promoting a consumer electronics product, and you have a button to Best Buy, or Walmart or or eBay or target, whatever it may be that selling that same product, you get more clicks. But you also get more sales on iTunes, or sorry, on Amazon, but you’re getting subsequent sales as well on those other retailers which nets out to on average, we’re seeing about double EPC and double the conversion rate. That being said that those tests have been primarily focused towards our clients in the YouTube and social media space, and less on the website side. That means that we do have a use case, we actually have a case study we just published not too long ago specifically about a website owner that also saw a pretty significant boost from adopting that kind of multi retailer strategy. So long story short, Amazon’s a great place to start with Geniuslink. There are other opportunities, we continue to optimize the opportunities to help our clients optimize their affiliate revenue.
Michael Bereslavsky 8:32 Yeah, and you mentioned that that Amazon dropping commission’s over past two years, of course, which is which has been a major, major thing in the industry, do you do you think they plan to continue dropping them like this year or maybe next year?
Jesse Lakes 8:46 It’s a great question. We continue to see them to experiment. And I think most of those experiments include cuts where, where possible. The big change we saw this year is that Amazon Europe, which uses a slightly different model than amazon.com, they expanded their tests significantly, their test is this whole it’s got a specific term, which I’m spacing at the moment, it’s like qualified versus non qualified purchases and a qualified purchases when you send someone directly to a landing page, and you get a higher commission rate if they buy a product that’s related to that product details. Or sorry, that product you link to, if you send someone to a search results page, or if you send them to say a TV, but they buy a toaster, those are different categories, and therefore you’ll get a much smaller commission rate. So maybe get 10% if you’re sending them directly at TV and they bought the TV, but you’re gonna get like 1% if they buy a toaster or if you like send him to a search page. So that qualified versus non qualified was expanded again, it’s it’s kind of an experiment they’re doing there, as I understand it. On the amazon.com side, yeah, we saw those massive cuts last April, it was thinking average is 60% across 1/3 of the categories if I remembering correctly. So again, it was it was a pretty broad, broad cut and you know, just as the pandemic was starting to kick off and demand was at its highest was a bit of a bummer. That being said, as I understand it, the associates team that the people in charge of the affiliate program don’t actually set the commission rates. It’s the product team leads for the different categories that set the commission rates and they do that based off of what their margin is, etc. So that’s why you tend to see where fashion will typically pay the highest fashion products typically have one of the highest margins they can afford to pay a higher commission rates. Video Game console’s I think are like 1%. That’s one of the smallest commission rates now video game consoles, it’s, it’s a pretty tight industry. Yeah, the PS five and Xbox were sold out at launch. Almost immediately, there’s not much demand, there’s not much reason that they need to spur demand as those products are already selling out as a result, the commission rates are much lower. So back to your question, do I? Do I see them cutting rates again? Yeah. Do I see the raising rates in certain categories? Yeah. It’s an experiment, they’re looking to optimize they, they optimize very differently than, say, Walmart or some of these other programs are optimizing. But I definitely think we’ll see more commission rates in the or commission rate cuts in the future. But hopefully, there’ll be some incentives in other places as well to help balance things out.
Michael Bereslavsky 11:11 So based on that, do you think there are some specific categories where we might see continued commission drops like home beauty, or anything like that, or some categories where they might stay stable or even go up?
Jesse Lakes 11:26 Great question. I specific categories I’m not qualified to say I do track them on a spreadsheet. But that’s, uh, that’s about as deep as I go in the specific categories. I think it’s, it’s really where, where are you seeing Amazon trying to focus right, Amazon has really been trying to trying to make a name for itself and beauty. So I think that’s an area where commission rates will probably stay pretty high. Or if there’s a cut, it’ll be a more minor cut. Areas where Amazon already kind of dominates, which is a lot of different areas.
Michael Bereslavsky 11:58 Electronics.
Jesse Lakes 11:59 Yeah, that may be a place where commission rates are more susceptible to being cut. Electronic though, it kind of goes back and forth your finding some some consumer electronics stores especially, especially like we’re seeing photography, in particular photography, there are a number of retailers that are super niche and photography can get really detailed, where you where you’re talking to someone that really knows what they’re doing can really helped with this purchasing decision. So B&H photo video is a specialty retailer, based out of New York that is doing incredibly well, because they’re incredibly knowledgeable. But Amazon is the everything store, it’s really unlikely that you can contact customer support, and they can tell you, you know, this f stop versus that f stop and the size of the lens versus another size and if it will work in certain lighting conditions. That just doesn’t happen with Amazon. But B&H, that’s, that’s no problem at all. So we’re seeing that some of the specialty retailers – which again, goes back to this whole multi retailer, you know, choice page experiment worked out so well. But these these specialty retailers seem to have A the brand equity, but also the expertise, which is something Amazon doesn’t. Peer reviews can go only so far. Manufacturer right ups come and go so far, you kind of need that expertise in the selling process for some categories. So anyway, I’ve got off on a tangent there. But um, yeah, TBD, I don’t think any category is truly safe. Yeah, there’s always a possibility that can be cut. But you know, at the end of the day, for me, at least you find categories that you’re passionate about, and you don’t hate staring at you know, something that matches some some interest. So you can really, honestly be passionate about the, the sights and properties that you own or manage.
And do you see any interesting data based on your customers from, from Geniuslink? In terms of what what categories are most affiliates most publishers pursuing? What type of products are they mostly promoting?
It’s kind of…I’m forgetting the exact term here. But we have a bias to some degree. We have clients that kind of, yeah, we call them creators, and they spend the whole gamut, right, we’ve got the musicians, we’ve got the authors. Yeah, we’ve got lots of young people that seem to be in your tribe, if you’re buying and selling websites, your authority and niche websites, we’ve also got a large group of social media influencers as well a lot of YouTubers will use our technology to set up affiliate links inside YouTube, you know, dropping links into their, their descriptions, etc. our links across, you know, Twitter, Facebook as well. So, what we see a lot of is photography, consumer electronics, the unboxing on those those areas, you know, we we had a pretty good connection with with those types of publishers, premium publishers as well, but also kind of the niche and authority sites. And then on the YouTube side, that was that was kind of our beachhead. That’s where we kind of focused on initially to do our biz dev efforts in the last handful of years. As a result, we’ve really kind of snowballed there so they’re kind of across the board. We see obviously books because we have the the bookmaker property, as well as huge consumer electronics photography is also big. But then it’s kind of that mid body and long tail are all about the same thing. As we see traffic coming through essentially every other category, as far as what’s more possible or not the I, we don’t have the data on that specifically.
Michael Bereslavsky 15:09 That’s fair enough. And so how does Geniuslink actually help people who use one link already doing? Do they get any benefit from from setting up Geniuslink? Because they can, you can already connect all the different countries on Amazon through OneLink, right?
Jesse Lakes 15:25 Yes, OneLink is, you know, definitely a competitor of ours, one link operates in seven of the ecosystems, right. So US, it has to be amazon.com or short amazon.com link to work with one link. But then that will be translated for US, or sorry, I, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Japan. So there’s seven different ecosystems that it converts in, again, Amazon is now up to 20 different storefronts, 19 different public affiliate programs, Amazon Turkey is the only one that doesn’t have a public affiliate program. And Geniuslink supports all of those. So if you have a lot of traffic coming from Australia, you know, OneLink isn’t a solution there. If you have a lot of traffic coming from Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil, those are all countries, India, those are all countries that one link doesn’t support Geniuslink does. On the flip side, too. If you’re not starting with amazon.com links, then one link won’t work for you. Genius link will support any amazon link to start off with. So if you have a website that was amazon.co.uk links to start off with that we can absolutely support you. If you have amazon.de links to start with, we can absolutely support you as well. On top of that, we talked about how Amazon Europe is now paying lesser commissions for going to search pages. One link does an okay job in the accuracy department finding the right product, but they tend to default to searches more often. So in Europe, in particular, one link may actually be causing you to have lower commission rates because it’s sending you to searches which the non qualified purchase versus our accuracy is something that we we pay a lot of attention to, we’ve got multiple blog posts that have compared the accuracy, we run tests on a fairly regular basis. But we’re finding the correct product more often we’re going to the product details page more often as a result, your commission rate should be higher. We also provide what we call Amazon link health report. So we’ll let you know specifically when a product is out of stock or that link no longer works. So if you’ve got a website with the thousands of links, you’re not going through and clicking on those links. If you are you’re actually technically violating the Amazon operating agreement. But we can actually as you click through, we have to check Amazon’s API to make sure we can do the translation correctly. Therefore, we are able to check on the availability and so forth so we can alert those to you so we can help you optimize areas where where your links may be broken. Finally, not finally, I think there’s probably half a dozen different reasons. But one of the other major ones is our links are also tunable. So if we if, say you have an amazon.com link, a good chunk of your traffic is coming from the UK. And our translation isn’t working well for the UK for some reason, you can actually go and you can override that. And you can specifically say okay, for the UK, I want to go to this specific product. And for Germany, this specific product, so where we aren’t able to match, you’re able to jump in and really kind of optimize that link. So for the if it’s classic 80/20 rule where 20% your links are responsible for 80% your Commission’s it’s probably worth going through and optimizing those 20% your links and really kind of tuning them in, which again, OneLink doesn’t allow, it’s kind of on or off, which we think is a little ridiculous, you know, product matching will never be perfect. I think we’re the best in the industry, but we still also admit that it can be better and give you the tools to make it better.
Michael Bereslavsky 18:43 Okay, sounds good. So basically, Geniuslink provides more flexibility and connection to more and more countries to more locations. I think also maybe OneLink is only available for like one website so we have many different websites and Amazon in the same account. And like you can only use one link for like one main website and you cannot really redirect like the other IDs to your other affiliate IDs so that you can track all the other websites so that only through you can do only through Geniuslike right?
Jesse Lakes 19:14 Exactly we have the whole concept of groups overrides and you’re absolutely right as I understand it, you can use lots of different amazon.com tracking IDs but as they get translated and localized the other countries that only go to a single one so you lose that granularity for all your international sales where now you can absolutely set that up and genius thing to make sure that one group is this collection of tracking IDs in this group and other digital properties this collection tracking IDs etc.
Michael Bereslavsky 19:38 And so what other affiliate programs, affiliate networks to see people using in Geniuslink. What would be like second or third to Amazon?
Jesse Lakes 19:48 So we’ve it’s really kind of category specific, right so in the music space, obviously, you know, Amazon and Apple Music are the contenders. In the book space, you know by ennoble a little bit early Apple books is continuing to do pretty well there. In the consumer electronics, B&H photo video and Moment are doing really well. So inside of the consumer electronics, Walmart is showing up pretty regularly best by showing up pretty regularly. Best Buy’s affiliate program is not great. But again, if you’re just kind of using that to help optimize your Amazon commissions it works out well. But Amazon, and this is kind of unfortunate Amazon’s affiliate program is good, it’s it’s really solid. It converts well. Obviously Amazon’s got a huge product catalog, people trust Amazon. So most clicks still go to Amazon. It’s the idea of using these other affiliate programs to kind of allow your consumer to do some, some due diligence, some research as they buy, but they tend to tend to buy on Amazon as well. So these other affiliate programs, as much as we’d love to see them offer more competitive rates, or longer cookie, windows, etc, to really kind of give Amazon a run for their money, they do a decent job, but it’s not as great. So there’s no one specific affiliate program that we’re really recommending over Amazon, it’s just really recommending them in conjunction with Amazon.
Michael Bereslavsky 21:06 Are there some other affiliate networks, but that you’re seeing quite popular, like Commission Junction, LinkShare that people use it a lot?
Jesse Lakes 21:14 So I’m probably pissing off some people by saying this. But I feel like the affiliate network is no longer as important as it used to be. It’s the affiliate programs that they support. I’m going to use the Walmart affiliate program, whether it’s on Rakuten, or Impact, and they recently made a switch. Microsoft has jumped between, I think four different affiliate networks in the last five years. So I don’t care about what affiliate network, I care about working with with Microsoft. There are some affiliate networks that seem to really be kind of pushing the envelope. Yeah, it’s really impressive to see what Awin has done. Impact has made these recent acquisitions of Trackonomics and Fluent, which I think is really interesting. Partnerize eyes have always been a big fan of their executive team. But on the flip side, you know, again, CJ, great people that work there, some really smart people, but I don’t see a ton of innovation coming from the platform, Rakuten AKA LinkShare again, great people that work that they do a great job, they’ve they’ve really kind of done an awesome job kind of capturing the beauty market. But their their dashboard is the same dashboard that I started building affiliate links with 20 years ago. I don’t see a ton of innovation on that side as well. So, again, I think most publishers care about the affiliate programs, in particular, the affiliate network is kind of a secondary thing. That being said, I think they realize that and they’re trying to level up.
Michael Bereslavsky 22:37 Yeah, that’s a good point. I definitely agree about focusing more on the affiliate on the programs on the specific brands rather than the networks. And so you mentioned a little bit about Amazon. The ban or the different compliance issues. What are some of the main reasons you see that people get in trouble with Amazon, with Amazon Associates?
Jesse Lakes 23:06 This one’s this one’s unfortunate, thankfully, I think we’ve got it better under control. But unfortunately, Amazon Associates team was testing all their links from a foreign IP. So when people were using OneLink, or using Geniuslink but testing for a certain program, so let’s say they’re based in India, but they’re testing to see if there’s someone who’s, you know, comply with the Amazon UK program, will when they click those links from India, for us at least we would we would translate to amazon.in OneLink would, I’m not sure where they’re, I think they maybe go to Japan, maybe it’s whatever, they have this whole nearest neighbors thing. But the result is that Yeah, they would be looking for your amazon.co.uk affiliate tracking IDs, but because the link resolve due to the you know, geo targeting, it would go to a different program, and they would kick you out of the program, because that you weren’t obviously using that affiliate program, which is asinine you are they’re just testing it in the wrong way. So that was kind of a big issue.
Michael Bereslavsky 24:05 Can you explain it again, I’m a little confused. So that means people are like testing their own links on their own websites to see…
Jesse Lakes 24:12 Amazon compliance team was testing. Yeah, you get three sales and you and your site gets triggered for review. And as they’re reviewing your site, they need to make sure that those links work. And as part of those links working, finding those public links, they’ll they’ll they’ll click on them and some of this is automated some of its by human as I understand it, but where they are from or what VPN they’re using when they check those links is really important. If you’re trying to check that amazon.co.uk link works, you need to check it from a UK address, UK IP address, or else it may resolve for different countries. So if you’re looking for a UK link, and it resolves as a US link or “.in” link, then you obviously are not going to see that the UK tracking ID been associated with it as a result. They were kicking people out of the affiliate program for that which was 100% their fault for not testing in the right spot. So I think we’ve resolved we work, thankfully work closely with the compliance team to kind of get around these issues that kind of affect the whole thing. So that was one that’s again, not something that your listeners can specifically influence. But if they’ve ever ran into that, where they got a note from Amazon saying, Yeah, hey, yeah, we see that you’re not using your your Amazon UK affiliate tracking IDs? Well, you just need to reply and say, yeah, yeah, make sure you test my links from a UK IP, and you’ll see it but things that are directly applicable to your audience probably in line with making sure that you disclose, put your disclosures there not only for the FDC, but for Amazon. So you have to top the page mentioning that you’re the there’s paid links affiliate link isn’t isn’t enough of a disclosure for FDC, just making sure that your readers are aware that there there are affiliate, there is a paid relationship where you can earn commission’s if they click and buy from those links, that’s, that’s a pretty big one. If you’re putting links on social media, you need to disclose where the destination is. So if you’re not using something like a choice page, you know, just saying Amazon in your proximity to the link, or hashtag ad is important. What else is important, don’t put your affiliate links in email. By default, Amazon doesn’t allow affiliate links in email any offline manner. So PDFs also are not allowed there. Where else do people get in trouble?
Michael Bereslavsky 26:34 What about things like if you don’t put all your websites and in your profile in Amazon. Is that something that you’ve seen people get their accounts closed?
Colton Moffitt 26:39 Absolutely, that’s something we actually strongly encourage people to review is the websites ebb and flow. What websites they spin up or maybe they sell. Making sure that they disclose that in there Associate Central Dashboard. There’s their website and mobile app list. Now, most of us are just dealing with websites, or social media channels. But making sure you drop those in, there’s absolutely that’s so important.
Michael Bereslavsky 27:04 So it’s important to update your list of websites, like let’s say you’re buying your site or building your site, you should edit right away?
Jesse Lakes 27:11 Exactly. Absolutely. Amazon is really keen…shopper trust is really important to them, making sure that people come into the Amazon store and can kind of trust that the recommendation and they’re coming into and just being open, open to be able to buy, they feel that that shopper trust starts from where the link is placed. So there’s a lot of eyes a lot of pressure on making sure these websites are compliant. If they can’t find the website that sent the traffic, that’s a big check mark against that shopper trust being there. So again, making it easy for Amazon, to know where your affiliate links are coming from know where your affiliate traffic is coming from being comfortable with it, the traffic that you send, those are all really important for for Amazon, and therefore, you know, it’s on the Amazon compliance team to ensure that that it’s in good regards.
Michael Bereslavsky 27:58 And what about like sharing your Amazon associate account a third party? We’ve had some we’ve heard some discussions about that last year that some some accounts get close for that?
Colton Moffitt 28:10 Yeah, exactly. Um, operating agreement, Amazon’s opera gaming in there, somewhere says that all the all the information they share with you is is confidential and should not be shared with third parties. So yeah, it’s um, there is that whole ability to set up secondary users to be able to log in, but that should be individuals, not other companies. I know that that was a very useful thing for your due diligence, when you’re buying and selling websites, we used to pull reporting for our clients using that same mechanism. And we’ve been asked to stop doing that. And obviously, some of these due diligence, brokers and so forth, got in trouble for that as well. So it’s, it’s complicated, right? Yeah. Buying and selling websites, you need to be transparent. Yeah, it’s easy to be transparent by giving them access to look directly into your account. But when when that kind of goes to an Amazon doesn’t like that process, it definitely creates some some friction. So So yeah, I don’t have an ideal solution around that. But yeah, you’re absolutely right, that you need to be careful about who you allow into your into your Associate Central Account.
Michael Bereslavsky 29:14 And what about having your team members access to your account? Is that something you’ve seen that could be an issue or not really?
Jesse Lakes 29:20 No. Team members no. Individuals yeah, not an issue. From what I’ve seen, but again, false positives, unfortunately, are more common than we’d like to like to see from Amazon’s Compliance Team.
Michael Bereslavsky 29:34 Okay. So say if you like share access to a bunch of a marketplace or a brokerage, or like a company that that reviews it that that could be potentially problematic, then?
Jesse Lakes 29:44 If you do it, it’s done on a short time period, and then you close that afterwards, right? They access for 24-48 hours, probably less of an issue where if you set them up and leave them on for two or three months.
Michael Bereslavsky 29:58 That’s fair enough, and also we’ve seen some important compliance issues about like images the way you use Amazon images where you link to them, like the, I think people live in got, like accounts closed for using like the same star ratings, things like that yeah?
Jesse Lakes 30:14 Absolutely. Yeah, the star ratings, um, unless you’re pulling them directly from the API are not allowed reviews, I believe are also not allowed unless you point directly from the API, which is tools. Yeah, ama links pro a WP, they’ve done a really good job about making sure that they’re, they’re compliant in those and really kind of, you know, thumbs up aplaud with they’ve, they’ve done images, you’re absolutely right, another another issue where if you just take directly from the website, you’re not in compliance, you need to make sure you’re using Amazon’s API to pull that. Same with pricing information. Just doing a static copy of what today’s prices is, is not good, again, goes back that whole consumer trust, you know, Amazon really wants that that whole flow of trust coming through. So if you have something that’s outdated for reviews, and for star ratings, and for price, those are all big check marks against you for that Amazon trust kind of flowing through. So if it’s if they’re all up to date, you know, you’re using the API, and it’s I think, 24 hour window that they give you. That’s That’s fine. We Amazon completely understands that information can be really helpful for driving traffic into their stores. So they make it available for your other product advertising API. But again, it needs to be dynamically pulled, don’t, don’t statically copy that information, because that’s just asking to get in trouble.
Michael Bereslavsky 31:27 Can you sell on Amazon Associates Account? What’s the official policy on that? Like if you sell a business…
Jesse Lakes 31:34 I don’t believe you’re allowed to sell and Amazon Associates Account. The policy that I understand. And this is again, I’m not an expert here. But as I understand it, the buyer needs to spin up their own associates account, and then swap out the the tracking IDs on the property where they exist. So if you’re selling me a website, you have your associates account, I’m going to spin up my own associates account, when you transfer that website to me, I need to take out your tag equals michael-20 and swap and jesse-20.
Michael Bereslavsky 32:02 Sounds good. And do you think like Amazon Associates accounts that have more more age, more, more revenues, they are like less likely to get in trouble because of compliance issues versus like a new account. Does age matter?
Jesse Lakes 32:20 Not really, um, yeah, there’s, again, when you set up a new account, you have 180 days to make three sales. Once you’ve made those three sales, you trigger the account review. After you’ve done the account review, I would say that website is probably just as susceptible to a or sorry that associates account is probably just as susceptible as an associates account that’s been alive for a decade. So it’s really just that first, first short term hurdle that you got to get through to have a difference. But we’ve seen clients that have been associates for many, many, many years, still get in trouble for something stupid. And usually, thankfully, it’s often maybe slightly easier, because they have that track history of of getting that reversed. If it’s a brand new associates account, and then something goes wrong, that’s probably gonna be more of a challenge to kind of get get fixed. But I guess the one possible benefit of a longer associates account is that you have a track history there. But besides that, I think that the the chance of getting in trouble is probably the same.
Michael Bereslavsky 33:25 Fair enough. And if you do get in trouble, what’s what’s the best way to actually apply what they recommend to our listeners who might have gotten their accounts suspended?
Jesse Lakes 33:36 Don’t get in trouble, first of all, but yeah, that’s Yeah, sometimes easier said than done. Just being very, very quick in those responses, I think. Yeah, typically, there’s there’s kind of three different levels of account closure. The first one is, they’ll ask you for information, there’s kind of a checklist of things they asked you for, they ask you respond within five days, just being on it, making sure you get that information and pass it back within the five days. That’s important. The next one is kind of like the soft clothes. And sometimes Yeah, you can, you can reply back and your current bottle, those, you’re talking to the Associate Central Help, can can also be there. So inside the Amazon Associates dashboard, there’s a way to contact them. I think there’s phone, email, and live chat. Definitely, you know, if you if you get in trouble, you’re rebuddling back giving all the information, then just kind of following up can be helpful. Typically, in kind of those the soft closes, they’ll close your account, but you’re allowed to reapply once those issues have been fixed. So that that can often be a recourse as well. And then there’s kind of the heart account where you’ve really pissed him off, you’ve done something and then there’s really no clean way back from from those hard closures. And they have great mechanisms where they can see if you just spin up a new account. So yeah, if you were hard closed for whatever and you spin up a new account with a new email address, they’re often able to track that it’s unfortunately not usually immediate that they find it it’s it’s you know after you had a month or two a commission’s you know hopefully that month a tour commission’s are during the holidays but your your your prime period but they yeah you you often cannot be more often than not you cannot be sneaking in and try to grow on Amazon they they’re pretty good at what they do they’re damn good at what they do. And they’ll find you eventually. And again if they if you got a hard close in their gonna hard close you again, there’s there is no kind of getting back from that.
Michael Bereslavsky 35:31 Yeah, fair enough. So don’t get to trouble, be compliant and be direct and be honest and quick with your responses. And so I’m not sure if you are familiar with the Google algorithm updates. But recently, what we’ve seen is a lot of websites that, like a lot of Amazon affiliate reviews websites have been, have lost a lot of traffic with the recent updates. I’m curious if you if you know much about that, that you hear from your community, from your users. Your thoughts on that?
Jesse Lakes 36:04 Yeah, I saw something this is within the last few weeks, I remember correctly, right? The trust review, or whatever, it’s not a core core algorithm update, but it’s kind of a secondary thing supposed to be rolled out over a few weeks, or is that what you’re referencing?
Michael Bereslavsky 36:17 Yeah, yeah it’s a, there was a one a couple weeks ago, I was a big one in December as well. And several others last year.
Jesse Lakes 36:27 Yeah, it sucks. It goes back to that classic thing, where it’s called…it’s platform risk, right? Yeah. When when you build specifically with reliance on one thing, you know, SEO traffic coming in Amazon affiliates to monetize and so forth.You are you’re, you’re completely at risk from these two major platforms, these two major platforms will, you know, do commission concert, make your algorithm changes, you know, I don’t want to say willy nilly, there’s obviously a lot of thought that goes into it, but the thought that goes into it isn’t in your isn’t for your benefit, you know, it’s it’s for, for some other perspective. So it’s, I get really nervous about putting all my eggs in one basket. And we’ve been in the 10 years, we’ve had Geniuslink we’ve we’ve had some serious platform risk issues ourselves where we’ve, we’ve built too much, or we’ve put too many eggs in a single basket where it just it doesn’t work out. So having some diversification in your traffic sources not being completely reliant on on Amazon and SEO, is, I think, a smart move, it’s obviously harder, it’s it’s slower to grow a site where you have to have multiple different revenue streams, or multiple different streams of traffic coming in and multiple different ways to monetize that traffic. But ultimately, the end of the day, yeah, that the kind of the rule of thumb I’ve heard is you shouldn’t have no more than 20% from a single source. So now, if you can have five different strong data, sources of traffic, and five different ways to monetize your, your site, you’re, you’re better off, but again, it’s way harder to scale faster, I completely get that. But if you lose one of them, you know, the most you’re going to lose is 20%. Therefore you have still have 80% of your traffic or 80% of your revenue coming through. So, you know, interpret that how you want. I can say that, you know, a good chunk of our traffic, yes, still comes from SEO and y’all refer also we’ve diversified a little bit, but no monetization, a lot of our clients are still using Amazon as well. Yeah, we have a couple different forms monetization, but you know, there’s definitely still platform risk kind of set as well. So being cognitive, I guess, is the first step to solve it. But uh, yeah, I, I don’t know a ton about the Google SEO stuff. Thankfully, we’ve, we’ve hired a CMO to deal with that. It’s no longer my problem to think about. But um, yeah, the platform risk is something that does, I do spend a lot of time thinking about and it’s definitely something that that one, I would encourage one to think about as they dive deeper and deeper into the website, holding space growing and holding.
Michael Bereslavsky 38:56 So you’ve mentioned a little bit about some potentials for optimization and diversifying between different affiliate programs, are there some more things generally that that you see a lot of your customers not doing that they should do in order to optimize and improve their revenue? With Amazon or with other programs…
Michael Bereslavsky 41:20 In terms of increasing conversions, are there some things that you see as genuinely helpful, like making your links a certain color or size or using some specific buttons, or the way or where you place them on a page like that?
Jesse Lakes 41:35 I think all that is is important. I think there are some general best practices. And there’s a we’ve got a couple blog posts. Doug Huntington wrote up a great one for us from niche site project. But yeah, just making sure that you know, you want your images to be to use the affiliate link, you want to make sure that you start off in the first paragraph when you first mentioned the product, that’s an affiliate link, you need to mention the affiliate link, it’s kind of the the bottom of the post. And these I believe are fairly common, you know, best practices I’m hopefully not the only person that’s that’s kind of mentioning these are just kind of those those general best practices to to go off of you know, from from the YouTube perspective, you know, we kind of have what we call active recommendations and passive recommendations, making sure that your active recommendations were within you know, the first handful of lines in your YouTube profile, you know, what someone is also saying that it’s really helpful to to have your, your accurate recommendation as the first comment is as well. So yeah, there’s there’s little optimizations there. But everyone’s channel is going to be slightly different. Everyone’s website is gonna be slightly different. Yeah, I’m a huge believer in experimentation and just kind of figuring out what works best for you. But then also not being stagnant with it right once once you’ve done one experiment, yeah, try it on the other website, but do the same experiment on the other website. And then I’ll try it on third. Because different audiences different people interact and in different ways it’s it’s very hard to say that it worked well here it’s going to work well there because that may not be the case. It means more work for you, unfortunately. But yeah, if you’re honestly looking to increase your conversion rate, do the work do the experiments, look at the data, the data doesn’t lie. So yeah sorry are looking for actionable items of I don’t have any quick runaways that besides to just do the work.
Michael Bereslavsky 43:30 Thank you, Jesse Do you have any other tips that maybe I haven’t asked you about? That would be good general practices for people? In the affiliate space or otherwise?
Jesse Lakes 43:47 As a power user of Geniuslink you’ve asked me all the other good questions. I guess the other one is just yeah really pay attention to Amazon is continuing to increase their their global footprint on a pretty regular basis. They are they just rolled out the Poland. Amazon Poland in the last month or two. Polands a pretty huge market in Europe. Yeah, so these these different regions pop up pretty regularly. Amazon,is pretty smart about focusing their efforts and royalty stores where where there is a you know, an online buying audience. So now just because you set up things, you know, a year or two ago means you may have missed out on you know, Netherlands, Sweden, Poland or some of the newest programs and we’re seeing that Amazon Netherlands is getting a huge amount of traffic. So it’s it’s awesome that affiliate program is live and people can monetize where yeah, before. I think it was sent out amazon.de and probably didn’t convert nearly as well.
Michael Bereslavsky 44:38 Yeah, so we are seeing from our little network that Amazon UK and Amazon Canada may be like, together maybe like 5-20% of the Amazon us. And then Amazon, Australia and India could be a little bit extra. We haven’t had a lot of revenue from others, Germany sometimes as well. But I’m curious if you have some kind of network wide data about percentages.
Jesse Lakes 45:06 So, typically, again, every website, every YouTube channels gonna be slightly different. But the core seven is where we recommend you start with, right? So am US and Canada. And then the thing is to that the signup process is exactly the same, it’s the same questions, the page may be localized. But if you’re using the Chrome browser, you can set that auto translate so that, you know, Amazon, Poland, it’s in Polish. But again, it’s the same question. So if you’re using Chrome, so it’s really easy, just kind of copy paste and kind of Sanford’s other program. So as long as you can get, you know, at least 100 clicks a month in those territories, you should be able to get the three sales within the 180 days, and be able to kind of go from there. But you know, back to the kind of core seven, yo, start with the US because that’s the biggest market, etc, Canada, and that is often second. But the UK when you set for the UK program, as soon as you finish sign up for the UK program, you have an option to use the same information on for more of the European program. So you can automatically use the UK information going to Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. So those, those four plus UK plus canon Plus, the US are kind of the core seven, where we recommend you start with once you’ve started then you can kind of start to see – with Geniuslink at least – you can start to see where your other traffic’s coming from Australia being English speaking is usually another one that’s really important. Amazon India is a is kind of the other one that often shows up Amazon India gets a little bit interesting because it’s hard to get money out of Amazon, India. So we work with a company called QLinks, QLinks can work as a proxy for Amazon, India. So if you sign up with QLinks, QLinks can actually send you the money internationally. It still lets you monetize Amazon, India. So there’s a little little tricks like that, that to kind of help open it up. But yeah, if we’re also seeing some great growth in the Middle East, your Amazon bought Souk for some ridiculous amount, a handful years ago has been spinning up your additional stores there. So UAE and Saudi Arabia are both Amazon stores now as well. And we’re seeing a lot of lift there. In particular, Poland was a surprise, Netherlands was a surprise. Sweden came out not too long ago, I haven’t seen a ton of traffic coming from Sweden. But I know it’s it’s only a matter of time before it really ramps up. Because if Amazon’s gonna spin up a storefront, they know it’s it’s a priority to demonetize are to make ecommerce more efficient in that region.
Michael Bereslavsky 47:30 Yeah, that’s interesting about QLinks, because I was actually going to ask about some trends you’re seeing about how to get money out of some of these Amazon accounts, that…
Jesse Lakes 47:39 Mexico and Brazil I still don’t have a good solution for. But all the other ones yeah, it’s relatively easy.
Michael Bereslavsky 47:44 Because we are also seeing ourselves at some accounts is just really difficult with Amazon Australia, for example, they have this withholding, right, that you have to be an Australian or did not have to have a bunch of a default withheld. And…
Jesse Lakes 48:00 By default, it’s like 48%, or whatever, you can fill it in, I think it’s called an ABN. It’s just a one page form. And there’s just a single checkbox, and I think you get their withholding rate down to like 16%, which is much more manageable. So just a single form you have to submit. The form looks intimidating until you read it. And then yeah, the thing to remember is that that checkbox of like six or seven different things, you only have to check one, you don’t have to check all of them. So you just say, you know, I, my, my my company is not based in Australia, now sign it put put whatever your EIN or whatever number is tax notification code and send it in and yeah, you’ll you’ll drop that withholding by by a third, or by two thirds.
Michael Bereslavsky 48:40 Wow, that’s good to know. Well, thank you, Jason. That’s been very informational live personally learned quite a bit of new things from Amazon and Amazon Associates. And I’ve been using it for over a decade now. So thanks for that.
Jesse Lakes 48:53 Absolutely. I just real quick comment on that as I learn new things about Amazon Associates on a nearly daily basis as well. It’s a deep ecosystem. So I guess if there’s one bit of advice I can share with your your listeners is that if you rely on Amazon Associates, as a revenue stream, encourage you to become a lifelong student of their affiliate program. Because there’s so much you can learn. It’s It’s such a massive ecosystem. So okay, I will be quiet there. Thank you, Michael.
Michael Bereslavsky 49:19 Yeah. Awesome. Thank you. So how can our listeners contact you or learn more about what you do?
Jesse Lakes 49:24 Absolutely. Um, yeah, Twitter, Twitter’s probably the best way to contact me. I think it’s just @jessielakes. That being said, I tried to keep social media as a relatively small part of my day. So I may not be super quick to respond. But I definitely check into Twitter relatively regularly. And then LinkedIn is the other social media area where I probably spend the next most amount of time I believe that’s a Jessie Lakes as well maybe that’s just Jay likes, I should I should remember these but there’s not too many Jessie Lakes is out there and only one of them is the co founder of Geniuslink. So you can You can definitely find me there as well.
Michael Bereslavsky 50:02 Well, thank you good to chat and till next time looking forward to see how Geniuslink grows.
Jesse Lakes 50:08 Thank you so much. No it’s an absolute pleasure.
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