It was the email no one wants to get...
We were just sitting there having coffee talking about our plans to take over the world, when a notification appeared in Mark’s inbox.
This time, it wasn’t from his mom.
It was from Amazon...
Hello from the Amazon Associates Program,
While reviewing your account, we have been unable to verify that the means through which you are referring customers to the Amazon Site are in compliance with the terms of the Associates Program Operating Agreement. Therefore, we request that you provide us with a detailed description of the methods you are using to refer customers to the Amazon Site in accordance with the Operating Agreement, which states: You must provide us with any information that we request to verify your compliance with this Operating Agreement.
The description you send should include, for example, identification of the websites on which your banner ads are posted, advertising services you are using, screenshots of your Site’s analytics tools that show your Site traffic and its sources, the keywords you are using to drive referrals, any plugins or browser add-ons you use, live links to your Sites, a sequence of links that allows us to duplicate the clicks the majority of your customers make to get to the Amazon Site via your special links, and any other information that would be relevant to confirming the your compliance with the Operating Agreement, which can be found here: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/agreement.
Also, take this time to update your account information, including all the domains you own that you are sending traffic from.
Please send the requested information to us within 5 business days by using the Contact Us form available here:
If we do not hear from you regarding the above, or, based on your response, we will be unable to verify that your methods are compliant with the Operating Agreement, we will close your Associates Account and may withhold fees.
We appreciate your understanding and hope to hear from you soon.
...we were being audited.
Something was wrong with our account, and we had five days to not only fix that one thing--but to make sure every page on every one of our sites complied with Amazon’s Terms of service.
It didn’t help that their email was characteristically vague, which meant that we didn’t know exactly what had triggered the audit.
The next 5 days were a frenzy. Before we could even fix anything, we had to reread the Amazon Terms of Service to make doubly sure we actually understood the documents. Then we had to apply to all of our sites, which were all set up in different ways.
Did we survive?
I tell you exactly what happened below.
But here’s why it was scary: for us, like for many of you, Amazon Associates had become a pretty big part of our business.
Aside from forcing us to do a vigorous deep-dive into compliance, it made us want to put together a comprehensive guide on the program in general.
That’s what this is: a guide to Amazon Associates.
Of course, we can’t cover every nook and cranny, but we do try to provide an overview of pretty much everything an Amazon affiliate needs to know.
So You Prefer Podcasts? No Worries, we got you covered
In other words, if you’re an affiliate at any level, this should apply to you, and, hopefully, will be worth reading. Of course, if you’re a veteran, feel free to jump to the more advanced sections.
Let’s get started.
PART 1: General Program Information
Amazon Associates is an affiliate program.
Because Amazon is one of the biggest retailers in the world, it shouldn’t surprise you that their affiliate program is also one of the biggest in the world.
At the time of writing, Amazon Associates is used on 1% of all websites (a huge number). That represents a 5% total market share of all sites monetizing with advertising or affiliate networks and is second only to Google (16% of websites and an 85% market share).
According to the meta tag on the Amazon Associates page (these statistics don’t seem to be listed anywhere in their content), which, as far as I can tell, reads exactly the same as it did in 2008, they have nearly a million associates (a number I expect is much bigger now).
It’s at the core of the business model of some absolutely massive businesses, and I’ve personally used the program as my primary (although not only) monetization method for nearly all the sites I’ve started for most of my career, including one that now now earns six figures per year.
Here’s a sample earnings screenshot from that site.
How does it work?
Like all affiliate programs, Amazon Associates is, at its core, a referral commission program: if you refer customers to Amazon, you get a commission for everything they buy.
Here’s the customer journey in a nutshell
When a customer lands on your site (through Google or social media or however), they click on one of your affiliate links, which takes them to Amazon and tags them as your referral.
After that, you get a % of anything they buy on Amazon for the next 24 hours.
Of course, this is the quick and dirty version.
There are, for example, lots of ways to get people to your site. There are also lots of ways to encourage people to click on affiliate links. And so on.
But the general customer journey is almost always the same: reader > your site > amazon.
Why do so many people use Amazon Associates?
We’re going to dive into the details of why people like Amazon (along with some of its weaknesses) in a bit, but mostly, people like Amazon Associates mostly because it’s ubiquitous, which creates lots of tangential benefits:
- You can use it in the vast majority of markets. If you are in a market in which there are physical goods to be sold, you can probably use Amazon, and there’s a good chance Amazon is one of the best affiliate options for your.
- There’s lots of information. Because so many people use it, it’s easy to find information about promotional tactics, technical questions, etc.
- Big platform = tangential sales. You don’t just get a commission for the product you recommend; you get a commission for anything your reader buys, and people tend to buy lots of stuff on Amazon.
All in all, Amazon Associates is a big, easy-to-use program, and there are thousands and thousands of people making money with it.
Amazon vs Other Programs
Of course, Amazon is not the only affiliate program out there.
Long story short: in almost every industry, you’ll be able to find lots of different affiliate programs you can use to monetize your site. It’s always good to test, but it’s also good to understand the general strengths and weaknesses of Amazon.
We’ll dive into each of these in detail, but here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons.
1. Great for most physical goods niches.
If you are in a physical hobby niche -- any hobby in which people are buying physical goods -- Amazon is usually a good affiliate program.
The commissions aren’t as good as they used to be in a few of the broader hobby categories, like outdoors or sports…
...but hobbyists and passion buyers on Amazon tend to be ravenous. They buy tons of stuff. In the dog space, which I’d consider a strong hobby and passion niche, it wasn’t uncommon for me to see greater than 7% of my total clicks to amazon convert to sales.
Despite the recent decrease in commission rates, Amazon has also remained a strong earner for Health Ambition and our other sites and it only took 3 to 4 months to recover most of the numbers we had prior to the commission rate drop.
2. The folks at Amazon are masters of conversion.
There are very, very few companies (none that I know of) who convert customers better than Amazon does.
According to a 2012 comment by former Amazon senior product manager Sonia Nagar, Amazon converts customers at a baseline of 4%, and conversion rates double during the holidays. This is significantly higher than the 2017 industry average of about 3%.
Nagar’s comment, of course, is a bit dated.
In addition to Amazon’s clear commitment to conversion rates (read: probable sh*tloads of testing), the extreme growth of Amazon Prime. Estimates from top firms calculated Amazon has between 65 and 80 million prime subscribers in early 2017, which is up from about 54 million just a year earlier. The huge boost in Prime subscriptions has apparently had a massive impact on conversions.
It’s so crazy, in fact, that I’m still not sure I believe it.
According to a study by Millward Brown Digital (couldn’t find the original source, but I did find plenty of people citing it), Amazon converts an astounding 74% of its visitors.
That’s not a typo.
Ecommerce analysis firms actually report that the conversion rate among Prime members is about 22x higher than the industry benchmark.
There could be lots of reasons for that, but, as far as I can tell, the consensus among experts is that people who sign up for Amazon Prime tend to use Amazon as their primarily online shopping platform.
Even if they aren’t Prime members, though, people tend to trust the Amazon brand anyway.
For you, that means that conversions on Amazon will typically be much higher than conversions on other platforms.
3. People will buy other stuff after clicking on your link.
This is one of the truly brilliant aspects of being an Amazon affiliate.
Amazon is what I’d classify as a general online retailer. They sell pretty much everything.
As an affiliate, you don’t just get a commission on the product you recommend; instead, you get a commission on everything your referral buys for the next 24 hours.
It’s one of the reasons the holidays are so incredibly profitable for us: we might refer someone to Amazon to buy dog food, and while they’re there, they might a box of 20 fidget spinners and a plasma TV.
This is a benefit that is more or less exclusive to Amazon.
There are other general retailers that offer affiliate programs, but they often either don’t offer commissions on other products, or they simply don’t convert and upsell as well as Amazon does.
4. Amazon provides lots of ways to promote offers.
The easiest way to promote products on your site is to simply use the site stripe or product link function in the Amazon Associates back end to simply hyperlink to the product you recommend.
Regular ol’ product links are usually the bread and butter. However…
Amazon also provides lots of other ways to monetize your blog with their affiliate program, and they’re typically more advanced than most other programs.
For instance, you can create “native ads,” which basically look like little product carousels.
The good thing about these ads is that you can create them individually and plop them into specific posts, or you can create category-based ads and insert them with an ad code manager like you would a display ad.
They’ve never been wildly profitable for me, but they do contribute to the “revenue stack” we advocate here (multiple revenue streams stacked on top of each other).
Another cool one, especially if you get a lot of mobile traffic, is their mobile popover.
I haven’t tested this much personally, but I do see a greater percentage of my traffic coming from mobile these days, and I’ll be testing them extensively soon.
In other words, they’re constantly creating and testing new ways to help you get people to Amazon, which is a win-win, and it’s not something every affiliate platform does (and if they do, lots just half-ass it).
5. You can leverage your affiliate media to transition to FBA.
Being an affiliate requires you to own some media. Usually, that means a blog, but people also use social media, etc. to promote Amazon affiliate products.
In fact, the media is the hard part.
Media = eyeballs. If you can get the right eyeballs on your content, it’s generally pretty easy to get those people to click on affiliate links.
And if you already own media and have people clicking on your affiliate links, one move you could make is to leverage that media to launch your own products.
In other words, instead of referring readers to other people’s products, you could refer them to your own.
Amazon has a program set up to help people easily sell products on Amazon. It’s called Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA).
The basic idea is that you can purchase products wholesale from a manufacturer and use both Amazon’s fulfillment centers and their online store to sell your stuff.
There has been something of an FBA gold rush (salesy link, but captures the excitement) in the last several years. Because of that, lots of niches have started to become saturated. As as the markets started to become saturated, the FBA bloggers were scrambling to come up with ways to stand out and drive sales.
What do almost none of them have? Media.
Likewise, there are plenty of successful Amazon affiliates out there, but very few of them have launched their own products.
Here’s the kicker, having touched both worlds, I can say it’s much easier to learn to sell on Amazon than it is to build an authority site. This is especially true if you already have media.
People have started to realize this, but, because building authority sites is pretty tough, not many have actually done it.
1. The legalese in the terms of service & ruthless bans for ToS violations can be a bit much.
The Amazon Associates Operating Agreement (ToS) is shockingly difficult to understand. It’s a dense, legal document, and there’s no human-friendly version (which is why we wrote one, which you’ll find below).
And that’s super annoying, since they ban the sh*t out of people who abuse it (the following image is one of many examples out on the web, but the source for this particular email is from Digital Ready Marketing).
In recent months, they’ve started issuing more warnings, but the bans still seem to be frequent and ruthless if you’re not following the rules.
Even more annoyingly, they update their operating agreement regularly, so if you don’t go back and read it from time to time, you could be missing something; indeed, this is where a good chunk of the “horror stories” I hear come from--people becoming noncompliant without knowing it.
I don’t think that should necessarily dissuade you from using Amazon as a part of your business model, but it does mean that it’s very important to understand the operating agreement completely and to stay on top of changes
2. Commissions are crap in some niches.
I posted this image early, but for reference, let’s post it again, only this time, look at the niches that have crap commission rates.
Are those really crap?
Maybe, maybe not. Some of those commission rates still flirt with the industry benchmark for their respective categories, but when you consider that the commission rates used to be standardized across the entire site on a tiered commission structure (the more you sold, the higher commission “tier” you could unlock), some people’s businesses got completely shellacked by this change.
It also means that if you want to use Amazon Associates as one of your primary revenue streams, your niche selection might be a bit limited.
The point here is mostly just this: Amazon may not be the best affiliate program for every niche.
It often felt that way in the past, and it’s still a great default choice for a lot of niches, but it’s simply no longer a given.
In practice, this typically means you should be thinking about both (1) other affiliate programs that might be available in your niche or (2) other ways to monetize outside of affiliate sales.
3. Not many info products or digital products.
Yes, obviously Amazon sells books.
But you’re going to find cloud-based software or video courses on Amazon. That’s still the realm of other major affiliate marketplaces like ClickBank.
This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing necessarily; it mostly just means that the bulk of affiliate marketers typically exist in these weird little bubbles: Amazon affiliates and ClickBank affiliates (there are other bubbles, of course, and these aren’t rules; I’m just making a point).
That tends to happen naturally, I think, because there’s often just not much overlap in buyers looking for, say, a comprehensive course on dating (something you’d find on ClickBank) and the guy looking for the best Christmas tree stand (something you’d find on Amazon).
PART 2: How To Promote Amazon Products
There are, of course, lots of ways to promote Amazon products as an affiliate. People promote products directly on social media. People do it with YouTube channels. You get the idea. There are hundreds of ways to do it.
Most people (including us) do it by blogging.
When blogging to promote products, however, not all content is created equal. In this section, we’ll cover some of the best ways to use content on your blog to generate affiliate commissions.
Traditional Roundup Posts
Traditional roundup posts = posts targeting “best” keywords that give both good, well-researched advice as well as miniature reviews about the product.
Why it works
Grouping links up top creates a highly clickable piece of real estate, and the high value of the research section really does help people make a decision.
People do these in many different ways, but here’s the structure most people seem to have landed on:
Traditional roundups usually start with a short introduction and then include a group of affiliate links.
Lots of people like to use tables here, so they can include product information (and because the hivemind tells them to). They usually look like this:
Did You Know
Amazon has recently been warning or even banning people for using stars--usually if they look too much like Amazon’s stars (I think), so it’s best to exercise caution if you want to use them, and you should make it clear the rating is yours.
Tables tend to convert well, and simpler tables tend to convert better than more complicated tables (believe me: I’ve tried both, and the table that took me a week to create and had tons of bells and whistles perfect way worse than the simple ones).
That said, a common misconception amongst Amazon affiliates is that tables are somehow necessary. They are not.
I’ve found success with simple bullet lists. And I mean really simple ones--something that looks like this (these links just go to the Amazon homepage and are not affiliate links; they’re just for demo purposes):
Bullets lists have the added benefit of being extremely easy to outsource. Most of the time, though, most affiliates still prefer tables.
Next, is a research and advice section.
For traditional roundups, this section is meant to be a buying guide. The idea is to provide as much well-researched information as possible about how to make the best buying decision. This could include features to look out for, safety concerns, lifestyle considerations, recalls, product categories, etc.
This section should be research-dense. It should help readers prepare to buy.
It typically does NOT discuss specific product information, which is usually saved for the last section
...mini reviews of specific products.
The last section of a traditional roundup talks specifically about individual products. It digs into the specific features of the products recommended in the link group.
This section should NOT simply rehash product information found on Amazon. It should instead use that information to tell readers why you are recommending it.
In traditional roundups, there are typically 3-5 mini reviews. They usually look something like this:
Pros & Cons of Traditional Roundups
Why it works
It’s great for people who like to browse products--people who like to shop.
This is from one of our favorite affiliate sites, runnerclick.com. They do a great job of putting together solid listicles, like this one. It’s important to note, though, that one of the reasons their listicles are so good is that they aren’t just sloppily curated products; they’re curated reviews.
If they did not link to full reviews of some (or, in many cases, all of the products in the list), this could very easily feel like an empty post, which brings me to...
If you are a small site that publishes mostly affiliate content, I wouldn’t recommend roundup listicles unless you have full reviews of some of the products on the list; otherwise, it could look like thin content in a manual Google review.
For the same reason, it’s also important not to simply rehash product information in for each item. Write a good, unique blurb and maybe add a little analysis for each.
Pros & Cons of Roundup Listicles
Why it works
It essentially makes a decision for people and gives you room to gush over a great product.
Here, an article might target the same “best [product]” keyword as other types of roundups, but instead of actually writing about a bunch of different products, the “clear winner” roundup will briefly mention them but spend most of its time reviewing a single product.
I like to think of it as a detailed single product review disguised as a product roundup (which you would do, of course, because those roundup keywords can be so profitable).
I’ve found this strategy to be most common with blogs who actually buy products and do hands-on testing, since it probably saves them quite a bit of money.
Rather than writing about the top 5 folding bikes (or whatever), they briefly mention other folding bikes but spend most of the time talking about the “winner,” the Dahon Mariner D8.
Pros & Cons of Roundup Listicles
Why it works
People looking for reviews are usually very ready to buy. They just need a last push.
Pretty straightforward here. We’ve all seen single product reviews. They’re a mainstay of affiliate marketers, mostly because looking for reviews of a product is one of the last things people do before they actually buy it.
In other words, reviewing a single product can usually give people the last bit of information they need to pull the trigger on a purchase.
Unlike roundups, single reviews don’t have much of a rigid structure--mostly because different products require different information.
Generally, though, a good single product review will include stuff like:
- Features and specs of the product
- User experience considerations
- Pros and cons
- Good alternative
Here’s an example from a treadmill review site.
With reviews, it’s perhaps even more important to be careful not to just rehash product information than it is with a roundup review, since single product reviews are more product-centric by nature.
In this format, it’s certainly okay to list and discuss features, you just want to be sure to add commentary and analysis at the same time.
Pros & Cons of Single Product Reviews
Why it works
Tutorials and problem solving content usually have an inherent sense of urgency, which leads to good conversions.
Sometimes, you don’t even need to write about products to promote them.
Content that explains how to do something--how to make something, how to solve a problem, how to do something better, etc.--can be a great way to promote products.
Usually, they work because people are either excited to do something (in the case of, say, a DIY tutorial), or they want a problem to go away right now (in the case of, say, a blog post about how to remedy back pain).
Often, these sorts of articles take a form like the following:
- “Benefits of…”
- “How to…”
- “Get Rid of…”
- “7 Ways to…”
In almost all of these, there’s a progressional formula for people to follow in order to achieve a result. Products can be part of that solution.
For example, you could write the article, “How to Fix Your Posture While Sitting At Your Desk,” and one of the steps in that process might be to consider buying an ergonomic office chair, which you could refer people to Amazon to buy.
Here’s a real life example. It’s an article on Health Ambition about the benefits of drinking lemon water.
And in the article, we mention that a good way to start doing this is to buy a juicer, and we recommend a good one.
Lots of people like these sorts of articles because you can actually help people solve problems, which means you’re adding value, which is what we want to be doing as bloggers anyway.
Pros & Cons of Tutorials & Problem-Solving Content
Why it works
Tutorials and problem solving content usually have an inherent sense of urgency, which leads to good conversions.
Often, when people are on the verge of buying a product, they are left with 2 or more alternatives. That's when they start Googling franticly for differences between the different alternatives they have and that's where you come in!
Vs type posts should focus mostly on user intents and goals and highlight how each product fulfils that duty.
After you have listed those goals and declared a winner in each of them, you can either declare a clear winner OR give the contexts in which each product wins.
Here is an example of such post on a blender review site:
These keywords tend to be particularly low competition if you can find some with search volume in your niche and they're a great way for brand new sites to generate quick revenue.
PART 3: How To Link To Amazon Products
In this section, we’re going to talk about the technical aspects of adding Amazon affiliate links to your website.
There are a few different ways you can do it, and there are a few supplemental tools Amazon provides to make it a bit easier and a bit more profitable.
Product Link Tool
The product link tool is the most “standard” way to add links to a blog.
To get to it, click Product Linking > Product Links.
You’ll see a screen where you can search for a product.
Type the kind of product you’re looking for, and you’ll be taken to a page where you can pick the individual product.
You can search for specific brands and models here, too.
Find the product you want to promote and click Get Link.
A light box will popup that has your full affiliate link, which you can either copy and paste or shorten.
You can copy and paste either one and put it on your blog.
The site stripe is a tool that allows you grab a link from any product page on the Amazon store.
For my money, this is probably the easiest way to add links, and it’s certainly the one I use most often.
The first thing you want to do is navigate to any product page (make sure you’re logged into your account, or the site stripe won’t show up). When you get there, the site stripe should appear as a bar-style widget at the top of the page.
You’ll notice there are three different options for the types of links you can get here:
- Text: a plain text link.
- Image: an image with an embedded hyperlink.
- Text + image: both.
The text option will give you a raw URL. The image option will give you a bit of HTML, and the text + image option will give you an iFrame you can embed on your blog.
To grab a link from the site stripe, make sure you’re on the page of the product you want to promote, and click the link option you want.
In this example, I just want a plain text link to promote this tent, so I click “Text.”
Note that you have a few different options here.
You can opt for either a full or shortened link, and you can also select which store ID and tracking ID to apply to the link.
While the shortened links may feel cleaner, I recommend you always opt for the full link on your site. This allows you to swap Affiliate ID's easily with a couple of PHP functions which comes handy if you ever sell your site and the buyer wants to swap commissions all at once.
If everything looks kosher, copy the link and add it to your blog.
Publisher Studio is a Chrome extension that integrates with the backends of the major blogging platforms as well as a couple big social media platforms:
To find it, from the Amazon Associates back end, go to Tools > Publisher Studio.
Then, click “Install Extension for Chrome.”
You’ll be taken to the Amazon Publisher Studio page on the Chrome extension store. Click Add to Chrome.
After it’s installed, open your blog editor.
For blogging, we recommend WordPress exclusively, so our examples will cover only that platform (if you use a different platform, however, it should be relatively easy to figure out and very similar to the process below).
Open WordPress and navigate to the editor of the post where you’ll be putting your affiliate link.
Click the Publisher Studio icon, and you’ll be prompted to sign into your Amazon Associates account.
When you find it, copy it to your clipboard.
Now, we want to put the code on our site. By far the easiest way to do this is to just slap it in a simple footer widget.
In WordPress, go to Appearance > Widgets and drag a simple text widget to the footer widget section.
Open the text widget and change the editor you find there to Text.
If you don’t have a Text option, you’re probably not on the latest version of WordPress (I believe this editor change was in a recent update).
This should activate Publisher Studio across your site. To use it, you need to go into a post editor.
Publisher Studio says you can only use it on live posts, but it also works on WordPress drafts, so what I like to do is just start a post and save it as a draft.
To use the tool, highlight any text in the editor, and you’ll see a little popup that says Create Link.
If you click it, you’ll be able to search for products. When you find one you like, click Add Link.
You have to have ad blockers disabled on your site for Publisher Studio to work.
OneLink is Amazon’s in-house link localizer.
It allows you to redirect people from the UK and Canada to the Amazon stores in their respective countries, so they can actually buy the products.
Without link localization, you essentially don’t get commissions from anyone in Canada or the UK.
To use it, navigate to Tools > OneLink.
Scroll down until you see the Getting Started section.
Click Click here to link under Link your accounts (or just click here).
Here, you’ll be able to see the US store you’ll be linking, and you’ll be able to put your store ID from your Amazon UK and Amazon Canada associates accounts (if you don’t have accounts, you’ll have to sign up).
Just plop the store IDs in the respective sections and save.
Next, navigate back to the Getting Started section and click through to the oneTag page (or just click here).
Copy the code you find there.
You can install this in exactly the same way we installed the Publisher Studio code.
After this, you should be good to go, and you can view your OneLink reports in the regular reporting section.
One quick note…
Not every product available on the US store is going to be available on the UK and Canada stores. To manage this, you’ll need to set redirect preferences.
You’ll find them under the Getting Started section.
Here, you’ll find toggle mentions for Redirect Preferences and a Check Matching Products section.
The Redirect Preferences settings allow you to choose how your various US tracking IDs are redirected. Choosing “Exact Match” means that your links will only be redirected to the exact same product is listed on the user’s local Amazon store, and if it isn’t it will still go to Amazon.com.
“Close Match,” on the other hand, will redirect to similar products if the exact product isn’t available, which is generally what we recommend, since it’s still easier for a user to buy a similar a product from his or her local store.
In the Check Matching Products section, you can check the availability of specific products; just plop in the US URL.
PART 4: Complying to Amazon Terms of Services
They change frequently, and they are very dense. Amazon is also not very helpful when it comes to helping their affiliates make sense of all the legalese therein.
What follows is a human-friendly breakdown.
I want to make absolutely clear, however, that this is my own interpretation of the document and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about it, ask their support or hire a lawyer to give it a read.
This also is not a good substitute for reading the ToS yourself. Go read it. Use this to help you understand.
Lastly, I’m going to skip the obvious stuff (e.g. you can promote Amazon products on porn sites) and stuff that does not pertain to blogging (e.g. rules about mobile apps).
This is basically just a list of the major rules you should know so you don’t get banned.
2. You need to have the Amazon Associates disclaimer on your site.
You have to clearly identify yourself as an Amazon associate. They actually give you a sentence you need to copy and paste directly onto you site:
You can theoretically put it anywhere. I asked the Amazon Associates support about, and here’s what they said.
Most folks put it on an affiliate disclosure page, but I just slap it in my footer most of the time. Even though support says it doesn’t need to be on every page, I feel just a smidge safer if it is.
There used to be a requirement that stated you need to link to Amazon, but I couldn’t find it in this version of the ToS; I still do it just to be safe.
2. You can’t download images from Amazon.
This is probably the one people get wrong most often, and I honestly can’t find it spelled out explicitly in the terms of service.
The language around images is actually pretty confusing. This is from Section 1 of the Associates Program IP License portion of the Program Policies.
But then they say stuff like…
So it’s confusing; however, people have been warned about it, and their support consistently agrees: you cannot download images from Amazon.com for use on your site--even if you are promoting their products.
Of course, lots of us still want to use images on our sites.
So, the best way to do it is just to use the site stripe (see the section on technical linking above).
3. If you use images from Amazon, they must link to Amazon.
This would be difficult to do if you’re not downloading images from Amazon anyway, but it’s worth mentioning because I’ve seen it cited in several warnings issued to affiliates.
I think it comes from this portion of their ToS;
And since images are part of their content, it qualifies.
4. You can’t promote Amazon products via email.
This is another one that might seem to contract some of the language in the ToS when read in isolation.
Check it out.
This seems to indicate that you can email affiliate links as long as people opted into your email list willingly; however, their support consistently says you cannot.
So, if there’s a conflict between agents and the ToS, it’s always a safe bet to simply not do it.
Even if you can’t promote affiliate links via email, though, it is, of course, perfectly okay to promote your own blog posts to your email lists, and those blog posts can, of course, contain affiliate links, which is how most bloggers work around this problem.
5. You can’t promote affiliate links in pop-ups.
This is an old rule that’s been around forever, but folks who are new to the Amazon game but have been around internet marketing for a while might not know.
You can’t promote affiliate links in any pop-up ad. They can only go directly on an approved website.
6. You can’t talk about price (unless you pull it from the API directly).
This always seems a little weird to people (which is probably why it’s also a common mistake), but you can’t talk about prices of products.
This is what Amazon has to say about it:
So you can’t just copy and paste prices because prices change, and Amazon doesn’t want any information you publish about any product to be in anyway misleading.
However, you can use their API to pull in price information dynamically.
There are tools for this, or you could build your own, but we usually just don’t mention price at all.
Lots of affiliates include vague, symbolic, ballpark price estimates in product tables (e.g. putting “$$” next to an inexpensive product and “$$$$” next to an expensive product). I’ve gotten conflicting reports about whether or not this is okay from Amazon’s support, so I don’t do it .
Lastly, we don’t recommend you talk about price in any call to action.
You’ll see affiliates whose links say stuff like “check the best price on Amazon.” This, too, is a grey area, and there have been conflicting reports about whether or not this violates the ToS, so we don’t do it.
You based on the same section of the ToS highlighted in this section, you should also avoid using any language that might be in any way misleading in your CTAs.
7. You CAN share affiliate links on social media.
Amazon views your social media channels as part of your digital property, and they recognize that not all affiliates are bloggers.
So, they allow you to share links on major social channels. The catch is that you need to make sure to add them to your approved website list.
Here’s their support.
It’s worth noting that Instagram and other large networks are not on that list, so I’d avoid those unless you get permission specifically from Amazon.
My General Rule of Thumb…
Amazon has a rather annoying problem of their lower-level support associates sometimes contracting both each other and the ToS.
So here’s my rule of thumb: if there is ever any doubt about whether or not I am allowed to use an affiliate link a certain way, I do not do it.
There is pretty much no reason I need to push the limits of the terms of service, and I’d rather play it safe than lose a big chunk of my business by getting banned.
So, What happened with our audit?
Here’s what we did.
Well, first we freaked out a bit, but here’s what we did after we all had a good cry.
- Removed a few old references to specific prices
- Changed all our uploaded product images for proper amazon image links
- Added another above the fold (sidebar) Amazon disclosure statement
- Removed Geni.us (it's supposedly fine to use Geni.us but you have to disclose next to every link, that it goes to Amazon, usually by putting the text "Amazon" after each link, which is just impossible to do.
- An old version of Thrive Content Builder replaced some raw Amazon links with geni.us, meaning that after cutting the plugin, some geni.us links were still there. We manually replaced those.
Then, Mark sent to Amazon which included screenshots of analytics, some explanatory steps and even a full video screencast. He said that we may have fucked up, but that we fixed / were in the process of fixing it.
Amazon replied with the following:
Hello again from the Associates Program.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. We appreciate your cooperation.
Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any further questions or concerns. Thank you for your continued participation in the Associates Program.
We'd appreciate your feedback. Please use the buttons below to vote about your experience today.
The following is a real story about Authority Hacker Pro member Winston Cruz who got banned from the Amazon associates. Following some fixes which I coached him through, he successfully had his account reinstated.
I’ll reveal why he was banned and how he went about fixing his site, which eventually lead to Amazon reversing their decision. It took Winston less than a week to get unbanned.
1. Initial warning Email
Amazon initially sent Winston a warning email. The language of the warning email was similar to the subsequent “you’re banned” email below. Unfortunately, this email went to Winston’s spam box.
Create a gmail filter for [email protected] and check the box which says ‘Never Send It to Spam’. This could all have been avoided had the first email come through properly.
The good news is that as of 2017, Amazon seems to be giving some warning when you are in breach of their operating agreement. Five days isn’t a long time to respond, but at least it’s something. In the past they have often banned affiliates with no warning at all.
2. Getting Banned from the Amazon Asscoiates Program
Since Winston missed the initial email, he didn’t take any action to fix his site. Not long afterwards, Amazon banned him:
"Your Site makes inaccurate, overbroad, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims about Products, the Amazon Site, our policies, promotions, or prices.
As of today’s date, Amazon is terminating your Associates account. Under the terms of the Operating Agreement, we may terminate your account at any time, with or without cause. This decision is final and not subject to appeal.
It is important that you immediately remove all Amazon Content from your Site(s). Please be aware that any other Associates accounts you have, or may open in the future, may be closed without payment of any fees. Amazon reserves all other rights and claims.
Because you are not in compliance with the Operating Agreement, Amazon will not pay you any outstanding advertising fees related to your account.
Please be aware that any other accounts you have, or may open in the future, may be closed without payment of any fees. Amazon reserves all other rights and claims.
Thank you for your participation in the Amazon Associates Program."
Note the main reason at the top which indicates inaccurate claims about pricing. We’ll look into this in point 3 below.
From the language of the email, it would initially appear that there is no recourse and it may not be appealed. This ultimately proved to be incorrect. So if you have been banned and are reading this, then there is hope still.
At this point Winston posted in the AH Pro Facebook group, asking for help.
3. Problems identified and fixed
The timing of this was quite a coincidence since a) Perrin was writing this article about the Amazon Associate program and b) Health Ambition had recently received a request for information email from Amazon. We were quite well versed in the rules at this point.
I PMed Winston on Facebook and he shared his site with me. I instantly spotted problems in that he was mentioning pricing details in his CTA buttons. He used language similar to “get the cheapest price”.
The reason Amazon doesn’t like this is because this can be a false statement. If another company starts selling the product for cheaper, then Amazon cannot be seen to be encouraging is affiliates to deceive people by endorsing such language.
You cannot make a statement which is untrue or one which may become untrue at any point. I told winston to fix this.
Winston was also downloading product images and uploading them to his site. This is also against the ToS. I told Winston to use the SiteStripe bar to generate image URLs from the API.
Finally, I told Winston to put his affiliate disclaimer above the fold on his page, rather than in the footer.
It’s possible that all 3 of these steps were not necessary, but when trying to get unbanned, I wanted him to be “whiter than white”.
4. Getting unbanned from Amazon Associates
I told Winston to make the above changes then write to Amazon. I suggested that he should a) be completely transparent in admitting his mistake and b) demonstrate how he fixed these across his site.
Amazon are a business at the end of the day, and they understand that small affiliates can and will make mistakes. Amazon don’t want to ban you, but they are subject to far higher legal scrutiny than most affiliate programs.
Therefore, if you cooperate with them and are reasonable, it’s very likely to play out in your favor.
A couple of days later, Winston received the following email:
The downside was that Winston lost around a month and a half of fees, but at least he has his account reinstated and in full working order.
If you get banned from Amazon:
- Read their email to learn why you were banned
- Work hard to fix these issues on your site, and any others that you encounter
- Contact Amazon and let them know you have fixed everything. Apologize and ask to be reinstated.
PART 5: Tracking & Optimising Your Sales
Every affiliate link you create will have a tracking ID.
Tracking IDs are loaded into the system when a user clicks on one of your links, and they’re visible in the URL bar.
When you open your account, you’ll have one tracking ID, but you can create more.
Why would you create more?
Because you can use them to optimize.
You can generate a report for every tracking ID you have, which means you can test them against each other.
You can split test pages. You can split test products. You can do all kinds of cool stuff that allows you to maximize your clicks, earnings, or both.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Create tracking IDs for testing
In the Amazon Associates backend, click on your account email.
When you do, you’ll get a menu. Select Manage Tracking IDs.
That’ll take you to a page that looks like this (you can see the tracking IDs I’ve created for myself).
Click on Add Tracking ID.
You’ll get a lightbox where you can create (just make up) a new tracking ID.
Generally, you want to keep in mind that you’re going to be using tracking IDs for tracking different things, so it’s usually a good idea to name them accordingly.
I just set aside two or three IDs for tracking (I’ve never needed more than a couple to do everything I need).
2. Decide what you want to test
The general rule of A/B testing is to test one thing at a time, find a winner, and then test the next thing.
For example, you might test two page layouts to see which generates more clicks from your blog to Amazon (i.e. which has the higher CTR).
You can test anything you want, really, but as an Amazon affiliate, the biggest-impact stuff is usually the following:
- Page layout (especially tables vs other stuff)
- Ad/link copy
When you decide what you want to optimize, you then need to set up a split test.
There are lots of ways to do this. You could, for example, use a paid tool like Optimizely. We’ve found, however, that just doing it for free using Google Analytics works just fine and saves a bit of money.
Split testing in Google Analytics essentially works by creating different versions of a page and then splitting traffic between them, allowing you to measure whatever goal you’re tracking.
Here’s a detailed video guide:
Here’s the important thing to remember: use a different tracking ID on each version of the page you want to test.
So, if you are testing two pages, you’ll need two different tracking IDs.
In this case, Analytics really is only used to alternate the pages, don't worry too much about the goal, just set it to a pageview and analyse your results using your tracking IDs to see which page generates more revenue directly on Amazon Associates.
3. Run the test & analyze.
Let the test run long enough to get a good sample of visitors. If you’re using goals in Google Analytics to split test, it will tell you when it’s statistically confident in a winner.
In some cases, however, like testing total earnings from Amazon, you won’t be able to integrate your test directly with Google Analytics, and you’ll mostly have to rely on your gut. In these cases, I usually just wait until I have several thousand clicks to look at.
In almost all cases, the most metric we’ll be tracking is total earnings on Amazon, which means we’ll need to compare the performance of tracking IDs against each other.
We’ll talk in detail about the reports you can general in the Amazon backend in the next section, but in the reports, here’s where you can look at each tracking ID individually.
After the test runs, look at the reports to pick a winner.
Make the winner the “live” version of your page and replace the tracking ID you used for the test with your standard tracking ID.
Start planning another test!
How to Read Reports in Amazon
As you start to earn some money, you’re going to want to be able to understand the reports in Amazon--and this is especially true if you’re doing heavy testing.
So let’s run through the reports as they are now and talk about how to interpret them.
The first thing we’ll need to do is navigate to Reports.
In the top, left-hand corner, you’ll see the date range for the summary. By default, it’s set to show the last 30 days, but you can also set custom date ranges, like I have above, if you want to look at historical data, which can be useful for measuring YoY growth, checking seasonality, or running experiments.
Just to the right, you’ll see which tracking IDs are currently being shown in the summary. By default, the report will show all of them, but you can turn up to 10 on and off, which, again, is useful for experiments.
In summary view, the earnings graph shows fees and bounties.
Fees are commissions you earn from the purchases your referrals make on Amazon.com.
Bounties are prizes awarded for getting people to take advantage of special offers (you can see current bounties here). For most bloggers, the bulk of their earnings will come from fees, although some people who have highly engaged audiences do make good money by promoting bounties.
Below the earnings graph, you can see the fees summary, which shows you:
- Items ordered
- Items shipped
- Conversion rate
This little box is what I usually consider my best little window into my business. Since the default fees summar is the last 30 days, it’s like a running total of my performance, and if I see those numbers going up, I know I’m doing well.
If you click on the Fees tab of the earnings summary, you can get detailed information about the the performance of the money you’ve earned by generating referral commissions.
It’s basically an expanded view of the fees summary.
In the graph, not only can you see the fees earned each day, you can also see the clicks you generated and the number of items ordered.
At the bottom of the graph, you can see the same data you saw in the fees summary as well as the total revenue you generated for Amazon and the number of returned items.
This view is most useful to check for anomalies.
My earnings are up. Why? Did my clicks go up? Or did they say the same, but people ordered more items? You get the idea; it’s usually the first place you’re going to look when you want to figure something out.
If the fees tab is selected in the earnings graph, you’ll be able to see a complete list of items ordered below.
The default view here is just a simple list of stuff people bought--sorted by the total number of items ordered.
It’s a great way to see which product sells the most.
In my ordered items report, you can see that waterproof pet seat covers are were super hot. People ordered more of them than anything else by far.
In that same table, you can select the earnings tab.
This view shows you all the items people bought as well, but it also shows you how much you earned.
This is especially useful if you have an item that might not be selling many units but is making a lot of money. You can sometimes pick those diamonds-in-the-rough out of the list, build some content around them, and promote them.
In both of these lists, you can group items by date, tracking ID, or product category, which can give you some great additional insights into the buying behaviors of your readers.
I can see, for example, that while this site clearly sells more pet products than anything, readers also tend to buy lots of health and personal care items, which tells me a bit about my audience and might give me some good ideas for what to write about or what to promote.
The last tab here is the Link Type Performance tab.
This tab shows you the money earned from each type of link you use as an affiliate.
It’s kind of a bummer that this tab groups text, image, and image+text links together, since it’d be an interesting thing to compare, but you can’t win ‘em all.
Mostly, it’s a good way to see how your affiliate links are performing compared to your native ads.
If you’re a number cruncher and want to do some more detailed analysis, you can also download reports.
You’ll find the option in the top right corner of the earnings graph.
If you click it, you’ll get a lightbox that gives you a bunch of options that will allow you to customize your report.
I don’t use this very often, if I’m being totally honest.
I find simply visiting the dashboard is enough, and I enjoy being able to play around with dates, tracking IDs, link groups and the like dynamically. But they’re there if you need them.
PART 6: Tips & Tricks To Make More Sales
You know what Amazon Associates is. You’ve got it set up. You’ve got the terms of service licked. You’re making a bit of money. You’ve run a split test or two, and you know how to read the reports to find a winner.
Now let’s talk about some tips to boost those earnings--a few last little golden nuggets of wisdom we can bequeath unto you so you can buy that neon pink yacht you’ve always dreamed of.
Truthfully, though, if you’ve got a working site that makes a bit of money, a lot of maximizing your profits as an Amazon affiliate comes down to publishing more content, growing your site, and cultivating an audience.
It’s just sweat equity. Hard work. Consistency.
That said, what’s a good guide without at least a few juicy tidbits to take away nudge the ol’ bank account up a dollar or two?
1. Group your links & set them apart.
We talked about link grouping earlier.
But you don’t have to be writing a traditional review to do it. In fact, in my view, you should be grouping your links and setting them apart from other text whenever humanly possible.
You can do it with a table.
You can do it with a simple bullet list.
But it can also be a simple link set apart just by being on its own line without any other text (this counts as a group; just a group of one!):
Finally, you can also set your links apart by making them buttons. This is pretty easy to do if you use something like Thrive Architect. We especially like to put these in our single product reviews.
Here’s the long and short of it: set your links apart.
It absolutely does not have to be fancy.
In fact, plain text links have converted better for me than anything else by far. The trick is just to set them apart.
2. Format your articles nicely.
Formatting goes a really, really long way toward conversion.
I don’t have any data to back up this specific example, but if I was going to guess, I’d say good formatting (not to mention really solid design) is a major reason RunnerClick does so well.h
Good formatting makes it apparent to your user that you’ve put a lot of effort into the piece, which means you likely care more than the other rinky dink blogs writing about the same thing, and you’re probably more of an expert.
In other words, good formatting = trust.
It’s also a way to guide people’s eyes to where you want them to go.
This could, of course, be an entire blog post on its own. That’s why we wrote one.
3. Build an email list
You can’t promote Amazon affiliate links via email, but you can promote your own blog posts, which can then contain Amazon affiliate links.
Most internet marketers are familiar with email marketing, but for some weird reason, a huge chunk of people in the Amazon affiliate space are oddly averse to even trying it.
And it’s crazy. Not only can an email list help you promote blog posts that can generate Amazon affiliate commissions, but it can also help you sell anything else.
Do it. If you’re new to email marketing, we recommend Active Campaign.
You can also read our content on email marketing.
4. Try native ads (and combine them with text links)
In addition to text and image links, Amazon also lets you create what they call native ads.
The aren’t native ads in the traditional “advertorial” sense. They’re basically little ad units that display products wherever you put them.
To find them in the Amazon Associate backend, click on Product Linking > Native Ads.
Then click Create Unit.
You’ll see a dropdown menu where you can choose the unit type. For our purposes, we almost always want to choose the recommendation ad.
You’ll then be able to create ads.
By default, the ads will dynamically display products related to the page content, but you can also select categories and “fallback keywords” (products to show based on that keyword if there is no “product match”).
There are two main ad types. The first is a grid ad.
It shows related products along with an image, rating, and price. However, you can also create list ads, which look like this.
Full disclosure: I have not experimented with list ads, but based on my experience in marketing elsewhere, my gut tells me they would probably perform better than grid ads--certainly worth testing.
Here’s the good thing about these ads: you can implement them site wide.
I usually put my affiliate links in my affiliate content manually, and then I’ll slap one of these in the footer.
Do they work? Yes.
Do they earn as much money as other affiliate links? Not usually.
However, they were good incremental revenue for me until other ad networks started to earn more. If you don’t have much experience with other ad networks, and you’re already using the Amazon Associates program, these would be a great place to start.
Actually, from our experiments on Health Ambition and other sites, Amazon CPM ads tend to earn more than native ads per thousand visitor. I'd recommend you try both if you're considering native ads. I guess that's another blog post to add to our stack >.<.
Tip #5: Target “gifts” keywords (and crush the holidays).
I’m shocked that keywords with the “gifts” modify are virtually untapped by nearly every single authority site I come across.
I’m talking about niche-specific ones like:
- Gifts for runners
- Gifts for dog lovers
- Gifts for geeks
Whatever your niche is, there’s probably a few of these laying around for the taking.
They’re great keywords, and some sites, like This Is Why I’m Broke, make an absolute killing off of them.
Not only are these a great way to bring in more traffic in general, but they are also a good way to snag a chunk of that juicy holiday traffic without having to do a bunch of social media promotion.
Wrapping it up…
I love the Amazon Associates program.
It’s been a major part of my professional success over the last couple of years, and I’ve seen the same with lots of my colleagues.
Because of this, and because we help our students and members achieve their own success -- relying heavily on the program -- it pays to understand how to stay compliant and optimize profits.
What do you think?
What has your experience been with Amazon Associates? What am I missing?
Drop me a note in the comments!