The Trouble with Amazon Associates

And probably the trouble with most affiliate systems.

Disclaimer: Amazon links include Amazon associate codes. (Oh, the irony. 😉 )

Amazon Affiliates/Associates, like most (legitimate) affiliate programs, is one that can make a content creator a decent amount of money if done right and be a free lesson if done wrong.
I stress free simply because it does not cost the content creator anything to use. At least Amazon’s doesn’t. Even if done so horribly wrong that you find yourself banned (fingers crossed that that never happens), all you’ve lost is time–time which, if you are like me, you would have spent working on your website even without the affiliate options–and only one option out of the many that exist at earning income from that time. You would not have invested any money into the system, and thus never risk losing any.


Like most, if not all, affiliate systems, it has a few problems associated with it that make it a little more difficult to use properly, especially for hobbyist content creators that don’t keep their websites updated nearly as often as they ought.
(Guilty as charged!)

Point the first: Buying through your own link.

As in, you can’t.
Oh, technically you can–the mechanics of the site allow it, just like you can buy through any link you come across on Google.
The rules do not. Nor do they allow you to “permit, encourage, etc” friends and family members from buying through your links.

Not really a big deal in my mind. A minor annoyance, nothing more.
If you’re using a card that earns you rewards on purchases, you’ll still have a way to earn rewards without looking for a way around this rule.

  • The Amazon Chase credit card earns 3% on eligible purchases made through–5% if you’re a Prime member.
  • Not a fan of credit cards? PayPal Debit earns you 1% cash back on any purchase processed as credit and is a way to use your PayPal balance on Amazon.
    (2018 Update: Not anymore. It’s a business debit card, so now you need to have a Business Account to qualify to use it.)

So you do not need to attempt to buy through your own link in order to guarantee rewards, not badly enough to risk getting banned.
It’s just…. annoying that you can’t. The purchase is being made anyway, so why should the source of the purchase matter? I don’t know; I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.

Moving on….

Point the second: Keeping Content Up to Date

Okay, this one’s a problem with me, not with the system.

I’ve been a member of Amazon Associates since (checks site history) 2014, and at the time of this posting, I’ve written a grand total of 2 book reviews for my site..
Not to mention how old some of my most recent posts even are.
Point is, you can have the links all you want, but they won’t do you any good if you don’t keep your content visible to someone likely to click on them can actually find them.

Point the third: Properly Formatted Links

Amazon’s policy makes mention of a lack of earnings from improperly formatted links.
What does this even mean?

From WordPress’s standpoint, the only formatting of concern is that they have to be text-only links–affiliate links on images are considered advertisements, while links on text (if that text is part of an actual article) are simply considered a normal part of the content.

But how do I be sure my Amazon links are formatted correctly from Amazon’s standpoint?
Well, obviously I can do so by generating the link from within Amazon’s own system. This would be the easiest way to ensure that the link fulfills whatever requirements they have. But it has its own problems.

  • Amazon Smile
    It is permissible to use Amazon Smile and Amazon Associates for the same purchase, but the auto-generated link does not have the Smile code added.
    The content creator would have to add it themselves, which doesn’t work on shortlinks, or leave it up to the prospective customer to sign in to Smile once the link takes them to Amazon.
  • Long Links
    The auto-generated link contains an awful lot of code for what seems like a simple product page, and only a very small portion of that link is relevant to the Associate account.
    I prefer shortlinks–not to hide the destination, which is against the rules, but simply to keep the link appear relatively clean–but creating my own by simply adding my associate tag to the product page does not work; I assume all of that excess code is to identify the source of the link. And again, using Amazon’s own system to generate shortlinks leaves out the Amazon Smile option.
  • Inconvenient if you have multiple accounts
    Note I am not talking about having multiple Associate accounts, which is against the rules.
    No, I mean simply that my customer account and my associate account had been set up with different logins. Why? I don’t remember; something to do with one email address being associated with “business” stuff (buying and selling) and the other with “artistic” stuff (the book reviews).
    The easiest way for me to pick an item to review for the associate link is to go through my order history, which requires logging in to my customer account, but then I’d need to log in to my associate account to be sure the associate link is properly formatted. I’ll have to remember to merge the two accounts to fix this.

I recently looked at a Chrome extension that automatically adds the associate tag to any Amazon web page, but unless some customer uses my tag on their browser, I have no easy way to find out if the links really work.

Point the fourth: Mobile Apps

If someone is browsing my site on their phone/tablet/what-have-you and clicks on a link, but their device is set to open Amazon links in the Amazon app instead of the web browser, does Amazon still track that purchase with the Associate link?

Does anybody know?

Note I have this same concern about Amazon Smile links.
I’d be using the apps a lot more, especially when I finish off an ebook on my lunch break and need to start a new one, if I could be sure my chosen charity was credited for the purchase, but instead my purchases must wait until I get home. All I really use the shopping app for is to add things to my wishlist, which brings me to….

Point the fifth: Bookmarks and Wishlists

I’ve been using browser bookmarks and Amazon’s wishlist function since before I joined Amazon Associates, and I highly doubt I’ll stop any time soon.
I don’t do many impulse buys on Amazon–I see an item I like, I add it to my list, and I wait until I have more things to qualify for free shipping, or any other reason that involves putting off the purchase.
And I assume a goodly portion of my prospective readers do the same.
Bookmarks, provided they originally came from an affiliate link, would still allow the content creator to make money on the purchase. Wishlists would not.

Perhaps Amazon could implement a feature that allows wishlists to log associate tags for the purpose? Something account-specific, though, not cookies that only last for x number of days or until you clear your browser’s history.

Not All Bad

This is not to say that Amazon Associates is a bad thing. It can be, as previously mentioned, a decent source of income if the content creator uses it efficiently. Keep an eye out, if you so desire, to see my more positive thoughts about the system.

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