Code Sites – Reasons To Be Cheerful?

Back when we started publishing promotional codes on CantBarsed.com there really weren’t any dedicated code sites and we enjoyed top positions on Google, MSN and Yahoo for several years for most of the popular keywords. Happy days indeed but back then the general awareness of promotional codes was really low so those keywords were nowhere near as lucrative then as they would be now. However we did offer early internet shoppers a way of getting deals online they couldn’t get by visiting participating stores directly and everyone was happy.

As awareness of promotional codes increased and we saw the launch, and increasing popularity, of dedicated code sites it became confusing for visitors to CantBarsed.com to find our promotional codes mixed in with our content and our stats showed a marked decrease in visitors so we bought DiscountCodes.tv and worked really hard to build the site database with daily updates so now by cross-linking the two sites we can offer our visitors the best of both worlds.

Code sites have recently come in for a LOT of criticism, some justified and some unjustified accompanied by bandwagon jumping, petty sniping, jealousy, back-stabbing and, worst of all, in-fighting and slanging matches between code sites owners which isn’t good for anyone. However the glare of publicity has resulted in closer scrutiny of the way code sites work and has resulted in some positive developments.

To anyone thinking of launching a code site I would remind them about all the other seemingly easy ways to make money which turned out to be a lot harder than they first appeared. For example, how many decent cashback sites are there left? What happened to all the datafeed driven websites after google wised up to them? How many independent and useful broadband and utility switching sites have you visited lately (and how on earth do those comparison sites advertising on TV make any money?). I could go on.

Back in the real world producing a functional code site is just the first (and I would say easiest step) of a HUGE undertaking. To properly maintain a code site people will want to re-visit you’ll need to commit to learning everything there is to know about the UK online shopping scene and endless late nights!

This means signing up to every retail program and reading hundreds of merchant emails daily, investigating what each new merchant has to offer, removing stores which go bust or close their affiliate programs at a moments notice and that can be a full time job even before you add a single code.

Then there’s the codes. Some last ages, some last hours. No sooner have you added a code you have to remove it. Some codes just don’t work and others can’t work because your site design didn’t allow for every permutation. Some codes can be published, some cannot, some can be used by you and no-one else, some can be used by all affiliates, some can only be used my the recipients and others can only be used by groups like NHS employees and YOU have to decide this for each and every code you publish.

Of course you can look at other code sites (I do and I know we all do) and if they have a code I don’t I’ll go after the merchant, agency, networks for a similar code. However there’s also a really uncomfortable balance to be struck between offering what your visitors want (ALL available codes) and what you can publish (NOT all the available codes) and it’s very frustrating to be sitting on literally hundreds of codes we are clearly NOT allowed to publish and other codes which fall into a grey area.

In fact you’ll soon discover there’s more than one grey area! There are merchants that are completely paranoid about codes and/or code sites, merchants that still haven’t heard of codes, merchants that don’t handle codes well and just a few switched-on merchants and agencies which really get it.

I’d like to think I’ve made a positive contribution towards helping merchants understand discount codes and maximise this valuable marketing resource and further our aim to build long-lasting mutually profitable relationships with merchants.

Don’t expect everything to run smoothly when visitors hit your shiny new code site. If your site can be broken it will be broken. If anything can be misinterpreted it will be misinterpreted and your mailbox will fill up – and it won’t be with thanks and praise, remember the buck stops with you!

It’s tempting to cut corners and steal content from other code websites, but anyone doing so will soon be found out. At the last A4U Expo a bunch of code site owners shared a beer and discussed the issues between ourselves and with a couple of enlightened UK networks (Paid on Results and Webgains) and we (the aforementioned bunch of code site owners) are working together to resolve the problems which have been thrown into sharp focus as code sites hit the headlines for both the right and wrong reasons recently.

There will be some self-regulation and there will be some rules that have to followed and although, in my opinion, these can only ever be a work in progress given the diverse nature of discount codes, it’s a lot better than nothing.

Just like any other niche code sites appear, stagnate and disappear and just like any other niche a few sites eventually attract the lions share of the visitors. It’s usually the sites which offer unique content and/or unique features that emerge with the visitors and they deserve their success OR sites which break all the rules and get away with it until at some point the rules change and their model no longer works. For the record, we’re striving to be one of the good guys by creating a great site visitors want to revisit that doesn’t step on too many toes.

I’m frustrated by the negativity surrounding code sites and frustrated being lumped together with a few rogue discount code sites. We’ve worked really hard to ensure DiscountCodes.tv offers our visitors unique content and exclusive codes. We’ve always worked within network rules and merchant terms and conditions (even when they are added retrospectively) and that’s no different to affiliate marketing in any other niche.

Putting my thoughts about discount code sites into words has been a kind of therapy and we’re already into rehab as an inexorable process of closer co-operation with the networks has begun so I look forward to a time when we’re released back into the community and code sites are no longer newsworthy and the next bandwagon rolls into Dodge.

5 Replies to “Code Sites – Reasons To Be Cheerful?”

  1. When I started promoting discount codes back in November 2005 I got a lot of revenue from hardly doing any work. Things soon declined within 12 months as new sites sprung up. Now I dont get half as much as I used to. Saturated market? I think so.

  2. You’re right the market is saturated but when you say you made “a lot of revenue from hardly doing any work” you’re making my point that running a code site really is hard work now.
    That doesn’t mean new codes sites can’t be successful – MVC hasn’t been around long.

  3. Nice to read a positive comment related to code sites. Saturated markets might be tough/hard work, but they are usually saturated because the larger sites make A LOT of money!
    I’m of the belief that a lot of the surrounding negativity is due to a lack of effort and understanding from networks and merchants, the user explosion onto code sites have taken them by suprise and “legislation” is taking time to catch up. Rogue elements are bound to capitalise in that sort of environment and I expect yourselves, and a few others will be leading the market in terms of ethics and (I hope) popularity in the months to come

  4. I have a client who recently said that they didn’t want to centre their entire 2008 growth strategy on voucher code sites, that they were hitting nominal margin or negative margin by paying out a commission and then a discount on top, and they felt that this affiliate vertical was getting way too much attention from their network.

    My response was two fold really:

    1) you want to higher volume of sales even at a lower GP don’t you? (I nearly got slapped for being facetious.)

    and

    2) voucher code sites’ profile has gone through the roof lately, and the good ones are where a load of consumers are going to buy their goods and services, so if you want their custom you have to offer them something (supporting Dunc’s point).

    I’m all for voucher codes providing they do things properly – the problem I have is knowing which ones do.

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