Affiliates to Give 200% Cashback to Charity

Affiliates Give Cashback to Charity
If that got your attention perhaps you’ll also be snagged by a new breed of spam emails featuring incredulous and witty subject lines. I’ll admit I was enjoying this spam and I was a bit disappointed when they dried up as spam filters around the world sussed the format so for posterity here’s a few highlights:

  • NASA to use Space Shuttles to kill birds
  • Switzerland To Be Devoured By Black Hole (one for James Avery there)
  • Home Office to deport anyone with IQ below 100
  • ICAN To Shut Down Email Services World Wide
  • Obama Captures Osama
  • Mccain vows to withdraw all troops from the US
  • Paris Hilton to operate new atom smasher
  • Paris Hilton’s Vagina Bites Penguin

A different email spammer is sending out more believable subject lines which just don’t have the same appeal:

  • Ronaldo leaves Man Utd
  • Cancer cure from American plant
  • UFO sighting in downtown NY
  • Steve Jobs to resign from Apple
  • London Olympics cancelled

…and so on
It really goes to show the importance of your email subject lines and for affiliates sending out newsletters there are lessons to be learnt.
I filter my incoming mail by subject line into folders and when I send out my weekly newsletters I always start each email with “CantBarsed.com” to make it easy for my newsletter subscribers to do the same and now I’m wondering if I would get a better open rate if I mixed up the subject line so it wasn’t so easily filtered or maybe that would just annoy my subscribers?

Witty one line comments welcomed 😉

Is Less More?

Is less more?Salesperson: “Hello Sir, Mobile XYZ here phoning about your mobile phone contract, we…”
Me: “It’s an iPhone.”
Salesperson: “That’s lovely sir, anyway about your mobile…”
Me: “They’re exclusively with O2, you’re wasting your time… and mine.”
Salesperson: “…”

It’s happened twice already.

In my vision of an Apple inspired future I hadn’t foreseen the welcome side-effect of the demise of mobile phone contract parasites (or that being scewed by O2 would have an upside) and it got me wondering what else in our lives would be better if we had less choice?

Do we really need to choose which company sends us a bill for our electricity, gas, water etc? If comrade Stalin-Brown nationalised the lot again we’d have less choice but we’d all pay exactly the same and we wouldn’t have to endure those pesky comparison website TV adverts.

Do we really need so many separate remote controls with myriad buttons we’ll never use? I don’t. Apple’s remote control is an marvel of self-restraint which everyone can use without a manual, it just works. There’s even an Apple iPhone App(lication) which lets me control iTunes from anywhere in the house. All we need now is some smarty pants to come up with a box of tricks which let’s me control everything from my iPhone and I can throw all my remote controls away – I see there’s already a company working on this, but I’d rather Apple took charge and did the job properly.

Less is more was always my favourite design philosophy but it hadn’t occurred to me having less choice might also be a good thing. I’m certainly losing brain cells quicker than I’m making new ones these days so working smarter is good but working simpler is where it’s at.

Given a free choice I choose less choice.

Barbados – Message In A Bottle

Barbados message in a bottle
I had several other working titles for this blog post:

“Barbados – The Pleasure & The Pain”
Pleasure because it really was a pleasure to spend time in the company of some of the nicest people around the affiliate marketing scene, some I’d known for years like Pete, Lee, Chris, Ian, Keith, J Lil with apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten and new friends Gulshan (my roomie), Nic, Meisha, Neil, Tom, Aldo, Elizabeth, Naomi, Hannah, James Avery, Mike, Sinéad, Siri, Ben, Sarah(s), Mark and quite a few others whose names I can’t spell until you get in touch with me. I think we’re all agreed Barbados is a beautiful island and it was a pleasure to explore and interact with the locals who are generally chilled, mild mannered, intelligent, respectful and delightful people.

Pain because I managed to badly sunburn myself the first afternoon. In my enthusiasm to go body boarding, one of my favourite things to do wherever I go in the world, I picked up some waterproof SPF50 lotion slapped it on all over but it clearly didn’t work as advertised because I ended up bright red for the rest of the week and now my skin looks like a contour map of the island! And there were the hangovers!

“Barbados – Mixing Business With Pleasure”
I can’t imagine any better way for a network to switch me on to their message than jetting me off to Barbados and Affiliate Future have evolved this winning formula over several years which works remarkably smoothly. There were no formal presentations, no hard sell, just plenty of suggested outings and things we might like to participate in. The only onslaught is alcohol which, as an affiliate, is beer off a ducks back. AlcOClock usually kicked off after breakfast with a poolside bottle of Banks, the local lager, followed by Rum & Cokes (Barbados is famous for Mount Gay Rum which has to be the smoothest rum in the world) leading inexorably to Happy Hour and strawberry Dacaries before heading out for the evening – and we had some great evenings.

My highlights of the week were:
Scuba diving: I was really nervous about scuba diving, I’m comfortable in the sea hanging off my body board but trusting technology to help me breath underwater is huge leap of faith and thanks to Andrew at Eco Dive and Frostie for making that leap a little less scary. We dived down to a shipwreck at around 15m and I also saw a sea turtle, octopus, shoals of fish, all in all a fantastic first experience and I can’t imagine a better place for a first dive.

Touring the island in a Suzuki Jeep: We hired a bunch of vehicles and headed off to explore Barbados which is just 166 square miles (by my reckoning about the same size as the Isle of Wight) which means you can get around the entire country in a day! We headed off to a silver sanded beach up the west coast, stopped for lunch at an excellent restaurant, then headed up to the Flower Caves situated at the most northerly point on the island before making a mad dash down to Crane Beach on the Atlantic coast where we arrived at dusk. Don’t ever follow Lee, or try to overtake him, which left me in an awkward catch 22 situation as he made an unorthodox maneuver just as a bunch of local schoolchildren started to cross the road off to my right. Ian shouted “KIDS IN THE ROAD” so I slammed on the brakes and stopped just a few feet away from half a dozen of them as Lee hurtled past in the opposite direction. Neither the kids nor Lee (aka “Team Fun”) seemed in the least bit concerned so we put the episode behind us and we had our very own catchphrase for the rest of the island tour.

Bodyboarding on Crane Beach: We organised a gang in a local Taxi for an afternoon of boarding therapy. The waves were very messy with no opportunity to do anything other than hang onto them and ride straight up the beach or get wiped out. These waves were really mean – I got dumped unexpectedly more times here than anywhere else and I ended up banging my head on the bottom for my troubles – not the best place for beginners to learn but I had a fab time.

Karaoke: In the spirit of doing something outside my comfort zone I ended up singing Karaoke in the hotel bar. I joined in with James Avery, Ian and Lee for an interesting variation on “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and after a succession of Mancunian anthems I roped in Ian, Tom and Lee for my choice of “Puff The Magic Dragon” and by the end of the evening there was incriminating video evidence on most of us.

Fish at Oistins: Great food after dark on the beach mixed with lively music and great company is my recipe for happiness and the Marlin and macaroni pie was the best food I ate on the island. I had planned to do a bit of shopping but I think it was Nic that put a stop to that with a bottle of Mount Gay rum and we started on Rum & Cokes. As I’ve grown older I haven’t really got any wiser and that evening I went for it. I don’t remember travelling back to the hotel, I do remember having a fab time in the hotel bar with Nic, Neil, Ian, Kieth, Tom, Sinéad, Chris, Sarah and Ben – who went to bed early and consuming a brain shrinking quantity of Rum & Cokes. I don’t remember eating street meat and I don’t remember how I ended up in bed face down with my clothes still on but it was a great night.

I also enjoyed a couple of drinking sessions at The Ship Inn and a Bajan evening at Harbour Lights where the “young bloods” of the gang really made a lasting impression – one I’m still trying to forget!

Anyway, I settled on “Message In A Bottle” partly because my blog posts have a running theme of song titles and I can imagine sitting on a secluded beach somewhere spamming the oceans with messages in empty bottles of Banks:

“Please tell Deb to come and join me and give our kids the site logins so they can pay their way through university.”

“THANKS to Affiliate Future for stranding me on Barbados and rescuing me from my daily routine”

CantBarsed Blog – A4U Awards 2008 Excel London

Well I didn’t win anything – which wasn’t a surprise since I wasn’t nominated but I still managed to get nervous for 2 award nominees I felt quite strongly about.
Happily Julie Wood romped home (judging by the cheers) as the Publisher’s Choice Of Account Manager and Kirsty McCubbin just missed out to Kieron for the Affiliate Marketing Blog of 2008. As I was waiting on the balcony alongside Kieron I reminded him I’d voted for Kirsty and he agreed she would be a worthy winner so I was delighted when he told me after collecting his trophy that he intended to give the sunshine.co.uk holiday vouchers to Kirsty and Duncan could so they could have a mini holiday after their wedding and before the A4U Expo.

Of the 14 other awards I correctly guessed 7 and was only left scratching my head over a few.
I expected sunshine.co.uk to pick up an award but Chris Clarkson picking up the Affiliate Manager of 2008 is a real achievement up against old hands like Zak and Graham.
Virgin Games winning the Gaming vertical award ahead of Jackpotjoy was odd. They’d been squeezed onto Kieron’s “affiliate only” table and disappeared downstairs just before the award was announced so I’m guessing they only attended at the last minute and knew in advance they’d won the award – which is better than not attending and filming a cheesy video – probably! I wasn’t even aware there was an independent Virgin Games affiliate program so I’m guessing they actively canvassed for votes which feels wrong to me but it’s within the rules and even actively encouraged but I still don’t like it. OTOH the Virgin Media guys sat either side of me and Deb at lunch and they were both really nice and we drank a glass or two of their celebratory Champagne so I’ve no cause for complaint – I bet Jackpotjoy Jasper and Claire will be canvassing for votes next year!

As An ‘umble Affiliate Plus 1 Missus Was A4U Worth Attending?

The comedian Michael McIntyre made my face ache with laughter which partially numbed the pain of spending around £600 all in including tickets, hotel, breakfast, trains and taxis to eat and see a few mates pick up awards. From a business perspective I wouldn’t get it past my expenses manager (happily I don’t have one) and the A4U expo is a much better opportunity for networking. OTOH as a glitzy event to take the missus along too and spend some company money it was just about worth it but I probably won’t attend next year unless it comes immediately before or after the A4U expo so I don’t have to make an extra journey and hotel booking.
It’s also always good to spend time in the company of Elaine and Dave, Kieron, Frostie and others. I also learnt Redcar is up north, oxygen can be flavoured and that I can drink a lot of Champagne, to date, I haven’t been able to afford to find my limit.
I didn’t give a toss about the involvement of the IAB at the awards – it’s been largely irrelevant to my affiliate life and similarly I don’t understand why people seemed pleased NMA wanted to be involved. As a magazine about new media they’d be stupid to ignore a sparkly event tailor made to fill column inches – maybe they were pleased NMA isn’t as stupid as they thought it was.

A4U Congratulations

Once again Zak from Prezzybox and Graham and Dan from Buyagift pick up awards and it was really good to catch up with Julian from IWOOT and talk seafood again. It’s also always good to put names to faces of all the other merchants and affiliate managers I chat with by email, telephone and MSN on a daily basis and best of all it was great to celebrate Julie’s win at our own mini after-after show party with Nadeem, Martin and Carl from the A4U forum.
As usual there were loads of people I didn’t get around to chatting with but, thanks to Matt and the Existem gang, the A4U Expo is just a few months away so we can all catch up again there.

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Karma Chameleon – The Times They Are A Changing

Our recent 25th Wedding Anniversary party and my 50th Birthday seemed blogworthy enough milestones so here I am again.

We don’t throw many parties because we’re not fans of the traditional village hall format and the prospect of having our house trashed becomes ever-less tempting. I was explaining this to my friend Chris and we ended up talking about Packing Shed Island, which sits just above high tide off the coast of Mersea Island in the Blackwater River estuary, and we both agreed it would make a great alternative party venue so a few phone calls later the shed was booked for our anniversary party.

Booking the shed really was the easy part because everything from people to toilet rolls has to travel by boat to the island, and back again, which adds an extra dimension to even the simplest tasks with plenty of scope to FUBAR!

Parties need music so I spent a long time going through my iTunes collection picking must-have tracks from each decade and ended up with enough music to put on a music festival rather than a party!

I always enjoy browsing the pictures people traditionally put on the wall at parties but getting those mounted up and onto the island was never a practical proposition so I decided to put together a noughties style slide show using my Apple TV and an LCD projector. I generally hate scanning photos but it was therapeutic scanning pictures and amazing to see small snapshots spring to life on a much larger screen. The slideshow seemed popular so I’ve uploaded the lot to my .mac web gallery for anyone who missed it or wants copies of the photos you can grab them yourselves.

It’s great to get presents but there’s really nothing we need so we’d decided to organise a charity raffle and thanks to the generosity of our sponsors (especially IWantOneOfThose.com and Buyagift) and all our party guests we raised exactly £500 for our favourite charities.

From our perspective the party went really well. The island mentality led to us over-ordering food and we even had some alcohol left which is more a case of us getting old rather than over-ordering I think. Apologies to anyone I didn’t get around to chatting with, that’s always the problem with parties, but everyone had a smile on their face in the photos and they’re also available online here or on the Facebook event page.

So fifty is bloody old, especially when I grew up in the cold war and remember being told the world might end today at infant school, so I’ve been counting my blessings ever since. We can’t help growing old but we don’t have to grow up and figuring out what’s important is more important than learning stuff and milestones like anniversaries and birthdays make me maudlin and reflective – please feel free to skip my self-indulgence.

I’ve been practicing Taoist Tai-Chi for over four years now and although the gentle body changing exercises have undoubtedly improved my physical health it’s the taoist aspect which has been the key to becoming more comfortable with myself so here’s what I think I’ve learned so far:

* Don’t judge people too harshly. Most people are lovely, mostly harmless and often ineffectual but lovely nevertheless and the more people you meet and friends you make the more lovely experiences you will have in this life, it’s simple probability in action so just do it.

* Do something outside your comfort zone every day. Say YES when you’re screaming NOOOOOOOO on the inside and see what happens – it almost always turns out OK. I’m really uncomfortable at the thought of public speaking but it gets a little easier each time.

* Break your habits and embrace change. Challenge yourself, stop drinking tea or start drinking coffee – it really doesn’t matter, changing your behavior is the key because it challenges your self-image and ultimately how others perceive you. Be open to new ideas and experiences, life inexorably narrows our potential so don’t make it any easier.

* Be useful and be generous. From personal experience I know the law of karma works. Often being generous is useful too so it’s already karma payback, did you see the movie Pay It Forward?

Finally, and on a lighter note, I’m reminded of this essential tidbit for men of a certain age: If you have the opportunity to go to the toilet, take it – and if you’re lucky enough to get an erection use it!

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Whistler, IWOOT, Curly Wurlys & Jet Lag

I’m not a fan of February(ies) in the UK so the idea of stomping my carbon footprint across Canada was appealing – especially when the entire trip was organised and paid for by IWantOneOfThose.com – the worlds favourite gadget site.
We flew with British Airways, the worlds favourite airline, that cancelled our flight because the pilot was “ill” – I still can’t believe that excuse, the more I think about it the more pathetic it sounds. Do BA really not have a single backup crew?

The upside was a stopover in Toronto on route to Vancouver and Whistler mountain where the original plan was for a gang of affiliates to go boarding.

Instead we went up the Canada National Tower in Toronto, drank large quantities of beer and cocktails, with some serious eye contact, ate Twirly Wurlies and got into an outrageous pillow fight at a swinging party – I’d like to tell you more but fight club rules apply on holiday so I’ll just talk about me and skiing.

Learning to ski is easy enough but convincing your brain to let your body slide down a slippery slope with minimal control is a LOT harder – at least until the Adrenalin rush kicks in and you’re back on the chair lift for another run.

Harvey, my ski-lesson buddy, was fearless but clearly his brain doesn’t work because he lost his ski poles, his lift pass, his googles and then ME up the mountain!

Everyone who knows anything about skiing says Whistler is THE place to visit but without anything to compare it with all I can do is agree with the instructors who reckon it’s awesome dude, mental even and it certainly got under my skin in more ways than one.

I always suffer jet lag returning from America and it takes me well over a week to get back to normal so here I am wide awake at 2am yet hardly able to stay awake during the day – of course I’d love to do it all over again and to Paul, Julian, Julie, Ian, Jamie and Harvey I’d like to say thanks very much for your company.

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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.

My Head Is Going To Explode

So Christmas was good and Happy New Year to you all while I’m in here struggling with the pixelmajigs. The weather is much like my runny nose and I’m not sleeping very well with so so many ideas buzzing around I think my head is going to explode.

The nub of my problem is the everyday mundane tasks that get in the way of my insatiable appetite to do something new – anything new! I’m not talking big ideas or ground breaking concepts here – some new or rediscovered music to listen to ((listening to Daft Punk at max volume right now), tinkering with my iPhones (Oh yeah! I won one of those legitimately UNLOCKED euro iPhones in a competition run by RedSave.com – how cool is that? – and I plan to hack it and write about it here – erm… soon) – so pretty much ANYTHING other than what I HAVE to do to keep our websites ticking along is what my body WANTS to do.

The end result is I always feel that whatever I am doing right now I should be doing something else so my blog posts are sporadic and rambling at best and I have so much unfinished business kicking around but when you look after a website called CantBarsed.com you can get away with it – up to a point.

With my sensible shoes on link building is one of those jobs I can’t imagine anyone enjoys but, when done right, it can also be one of the most productive too. I’ve only ever been interested in linking in context with plain text links so don’t bother offering me your link pages, but anything else is welcome. You can email me or get me on MSN via joe at cantBarsed.com and show me your wares. One upside has been some great chats with other webmasters and that’s given me even more ideas – doh!

Sales are still going in the right direction and, inspired by several other affiliates publishing their stats, my snippet is total sales approaching… £5 million during 2007.

As others have pointed out there is also an unwelcome downward trend in commissions combined with an increase in advertising costs so it’s certainly not getting any easier, especially for new affiliates. This can’t be good for the industry in general and next time I’m in a bad mood I’ll be dumping merchants with low or zero commissions which are unacceptable.

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Iny Meany Miny Mo, to the AW Event We Shall Go!

I’d already accepted my invitation to the Affiliate Window event before I realised it clashes with the A4U get2gether and cruise to Amsterdam. I can’t do both events and keep Deb happy on her birthday. It’s a shame when affiliate events clash but I’ve been meaning to put some names to AW faces and it looks set to be a great evening. I’ll certainly miss my usual round of conversations with the guys from the a4u forum but I hope they’ll be some familiar faces at the AW event too.

ASOS Rant – Bedroom Affiliates & CantBarsed.com

ASOS rant alert! We were the last “ASOS Affiliate of the Year” before ASOS sulked and took their ball home. We’ve been outed by ASOS Pearly King Nick Robinson as one of the “grubby little people in grubby studios growing income at our expense” which seems a tad harsh given ASOS invited me to their London HQ, took me out to lunch and encouraged us to make more sales.

This all happened back in the days before the ASOS affiliate program evolved into a pointless exercise and, by no co-incidence, shortly after affiliate marketing superhero Jess Luthi escaped her corporate shackles and took the ASOS brain cell with her.