Affiliate Site Maintenance (& Avoiding Potentially Costly Mistakes)
After 10+ years as an affiliate, I own a lot of affiliate sites. Some very successful, some semi-successful and yes, some have been complete failures. Once you start getting into the running multiple sites arena, it's easy to let some things slip through the cracks.
It's not uncommon for me to check out a less important but still a revenue generating affiliate site that I haven't looked at in twelve months to find out that half of the affiliate links are broken [headdesk] or that it got hacked because I apparently last updated its version of WordPress in 2009.
I've learned to think of affiliate site maintenance kind of like household maintenance. There are some things you need to do every few months (like changing air filters), some things you need to do every six months (like changing the water filter in the fridge) and some things you need to do once a year (like cleaning the gutters). But like an affiliate site, if you never do ANY maintenance, you'll soon find yourself faced with (avoidable) problems that end up costing you quite a bit of cash (like in the above instance where half my affiliate links were broken – that ended up costing me about 3K).
So I created a maintenance checklist so to speak that I am now employing across my affiliate sites. However, the items on this list should be done whether you own 30 affiliate sites or one. So I figured I'd share it since you guys might find it helpful.
Due to the volume of affiliate sites that I own, I can't check every site every month for everything. If you have a lower volume of sites or one site, some of the items below should be done a bit more frequently.
Check your stats
By this, I mean affiliate stats, analytics stats, advertising stats, and Adsense stats – whatever data you can check for your site or blog, you should check. These can help you identify any huge or obvious problems. Have a big loss in search engine traffic? You have an SEO problem you need to fix. AdSense impressions down, but site traffic is the same? You may have a problem with your code or ad relevancy you need to fix. Affiliate sales down but the traffic clicking on your affiliate links is steady? The merchant may have updated an offer to be less attractive, killed a creative or be skimming your sales – and you need to check into it.
It seems like WP comes out with an update every six days at this point, but every update is usually released to close security loopholes and not add new features. So you need to make sure your site is as up to date as possible (whatever platform you use) to avoid getting hacked and potentially losing search traffic and readers as a result. Also be sure to keep your plugins up to date as well.
Back up your blog database
Database backups are something that should be done regularly and before every update anyway. But it's important enough that I figured I'd mention it in its own section. While irretrievably losing a database isn't something that happens often, you never want to put yourself in the position of being unlucky enough to one day find yourself an exception without having a backup. Instructions here.
Every Three Months
Check for and fix any broken links
I use Broken Link Checker to check for broken links on my site. Not only can a ton of broken links have an effect on your search engine rankings, but they can annoy the shit out of users too. Please note, Broken Link Checker can be ineffective for checking for broken affiliate links, which leads me to the below.
Check for and fix any broken affiliate links
If you're manually redirecting affiliate links, Broken Link Checker will (sometimes) show them as being 404s when they work fine (in my experience anyway). Additionally, because I use PLP Link Cloaker – which I set to automatically link product names, some links don't appear in the actual body of my post in the database, so Broken Link Checker doesn't see them and therefore can't check them. So I simply open the PLP dashboard and run down the list checking affiliate links in there. However, it is that you specifically have to check your affiliate links, be sure to do so.
Update any datafeed driven parts of the site
Several of my sites use datafeeds to populate some of the content areas – some of which don't allow us to “direct connect” meaning we manually have to download the datafeed and then upload it to where we need it to go. It's easy to forget to update the datafeed every once in a while – and a pain if you add custom content to it (which you should). But it's something that needs to be done to keep your site fresh – especially if the site is showing prices or in or out of stock statuses.
Ensure you're getting all your emails
I know this one sounds silly, especially if you only have one or a few sites. But I have a ton – and a ton of different email addresses as a result. I got a new iMac about 18 months ago and forgot to transfer over two of my email accounts to it (I didn't have the passwords on hand and figured “I'd do it later” and then forgot). So, I wasn't getting the emails directed at them. I didn't find this out for a YEAR, and when I finally downloaded the 6K emails in the box, I'd seen that I'd missed multiple requests for advertising rates for the site. [headdesk] So now I check them every once in a while to ensure I'm getting them. The same goes for your site contact form. I recently tried to contact a blogger to do an ad on a post of his (a real nofollowed ad, not a link) and his contact form spit me back an error and he lost potential revenue.
Check up on your current affiliate relationships
If you're directly affiliating for a merchant, either through a network or an indie program, you'll want to be sure to check for any updates regarding your merchant relationships on a regular basis. For instance, an advertiser I affiliate for through LinkShare has me in a “special program” because of the volume I do in sales for them and being in the special program means I get higher commissions. They'd often change the terms or the expiration dates on this program – and I had to OPT INTO the updated version. If I forgot, it meant that when their former special offer expired, or the terms changed, I'd be relegated to the regular commission structure until I DID opt in. In some cases, merchants will pause your participation in the program entirely until you've accepted any new terms – which means you don't get credited for sales in the meantime. Sometimes advertisers expire and you're sending useless clicks to a page saying “this advertiser has expired” that you could be sending to another merchant. This, unfortunately, has cost me a lot of money here and there over the last decade.
Check for new potential affiliate relationships
We run a lot of review sites. In an attempt to build the best sites possible, not every product we mention or review has an affiliate program. But you need to check frequently if that changes. I've had two separate instances where I was sending a monster amount of unaffiliated traffic to merchants that didn't have affiliate programs when we added them, but eventually started affiliate programs – that we went without realizing for 8+ months in both cases. In both cases, we now earn four figures a month with each merchant. You can do the math on how much revenue we missed out on by not checking for potential new affiliate partners on a more regular basis.
Every Six Months
Update your creatives
On our cell phone sites, we advertise specific phones in the sidebar. I once saw a sidebar on the site that hadn't been updated in years, which meant it was advertising outdated phones that nobody wanted. Because we track how the sidebar links perform, once I checked it out, we'd seen a steady decrease in sales during that time. Once we updated the phones to be current, we saw a (not surprising) increase in sales. Merchants also change ads based on what they learn converts over time, so by keeping your creatives fresh, you can benefit of their ad improvements.
Check on what's converting and what's not
I try to run a Crazy Egg test twice a year to test what's going on with my site visitors and how they're interacting with the site. What creatives flopped, what links weren't noticeable, what outside promotional activities I did drew not only traffic but brought me conversions, etc.
Run some split testing on your creatives and calls to action
Split testing (also referred to as A/B testing) means testing two different versions of something against each other while trying to make all other things equal. If you simply test one creative one month and one creative the next, all sorts of other factors could alter the results. Maybe your topic is more popular in October. Maybe you got a lot of traffic one month from a post going viral. Maybe you ran one test in May and the other in June when traffic typically tends to slow across all sectors due to people being busy with summer. Doing real split testing allows you to compare two ads under the “same conditions” so to speak. Google Website Optimizer is a free option to do this and Visual Website Optimizer is a paid option to do this (though it offers a free trial). Be careful, though, A/B testing can become almost addictive.
Update your About Page if you have one
This is particularly important to personal bloggers. Does your about page talk about how many years you've been blogging? Does it list notable accomplishments of you or your blog? Does it mention or link out to cool things that you've done? In my experience, the About Page will be one of the most visited pages on a personal bloggers site. It's important to keep it up to date to reinforce why people should take what you have to say seriously.
Once a Year
Check your domain registration
I don't care if you have domains set to auto-renew, things can go wrong, and you should check to ensure your domain registration is up to date – and auto-renews – at least once a year. I lost a ten-year-old domain recently that I'd last renewed for five years because the credit card information was out of date by the time it came up for auto-renewal – and so was the email address I'd used to register it. I didn't find out until after the grace period was done, so I simply lost the domain. Don't let that happen to you.
Ensure your copyright is up to date
This seems unimportant, but having an outdated copyright notice makes your site look out of date too. How much would you trust the information you found on a site that said “© 2004” in the footer? Using the Thesis theme? You can set your copyright to auto-update by adding the following PHP to your footer function where you currently list the year.
© <?php echo date('Y'); ?>
Check your website across the various browser platforms
Browsers release updates. Make sure that those updates don't suddenly make your site look like shit. #nuffsaid
Check out the average screen resolution of your readers
If you're using Google Analytics, you can do this by going to your dashboard > Technology > Browser & OS > Screen Resolutions. Why do I do this? Because I want to ensure I get as much information above the fold as possible. If it turns out my user base is using a very high screen resolution on average, then I can increase the dimensions of my site accordingly. For instance, over 91% of visitors to Sugarrae are using a screen resolution of 1024×768 or higher. So, if I'd left my site at the 800×600 resolution that was the most common when I started the blog in 2006, I'd be leaving a lot of above the fold space “on the table” so to speak. But the screen resolution of your specific audience can vary depending on a lot of factors so don't take my numbers above as an average. Check your personal stats.
Am I missing Anything?
Feel free to let me know what additional items you check in the comments.
Please note – I use affiliate links on this site. This means I might earn a commission if you click on a link and sign up for something.