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NOTE: New 2017 update at the end of this post! – They shut down my account again! I managed to open a new account and I am getting paid in the new account.
I still remember the day clearly…. On Saturday February 6th, 2015, I got an email from Amazon notifying me that my account was closed and no payment would be made for the advertising fee that I had earned up to that point.
Interestingly, I actually went through the typical 5 phases when someone gets a bad news.
Phase 1 : Denial – Why they closed my Amazon Associates account?
Initially, just like everyone would do, I thought this was a mistake. I read through the email again and again….. and again
I logged into my Amazon Associates account and sure enough, there it was, a large “Account Closed” sign.
I went back to the email clicked on the URL they gave and read their Linking Requirements.
It clearly states that using a cloaking software to mask their affiliate links is not a good idea.
Sure enough, I did do something wrong and I was well aware of it.
Phase 2: Anger – Why oh why did I cloak Amazon affiliate links!
A week earlier, a member on my team forwarded couple of websites that talk about why cloaking the affiliate links is a good idea.
These sites talk about the benefits of user experience; instead of the ugly affiliate link, we can show a nice URL such as www.yourdomain.com/affiliate.
They also talk about SEO benefits such as by aggregating those cloaked links in a sub-folder structure www.yourdomain.com/go/affiliate, you can block search engines from access that folder by using Robots.txt.
Then there are other benefits such as click tracking, affiliate link management etc.
I thought that was a good idea, so I looked into how this could be implemented. I eventually chose a WordPress Plugin – Pretty Link Pro to do the job.
The Pro version has an auto-cloaking function that it can mask every single links on the site. I had been using the free version so I was pretty confident that it wouldn’t take too much time for me to figure it out.
I set it up and let it do the job.
However, to my horror, the plugin did not have the ability to restrict which URL should be cloaked and which should not. Not only that, every time it cloaks a link, it would actually click on it.
The site I used the cloaking plugin on had hundreds of Amazon affiliate links and while setting the plugin, I actually paused the process couple of times to check a few things. As a result, thousands of clicks appeared in my Amazon Associates account within a few days which was clearly unnatural.
Phase 3: Bargaining – Please forgive me. Please!
After processing all the information in my head, I immediately wrote back to the Amazon Associates team explaining why I did it and apologised.
Since I did do something wrong, at this point all I could do was just apologise and hope for the best. I also mentioned why I did it by referring to the Yoast post.
After 4 days, someone from the Amazon Associates team wrote back to me telling me that I was still not in compliance.
Apparently, some of the content on the site are making “inaccurate, overbroad, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims”.
This time I was confused. I did not intentionally do any of these things but apparently I did it.
To find out what I really did wrong, I asked them to explain why my site was not in compliance.
A few days later, they provided a more detailed response.
So my team and I audited the site and there were a few things that might have applied to this.
We have had produced a lot of questionable content on that specific website.
Some posts had about only 300 words content with large pricing table containing 10-30 products. Some posts just had a list of products with brief description without much content.
Pricing table – we created these tables using the product price on Amazon. Obviously the pricing changes very often and we did not update them. Even if we did update them to show the current price it would take a substantial resource. So we removed all such tables.
Review rating – we collected these data from Amazon as well. Obviously this can change rapidly so again we removed all those.
After taking care of all these, I wrote back and asked if they could reopen my account.
Phase 4: Depression – Should I forget about Amazon affiliate program?
Few days went by and I got no response. I did some research online and found some people talking about how they got kicked out of Amazon affiliate program.
Some complained about Amazon closed their account without much reasons.
Some talked about opening a new account but since Amazon can easily find out whose account it is (IP address, bank account, mailing address etc) they might just shut it down again, so this method doesn’t really solve the issue.
I was desperate, so I started looking for phone numbers to call and sure enough, there was a number I could call (I wonder why didn’t I think of this earlier?)
A lady answered and I explained what had happened up until that point.
She looked into the case and told me that someone on their team was looking into the issue and there was nothing she could do. She did suggest to open another account and if everything is in compliance, I should be able to resume as an affiliate.
As far as reopening the closed account and getting paid, that was not possible.
Phase 5: Acceptance – Lesson learned. Let’s move on.
I created a new Amazon Associates account and waited a few weeks to ensure it would not get shut down again.
Weeks went by, nothing happened so I started adding the new Amazon affiliate code to my site.
Since I already had the links in place, all I had to do was to replace the tracking code. To avoid making the same mistakes again, we did eventually improved the way we present the affiliate links. I will share what we did with you in a separate post some other time.
Overall, this was a really good lesson. There is no fast and easy way to make money. Creating quality content with best practice SEO is the way.
Also, I was treating being an affiliate as a hobby rather than a business. I took way too much risks doing something questionable and got what I deserved.
Please share your experience
Have you ever got your Amazon Associates account closed down or came close to it? Please share your experience. I would love to hear what you have to say.
In case you are interested
Here is a post on the research I did about what not to do as an Amazon associate. Hope this will help make you aware some of the things that we should not do in case you did now know.
Also, here is a continuous update on one of my websites to show how I continue to grow it with only white hat SEO. My Amazon associate account has been in good standing since I recovered and now I am working hard to improve my sites.
UPDATE February 2017
Out of nowhere, Amazon sent me the following email and shut down my account again.
I have contacted them and could not get a straight answer what exactly the violation was since I am using all naked Amazon affiliate link (not shortening, nor cloaking of course) and have never shared any affiliate links on other websites including social media sites.
The violation that they used to shut down my account made absolutely no sense to me.
Needless to say they withheld my last 2 months of earnings and closed my account without any warning.
If you have a similar experience, please post in the discussion.
Why they decided to shut down my account again? – My theory
The reason they shut down my account might have got something to do with drop in earning. I noticed that my website traffic dropped substantially in January and as a result earnings from my sites dropped to about 30% of December level. In case you noticed, they shut down my previous account in February 2015 (the same month) as well.
Main reason for the traffic drop was due to seasonality since a lot of people shopped online during the holiday season (November and December). The timing of my account shut down was also interesting since my December earning would have been paid in February and it was the highest earning month of the year. Are they shutting down accounts just so they could avoid paying higher commissions?
My guess is that Amazon took a notice of the traffic drop and started investigating my sites and tried to find any kind of excuses to shut down my account. As you might know Amazon in February 2017 restructured the associate commission and removed commission based model so my guess is that they are now actively looking for sites that are not profitable for them.
UPDATE May 2017
After sending multiple emails trying to get a straight answer exactly what I did wrong, Amazon just sticked to their initial stance of “You did something wrong, we are shutting down your account. GoodBye.” and never gave me a straight answer.
I considered filing a complaint through the State attorney office but decided against it, since I most likely waived some kind of rights when I signed up with the affiliate program anyways, so the likelihood of winning my argument was very slim.
Instead, since I have multiple websites, I applied to the Amazon associate program again and this time without the website that caused Amazon to shut down my account in the first place. In fact, I am guessing this one particular website was the reason that got my account shut down twice up till this point.
This was back in February and I am happy to say I got my first pay deposit from the new account at the end of April.
Let’s hope Amazon won’t come up with some non-sense reasons again now that I have removed the site that was flagged with prior violation.