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Transparency: Support your favorite blogs this season (at no cost to you)

You probably already know that the six weeks between Black Friday and Christmas are the most important weeks of the year to most retailers.

You might not know that it’s also a crux time for many outdoor blogs: the one you are reading now, Adventure Alan, PMags, Section Hiker, plus many more of my favorite backpacking blogs.

If the season is fruitful, we can keep our lights on and continue to produce content that readers want, like gear reviews and gear lists, skill tutorials, and trail guides. If not, we might decide to blog less and to shift our attention to more promising opportunities.

The outdoor blog business model

The vast majority of blogs are a labor of love, and generate no revenue for the author. Dave Chenault of Bedrock & Paradox and Blake Miller of Outdoor Quest are two good examples.

But a substantial amount of time is required to regularly develop high quality content. For example, I spent about a full workday writing, laying out, and editing each of the posts in my recent series on backpacking shelter systems. If this website did not generate income for me, that kind of effort would simply be impractical. I suspect this is why Dave and Blake only publish occasionally, even though many readers would like them to write more.

Online content can be monetized in multiple ways, including banner ads, paywalls, and product downloads. But the most important revenue generator for most outdoor blogs is affiliate marketing.

A primer: Affiliate marketing

To incentivize referral traffic, select vendors pay me and other bloggers a commission on any resulting sales. For example, in a post I might write, “The Sierra Designs High Route Tent 1FL is a one-quiver shelter that is storm-worthy, versatile, and acceptably lightweight.”

If you click on this link, which I have shortened with Google’s URL Shortener, you will be taken to the product page at SierraDesigns.com. You’ll see that portions of the web address are specific to my site, which is an indication that Sierra Designs knows I sent you.

affiliate-link-address

If within 30 days (or a different time period specified by the vendor) you purchase the High Route Tent or any other Sierra Designs product, like the Long-Sleeve Pack Polo (long-term review), Sierra Designs pays me a commission. There is no additional charge to the customer.

AvantLink is a popular affiliate network that connects websites like mine with vendors like REI, Backcountry, and Patagonia. Amazon has their own affiliate network, Amazon Associates.

How to support your favorite outdoor blogs

At this point you probably have already made the connection: When you are shopping this holiday season, you have the ability to indirectly compensate your favorite websites. Before checking out, you simply need to click on a vendor link provided by your website of choice.

I make it easy, with links to my most critical vendors in the right sidebar of my blog, screenshot below. With other websites, you might need to click around for a while.

vendor-links

If your purchases were informed by a specific website, I’d ask that you support it. If there were multiple websites involved, support the website that you thought had the most meaningful content. Commissions are awarded to the last-click website; they are not divided.

If no blogs played a role in your shopping, we don’t deserve anything. But if you are feeling generous and want to support us anyway, well, by all means.

Finally, I would encourage you to be wary of value-less affiliate links, including but not limited to:

  • Notifications about current sales,
  • Holiday gift guides that regurgitate press releases or avoid any honest criticism, and
  • Directories of gear with no meaningful context besides (at best) product specs.

I considered listing specific examples of poor form, but decided not to. If you visit some of the same websites that I do, you have probably seen them.

Also, don’t give your business to websites that are not transparent. Per FCC guidelines, affiliate links should be disclosed so that readers are aware of potential content bias. That’s good business.

Questions or thoughts about affiliate marketing? Leave a comment.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

13 Responses to Transparency: Support your favorite blogs this season (at no cost to you)

  1. Moritz November 22, 2016 at 8:56 am #

    Thanks for yet another very informative post! And being upfront about this, is a lot more pleasant than blogs where you feel like on a bazar where everyone tries real hard to sell you stuff (you most likely won’t need anyway).

    I was wondering about the Amazon links however: do you still get a commission when I buy from one of the other sellers on Amazon?

    • Andrew Skurka November 22, 2016 at 9:06 am #

      Yes, commissions apply to any sales through the Amazon platform.

      • Johnny November 22, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

        What if I already have a cart full of stuff that I put in earlier? If I come here and click your link, then complete the sale, do you get credit?

        • Andrew Skurka November 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

          I believe so. But maybe a CS person can chime in, as I’m unfamiliar with exactly how cookies work in terms of dated activity and whether the actions in one tab retroactively apply to another.

  2. Patrick November 22, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

    Thanks for this post Andrew. I live in Canada. Does the affiliate program extend to Amazon Canada (I.e. Amazon.ca)? If so, could you post a link?

    Also, have you considered affiliate relationships with other key outdoor gear retailers in Canada? The biggest are probably Mountain Equipment Co-op, Sail, Altitude Sports (and their outlet site The Last Hunt), and Live out There.

    With the favourable exchange rate and $US 800 exemption from CBP collection of duties and taxes, these sites could also be sources of bargains for American shoppers.

    • Andrew Skurka November 22, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

      Amazon.ca has a separate affiliate program, and my links to Amazon.com do not get counted. I looked into creating an account with them, but only 7 percent of my web traffic comes from Canada (with UK at 5 and Australia at 3.5) and it’s probably not worth the ensuing confusion from sending my US-dominated readership to non-US sites.

  3. JeffM November 22, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

    Hi Andrew-
    So if I click on the Amazon link, a percentage of any of my shopping on Amazon will be directed to you? How often do i need to click on the link? Monthly? I enjoy your blog greatly and would be happy to support it. Thanks for writing this primer.
    Jeff

    • Andrew Skurka November 22, 2016 at 6:50 pm #

      With Amazon, checkout must occur within 24 hours of the last click to be considered a “qualifying purchase.” Unless you put something in your cart within that 24-hour period, in which case it’s considered qualifying if you purchase that item within 89 days of the end of that 24-hour period (so 90 days total).

      You don’t need to go out of your way to support this blog, but if it’s convenient and it’s well deserved I appreciate your support.

  4. Connie November 25, 2016 at 7:24 am #

    I worked long hours finding excellent products around the world, linking directly to the product (not all websites allow this) and updating my listings.

    However looking throughout the internet for websites in english, and updating the links, is long hours hard work for considering each find.

    I was doing it all at my own time and out-of-pocket expense.

    I do not list only american products, and I refuse to list any item not up to my standard of quality and lightweight, UL or SUL.

    I do not want ads from everyone for everything: I do not want ads at all.

    I would like to have paid click-thru’s for the items I list, and if they do buy the brand, okay, that as well. How can I do that?

    If I am supposed to pay an ad feed service, that isn’t happening. I want no ads.

  5. Connie November 25, 2016 at 7:25 am #

    I haven’t updated, in awhile, because I lost interest in working so hard.

  6. Nick Gatel November 27, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

    Hi Andrew –

    Last night I got back from over a week of camping in the desert, and got over 60 ping-backs from your post during my absense.

    Just wanted to let you know that last month (after 4 year years) I started incorporating some affiliate marketing on my blog, which is contrary to what you wrote in this post.

    I felt bad that your complementary comment about my blog did not catch the recent change.

    • Andrew Skurka November 27, 2016 at 7:05 pm #

      Congrats on joining the dark side. We’ll have to start working on Dave now.

      I’ll update the post, thanks for letting me know.

      • Paul Mags November 27, 2016 at 8:46 pm #

        You can be very persuasive. It was you who convinced me to join the dark side after all.

        Being serious, I had some trepidation. The reasons you listed above that you also during one of our early morning drives is the reasons.

        Made sense then.

        Makes sense now.

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