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Weblog Entry

Amazon Referrals

August 29, 2003

So AdSense has been the big thing for the past few months, yeah? I just can’t do that to this site. Not only am I not trying to make money here (at least, in the “I’m writing for a paycheque” sense), but they taste horrible. Others are making hundreds, if not thousands off of AdSense. It’s tempting to throw in the towel and just go for it to see what results, but I’m still not ready to compromise yet. (Give me a month of huge overage charges on my hosting plan and watch how quickly I turn to the big ‘G’.)

What I have been experimenting with is Amazon’s referral program. For the past few weeks I’ve simply added a referral ID to all outgoing links to I’ve made about 30 bucks ($US, no less, and that means a lot north of the 49th), and that’s not too bad for the minimal effort. I noticed my inclination to link something on Amazon went up too, so their program is clearly benefitting them.

All of which lead to thinking that resulted in a recommended reading list on the right (spurred further by Matt Mullenweg’s recent ruminations). The idea is that by sharing books I like, by letting you know what has been helpful to me in hopes that it will be helpful to you, I can continue supporting my habit and buying more books to recommend. While this blurs the lines between content and advertising, the expectation is that new users of this site will be able to quickly distinguish, and those more familiar will completely ignore it.

The effectiveness of this method will probably lessen over time, but I’ve noticed a nice little jump after launching a few nights ago. I’m looking forward to the first shipment when I decide to order in a week or three. Any recommendations?

Some will note that I’ve replaced the photo journal. After my rebuild last month, I had broken it to the point where new images were no longer being picked up, and the archives were a mess anyway. I hope to bring this back one day when I have time, and it’s still available at the old URI, but it’ll have to wait as I have more pressing things to attend to.

update: Then again, I suppose it’s not available. I followed the link and got a type mismatch. Which goes to show a) that I am not much of a coder, and b) neglect is obvious.

Reader Comments

Sunny says:
August 29, 01h

Hey Dave,

As long as ads are not intrusive, I am fine with them. The ads on Daring Fireball are a perfect example. Mr Gruber has made a nice compromise. Although the fact that the ads dont stand out will definitely affect click-thrus, I dont see any other way without affecting the overall feel of the site. That said, I like the Amazon referrals much more, especially when books are concerned. It may be seem as an ad, but really you are promoting the books that you personally approve. That makes all the difference (unlike in the case of Google adwords where you have no choice). It also allows you to continue buying books. So in the end, I actually prefer that you have the amazon referral service. I will value your advice and selection because I trust you. Because of this I prefer the amazon referral service.

Bob says:
August 29, 01h

Sunny is right on the mark - with Amazon, you get to choose the products. They’ve even added a keyword feature where the products that are shown (say, books) are ones that match a predetermined keyword. The ad I have on the webmaster board for B4TF shows two books related to the keywords “web site usability” and rotate with each page refresh. That keeps the content, so to speak, fresh, and hopefully will lead to increased click-thrus and, even more hopefully, sales. :-)

Dave S. says:
August 29, 02h

Jai - Yep, there’s that. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to try and make them mesh with everything else. They’re the second most attention-grabbing thing on the page right now; I’m not sure if I like that much emphasis. But at least they look like they belong there. That’s a good start.

Sunny, Bob - precisely. Having control over what I’m shilling is pretty important.

Amazon doesn’t offer real-time stats, so I’m eagerly awaiting the next turn-over to see how well these do. I’m debating posting the results or not; I might have to divulge a bit more info than I’d like to do that, though.

John says:
August 29, 02h

A friend runs Google ads on his forum.
He publishes his costs up front and the money earned from Mr.Google. Anything in excess is used to buy prizes for forum competitions. Win win.

Having said that, an old saying springs to mind…
“when everyone is running in one direction, quietly walk the other way”

John ( I always forget to click em )

Lach says:
August 29, 07h

Am I the only person who’s finding that AdSense’s payments are minuscule? It’s kind of depressing to hear about people making thousands of dollars off their ads when I’ve made about $50 in over a month…

MikeyC says:
August 29, 08h

Lach: “Am I the only person who’s finding that AdSense’s payments are minuscule?…when I’ve made about $50 in over a month”

If you’ve made $50 in roughly a month’s time I’m betting you’re doing much better than 90% of the AdSense participants out there.

zlog says:
August 29, 10h

AdWords = AdSense?

Dave S. says:
August 29, 10h

Six of one, half-dozen of th…. [thanks, fixed].

Keith says:
August 29, 10h

You know, I’ve been doing the Amazon referral thing for quite a while and so far I’ve made a whopping $.52. I get quite a few quick throughs, but no conversions. I guess my readers like their music free.

I too have thought and rejected the whole AdWords thing, but lately I’ve been re-thinking it. I’ve also been approached about other types of advertising and rejected them. Part of me doesn’t want to “sell out”, and part of me thinks it really wouldn’t be that big a deal as long as I did it right and kept the content up to what my readers expect.

The point isn’t to make money, I agree, but hell we all know a lot of effort goes into our sites and not everyone has the opportunity to write their own book. What’s wrong with a little payback for all that effort??

I just don’t know. But I for one don’t mind if someone has well thought-out, unobtrusive ads on their site. Hey as long as you don’t *make* me sit through it or click through to get the content – I’m cool.

Dave S. says:
August 29, 10h

I’ve been approached a few times by people wanting to place a small link on my page to improve their PageRank. I’ve said no each time. Screwing with the system like that just feels wrong.

Then, the flip side is that it’s screwing with another company’s system. PageRank isn’t open, so if people want to try making money by spoofing it, it’s not as morally offensive to me as someone trying to make money off spam or DoS attacks or the like.

There’s a fine line here. I’m still trying to figure out where it is, and which side I fall on. I’m all for purity, but I’m also for sustainibility.

Keith says:
August 29, 10h

Damn, I meant AdSense. Am I the only one who’s grammar and spelling go straight to heck when typing comments?

Keith says:
August 29, 10h

Purity vs. sustainability. Good point. There are times when personal motivation can only take you so far…Hey, when you figure out that line, let me know will ya?

August 29, 11h

I wouldn’t discourage you from doing the GoogleAds. The ones on are quite inoffensive (aesthetically, I mean). If you put them there, I’ll almost certainly click them from time to time.

Bob says:
August 29, 11h

I applied to AdSense, figuring that with all the traffic I’m suddenly getting on B4TF, I might make a few pennies here and there. Unfortunately, they rejected me outright - not once, but twice: I applied right after opening the site, and again a couple of days ago after my traffic spiked up into the hundreds of thousands of hits per month.

So now I’m also trying the Amazon thing. Like Keith, I’m getting click-throughs, but no purchases so far. I’m not looking to get rich, but I figured that it’d be nice to be able to supplement what I’m paying per month with a little donated money, and the purchaser gets something useful for themselves in return.

Oh well, maybe it’s still too soon to tell.

Jai says:
August 29, 12h

Keith - Yer not the nly 1 who’s gramer and spling go to hek when typing coment - just thought I’d let you in on that…

Dave S…. I mean Dave Shea (being that there’s 2 Dave S.’s in this post) - I actually found your rotating amazon booklist ad appealing. It’s aestetically very nice, especially with the dabs of varying color that it gives the site- especially when that book by the real Slim Jeffrey is up there. It looks really nice- made me click through it.

Dave S…. I mean the other one- the Staus one with the great tutorial on Graphic file formats for teh web on his site- I had to frickin’ look for the google ads on . That’s extremely unintrusive. I wonder if anyone ever clicks them at all. That kind of defeats the purpose of them as well.

I like my ads unobtrussive but visible. I like them better when they look great. I hate when they are force fed to me though- except last year there was a Flash ad for the supernowl on MSN (wait, MSN had pop-up ads?…) and I was initially upset but the ad was frickin’ cool so I let it go.

Jai says:
August 29, 12h

Um.. that’s *Superbowl*… not supernowl… see Keith. I told ya.

August 30, 01h

I’m not sure it’s worth going halfway towards making a site commercial unless you’re desperate to cover your hosting bill.
If you keep money completely out of things then people won’t think twice before linking to you, and it’s clear to visitors that you’re doing what you’re doing for the love of it. If you go all out and try to make cash from a site then people also understand that and have different expectations.
The area in the middle is murky; putting ads on a previously non-commercial site can seem greedy and make the site feel like yet another cheap portal.

Derek says:
August 30, 05h

I think the amazon recommendations are great, and I would also support Google ads if you were to put them on your site. I usually click all four ads every time there is a new article at DaringFireball. His articles are always wonderfully written and extremely informative, so I actually like feeling like I’m helping him out, just by making a few clicks of my mouse after reading a several page article. It beats having to subscribe to some magazine or an online e-zine to read his articles. I would feel the same way if you were to add the ads to your site.

Jai says:
August 30, 05h

Dave, your “Ads” don’t feel like ads at all. They feel like what they are labeled as- Recommendations. I didn’t even know they were ads until I clicked on one. Honestly, I think you’ve done a nice job with them, and as a designer who comes here often to learn new design stuff, those particular recomendations are a helpful supplement to my learning. If you make a couple US dollars off it, then that’s probably well deserved. I don’t feel like Mezzoblue’s been commerdialized in the least.

August 30, 08h

Dave, I think a lot of us have watched our site stats grow as blogs get more mainstream. It’s interesting that the American Dream® is to make money at doing something you love and that blogging is providing a medium for that. I had ruminated about this recently:

Though my conclusion at the time was “probably not,” I’m now much more of the opinion that I’d like to at least cover my costs of web hosting (which is now ~$100/year).

Two questions regarding your setup:

* Are you using some form of web services to grab a cover-shot and description from Amazon?
* Is the sole definition of a commercial site the ability to turn a profit–if so, do we need to pay SixApart a commercial license fee?

As always, thanks for your insight!

Dave S. says:
August 30, 09h

Kenn, you raise some interesting points. I would hazard that pulling in a few extra bucks isn’t enough to warrant a site ‘Commercial’. I have no product but free information; any extra revenue is solely a diversion. Regardless, I’ve long had my MT key so I think I’m okay on that count.

The infrastructure is pretty much non-existent. I pulled the product shots off Amazon and re-sized them, so they sit on my server. The text and links are all stored in a file on this site as ASP variables, and randomized. Too few items to mess around with databases.

Dave S. says:
August 30, 09h

Matt, I’ve thought about that. I don’t know that it’s a mindset most have though. Take for example the interview I did recently on DMXZone, or the article on Digital Web. Both sites are supported by ads, and most people didn’t think twice about linking.

To be honest, half the time I think people are MORE inclined to link to central resources like those two sites, but more because they’re collaborative efforts (and not just one person’s voice) than anything to do with ads.

Ads are pretty much here to stay. We all expect them sooner or later. I think my method is pretty unobtrusive, but we’ll see how it goes. I may get sick of them myself in a week.

Lach says:
September 02, 06h

Eric, you can in fact specify sites to filter… no ads will be displayed from those sites.

Eric says:
September 02, 08h

I don’t think Google’s AdSense is too commercial, because you very rarely see them on commercial sites. This is because the nature of the program would put ads for your competitors on your page, and to my knowledge they don’t provide a way to prevent that.

I concur that the Amazon links are more than OK. I consider mezzoblue a credible and useful source, and my assumption was that you are only recommending books you’ve actually read. I feel the same way about Tycho on Penny Arcade. If he raves about the game, I hope he is getting paid to do so. I’ve gotten to the point where I buy stuff solely on his recommendation, due to a 90%+ success rate with that.