In the last few years, as the economy cooled off and especially after the last big real estate market collapse, there has been a proliferation of sites that have popped up offering to help you make a fortune working from home (always a tip-off for a potential scam) by running your own web store. Best of all, they say, you don’t have to know anything about programming or setting up a website, handle any products or come up with a lot of money up front (usually). Some even offer to set you up for $1.95 (such a deal). What you often don’t find out very quickly, though, is that they are just setting up what is called an “astore” as an Amazon Affiliate for you, creating an Amazon Affiliate account in your name (which is, by-the-way, a violation of the Operating Agreement at Amazon) and then giving you a masked link that takes you to the Amazon Affiliate site, often under the guise of being a “back office” to your “store”.
But I didn’t spend much up front…
It’s in what happens next that you start losing money (money that you will have no hope of recovering). First, they charge an average of $30 a month for hosting your “site”. That’s a gross overcharge for what would cost you $4-$10 elsewhere. Also, a true hosting account would let you store a near unlimited number of pages, set up self-hosted WordPress and other applications and pretty much do what you want on your site. Instead, you end up with a one-to-five page site that you can’t easily change or add to. In itself, that might not be so bad, except the template they use is one that they have installed thousands of times already. Between the duplicate content on the pages and the lack of additional content you might create, you end up with a site that Google will never send any search traffic to visit. With no traffic, you can’t make any sales and have no chance of getting advertising revenue, either (not that Adsense would approve any site without more content than an astore).
The next step, though, is where your losses can go from the tens and hundreds into the thousands (the worst one I’ve talked to lost over $20K). Once you are hooked, they start calling and emailing you to offer additional services to help your “store” get started: training, consulting, development and even “traffic” (which is often either spiderbots “clicking” your links or third world children clicking for pennies), often claiming to be from different (but related) companies (all of which turn out to be registered to the same mailbox store and share a phone room). Paid traffic hasn’t worked on the internet for many, many years; Google and other search engines are now the only game in town and they will only index your site if you have original content (so, copying from other sites is also a bad way to get started – even if you aren’t caught and possibly prosecuted & fined for copyright violations, which can cost you hundreds of thousands in fines). It’s true that you can pay for advertising on Google’s search engine (Adwords), but that isn’t the same as the traffic that these companies are selling (and as an affiliate, your chances of even breaking even with Adwords is close to zero unless you are willing to invest thousands and really know what you are doing).
Over on the Amazon Affiliate discussion forum, we often see people that have lost substantial amounts of money, without any sales and often with the end result that they get their Amazon Affiliate accounts closed for lack of sales or lack of content on their sites. Most of them have been sold sites by companies that are based out of Arizona (there are legit companies in that state, as well, but the shadier characters seem to congregate there) and they are quite careful to stay just inside the line that defines fraud (and are quite careful in any written promises and advertising). They don’t guarantee results and are selling a “service” (a vastly overpriced one, of course, but overpaying isn’t a crime). Many of them do claim to be associated in some way with Amazon, which is pretty much guaranteed to be a lie. One that they are certain few will try to verify (there’s a Feedback link on the Amazon Affiliate site, which anyone can use).
I already bought an store site… what should I do?
If you’ve already fallen in with one of these companies, try to get your money back. Often they will refund most (although not all) of what you’ve paid, so long as you jump thru any hoops they’ve specified on their website. In the meantime, though, try contacting your bank and/or credit card company. They may not be able to get all payments reversed, but can at least help you in stopping future billing (which may require having a new CC number or bank account ID). For those in non-US countries, you may have to threaten to contact your government/Interpol/etc, if large amounts are involved.
How should I get started?
So, once you’ve figured out that there is no overnight, no-effort method to get rich with an “internet store”, how do you get started?
Joining the Amazon Affiliate program is free and anyone that has their own site (get this first) can apply. Only do so at the official Amazon site (it has .amazon.com as part of the URL). Make sure you use an email address YOU control. It can be on gmail, outlook, yahoo or any of the free email sites, but you will have to have access to it in order to make changes to your account, set up payment info, etc. If you change ISP’s or anticipate you might in the future, do NOT use an email that you get with your internet access. If you lose access to that email address, you’ll be locked out of your affiliate account at Amazon (along with who knows what else you set up with that email address) and Amazon is very picky about letting you change the email address without a confirmation from the main contact address.
If you don’t yet have any content (your own words – these can be reviews, your thoughts, what you do during the day, recipes or pretty much anything that someone else might want to read), consider getting started for free at WordPress.com or Blogger.com. Both allow some limited advertising, but neither will let you set up pages that only have ads on them. Blogger is a bit more flexible, but may be more limiting in the long run, as you can’t move your content to your own hosting site without moving to something like WordPress (an involved process and which will require learning how to post all over again). Start writing and try to post something once or twice a week (Google likes fresh content and people want to know there is a good chance of a new post when they check back).
What about putting in ads and store links?
Don’t worry about trying to monetize your content, at first – until you have a fair number of views per day, your time is better spent creating content. You may discover you want to change the topic you are writing about and go back and edit (or delete) some earlier posts. You may also decide that blogging or writing articles just isn’t for you; that’s fine too and it’s best you find out without spending a lot of cash up front.
After you have regular visitors, you can apply for some affiliate programs that work with your content (including Amazon, which works for most sites). Add a few links here and there – a text link to a product you mention, for example. A banner ad here or there is easy to add, but also easily ignored by most readers (and stripped out by many browser’s adblock functions).