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Saving an 18-Month Project From Disaster

The Culturium website's logo
The Culturium website’s logo

Guest post by Paula Marvelly, Editor, The Culturium

One of my favorite sites on the web is the magnificent Brain Pickings, created and edited by Maria Popova, and described as ‘an inventory of the meaningful life’. It is sustained financially both through readers’ donations and the commission earned from Amazon’s Associates Program.

Having a similar love of all things cultural and finding myself in a situation where it wasn’t possible to work the traditional 9-to-5 model owing to family commitments, I also wanted to explore the opportunities offered online, which would give me the flexibility of working from home combined with spending time doing something I actually enjoyed.

Given that Brain Pickings was founded in 2006, I also knew that I had to be realistic about whether my new venture, which would also be structured around the same economic model, could ever become a commercial success in the medium/longer term.

Nevertheless, we all have to start somewhere! So at the beginning of September 2015, after 18 months of researching, planning, and development, I finally launched The Culturium, a website devoted to exploring the interface between spirituality and the cultural arts.

Amazon and iTunes affiliate marketing programmes

After duly signing up with both Amazon Associates and the iTunes Affiliate Program, which can only be done with a live site, I suddenly became acutely aware that the path to passive monetization wasn’t going to be easy. iTunes was fairly straightforward to implement with only one sign-up process for their global storefronts; Amazon, however, was a completely different kettle of fish.

First, I had to set up separate agreements with each international Amazon store, which for my business meant its websites in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany. And yes, the European mainland sites are all in their respective native tongues, not English, which is fair enough but a little challenging if you aren’t fluent in four continental languages. (Google Translate comes in very handy here, by the way.)

Another administrative headache was filling in the recently introduced online tax interview for each Amazon programme, and which, again, had to be taken in the native language of each store. And despite the fact that the questions were fairly straightforward, not all the questions were the same for each country, which meant that each tax interview had to be translated question by question. (Why Amazon Associates is set up this way, given its global reach, is one of those great unsolved mysteries of the internet.)

The purchasing gap

The next gargantuan hurdle to surmount, one which I had never even foreseen, and where Geniuslink became my absolute savior, was the problem of users’ operating devices and the concept of geo-targeting, coined the ‘purchasing gap’.

This is best described by way of an example. Say I write a piece about Jack Kerouac’s wonderful collection of short stories, Lonesome Traveler. It is available to buy in paperback, ebook (for Kindle on smartphones/tablets) and iBook (on iPhone/iPad/Mac). Just think of all the permutations available:

Paperback: Amazon US/Canada/UK/France/Spain/Italy/Germany
eBook: Amazon US/Canada/UK/France/Spain/Italy/Germany
iBook: iTunes (only one global link, thankfully)

That’s 15 available options by my reckoning. Can you even begin to imagine how time-consuming it would be inserting so many links, not to mention how utterly impractical?

Geniuslink to the rescue

Using Geniuslink, there are only two choices available: whether the user wants to read Lonesome Traveler in paperback or as a digital download. All the remaining logistics—the where and the how—become completely redundant.

Indeed, the beauty of using Geniuslink’s functionality is that it is possible to create simple or even bespoke links to products, which may incorporate any number of rules or parameters, enabling the user to be automatically redirected to either iTunes or their local Amazon store, wherever they are located in the world and on whatever operating device they are using.

So by utilizing Geniuslink’s Javascript Snippet, I can easily build programmatically all my raw, straightforward links. (For those whose websites support WordPress plug-ins, you can alternatively use Geniuslink’s Amazon and iTunes Link Engine plug-ins instead.) For more sophisticated links, which need advanced targeting, I am able to build links manually using the Geniuslink Creator Tool.

Given all the platforms I already have to manage in order to keep the site up and running, having Geniuslink not only take care of my affiliate marketing but effectively the very financial foundation of my business is a huge weight off my mind. Moreover, the easy-to-use interface and informative knowledge base mean that link building by whichever method I choose is a swift and satisfying experience. I also have all the metrics I need to keep check on how my affiliate programmes are performing.

The future

Realistically, I don’t expect to make any significant income from affiliate marketing for at least a couple of years. That may sound pessimistic but I am only being realistic. A brand new blog can take at least eighteen months to get any significant traction and I would be foolish to expect anything less.

That said, I am in this for the long haul. It is well to remember that Brain Pickings, which has 3.7 million fans on Facebook and 0.6 million followers on Twitter, is nearly ten years old. It is also good to know, more importantly, that by all accounts Maria Popova earns a significant and well-deserved income from all her years of hard work, derived in the main from affiliate marketing.

One final point about Geniuslink. They have exceptional customer service, both before and after sign-up. Being new to running my own online business with lots to learn about digital marketing, there have been times where my prolific and pedantic questioning has been enough to try anyone’s patience. Without exception, all my queries have been answered promptly, informatively and always with that all-important human touch.

Since The Culturium’s launch, I’ve had lots of positive and enthusiastic feedback. Specifically, links to products on Amazon and iTunes are working seamlessly and have already earned a small commission. Looking back, I shudder to think what could have happened—loss of potential earnings; impractical and time-consuming website hacks—had I not discovered Geniuslink.

I truly cannot recommend Geniuslink highly enough and thank them for saving my site from near disaster.

The Culturium is devoted to showcasing the compositions of artists who have delved deep into the silence within and created work that is timeless, wise and beautiful.
The Culturium is devoted to showcasing the compositions of artists who have delved deep into the silence within and created work that is timeless, wise and beautiful.

I was first introduced to Paula via a support request asking the basics of extracting an Amazon URL.  Over the course of a month, we went on to cover most of the nuances of global affiliate linking.  What impressed me most during our conversations wasn’t her hunger to learn but her ability to quickly take a concept we’d discussed and apply it to her site.  I was so impressed that I asked her to share her story as I think it’s very inspirational, especially to those just starting out building a blog.  Enjoy!   -Jesse Lakes, CEO