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Showing you how I build profitable authority sites!


I will show you everything but my password! This site is dedicated to providing you USEFUL posts on how to build profitable authority sites. I share the systems I have setup to produce great content and properly use expired domains and private blog networks to rank quality sites.

Covid-19 Impact on Online Business

In what are uncertain times, how can you adapt your online business to the impact of COVID-19?

It goes without saying that the current world climate is in an extraordinary situation. In what is an anxious, ever-changing environment, non-essential businesses have had to close down around the world and a majority of people have been urged (or forced) to work from home. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all permanently, and suddenly. 

There are immediate negative impacts… Healthcare systems are overwhelmed, jobs are lost, businesses are shut down (some forever), the economy is in a state of uncertainty, and many other aspects of society will be affected by this pandemic. One thing is for certain: things will change after this, making way for a new future. And it’s closer than we think. 

We’ve Bounced Back From This Before

The quote from Darwin is as applicable today as ever. No advice I have heard on how we as a people or as a business should handle these times is better than this quote. Identify and adapt to change while we live within our means and co-operatively work together to overcome both the health and economic threat!

It’s easy to worry about the current state of things and that worry is valid. But there is the potential to change things. Let’s quickly examine the state of business about 12 years ago: during the financial crisis of ‘08/’09, Bitcoin, Uber and AirBnB had all just begun and had yet to gain value. They were merely start-ups that hadn’t fully come to fruition. Now, AirBnb and Uber are both valued at over $33 billion and Bitcoin is worth around $106 billion. 

Twelve years ago, most of the well-known online companies that are now household names, were just ideas or start-ups at the time. Even back in 2003, Alibaba and JD.com grew in value after the SARS crisis. 

In times of crisis, we adapt to the state of things. Businesses are created, they change and grow, and can thrive if they change to the times. Newsletters like thehustle.co updated daily on the latest in tech business, highlighting those who are evolving to the times. It’s corners on the internet like this that are keen on showcasing the change-makers who are putting a positive impact on their industry. 

So what has been the impact to online business and where should we be looking for how to adapt…

Internet Traffic Has Had a Huge Change

Since self-isolation and quarantines have begun around the world, peak traffic has increased on average. With more people at home using the internet, traffic is like never before. 

However, some are noting that globally, internet traffic for certain industries have decreased, and competition for ad revenues decreased. 

Instead, a lot of internet traffic is geared to the current pandemic. In the last month, web searching has skyrocketed for key terms like “corona,” “lockdown,” and “social distancing,” all things that have only recently entered our daily vocabulary. In the US, the key trending search terms involve protective equipment like face masks and hand sanitizer. Pandemic has become the zeitgeist, but what is the impact of this? 

For the short term, major spikes in traffic will mainly revolve around COVID-19-related things, purchasing items, and media articles, as people mainly look for up-to-date info regarding the pandemic. 

However, in the long-term, certain industries will see trends in their internet traffic. E-commerce stores selling to customers online have the potential to continue staying open, even while working from home. Many brick and mortar stores have actually made the switch online as well, even selling on WeChat to those who were quarantined in China. This signals a change towards consumers making online their go-to method. 

Of course, the airline and travel industries will have one of the largest impacts, as airports and borders close down and general interest in travel comes to a halt. 

This begs the question, how has ecommerce and marketing reacted to this sudden change?

Display Advertising Needs to Go Where the Traffic Will Be

In what’s an unsure time, advertising has taken a hit even before the pandemic hit the Western hemisphere. 

On March 2, Publicis Groupe’s Zenith said it would lower its December prediction of a 4.3% rise in global ad spending this year due to COVID-19, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

That same day, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said the Times “is seeing a slowdown in international and domestic advertising bookings, which we associate with uncertainty and anxiety about the virus,” and that the publisher now expects first-quarter digital advertising revenue to drop 10%. 

Ad revenue is changing from its typical industries and in response to this, marketing can make a shift to where consumers are going to go, moving to digital platforms. But there are significant winners and losers by industry. 

Think of where major internet traffic is going to go in the coming weeks, months other than general work: to online education, video streaming, various at-home hobbies like crafting, job search sites, discount retailers, at-home exercise. The activities people normally engage in offline will be making shifts to the web. 

And the ones who will struggle covers those that require a location or crowds, like traveling, luxury goods, sports, music, and live entertainment, to name a few. 

Marketing teams need to adapt to this and shift their content accordingly to regain revenue. Staying online is key. No one will be able to see the billboard outside, anyway. 

Website Buying & Selling

The general demand seems to be staying strong at the lower price. At MotionInvest.com, a business I own with partners that buys/sells websites, websites are still sold in hours and demand is staying steady. 

I had the opportunity speak with Emilia on this topic which she put on her YouTube channel…

This signifies that people are still looking to buy sites and grow in the online space.  And we’re not the only ones. EmpireFlippers saw record number of new weekly site listings earlier this month. 

Interest rates are going to be at or near zero. so-far a functioning financial system and significant stimulus packages issues by governments. Will all of that mean that money is easier to get than before, the search for yield and stock market volatility will mean there is a boom in debt financing at all price points in the website buying and selling industry?

My prediction is that the smaller and cheaper websites will increase in demand as more people rush to get into the online space. And the demand for larger sites that sell their products for higher prices might go down as less money becomes available to spend (but I could be 100% incorrect and it could be the complete opposite). More people will shift their focus on building sites to grow their value, rather than investing in larger sites. Whether this is a short-term or long-term change is unknown, but a strategy is key to surviving.

With these changes, multiples will be highly dependant on the availability of debt financing and if I had to bet with the data we have now I suspect will decrease in line with the rest of the stock market for the over $100k range and sub $100k will stay flat (but again I could be totally wrong!).

The Impact on E-commerce

This is e-commerce’s chance to prove just how fundamental it is in our society when we need it most. And companies have stepped up. One of the biggest, Amazon, recently hired 100,000 new workers and are temporarily pausing unloading of all non-essential products to keep up with the demand for goods. 

Online businesses will have a chance to thrive and are already seeing a huge spike in the countries most affected. 31% of Italian and 50% of Chinese consumers say they’re using e-commerce more frequently, in a poll by Ipsos MORI. 

Lockdowns disrupt the supply chain but that only puts more pressure on manufacturers and e-commerce to get the essentials out there. More people are shopping online but only for the essentials. E-commerce is affected by the supply chain now because it is becoming the core provider. 

Find A Problem Worth Solving!!! 

The key is to always keep moving and not be that guy who’s bulk-buying and reselling sanitizing wipes providing no additional utility in the world. Anyone trying to exploit the current economic situation will suffer because they’re prioritizing the short-term of benefiting themselves and not considering others during an incredibly sensitive time. Google and Facebook are already cracking down on this by banning resales and providing credible info linked on their homepages. 

So what will be some of the changes that we can look at…

High quality writers will become more available and interested in remote work.

Our knowledge on how to manage work remotely will become more of the norm and companies will be led to create working from home procedures and policies which will stay in place after the pandemic is over. I have always thought that the next recession would accelerate remote work, companies would ask why do we have an office. With a recession triggered by a pandemic that has forced remote work it will only accelerate that trend.

Specific industries could see a spike in demand after this, like the cleaning, food, and manufacturing of essential goods, as consumers go back to core values and realize these are what is needed and relied on when all else fails. 

And in an effort to keep things low-cost, marketing teams will have to come up with solutions to deliver a low-cost-efficient product to clients. For instance, ContentRefined is focusing on this strategy with its new offering from ContentLever (4 posts and social media management for $199/month). Online marketing will increase, and if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that the internet is the essential medium we need to run industries and stay connected. 

At no point in most of our lives has the rate of problem creation been soo extreme. With so much mental capacity freed up due to layoffs, I am optimistic about the businesses that will be created to solve real problems and help the world.

The world needs entrepreneurs now more than any moment in recent history to identify and solve real problems!

Internally we have paused the development on one project to shift focus on a solution (that likely won’t make anything) but will help people – more on that soon.

Further Reading

COVID-19 And Its Effect On Bloggers And Web Publishers

With uncertainty the new norm, the coronavirus rattles the media industry

The economic effects of a pandemic

Google Trends: Coronavirus

Treasury Secretary Warns 20% Unemployment Rate Possible Without Coronavirus Stimulus Package

Amazon warehouses will stop accepting non-essential items amid COVID-19 outbreak

Amazon hiring 100,000 new distribution workers to keep up with online shopping surge caused by coronavirus

Coronavirus: Nasa images show China pollution clear amid slowdown

Unprecedented Uncertainty: How the Coronavirus Is Disrupting the Global Advertising Industry

What does the coronavirus mean for business?

How A Recession (might) Affect The Website Investing Space

https://www.wefunder.com/virus

Amazon Affiliate Requirements – Disclosure and other Rules

A few years ago I shared my story about my Amazon Affiliate Account getting closed and costing me a painful $100k in affiliate advertising program earnings! 

Today I'm sharing a detailed analysis of the Amazon Affiliate Requirements and what you need to do to stay compliant so that your Associates Program account doesn’t get closed. 

Most importantly, I'm sharing a completely free new WordPress Plugin that helps you get your site compliant with Amazon in seconds!

Specifically, I'm going to go over the updated disclosure recommendations for 2020, how the free plugin makes it easier then ever to be compliant, and a detailed audit process that we can execute as affiliate marketers. 

If you have had your Amazon Associate account closed we will get into how to appeal to get it re-opened, and if all else fails, the critical steps to open a brand new one. 

Think about this post as covering 2 parts… 

  • First: Prevention (what to do to not get your account closed) 
  • Second: Recovery (how to get your account re-opened or create a new one) 

Prevention Sections:

  1. 7 Most Common Reasons for Getting Banned by Amazon Associates
  2. Amazon Affiliate Disclosure Template
  3. Complete Amazon Affiliate Requirements (including checklist) updated for 2020

Recovery Section:

  1. Appeal and Reopen Your Closed Amazon Affiliate Account
  2. How to Start a “New” Amazon Associate Account

To read the Amazon Associates Program details (highly recommended - but tough read), here are the 2 links:

My $100k Loss Backstory & Why I Care So Much About This Topic

Very shortly after I left my day job and had planned (in part) on my Amazon Associate earnings as being one of my main sources of income to support my family, I received the dreaded email saying I was no longer welcome to participate in the Amazon Associate program. Yikes!!! I had just made the entrepreneurial jump and then immediately took a HUGE hit. No longer being able to run my Amazon Affiliate websites was going to be an issue for my business. I needed to figure out a way to fix this.

The reason... myself and a partner had just purchased an Amazon Affiliate niche site and one of his other partners was doing some sketchy things with Amazon. 

This impact was PAINFUL and wiped out well over six figures in value very shortly after I left my day job. The silver lining is I'm now able to help other Amazon Affiliate store owners by sharing details about the process on this blog post.

This is what Amazon said in both their emails ...

During our research, we have determined that an account belonging to you (or a person affiliated with you) has previously been closed for violations of the Operating Agreement or one of the other Associates Programs operated by our affiliates.

Based on the analysis I was able to identify that the bad actor was a partner of one of my partners resulting in 3 accounts I was associated with (and all connected) getting suspended.  

From that, the process and tools shared in this post were born.

This post, as well as additional research, has led us to create this list of the 7 most common mistakes that people are making with their Amazon Affiliate sites that could lead to their accounts getting suspended or closed! 

But what I am most proud of is the best, fastest and completely free wordpress plugin dedicated to helping ensure you stay compliant with Amazon - check it out!

7 Most Common Reasons an Amazon Associate Account is Closed

In this post I have tried to stay on the conservative side, however, I fully realize people may choose to dial up the risk in order to generate more clicks/sales since this is affiliate marketing. I understand the need to try and find the right balance between risk and reward, and in this post have tried to present the “ideal” low risk plan.

Now that we’ve had the Amazon audit process up and running for a little while, we are able to analyze the data and see the biggest problems with our sites and the sites we have reviewed. I hope this post provides you with 7 actionable items to consider regarding your Amazon Affiliate website and the Amazon associates program.

See below for the 7 most frequently failed Amazon Audit questions that could result in your associate account being suspended.

ONE - Use of Logo at all or Trademark without Disclosure Statement

Update - Thanks to Matt Allen AMALinksPro for providing feedback and based on his research and interpretation of the Operating Agreement this section has been updated. 

Everyone knows to include an earnings disclosure but what about a trademark ownership disclaimer? 

Amazon Logo and Trademark Disclosure Template:

The correct disclosure to use on every page of your site that has Amazon or an Amazon.com logo is “Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.”

Your Amazon Affiliate Account can get shut down pretty fast if Amazon thinks you’re violating their Trademark and Logo policy. The tricky thing with Amazon is that they actually own the rights to other Trademarks and logos, such as Kindle. 

This question comes from probably the most clear requirement on the Amazon Affiliate Program Rules and Trademark Guidelines. You can find them here, or see the snapshot below.

So basically if you have anything that looks like this on your site then Amazon could shut you down:

Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates

  • TIP – Most people have the earnings disclaimer on their site but people (myself included) usually miss having the trademark disclaimer on the required pages.

  • TIP – Although it looks ugly, if you want to be on the very safe side don't include images and do include the Amazon trademark disclaimer on every page and not just the disclaimer page! This free affiliate plugin gets you setup properly in seconds!

So to answer the question ...

Can I use Amazon logo on my affiliate website?

No, although the operating agreement contradicts itself and there is an argument for being able to use it. I would recommend to NOT use any image for Amazon OTHER than the ones provided and only if you are using an Affiliate link. So what are the images provided by Amazon? Just these beautiful ones from 1994 when Amazon got founded 🙂 ...

Buy from Amazon buttons

To read a much deeper analysis of this and an interesting chat transcript with an Amazon customer support checkout this great post...

https://amalinkspro.com/can-i-use-the-amazon-logo-or-the-amazon-prime-logo-on-my-website/

TWO - Incentives

The second most common issue is the following question:

“Does the site offer affiliate advertising incentives (including any money, rebate, discount, points, donation to charity or other organization) for using Affiliate Links on the site?”

Many of the niche website affiliate marketing tricks need to be dialled back when it comes to staying compliant with the Amazon Affiliate Program Rules.

 

We have been finding that some of the sites that we have audited provide incentives, especially in the form of money rebates for using their link. Most of the offers we found were clearly only to incentivize the click and had no substance to people looking to claim the “rebate” or “save an additional x%”.

The clean and simple rule is DON’T do it! Incentivizing people to click on a link to Amazon is a slippery slope and a very easy way to get your account shut down. Including text like “ Click here to get 10 dollars off this product” are no good.

Here are some images of what NOT to do (not images from any sites we have reviewed):

THREE - Incorrect Use of Pricing or Product Images

The third most common issue that people have with their sites is incorrectly using product images and/or prices.

 

Here is the general rule of thumb – don’t include images from Amazon or pricing UNLESS you are pulling them with the Amazon API.

Comparison tables are great but don’t include the price on your site because Amazon products change their prices all the time. Including an old promotion price without realizing that the promotion has expired could also be seen as “inaccurate or misleading advertising” which will also get your account shut down.

Tools such as AMALinks Pro and AAWP will use the Amazon Associates API to automatically pull the price and images.

Below are a couple examples of what not to do ...

Example: You still have this on your site after the promotion ends

Remember: ONLY pull the price or product image using the Amazon API. 

FOUR - Link Cloaking

You will not cloak, hide, spoof, or otherwise obscure the URL of your Site containing Special Links (including by use of Redirecting Links) or the user agent of the application in which Content is displayed or used such that we cannot reasonably determine the site or application from which a customer clicks through such Special Link to the Amazon Site.

– Program Participation Requirements, Section 6. (v) “Content on your Site"

The fourth most common issue with Amazon Affiliate sites is the question “Are any links on the site using a link shortener in a manner that makes it unclear that we are linking to an Amazon Site?”. This is listed as 4th but is certainly the most debated issue when it comes to Amazon.

A lot of people do this! I’ve done it. Basically, Amazon doesn’t want you to make it unclear that you are sending a user to Amazon so they have words in their TOC’s that make it questionable to use link shortening/cloaking services.

So can you use Bitly, PrettyLinkPro or Geni.us Link? The truth is it is not 100% clear! Many many people do and Amazon knows they do so it is likely a lower risk (if you take some additional steps), but still not 100% compliant with Amazon. 

If you do use one of these URL shorteners you need to take an extra step to ensure that it is clear the link will direct people to Amazon.  Here & here is how Geni.us links discusses the use of its tool to stay compliant with Amazon Associates.

The short version is DO NOT use link shorteners like Bitly and PrettyLinksPro. If you are going to use tools like Geni.us links, then use your judgement based on how they recommend you use it.

FIVE - Off Page Promotion (social, email, print, etc)

The fifth most common issue with Amazon Affiliate sites is the question “Does the site engage in any promotional, marketing such as printed material, mailing, SMS, Facebook Ads, Youtube videos, MMS, email or attachment to email, advertising activities on behalf of Amazon or their affiliate sites?”.

This one gets a lot of people flagged because it is very easy for Amazon to check! It is tricky because this essentially makes it impossible to do any kind of email marketing with a link in it.

Even if you are emailing just one friend, be sure to not include an affiliate link in that email.

One solution if you want to make money from Amazon Associates from your email list is to funnel them through a squeeze page (for example a review post for the product on your site).

  • TIP – If you send out the content of your post in an email newsletter automatically, make sure links are turned off just in case you have an affiliate link in the first paragraph of the article.

“Are any amazon Affiliate Links shared on other social platforms/networks such as Twitter or Facebook?”.

This is a tough one because there are some instances where you CAN share your links on social pages and some where you cannot.

Personally, I recommend just to stay away from all of it.

Many bloggers and influencers get this one wrong trying to generate passive income from their audience. 

If you really want to do it, I would go here to learn more about what is acceptable and what isn’t in terms of social sharing.

SIX - Use Star Rating and Reviews

The sixth most common issue with Amazon Affiliate sites is the question “Does the site display or otherwise use any of Amazon’s customer reviews or star ratings, in part or in whole?”.

This is something we see A LOT (and did a lot!).

We see many people using reviews as testimonials, which makes a lot of sense since it gives honest and accurate reviews on a particular product. It also seems tempting because it can add really valuable content to your site which helps your reader.

Another thing that people like to do is use “Star Ratings’. Using star ratings on your site that look like Amazons can be perceived by Amazon as using “their” star ratings and yet another way to get your account closed.

SEVEN - Associate Yourself With Someone Whose Account was Banned

Another tough one to avoid and one we see a lot of sites doing. People will be added as a user to an account and then when that account gets banned, so does theirs. 

Here is what the email from Amazon will say:

An account belonging to you (or a person or entity connected or affiliated with you) has previously been closed for violations of the Operating Agreement or one of the other Amazon marketing programs.

The best way to avoid this is simple: DON'T associate yourself with anyone who has had their account banned. If you associate yourself with someone who has had their account banned, it can result in you becoming banned.

 

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure Template and How to Install

The simplest and fastest way to get the correct disclosure in the proper spot on your website is this free Amazon plugin I had created. 

The most commonly discussed topic in terms of staying compliant with the Amazon Associates Agreement is the need for showing you are part of the Amazon Associates program.  

It is a critical part of staying compliant and therefore I would not be doing you justice if I did not include the current thoughts on how to maintain compliance. 

For an in depth analysis on what Amazon Associate Disclaimer to use, check out Doug form NicheSiteProjects' post here or what Dom Wells wrote at Onfolio here.

There is a surprising amount of debate on how best to handle the Amazon Disclosure requirements.

The Amazon Agreement States:

You must clearly state the following, or any substantially similar statement previously allowed under this Agreement, on your Site or any other location where Amazon may authorize your display or other use of Program Content: “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.” (Section 5).

Most people therefore include some version of this in the footer or a disclaimer page and think they are good. 

Then… Amazon shared an email in 2019 stating:

This is a reminder of your disclosure obligations under the Operating Agreement. Any time you share an affiliate link, it’s important to disclose that to your audience. They will trust you more if you are transparent about where you are directing them and why. To meet the Associate Program's requirements, you must (1) include a legally compliant disclosure with your links and (2) identify yourself on your Site as an Amazon Associate with the language required by the Operating Agreement.


To comply with Federal Trade Commission FTC regulations, your link-level disclosure must be:


  1. Clear. A clear disclosure could be as simple as “(paid link)”, “#ad” or “#CommissionsEarned”.
  2. Conspicuous. It should be placed near any affiliate link or product review in a location that customers will notice easily. They shouldn’t have to hunt for it.

In addition, the Operating Agreement requires that the following statement clearly and conspicuously appears on your Site: “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.” For social media user-generated content, this statement must be associated with your account.

(Amazon email Oct 2019)

Associates should also consider the relevant social media platform’s guidelines. For example, Associates may use Facebook's Branded Content tool.

 

So what are you to do now? Where do you place the FTC and Amazon required affiliate earnings disclosure?

The options on where to include the disclosure are shown below along with our recommendation. 

  • Footer Only - Not enough since it won't be above the first affiliate link

  • Top of Sidebar - Not enough since it won't be above your first affiliate link on mobile

  • Hello Bar - One solution, but likely overkill as again, it may not show on all mobile and impact user experience.

  • Identify Each Link - This seems to be what they are after but I would think this HAS to be overkill. Anytime you link to Amazon you include “Commissions Earned”... seems excessive!

  • Top of Each Page - Safest, but be careful to not end up with your search result showing the disclaimer text instead of your first paragraph or meta description. 

How to include your affiliate disclosure but not have Google index it?

Over the last few months I have seen several search results with the top part of the page indexed with the affiliate disclosure. This hurts SEO and provides a poor user experience. The solution to this is to use Google On/Off flags

<!--googleoff: all-->As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.<!--googleon: all-->

To learn more about google on/off flags, check out this Google Search Help article.

Make sure to not end up with this as your search result:

Below is the tool I had created to install the affiliate disclaimer as well as the trademark disclaimer.

Option 1 - Install Disclosure for Amazon Affiliate Plugin

Under 30 seconds to be compliant (free plugin)

This plugin was developed to help us ensure all of our Amazon Affiliate sites are 100% compliant with the FTC disclosure and Amazon earnings disclosure requirements.

The Amazon Associate Disclosure plugin is the fastest and easiest way to get your Amazon Affiliate site fully compliant with both the:

  • FTC and Amazon required Affiliate Disclosure
  • Amazon Trademark disclaimer

It places the pre-loaded disclosure text from Amazon in the right locations on your website with the bonus of tagging it so search engines will ignore the disclaimer and rank your content. 

Benefits of the Amazon Associate Disclosure Plugin

ONE - Simple Fast and No Setting Changes Required

It is rare that you can use a tool that achieves everything you need it to with so little effort on your end. 

With this wordpress plugin in seconds you can have a compliant disclosure properly setup on your site. Simply...

  1. Install
  2. Activate
  3. Done - You are compliant

TWO - Proper Google On Off Tags

Many people have recently and correctly moved their affiliate disclosure to the top of their articles. This affiliate disclosure text is incorrectly now being picked up by Google as the page description. This is a large problem for both search rankings and click through rate. 

The solution is that using this plugin the Google Off / On tags are properly placed so that the disclosure text will be ignored by Google and your great content will be why they rank your page. 

THREE - Fully Editable Text and Customizable Appearance

Although it is not needed and comes installed following your sites design with the text provided by Amazon you can both…

  • Change the text to add additional disclosures or modify the words however you see fit
  • Fully customize the section however you see fit  

FOUR - Control Globally or on the Page/Post Level

Not every one of your posts/pages likely need the disclosure and you may not want them on every website. 

You can easily and efficiently control which of the posts & pages see the disclosure text blocks. 

Both global and local level controls are available.

Option 2 - How To Easily Install Affiliate Disclosure on Your WordPress Site with Ad Inserter

Another popular option to ensure each page has the right disclaimer, which takes a little more work but gives you more flexibility, is shown below. This process uses one of the most popular WordPress plugins Ad Inserter. Like the method above it should work with any existing plugins like Yoast SEO, RankMath or Woocomerce plugins. 

Ad Inserter plugin is originally developed to inject ads to any pages/posts on WordPress sites. It can also be used to automatically add affiliate disclosures to every post. That's what I am going to walk you through belwo.

Step 1: Log in to your WordPress dashboard and go to Plugins > Add New and search for "Ad Inserter" then click the "Install Now" button.

Step 2: Click the "Activate" button.

You will be directly taken to your Installed Plugins page

Step 3: Click "Settings"

The Ad Inserter settings page will be opened

Step 4:  Copy the following HTML code and paste it in the block editor

TIP: a lot of sites are currently having their Amazon Associate disclosure appear in the description within search results. The Google Off/Google On tag solves this problem.

<!--googleoff: all-->
<p>As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.</p>
<!--googleon: all-->

NOTES:

 

  • The two Google off and Google on tags are to prevent Google from indexing the text or the code in between.
  • Optional: If you would like to change the space around the disclaimer text or to change the font size. So it looks different from the post content. You can select "Custom CSS" from the "Alignment" dropdown box, then click the "Show" button and scroll down until you see the CSS box. Then paste the following CSS code:
margin: -10px 0px 20px 0px; font-size: 80%;

Step 5: Click "Save Settings"

That's it!

Adding text in the site footer

We can also use the Ad Inserter plugin to add this text to be compliant with Amazon trademark terms.

Step 1: In the Ad Inserter plugin settings page, click on a new Tab. In our case here, Tab #2

Step 2: Paste the following code in the block editor:

<!--googleoff: all-->
<p>Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates</p>
<!--googleon: all-->

Step 3: Select all checkboxes here to display the text in ALL site pages. Then select "Footer" and in alignment dropdown list select "Center"

Step 4: Click "Save Settings"

Complete 35 Question Amazon Affiliate Requirements List (Updated 2020)

Now that you have some context on what Amazon is looking for in terms of compliance, here is a step-by-step procedure you can use to ensure you are staying compliant with Amazon.

If you want to go deeper than the most common issues and be as fully compliant as possible, here is our attempt at turning the Amazon Associates agreements into an actionable list.  

To make this process even easier I have had my team turn this into a 100% free to use Google Sheet that you can make a copy of and edit. 

After reading every word several times and having my team update the procedure we have been using for the last few years to ensure our sites are staying compliant with the amazon associate program, we were able to come up with some actionable steps.  

Here is the complete list of 35 questions to turn the Amazon Associates Operating agreement into an actionable questions list. 

  1. Are there any affiliate disclaimer links that do not include this disclaimer: “Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates"? 
  2. Has the site displayed or used any trademark or logo of any third party seller on the Amazon Site in connection with any of our Affiliate Links without permission from the seller? 
  3. Have any privacy links/affiliates’ trademarks or logos that are included in a Special Link been removed, obscured, altered, or made invisible, illegible, or indecipherable to visitors of the site?
  4. As the user of this site, will you be linked or redirected to any other forms of monetization that include Amazon Affiliate Links other than the Amazon site? 
  5. Does the site engage in any promotional, marketing such as printed material, mailing, SMS, MMS, email or attachment to email, advertising activities on behalf of Amazon or their affiliate sites?
  6. Does this site display content that requires us (the website owners) to sublicense or otherwise give any rights in or to any content to any other person or entity?
  7. Do any pages on the site get redirected to a different URL that are not an Amazon Associate IDs or Tags? 
  8. Are any Amazon Affiliate Links shared on other social platforms/networks such as Twitter or Facebook? 
  9. Within the site’s content, are there any names used within that content, in a manner that implies a person’s or company’s endorsement or sponsorship of, or commercial tie-in with, any product, service? 
  10. Have any keywords, search terms, or other identifiers that include the word “Amazon,” or “Kindle,” or any other trademark of Amazon or its affiliates been purchased or registered or used in domain or subdomain, Associate ID’s or Tags?
  11. Does the site offer incentives to increase the conversion rate (including any money, rebate, discount, points, donation to charity or other organization) for using Affiliate Links on the site?
  12. Is the operation of any buttons, links, or other features of the Amazon Site modified, redirected, suppressed, or substituted?
  13. Are there any Affiliate Links used to link to the Amazon Site from references to items on the site that are not products?
  14. Does the site take any action that could reasonably cause any customer confusion as to our relationship with Amazon or as to the site on which any transactions (e.g., search, browse, or order) are occurring?
  15. Are any Affiliate Links or content used in connection with any spyware, malware, virus, worm, Trojan horse, or other malicious or harmful code, or any software application not expressly and knowingly authorized by users?
  16. Does the site frame the Amazon Site, or any part of it, including by display within an integrated web browser (e.g., WebView) within a Mobile Application?
  17. Does the site post any Affiliate Links or other content promoting the Amazon Site within any pop-up or pop-under windows, transitional page ads, or layer ads around or with the display of any site that does not belong to us? 
  18. Does the site include any Affiliate Links in any content that you place on the Amazon Site?  
  19. Does the site contain functions that might artificially increase advertising fees? 
  20. Does the site request, collect, obtain, store, cache, or otherwise use any account information used by customers in connection with any Amazon Site (including any usernames or passwords of Amazon Site customers)?
  21. Does the site have functions that will attempt to intercept or redirect traffic from or on, or divert advertising fees from, any site that participates in the Program.
  22. Does the site artificially generate clicks or impressions or create sessions on the Amazon Site, whether by way of a robot or software program or otherwise?
  23. Does the site display or otherwise use any of Amazon's customer reviews or star ratings, in part or in whole?
  24. Does your site hide, cloak, spoof or otherwise obscure the URL of your site containing Affiliate Links (including by use of a redirecting page)?
  25. Does your site knowingly collect, use, or disclose personal information from children under 13 years of age.
  26. Is the link used on the site missing an Associate ID or “tag”?
  27. Are any links on the site using a shortening service in a manner that makes it unclear that we are linking to an Amazon Site? 
  28. Are there any links on the site that are related to limited time promotions that are now expired? 
  29. Is there any content that could be perceived as overly promotional or inaccurate advertising?
  30. Do you clearly state the following, or any substantially similar statement previously allowed under this Agreement, on your Site or any other location where Amazon may authorize your display or other use of Program Content: “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”?
  31. Does the site have any content relating to products offered on any site other than the Amazon Site, in accordance with the Associates Program Policies? 
  32. Within the site’s content, are there any names used in a manner that implies a persona’s or company’s endorsement or sponsorship of, or commercial tie-in with, any product or service?
  33. Does the site state any testimonials from Amazon or third-parties?
  34. Does the site contain functions that cause any page of the Amazon site to open in a customer’s browser other than as a result of the customer clicking on an affiliate link on the site?
  35. Does the site disclose accurately and adequately, either through a privacy policy or otherwise, how they collect, use, store, and disclose data collected from visitors, including, where applicable, that third parties (including Amazon and other advertisers) may serve content and advertisements, collect information directly from visitors, and place or recognize cookies on visitors’ browsers, and providing information on the visitor’s choices with respect to opting-out from online advertising where required by applicable law?

How to Recover Your Account

Sometimes despite your best efforts, there is a misunderstanding with Amazon. In those cases, here is an approach to re-open your Amazon affiliate account. 

 

Below is a story shared with me by a reader (and with permission sharing). It is the most in-depth process I have seen. 

Make sure to check out his site with more details shared on the steps he took here.

Great post Matjaz and congrats on getting your account re-opened

  • 13.2.2020: email from Amazon that my account was terminated. Reason: -The sources of your traffic are obscured in such a way that we cannot reasonably determine on what Site(s) your Special Links are displayed.

  • 13.2.2020: my first email to [email protected] with the list of my affiliate ids and websites where I’m using them plus my findings of noreferrer attribute.13.2.2020: my second email to [email protected] with two screen recordings showing my two biggest websites and data of clicks/traffic from Google Analytics plus how I’ve fixed noreferrer attribute.

  • 13.2.2020: combined these two emails in an appeal through Associates Customer Service Support page

  • 17.2.2020: got an email from Amazon: We received your appeal regarding the termination of your Associates account. A specialist has reviewed your account, and the decision to terminate your account was found to be correct. As stated previously, under the terms of the Operating Agreement (https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/help/operating/agreement), we may terminate your account at any time, with or without cause. This termination is final and not subject to appeal.

  • 17.2.2020: been on the phone with Amazon Customer Support regarding my problem. No help at all. We don’t have details, and the team that does works only through email. Write to them or appeal again.

  • 17.2.2020: tried to send an appeal through Associates Customer Service Support page only to find out that the Subject option of “Associates account terminated option” now returns not valid or something similar when you want to submit the form

  • 17.2.2020: wrote my combined two emails to the boss himself 🙂 [email protected] … with the subject “Not an appeal, but additional information, please read”

  • 18.2.2020: reapplied to Amazon associates with the same email and data as before, fixed links to new affiliate ids on my biggest website only to find my account closed with no email a few hours later

  • 18.2.2020: wrote my combined two emails to the boss again 🙂

  • 19.2.2020: got a reply with the subject “Your E-mail to Jeff Bezos BC – Re: Not an appeal, but additional information, please read” and message: Thank you for reaching out regarding your concern. We’re currently looking into this issue to make sure the matter is taken care of properly. Please expect a response within two business days.

  • 19.2.2020: got an email from Amazon Associates 1 hour later: This message is to advise you that your Associate account and your previous Advertising Fees have been reinstated. Please accept our apologies for the closure error.  We appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter.

  • To see each step broken down in more detail checkout his post

How to Start a New Amazon Associate Account

So you tried your best not to get banned, you got the nasty letter from Amazon, and even after attempting to plead your innocence, you still are not able to get back into the advertising program. 

So time for the last resort … start a new account!

This is not what you need to do if you are opening an Amazon Affiliate account for the first time. It's only something you want to consider if you are starting a new one after your account got closed.

 

Here are the recommended steps when all else fails:

1. New Computer

  • Tracking the Mac address of a computer that logs in to Amazon Associates is possible. Having a dedicated Chromebook ONLY for logging into Amazon is a reasonable risk mitigation step.

2. New Internet Connection & VPN using the Incognito/Privacy Browser Tab 

  • A dedicated internet connection for checking your affiliate account is a great option. Instead of needing to “buy” another internet connection, use a coffee shop wifi that is not one of your usual work locations.

3. New Entity, Email, Address, Name, Bank Details

  • Having all new details when you sign up is obviously critical. Having a new entity, email, address, name, phone number and bank details along with any other information is critical.

4. New Websites and Cross Domain Rel=Canonical Link (don’t 301 redirect)

  • Sometimes people choose to dial up the risk and 301 redirect a website that has been burned to a new website. Obviously, the 301 redirect can be followed, but isn’t ideal. To be safer and still get the traffic benefit of the old site I recommend a safer approach of using rel=canonical cross domain linking. This process tells the search engine the page that should be ranked is on the new domains BUT if (I think unlikely) someone from Amazon were to visit the burned/banned website it would still appear as normal since it was still live. Here's a great tutorial on cross domain rel=canonical link by Moz here.

This is a last resort ... the recommended path is to be compliant, appeal if you have an issue, and then as a very last resort create a new account for a new entity with new URLs. 

Summary

This post was written to provide you with some tips and knowledge about the most common Amazon Affiliate site compliance offences. Have a look at your site and see if you’re in violation of any of these! If you have any questions feel free to reach out!

Other resources:

  • AMALinksPro & a breakdown of what 7 successful affiliate sites are doing wrong. Special thanks to Matt Allen from AMALinksPro for reviewing this guide and providing some recommended changes to stay safer. He has definitely thought A LOT about the Amazon Associates Operating Agreement! His level of knowledge definitely gives me more confidence using AMALinksPro! 
  • Free Amazon Affiliate Disclosure Plugin

If you have any thoughts or comments on the plugin we would love to hear your thoughts. 

Ice Breakers For Remote Teams

This article is part of a series we are doing on remote work, a relevant topic in today’s times. With social distancing becoming the new normal, social isolation will also start to take place, especially when it comes to team building. When you are forced into remote work, you might find yourself with a lot of questions. You might have many things you feel like you need to do, and very little time to get it all organized. This article will focus on a simple part of this process – getting your employees familiar with each other through some simple team building introductions.

For more topics on how to best run a remote team checkout these articles…

How to Manager Remote Staff

Always On Video Solutions Reviewed

This article will hopefully give you the tools so you can have your team working together like this…

Not this…

When it comes to coordinating remote team members, often the most difficult part is getting them on the same page. This all starts with the introduction. This is a very simple part of any working relationship, but is more important than you may think. First impressions are everything, and if people feel connected to their virtual team from the start, they will be more willing and motivated to hold themselves accountable to the standards of their co-workers. 

In this article, we will cover some fun ice breaker questions and games for setting up your remote workers. These team ice breakers for remote team will get your employees introduced the right way. These are fun activities, which are easy to introduce, and will hopefully help things progress into a great working relationship. Let’s get started. 

20 Ice Breakers For Remote Employees

Tell Us About Yourself 

I know, this one’s a little boring, but it’s also by far the most common team building exercise, so good to get it out of the way first. A basic introduction probably is composed of “tell us a little bit about yourself”. We know, it might not be what you came to this list for, but it’s still a basic, effective and important introduction. If you just want to keep things simple and straightforward, consider this one. 

Two Truths and a Lie 

Maybe the second most common introduction game, this one has stood the test of time because it’s so fun and engaging. In this one, the participant tells two truths about themselves, and one lie, and the others guess which is the lie. This is great because it involves interaction with all the participants, which really makes them remember what the other person said. On top of that, these are fun icebreakers and often hilarious. If you really want to get these details drilled into people’s memories, consider this game. 

Favorite Food 

Here’s a simple question that surprisingly opens a pretty real discussion. Simply asking people about their favourite food or restaurant, you create an instant common ground, as well as some friendly competition. You’d be surprised just how much food can connect people, and since it is something that everyone is passionate about, it is a great question to ask off the bat. Immediate team bonding over common interests. 

Would You Rather? 

Always have a fun list of “Would You Rather?” questions on hand for virtual ice breakers (safe for work of course!). These questions are funny and really get people thinking. Keep it simple, because you’d be surprised just how entertaining the responses can be! Additionally, it encourages others to chime in with their thoughts, and laugh along. 

Hometown

A unique factor with distributed teams is that everyone can be in a very different place in the world! That’s why simply asking where someone is from can be a fascinating exercise with remote teams. People will be very interested to see that they might be communicating with others all over the world. From there, you can get into deeper discussions about the favourite part of their hometown, and they can find some common ground with others from all around the world. 

Have You Ever?

In this game, you ask some simple, interesting questions to the group, and anyone who has done it will stand up. It’s easy, and best of all it basically hands the interaction to the group. No one really has to think about anything besides whether they have done it, and the whole group will learn something new. This is a great way to learn about people in a quick, organized manner. For remote teams, you can use video conferencing and have your team raise their hands instead of standing. 

Favorite Music

Music is another one of those things that connect people, similar to food above. You can learn a lot about someone by their favorite band, song, or genre. These building activities will instantly connect people, and have them feeling some common ground with other people who may be miles away. To mix it up a bit, you can ask “Who was the last artist you searched for on your music streaming service of choice?”.

Tell A Joke

Keep it safe for work of course! A joke can be a great way to break the ice. Have someone share their favorite joke, and see if you can get the team laughing. You can even start out with a joke before everything gets started, to loosen tension and break the ice for everyone. When it comes down to it, nothing unites people like some laughter. 

Ranking

Another simple way to get people talking is to ask them about two similar objects (like ice cream vs. pizza) and ask them what their favorite is. This is a great game because it’s easy, but also generates a lot of healthy competition as people defend their favorite things. People find common ground amongst some healthy rivalry, while learning about each other as they go. 

Rock, Paper, Scissors

How about a quick rock, paper, scissors tournament to get things started? Have everyone play, with the winner advancing. It’s a fun game because everyone knows how to play, and you can get the remote team building started with some healthy competition as well. 

Draw Something

If you tell people to have a note taking pad and paper handy, it can be a fun start to have people draw their favorite animal (or any other fun ideas you can think up). The results are relatable, and often quite hilarious. It’s a really fun way to get things started and to have a shared, interesting experience. 

Favorite Hobby

Another classic question, finding out something about a person outside of work is always a great place to break the ice. This gets people talking about something they are truly interested in, instead of just jumping right into work. It also helps unite people, and lets them know a fun detail about the people they are working with. 

Don’t Laugh

This one is simple, first one to laugh loses. It can be a great way to break the tension that is almost always present upon first meetings. It is also easy because it doesn’t require anyone to speak, simply give them a fun game before they get started. 

What Is Your Role?

This one is a bit more organizational focused, but with remote teams it often can get confusing who even does what. By starting off by allowing everyone to explain their role, everyone gets a chance to introduce themselves, but you also get a way for everyone to understand which role on the team each person plays. 

Share a Photo or gif

Everyone has smart phones these days, so why not give them a chance to share a photo on their phone that they really like. It can be of anything, and they get a chance to explain to the group why it is so special to them. Of course, it’s important to make sure everyone is comfortable with the game beforehand, and can sit out if they like. 

How’s the Weather There?

Another fun game to play with remote teams is simply to ask how the weather is there. Because everyone might be in such different locations, it can be fun to compare what it’s like outside and this really helps to show how varied remote teams can be. When it’s snowing somewhere and sunny and warm elsewhere, that can be a real conversation starter! 

Who’s Your Team?

Sports is another way in which people find common bonds and playful rivalries. Asking about their favorite sports teams is a great icebreaker activity to open discussion. If they aren’t sports fans, they can always say something about the city they’re from. It’s a great way to let people get a gage of where everyone is from, and understand the truly “remote” nature of a team. 

Past Experience

We don’t want to risk any ice breaker questions sounding too much like an interview, but asking people about their past experience can be a great opening question so people can learn about each other. 

5 Quick Facts

Sometimes you can even send the participants a quick list of questions beforehand. You could send them 5 of any of the questions above, and have them rifle off 5 quick facts about themselves at the start of the meeting. This is a great way to quickly learn a bunch about the others, and they can figure it out beforehand to avoid being on the spot. 

Introduce Yourself

We saved the most basic for last, the open ended “introduce yourself”. A classic question that is surprisingly broad. Give people the chance to say a few short things about themselves, and see what happens. Sometimes the most classic ice breakers are the ones worth pursuing, especially when you don’t know the dynamic of your team yet. 

Important Considerations

Often the icebreaker that you choose is really more dependent on the situation at hand. There are various types of virtual groups, and various levels of professionalism you might expect from your team. This makes it difficult to know what level of sharing people are comfortable with right off the bat. We think these three key considerations are very valuable in choosing whether you want to err on the side of humor or professionalism: 

Is This The First Time Meeting?

Not all ice breakers take place on everyone’s first time meeting. Maybe this is simply their first time working remotely, or maybe many of them have shared experiences before. Regardless, it is often the case that everyone loosens up a lot more when they have met each other before. 

For this reason, you might want to avoid some of the more humorous ice breaker games and questions when it is everyone’s true first time meeting each other. This is for the simple reason that it might make some uncomfortable. When in doubt, pick a game you are sure everyone will enjoy. 

How Old Is Everyone?

The dynamics of a group will often change a lot depending on how old everyone is, or more specifically, how familiar is everyone with remote technology? Of course, we aren’t meaning to make broad generalizations on age, but it is often the case that people aren’t as comfortable joking around when there are large age differences. Your primary concern is finding an icebreaker that keeps everyone comfortable, so considering the different generational dynamics is often important. 

What Is Your Industry?

Simply put, different industries often have different standards of professionalism. Often, people enter meetings (especially first meetings) with an idea of keeping things quite professional. This is especially true in more “serious” professions that involve higher stakes. Keep this in mind when deciding on an icebreaker. They can be a great way to loosen tension, but don’t pick something that is inappropriate for the situation. 

Time Constraints

A final issue is time constraints. Depending on the size of your team, it may affect how simple or how complex you may make your icebreakers. You have to consider how long it will take everyone to answer, and you don’t want to run the risk of anyone losing interest, or of running out of time to get to the heart of the meeting. We included several options on our list which run a range of time to complete, and you can choose the one that best suits your needs. 

Conclusion

Overall, you just need to pick the icebreaker that you think fits the situation. Evaluate the dynamics, and decide what you want out of your remote group’s initial meeting. So take some time to sit down and really figure out what you are wanting out of this meeting, and pick an icebreaker to match. We’re confident you can find one in our options above. 

Thank you for reading our list of ice breaker games for remote teams. Remote teams present a special issue in getting everyone acquainted, as you often don’t get the opportunity to meet them in person. But with a good icebreaker, you’d be surprised how quickly everyone can come together! 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: How do you make a team call fun?

A: Turning a virtual call into a fun activity for a team member can be easily done by incorporating the ice breakers included in this article. Pick one and start off your next meeting or call with it!

Q: What are your top tips for team building with remote teams?

A: Incorporate an all-hands meeting every morning with your team, especially if the majority of your employees are working remote. Within these you can include the ice breaker ideas above multiple times with everyone – having your colleagues learn more about themselves brings everyone closer together and keeps people on their feet for every meeting. 

Q: I’m not great at coming up with ice breaker questions. Do you have any good examples I can use?

A: Of course! Here’s some great group icebreakers to improve communication and build an overall better company culture:

If you had to delete all but three apps from your smartphone, which ones would you keep?

You can have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what is it?

How would you change your life today if the average life expectancy was 400 years?

What would you be found doing if the police unexpectedly breaks into your home in the day?

If you could be in any movie, what would it be and what character would you play?

If your life were a hero’s journey, who would be your antagonist and what’s stopping you from winning?

If you had to eat only one type of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

If you could know the absolute and total truth to one question, what question would you ask?

If you could choose any historical figure to be your imaginary friend, who would it be and why?

If you could choose to remain one age until you die, which age would you choose and why?

If you could choose any person from history to be your imaginary friend, who would it be and why?

If you can go back to college again, would you take the same course that you finished or try out a different one?

If you could live anywhere on this planet without having the leave anyone or anything behind, where would you live?

If you could add a word to the dictionary what would you add and what would it mean?

If you had to identify one person who completely changed your life, who would it be?

If you could go back to your younger self, which age would it be, and what would you say?

If extraterrestrials landed on earth and offered to take you with them, would you go?

If you can go back to any of your younger selves, at what age would you choose to go back to?

If you could travel to and live in any time period in history, where and when would you live?

What is something that you believe in that most people probably don’t believe in?

If you could visit anywhere in the world, regardless of budget or time it took to get there, where would you go?

If you could commit any crime and get away with it what would you choose and why?

If you could have the power of teleportation right now, where would you go and why?

Use a word that begins with the same letter as your first name to describe yourself and why?

What’s something that someone has said about you that has really stuck with you?

If you could buy any .com domain, what would you buy and what would you use it for?

Tell us a book or movie or video you’ve read or seen lately and which you would recommend?

4 Always on Video for Remote Teams Tools Reviewed

Coronavirus is rapidly accelerating the way we work. Many businesses, team members, and organizations will now have to rely on remote work for the majority of their employee communications. As a result, you can expect video tools to see a massive surge over this time. 

One of the best (and definitely unique) options for managing remote staff is always-on video. In this article, we will explore this technology. We will examine what it is, the pros and cons, how to use it, and quickly review the best tools on the market. So let us get started. 

Tip – When you have this solution setup be sure to start off on the right foot with some ice breakers for remote teams.

What is Always on Video for Remote Teams?

One of the major downsides of video for remote teams is the hassle involved in setting it up every time. Making sure everyone in your virtual team is at their computer, making sure everyone logs in, connecting, you get the idea. With always-on video, you have exactly that, a video portal that is always turned on and ready to use. 

This may take a variety of forms, but often it is situated in an area of a room that someone can go up to and instantly connect with their team. Because it is already switched on, they simply need to press a button and they will be connected with the team. This allows a level of integration similar to that of an office. 

Always-on video takes different forms as well. You can add extra levels of reachability and availability, depending on what works for you. You can choose to have the software “on” but to require people to notify others when they want to talk. Alternatively, you can have the cameras and communication devices on at all times, similar to a real office. Additionally, you can choose how many people are involved in the video conference at all times, from everyone at once, to one-on-one meetings. 

Benefits to Always on Video

The benefits to always-on video collaboration are quite robust. They encompass the benefits of normal video conferencing, but have the extra benefits of extra-connectivity. 

Firstly, let’s talk about video conferencing benefits. When you’re working with remote teams, there is nothing like meeting face-to-face. Sometimes, you need that extra level of human interaction in order to really get things done. This accomplishes something that email or even the phone cannot. Video conferencing adds that extra level of social interaction and interconnectivity that people need to stay connected. 

It is also great for productivity. There is nothing like sorting things out with a conversation. A back-and-forth with email can take forever. With a video conference, you can quickly sort out your issues and have people on similar pages. 

Next is organization. Things can quickly become separated when people are working remotely. Keeping everyone in the loop is crucial, and you need to be able to stay in contact with people to make this possible. People can understand their tasks, deadlines, as well as how others are contributing. 

Always-on video provides even more benefits that simple video conferencing does not. By having the software always on, the problems associated with sorting out connections, logging in, and time of meetings is not an issue. Since everyone is committed to being fully reachable through the always-on software, you can quickly drop in and out with any questions or concerns you may have. 

Overall, always-on is simply a more interactive and connected version of video conferencing, and probably more so than any form of remote communication. If you are looking for the ultimate integration for monitoring or organizing your remote business, then always-on video tool may do the trick. 

Downside to Always on Video

Of course, no evaluation would be complete without also examining the drawbacks of a certain technology. In this case, the drawbacks of always-on technology are mostly that which are akin to remote work in general. Sometimes, it is simply not a substitute for in-person communication. 

However, when you don’t really have an option, you have to make do with what you can get. It is tough in times where meeting in person isn’t practical, but luckily people tend to get more and more accustomed to these technologies over time. 

In terms of always-on video specifically, there is often the hurdle that people simply don’t like to be connected at all times. They may feel it represents a lack of privacy or a lack of trust from management that they will get their work done.

This is why it is so important to set up a system that you and your employees are both comfortable with. You need a process that works for everyone. Everyone should understand that the system is simply for sharing information, and not as a means of “spying” on employees. The whole process should be built on a foundation of trust, with the communicated goal of having everyone work together toward a common objective.  

Alternative – Scheduled daily standup / status meetings on video

Always-on video conferencing might be a good option for you, but it also might not. Depending on your team and the type of work you do, you might be comfortable with an alternative arrangement. You should weigh your options, and also talk it out with your team if necessary. Remember, the goal of this is to have everyone communicating effectively, and to do this everyone needs to be comfortable. 

One alternative is a scheduled daily video call. By having it scheduled, people don’t have to worry so much about dropping everything and doing it. It won’t be an interruption, but rather a planned part of their day. You can structure these meetings so everyone knows what to expect. It’s a great time to catch up on objectives, works in process, and talk about future goals. 

Finding the method that works best for you is key. 

4 Best Always-On Video Tools

You might be thinking that this sounds great, but what technologies can you use to put this in action? In this section, we’ll outline our top choices of always-on video software. Technically, most video-conferencing softwares have an always-on option. It is just a matter of how you set up your portal. For always-on, you will simply leave one of these programs running, and allow people to jump in when they want. 

Skype

No list of video conferencing platforms would be complete without the most obvious – Skype. Skype gained its popularity by being innovative, but it kept its popularity by adjusting and keeping up with the market. With Skype, you have the major bonus that most of your employees have probably used this program before. 

Skype supports group video calling for up to 50 people, and even more if you have a paid subscription for a business account. No matter how you want to structure your video conferencing, there is probably an option on Skype. There are even screen sharing options for when you have to show people what you have been working on. 

GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting is a paid service, but often you have to make an investment if you want that extra functionality. GoToMeeting simply offers some usability that other programs do not. 

With GoToMeeting, you get everything you’d expect with something like Skype, but most features are a bit more fleshed out. There are plugins to integrate various programs (Salesforce, Google Calendar, Office 365). There are many advanced features so that you can set up your meeting exactly how you want, and include whoever you want.  

Zoom

Probably the second most popular option on this list, most of your employees will probably have used Zoom before. Zoom is great because it is another free software, but has all the features you would expect from a more sophisticated program. It includes up to 100 participants at once, which is a big bonus if you have a large office. 

There are a wealth of features to make your experience more seamless, such as screen-sharing, whiteboard sharing, instant messaging chat, and annotations. Zoom also offers heavy encryption options, so you don’t have to worry about your team collaboration meetings being secure. 

Google Hangouts

Google Hangouts is a great video conferencing tool, but don’t expect the wealth of features to be had with some of the options above, especially if you opt for the paid version of any of these software’s. However, if you simply need to have a conference with a small team, Google Hangouts could get the job done. It is easy, intuitive, and free, and sometimes that is all you need. 

Conclusion

It really depends on evaluating your needs when considering any of these options. You need to know what kind of software you actually need, because there is a chance you will be paying for features that you don’t actually use. 

So before you begin this search, take some time to sit down and evaluate your needs. By this, we don’t mean what kind of video conference software you need, but how you actually intend on communicating with your remote employees to keep them organized and motivated. Once you know what you actually need, you can easily plan out a software that matches these needs. Your decision becomes simplified, and your system of managing your employees becomes much easier. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: How many people need to be involved in your remote meeting?

A: It really depends on who the necessary personnel is for the meeting in question. Unless you are setting up a company-wide meeting to address a large matter or go over specific policies with everyone, then always be sure to include only the necessary people in your video meetings in order to keep it efficient and communication clear. 

Q: How not to fail with transitioning to remote in 2020? 

A: Communication and clear procedures are two of the most important factors with remote work. Whether or not your team has experience with remote work, making sure you have consistent and clear communication (such as a scheduled daily standup meeting) with them will lead to a successful and effective team. 

Q: What challenges have you encountered building a remote team?

A: The main challenges have been communication and tracking work. Both of these are easily solved through tools like always on video and cloud storage for files such as Google Drive. 

Q: Where do you store all of your files, and make sure the entire remote team have access to them?

A: Almost any cloud storage software will work, however Google Drive offers some great online storage, making it accessible to anyone who needs to view it, and is easy to use due to it’s integration with G-suite. 

Q: How else do you ensure your remote team is engaged, challenged and successful?

A: Keeping everyone up-to-date with daily updates and weekly meetings are two of the best ways to ensure everyone is engaged. A weekly meeting with an always on video software allows your team to have something they own and can communicate to you on a weekly basis which helps you stay in the loop with what they’re doing and keeps them feeling responsible for their own tasks.

Q: What advice would you give to a team considering to go remote?

A: Ensure you have all the proper software’s and tools in place, such as always on video and a cloud-based file sharing system, like Google Drive. Then make sure to create and share the procedures to using these with your entire team. After that, implement strict policies for communication and schedule daily and weekly meetings with everyone.

For a complete list of our SOPs on how to work remote have a look at this guide to managing a remote team.

How to Manage Staff Remotely and our 7 Essential Collaboration Tools

Whether you are looking for a solution on how to manage staff remotely for the first time or looking to improve your current systems, this procedure will help show you what has worked and what hasn’t worked. 

Recently due to the Coronavirus, and for obvious reason, I have had some “real world” entrepreneurs ask me questions about how to best manage their staff as they begin working remotely to do their part with social distancing. 

My hope is that I can help contribute to the current situation by essentially open-sourcing all of our procedures for effective remote work. 

My team has been managing 50-100+ full-time employees, part-time employees, and contract team members working remotely for years. We have had some incredible system failures (theft) and also some huge wins (getting invited to a team members wedding in Bangladesh) with managing remote staff. Overall, we have managed almost 200k hours of remote workers on one platform alone: UpWork.  

  • 172k hours managed
  • 2398 people hired
  • 91 active remote workers
  • Over $1M Spent

This has all been done through working remotely on one platform. Here are all of our systems to help you get set up to be effective with remote workers!

how-to-manage-staff-remotely

In this article, I’m going to lay out how we work by breaking it down into 3 parts. 

ONE – Tools: What tools are needed or optional to manage remote workers efficiently and increase productivity.

TWO – Setup: How do you get remote workers setup and excited about the system

THREE – Ongoing Communication Cadence: A system is useless if it isn’t used

I picture this being the most useful for a manager/leader that is taking a semi-remote team of 3-15, that work off of a laptop, communicates via email, typically sitting beside one another, to… a fully remote team, no longer in the office. If a more helpful guide surfaces, I will be sure to try and reference it for additional reading. 

LinkedIn Remote Work Training – Made Available for Free


Please feel free to share and comment so we can try to help as many virtual teams get over the hurdle of remote work. 

For a couple other useful articles on the topic checkout…

Icebreakers for Remote Teams

Always on Video Options Reviewed

ONE – Essential Tools for Remote Staff

These are the tools we use. 

NOTE – Many of these tools have made special pricing accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic to help facilitate remote work.

Security & Password Sharing:

Documents:

Communication:

Recruiting:

Time Tracking:

Other (used on specific projects)

TWO – Setup To Manage Staff Remotely 

This can be the most daunting part of getting remote staff working and managing them effectively, especially if your staff is located within different time zones. 

I will do my best to recommend the sequence of getting things set up so it doesn’t disrupt your company culture. 

Change Management Warning: Managing this much change for someone can be challenging, so below will outline the order of adoption that I would recommend. 

Setup Part A – How We Use Slack – Our Slack Setup Procedure

Getting setup on Slack or a similar team chat solution is a great first step. 

BUT, if you don’t plan or put some thought into the onboarding process, then it can turn into chaos. 

Below is the email I sent to the team to communicate how we are going to transition to and start using Slack. In the end, the transition was successful and people really took to it vs a standard email. 

Hi Team

Slack will become the new standard team internal communication tool – late to the party but now is the right time. 

Objective – Streamline communication across all people and all projects in the organization resulting in improved productivity, communication and culture. 

Good References:

https://system.ly/how-we-use-slack/

Case for Action – As we have more people overlapping between projects and working remote, it becomes more important for us to have standard methods of communication. On any day I might communicate with people using… email (one of 3 different logins), telegram, in person, google chat, skype and text msg. This is a problem with others as well working on multiple projects. Slack will not completely fix the problem but will help. 

Actions Items for All:

  1. Install slack on your computer and phone
  2. Join the channels you have been invited to
  3. Say hi and drop a gif in a channel you have been added to 

What is Slack?

Slack is made up of channels and is essentially a group chat. 

How Will We Use Slack?

I have created a table below with input from many of the managers on…

  1. #Name of the Channel – the channels we will have on launch
  2. Purpose – How we will plan to use the channel
  3. Owner – Who is responsible for that channel being used as intended
  4. Users – Who will be in the slack channel

As with all things this will take some initial uncomfortable work as we break old habits.

#ChannelPurposeOwnerUsers
1DailyDaily – 3 sentence update – done yesterday, plan for the day and any issuesJonCore Team – In House Employees & Critical Few Support
2Random Fun Lots of GIFsNarcisIn House Employees
Project 1 – admin team
Project 1 Manager
Project 1 – operations team
Project 1 Manager
Project 2


etc


Slack Tips:

  • Before you send an email, text, telegram message… think – Can this be done on Slack?
    • See the tips below on when to use Slack
  • Set slack to open automatically on your computer
  • If you want a new channel to send a message to Jon requesting it and why
  • Great gifs can be found at https://giphy.com/ make sure to do the Giphy integration so that you can easily insert a GIF with the shortcode “/giphy keyword”

Slack vs Email vs Meeting:

Reference – https://medium.com/office-hours/slack-vs-email-vs-meeting-5b9acf91396c

When to Slack:

  • If you need a quick answer on something simple
  • If you want to share & collaborate on something in real-time
  • If you need an immediate response
  • If you want to share something random, funny or off-topic

When to Email:

  • You need to include someone external on the conversation
  • You’re sharing something longer with lots of detail
  • You’re sharing something pretty important and want to underscore that importance
  • Something more private then what you want everyone on the slack channel to see

When to Meet:

  • You need to discuss a sensitive issues
  • You need to talk through complicated projects or subjects where people are likely to get confused
  • You’ve been discussing via Slack or email and the discussion has dragged on with no clear next steps or consensus
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Structured Team Meetings:
    • Weekly 1:1
    • Weekly Business Meeting
    • Monthly/Quarterly Review/Strategy or OkR Meetings

When to do None: (most of these are for me)

  • Asking about a task that isn’t overdue and is correctly assigned by whatever method that business is using (ie weekly sheet)
how-to-manage-staff-remotely
  • Friday at 11:00pm asking for an answer in under 24hrs unless there is a fire
  • Asking a question whose answer is easy to find on Google.
how-to-manage-staff-remotely

Now that you have your backbone of asynchronous communication setup for your remote team it is time to move onto the next step. 

Setup Part B – Security & Password Management

Setting up your remote work security policy is important, however you may not have one and creating a robust policy from scratch will require too much time and effort before you need it. Below, I’ll go over all the essentials in order to implement solid password management for remote workers.

Here are the basics …

Part B-1 – Setup Password Manager

With a remote team, you will need to share login and access information. If you have ever emailed a password, entered into a spreadsheet or shared one through online chat, you are doing it wrong! 

There are a couple of great options out there. We have found 2 that lead to the highest productivity and effectively priced:

  • One Password – Fully featured password manager with lots of ability to restrict team members from seeing passwords, logins, etc..  
  • Team Password – Less expensive and a great option for sharing less critical passwords with a larger number of team members. 

Once you have signed up decide on the vault structure and who will have access to specific logins.

Here is an example table to create before you sign up. 

Vault NamePurpose of VaultWho To Provide Access To
Project 1 – FinanceAccess to payment processing and bank accountsOwner, Controller/Bookkeeper
Project 1 – AdminAccess to logins required to control administrative accountsOwner, Manager
Project 1 – TeamAccess to the logins required for each teamOwner, Manager, Team Members
Team Member NameAccess to any critical accountsOwner, Manager, Team Member(s)

If this structure is followed, then the login for any team member is fully controllable by the Manager and you will never find yourself in a situation where access to a login is unavailable causing the business to grind to a halt. 

TIP – Even if you don’t think you need it make a vault for the person so they have someone to put a misc login that isn’t their personal vault (we don’t want anyone using their personal vault). 

Part B-2 – Security Best Practises

Like any tool, applying strict guidelines and discipline around it always makes it stronger.

Below is our 12 step password and security check. 

  1. Are ALL work-related passwords stored in 1password?
  2. Are passwords randomly generated (i.e. high strength)?
  3. Is your 1password Emergency Kit saved on your computer?
  4. Is your 1password Emergency Kit saved on a back-up (external) device?
  5. Have you turned off your “auto save password” switch on all internet browsers?
  6. Are any work-related passwords saved on your internet browsers?
  7. Are any work-related passwords saved on your computer?
  8. Are Google Drive documents shared with anyone outside company team members? If so, who?
  9. Do you have a procedure for cold/backup storage?
  10. Do you have a VPN on your computer? If so, is it on during work hours?
  11. Are any personal logins or passwords saved to 1password?
  12. Do you ever use your laptop and/or phone on public wi-fi? (Rule of thumb: never login to public wi-fi. Either use a hotspot, VPN, or don’t go online.)

Part B-3 – Assign “Security Auditor” to do a monthly audit

We have an internal security auditor who does a monthly check with all team members and remote workers (who have access to passwords) to confirm we are following our internal remote work security policy. 

Here is an example of our verification process for the security audit:

Download a Copy

Setup Part C – Time Tracking

There are 2 main systems to use for time tracking. The first is:

UpWork – If we hire someone on Upwork (which as mentioned above we do A LOT), we leverage the platforms built-in tools.

Clockify – This is a FANTASTIC freemium tool whose functionality for this free model is sufficient. There are paid alternatives like Timedoctor, but after using both I see no reason to not use the free Clockify option (at least in our case). This may vary depending on your needs. 

Get started with Clockify

  1. Decide on your structure: this will likely be similar to how you have 1Password set up. For us, we have everyone on the same team and then allocate their time to different projects. Look at the “getting started” articles shared by Clockify
    1. Introduction to Clockify
    2. Onboarding checklist
    3. How to track billable time
    4. How to track time with a team
    5. How to track project profitability
    6. How to track team productivity
  2. Sign up here (free)
  3. Invite team members
  4. Create projects
  5. Assign team members to projects
  6. Confirm your controller/bookkeeper has access 

Setup Part D – Documents, Files & E-Signing

How you manage access to the documents and files people need to work will be very much unique to each company.

Most companies will need to decide between: 

  • Remote Access – Ctirix
  • Cloud-Based Microsoft Office Documents – Dropbox or Microsoft Offerings
  • Full Cloud-Based – Google Drive 

Whatever is the lowest pain point of change is likely the best option for your situation. 

For us, we are 99% Google Drive/Gsuite, with some documents (typically larger Excel files) shared via DropBox. 

If you haven’t made the move to Google Drive and its free options, then now might be a great time to make the change. 

Document Signing for Remote Workers

When dealing with remote employees, document signing is something that is obviously more challenging because people are not located in the same area. 

We have used a few different solutions, but landed on PandaDoc as being by far our favourite. 

The ability to have templates, users and rules makes this a very easy solution. 

Many other businesses that require proposals to be sent and signed will likely want to look at Proposify or the other one we use, Qwilr.

Setup Part E – Meetings

A LOT of buzz has occurred around video conferencing and certainly, this increase has been warranted and makes sense in today’s technology and remote workforce.

However, there are many solid and (mostly) free options out there. 

  • Zoom – Getting an unreasonable amount of love right now in my opinion… it is fine but don’t see how/why it is so much better than other less expensive options
  • Skype – An original chat/video platform that is used by many
  • Google Hangouts – A great option for anyone using Gmail or GSuite

Like anything, it is best if you can pick one and decide that is your go-to for the team. Jumping from one platform to another can get confusing and messy, not to mention it can make your team look unprofessional to clients. 

Which Video Conferencing Solution is Right for your Team?

If it is just your team and you know who you will be speaking with, then Skype is one of the best options. On the other hand, if you need to do conferences with other tech-savvy people then Google Hangouts is a great option. Finally, if you require a little more robust solution with access to specific controls, etc then Zoom is better. 

Here is a comparison of solutions for always on video for remote teams.
 

PART 3 – Effective Remote Staff Communication and Collaboration

If you don’t yet have a meeting cadence, I highly recommend you decide on one now to provide structure to your remote workers. 

All the tools above are useless unless there is a system around how to use them to manage staff.

This typically revolves around a series of meetings each with a specific objective. Our system is based off of several great books, including Traction, anything Scrum/Kanban/Agile and the OkR goal-setting framework.  

Based on the books above, here is the basic structure of meetings for our teams (which are currently 100% virtual):

Daily Standup Meeting or Update for Remote Teams

Also referred to as an all-hands meeting, this should be either on a video conference call or the Slack daily channel. The update should quickly cover 3 things for each person.

  • What was done yesterday?
  • What is the plan for today?
  • Are their any issues preventing you from completing your daily tasks?

Make it snappy and take any issues offline to resolve them 1 on 1.

Weekly One-on-one Meetings with each Staff Member:

Of all the meetings this is by far the most important! 

Any staff/company alignment failure can typically be traced back to a root cause of not having a good enough weekly one-on-one meetings that flagged the issue early enough to be addressed. 

The weekly one-on-one meetings follows this agenda:

  • Biggest win – What was the staff members biggest work win over the last week? 
  • Issues, Questions and Concerns – Is there anything they need to discuss, such as pay, HR, team issues etc. Non-work but workplace issues can go here to ensure they don’t gather energy in the dark. 
  • Training – Progress and discussion against any training initiative. For instance, a book, topic or Udemy course. 
  • KPI’s – List of the KPIs they are responsible for and the results. Typically no more than 5 at a time.
  • Summary of what was done last week and the plan for next week – Same as the weekly business meeting but not in as much detail.
  • Tracking of any special assignments – If it is not on the weekly then they are not responsible for it. Since we tend to drop a lot of different tasks on staff, this is where it should always get caught. 
  • Hours worked review (if hourly) – Link to Calendly and the number of hours worked that week.
  • Feedback – NOT ANNUAL but weekly coaching opportunities with some quick improvement feedback. This is not always easy so here are some helpful tips. Ideally, this is always constructive, but if an issue needs to be addressed, then it is done here. 
  • Tasks for the manager to do – What does the staff member need their manager to do to ensure that they can complete their work/tasks? It gets listed here. It’s obviously important to set the tone that work on the weekly gets crushed so your team members aren’t delaying tasks. 

As with almost everything, this lives in a Google Sheet (you can also use Google Docs, but Sheets is much easier to organize) and a column is inserted each week so that the most recent week is right beside the first column. Tasks can be added to the projects Trello board during weekly meetings. 

It’s important that the staff member completes the sheet before the meeting in order for all 1:1’s to be done effectively and quickly.  Each meeting should take 15 – 30 minutes. 

As my staff like to say only an engineer would create a spreadsheet and consider it an aid for human interaction. But everyone that has bought into the system has either immediately or come to really appreciate the structure and clarity this meeting provides. 

Part of the magic of the daily and weekly meetings is they dramatically cut down on all the important, but time-consuming logistical questions that can pop up as a manager. By collecting and responding to issues and tasks during the weekly, you will avoid getting bogged down with menial questions multiple times a day. 

Weekly Business Scorecard Meeting:

This meeting is very metrics-driven, with a review of a kanban to-do list that lives in Trello. 

Agenda (varies for each business):

  • Mission/Vision/Values recap – 2 minutes
  • OkR Reading (equivalent to rocks for the Traction fans) – 2 minutes
  • Sales & Operations Scorecard –  revenue, calls, output outstanding etc, PnL review, cash flow requirements, etc
  • Marketing Scorecard – posts, social media, podcasts etc complete
  • TO-DO List that is on a Trello kanban board prioritized into 4 columns with each to-do assigned to someone with a deadline. This has been a significant upgrade from a to-do list that can seem to grow infinitely and doesn’t help prioritize the immediate tasks people are responsible for during the week. Additionally, moving the card from to-do to done in the weekly meeting is fun! The result is the entire team has 52 sprints in the year to do things that help grow the business.
    • Backlog – Great idea… but don’t have time right now (add it into the backlog)
    • To Do This Week – Add in your to-do’s what you are going to get done for the project this week (this is your sprint) 
    • Done – Move the cards you completed this week into this column
    • Completed/Archived – Once a task is done for 1 week it gets moved to the completed/archived column 

Here is a great guide for a different take on this meeting – https://jake-jorgovan.com/blog/the-lead-cookie-playbook-how-we-run-our-weekly-meetings

Monthly Performance & Quarterly Goal Setting

This meeting is mostly focused on two things:

  1. PnL Review for Last Month – If we are doing the weekly correctly, there shouldn’t be any surprises. 
  2. OkR Goal Progress Review – This is where people will identify if they are at risk of achieving their OkR and additional resources will be brought in to help if needed. 

The books Traction and Measure What Matters both go over this meeting in great detail. 

At the quarterly meeting we do a review of the successes of the previous quarters OkR’s and then set the next quarters. 

Summary

As managers struggle with team members going remote we will all need to find ways to adapt. 

My hope is that by essentially open sourcing how we manage staff remotely companies will be able to be just a little more efficient. 

If there are additional guides you think I should be including here please let me know. 

Good Reading:

https://zapier.com/learn/remote-work/how-manage-remote-team/

https://system.ly/how-we-use-slack/

https://slack.com/resources/using-slack/slack-remote-work-tips

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