What are the best coupon sites? A look at this volatile, confusing landscape.

October 13, 2014Coupon Industry

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The coupon site world is a strange one.

Without the figures in front of me, it’s obvious to say that ecommerce is growing year over year, and therefore digital couponing is on the rise. The idea of couponing is nothing new and the genius drug peddlers at Coca-Cola are said to have created the first coupon in the late 1800’s. What has exploded in the decade and a half since the new millennium is the rise of digital coupon sites.

These sites have been mentioned ad naseum by most major news outlets and crappy small blog posts stating the best places to get coupons for the holidays, or how to save money online. While this is a universal human desire – saving money – the topic has been beaten to death.

The digital coupon site world is a lucrative one, with a few winners and the scattered remains of a few losers.

Why are there so many coupon sites?

There are so many coupon sites because the barrier to entry is so low. Anyone that understands how to put up a WordPress site and buy a pre-made coupon theme can get started right away. There are basically two aspects to creating a coupon site:

  1. Creating website with coupon theme
  2. Getting approved by advertisers at Commission Junction and Linkshare

Number one above is pretty easy and number two is even easier. This has created thousands of Retailmenot copycat sites with dreams of digital couponing riches.

Secondly, there are so many sites because the reward is very lucrative. The way coupon sites make money is through affiliate links sourced through affiliate networks. On the low end, retailers (the real companies like Macy’s, GoDaddy, etc) pay in the low single digits. On the high end, companies like ecommerce software companies can pay several hundred dollars.

But there is one reality: there are only a few winners in this space.

The Winners

The winner in this space is clearly Retailmenot. They have the largest traffic volume, the most revenue, and investment by Google (Ventures). This Google Ventures connection has been noted previously, and the connection was dug into deeply in an excellent post by Glen on ViperChill. Retailmenot was one of the first and one of the most aggressive coupon sites and by becoming the largest, they now are buoyed by the fact that since they are the largest, they are referred to first by news publications, which improves their search engine performance. They did make a good move of allowing users to submit their own coupons and share the profits of each link.

retailmenot-traffic

Coupons.com raised $30 million from Greylock Partners in October 2011, bringing the total raised by that point to $247 million. Since then their organic search traffic has increased to hit its new organic search traffic peak as of this publication. For a company founded in 1998, they’ve sure taken their time trying to catch up to the relative upstart Retailmenot, who currently pull in double the organic traffic of Coupons.com from organic search. A key component to the rise of Coupons.com has been a shift from focusing on just digitizing physical coupons to focusing on affiliate revenue from online ecommerce companies. All this goes to show the amount of money and interest swirling around out there for digital coupons.

x-coupons-com-traffic

A third strong contender is cash-back site Fatwallet.com. They have a different model from Retailmenot. While Retailmenot relies on 70%+ of its traffic from it’s strong search engine rankings, Fatwallet almost certainly relies on the loyalty of its customers. As a cash-back site, every time someone purchases through Fatwallet, they return a portion of their affiliate earnings back to the customer. As a customer this sounds like a great proposition, and they’ve created a loyal fan base because of this.

x-fatwallet-traffic

The Losers

The losers in the digital coupon site world match up closely with the changes in Google’s algorithms. Before Google became better at detecting poor-quality pages and poor-quality links, many coupon sites relied heavily on any practices at the time that helped them get Google rankings. This included created tons of low quality pages, focusing on rich anchor texts links, or just poor quality links in general.

Every site is different on why they fell, but here are a few samples.

CouponMountain.com used to be one of the top dogs in the space, but they’ve since fallen from grace.

x-coupon-mountain

They have their site under construction as of publication, perhaps they’re seeking a pivot?

Not sure myself about the reason for their downfall, but I’d be very interested to learn. Without digging into too much research, I believe they were first impacted by Google’s Panda algorithm update in 2011 and have not recovered since.

FrugalDad started as a blog from a dad’s perspective and branched out into producing great infographics and coupons, but from what I saw has  shifted focus first to affording higher education, and now the site redirects to Affordable Schools Online. The About Us page says that the original Frugal Dad is still running the site, but something about the About Us page seems fishy. All I’m saying is that the site hit it’s peak early 2012 and now is a shadow of its former self.

Graph showing web traffic of frugal dad.

Various other coupons sites that used a good amount of link spam and other tricks did profit from the gaps in Google’s ranking algorithm, mostly smaller sites that would rank for a little while and then fall away.

A strange rebirth

One site that struck me as odd during my research was CouponCabin. They were right up there with Retailmenot for a good period in 2011, but then slowly fell in organic search traffic from late 2011 to June 2014 when they shot up in search traffic to their previous record traffic levels. This decline continued even after the company was injected with $54 million from JMI Equity. I recently discovered that they’ve transitioned to a cash-back website, just like FatWallet.

Preview graph of coupon cabin traffic.

With a nice new 2014 facelift, the site looks much better than before, although I get the sense they are still trying to find their bearings.

coupon-cabin-new

So which sites are the best?

Coupon sites (the publishers) are rewarded by referring shoppers to the ecommerce websites (the retailers) they have an affiliate relationship with. Because of this, they are incentivized to promote anything and everything as great. Like any good company, they give prominent ad space to retailers willing to pay the most. As a consumer, the cash-back sites are probably where you will get the most savings, since you earn back some of the sale. So FatWallet or CouponCabin are where you’ll get the most money saved. Retailmenot and Coupons.com are the heavy weights, and are most likely to have the most coupons. The problem with Retailmenot is there is just a huge volume of junk coupons submitted by users that you have to test a few to see what works.

What about this stupid site, it’s a coupon site?

You’re right – I Love These Brands is a coupon site that has a miserable amount of coupons. It’s an ongoing experiment for me, where I learn what works and what doesn’t. The general crowded coupon site space is hard to compete with if I don’t have millions of dollars in funding, so I seek to differentiate my site by being honest and taking a look at the industry from a different angle. I couldn’t find much exposing how the coupon site industry works, besides the ViperChill post, so this could be an interesting home for discussions about the coupon industry.

It’s a very interesting and weird space.

 
 

How to Make Money Writing Online with Textbroker

June 19, 2013Online Tips

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The secret to making more money writing online with Textbroker is to take a note out of Henry Ford’s notebook and make it an assembly line. The opportunities to make $20 or more an hour writing online for Textbroker might not come as often as you’d like, but when they are there you must pounce on them. Recently I saw a huge amount of available Open Orders in Textbroker writing for a sports website. One of the common scalability issues writers face when writing for Textbroker clients is that each client has a particular set of rules. If you get paid an average of $4 for a 400 word article, and this is on the low end, how do you make $20 an hour? By choosing large batch projects.

Again, these might not be available at all times, but when you’re cruising the Open Orders section, look for consistencies of title structures among orders in a certain category. Follow this method to write quickly, accurately, and profitably:

1. If there are 20 orders in the sports category with similar structured titles such as “New York Football Stadiums”, “San Diego Football Stadiums”, “Chicago Football Stadiums”, that’s the gold standard.

2. Pick up a few of these orders and write well according to the clients directions.

3. Hopefully the client will give you feedback quickly or you can message the client to solicit some.

4. Once you understand exactly what the client wants, you can pump these out.

5. Streamline your research process and find a few aggregate data websites that allow you to quickly get the data for each order you’re writing at the same time.

6. If you’re writing 20 articles on football stadiums, pull down all the data for all the stadiums at one time from your research websites, dump them into an Excel document, and work off of this for the remainder.

7. It’s important early on to understand exactly what the client wants; you don’t want to pump out 20 articles only to have the client tell you what you did wrong on all of them.

Happy writing, and let us know if you have any other tips for making money writing online with Textbroker!

 
 

Two of Our Favorite New Surf Brands

June 5, 2013Clothing

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Two new kids on the block, Afends and Raen Optics have caught the eyes of skate and surf wear aficionados up and down the California coast. They both seem to be targeting the grown up but still shredding the waves demographic. Think of that guy who worked really hard to save his money, then went on a surf trip to Australia for 9 months. Or the guy who works at a bar in San Diego at night, sleeps and surfs during the day.

Here’s a closer look at the two brands:

Afends

Afends.com

Afends works really hard to perfect their “don’t give a hoot” surfer/drifter image. I think they’re going after the cubicle worker who idolizes the lifestyle of the road rebel that drinks too much whiskey on a Tuesday and rides up to Santa Cruz in his VW bus just because he wants too. They’re not targeting trust fund hipsters, per se, but maybe upper middle class kids who are semi drifting through their 20s, going to as many Coachella-like summer festivals as possible and pursuing their dreams of being a travel writer. This is not dismissing this demographic in any way, a lot of cubicle warriors would love to have a break and do that for a few months, we’re just noting the demographic here.

I really like the branding and imaging on their site. Being a luxury brand, they are heavy on image advertising and portraying what the aspirational look of their target demographic should be.

Note the road rockers branding on their home page:
afend road rockers

The brand has a self mocking, type feel to themselves, as in knowing they are an up and coming brand and poking fun at the image of the industry a bit, while at the same time fully embracing it and gunning for it. One example of this is the “Gnarlzine” which is their email newsletter. Gnarly is an extremely over used and often made fun example of surf lingo, and they bake that right into their messaging. I’m a big fan of it.

afends shop zone

Also note the use of nicely washed up models that look like they just came out of the water after a few days of shredding it at Huntington. This summary was mostly a note of the brand Afends, but what of the clothing? Overall the clothing is on the high end when it comes to a surf brand. The pricing is somewhere between what Volcom prices their clothes and Patagonia does. You can expect to see this line at The Rail section of Nordstrom, if it isn’t already, and you can be sure that I’ll be looking out for them at Nordstrom Rack.

Raen Optics

RaenOptics.com

Our boys in the audience will appreciate Raen’s increased use of female models when compared to Ahrefs, which prefers late 20’s males. Raen Optics is a fairly young sunglasses outfit out of Encinitas, San Diego – home to some of Southern California’s best surf. Like their neighbors to the north, Electric in San Clemente, they start off with designs that break the mold compared to other similar premium-casual sunglasses brands. Their bio sums it up: “RAEN Optics is an independent, classics driven brand, aimed at bringing quality and authenticity to the boutique eyewear market.” Raen (or should I say RAEN), borrows a lot of their designs from classic eye glasses trends, whether it be 1940s Coke-bottle rounds or modified cat eye sunglasses.

raen sunglasses review

Their Tumblr-like community page with special contributors is an excellent example of a brand using the washed up hipster glow to showcase some authenticity and grit. It mixes in a healthy amount of nostalgia for a not so distant past with a sprinkling of peaceful nature pics, boys being boys, and hot girls topless drinking beer.

And we also think if Bob Dylan was modeling

bob dylan sunglasses

…that they totally would have chosen him, don’t you think?

dylan wannabes

They are very active Instagrammers, which makes for an interesting splash of corporate imagery that blends really well into my feed:

raen bikini girl

Which makes me really want to break out of the cubicle and go play Smashball on the sand. I recently checked out some RAENs and I do like their unique build. The glasses are “handcrafted” and made in China, but seem very sturdy and quality. I’ve sat on them once, and the glasses won.

What are some upcoming brands you’re interested in?

 
 

Coachella 2013 Rankings with Infographic

February 12, 2013Music

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How will you optimize your time at Coachella this year? Will you hand select the bands you already know and just go see them. Will you ask your friends which bands are good that you don’t know?

How To Decide Who To See at Coachella

There must be some easy way to comb through the infinite number of bands and optimize your beer soaked three day adventure, here are a few options.

Step 1: We’ll start off with the Coachella 2013 Poster

coachella lineup poster 2013

Step 2: Full Text List

If you would like to actually read a full list of bands without straining your eyes until it gets down to 6pt font, here is the full Coachella 2013 lineup:

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