Table of contents.
When you browse through certain articles on the internet, you might run into affiliate disclosures such as this:
This blog post may contain affiliate links. I may get a commission if you make a qualifying purchase through my affiliate link, at no extra cost to you.
Some businesses even go so far as to offer massive, one-time discounts to those who purchased through affiliate links, just to sweeten the deal and make it all the more enticing.
And in my own affiliate disclosure, I claimed that affiliate links are a great way for you to support this blog at no extra cost.
That was a lie.
Well, not exactly a lie per se. It is more of a half-truth.
But half-truths are worse than lies, and I disapprove of them both. Well… This is a lie too. I disapprove of lying and half-truths in principle, but not in practice. Because if you’ve been keeping track, I have already attempted to deceive you twice. Can you see how difficult it is for me to be completely truthful in real life? I digress.
In a rather convoluted attempt to regain your trust, I offer you the whole truth: the price you have to pay through affiliate links is not always obvious or upfront.
What are affiliate links?
At its core, affiliate links are a part of yet another marketing tactic.
Businesses use marketing tactics to gain more customers and more sales. That’s why you get a bunch of bullshit shoved into your face all the damn time:
- When you walk around a street corner or towards the entrance of a grocery store, and get handed a pamphlet or a card with a FIRST SIGN-UP ONLY discount code. Probably for yet another ride-hailing / vehicle-sharing app, or another subscription-based home-delivered meal-prep kit.
- When you want to watch a YouTube video, and get slapped in the face with two unskippable and unreplayable 5-to-15-second videos. Probably for some ALL-NEW-AND-ORIGINAL-BUT-NOT-REALLY mobile game / app, designed to slap your poor face with even more ads.
- When an old acquaintance knocks on your door to talk about some amazing new thing. It could be a product / program / app / package / scheme / investment / opportunity / whatever. They GUARANTEE IT WILL MAKE YOUR LIFE A MILLION TIMES BETTER. You just need to buy into whatever they are selling!
- When you get a random phone call from a stranger in the middle of the day. They prod about your homeownership status / mortgage / utility bills / insurance coverage and whatnot. Then they try to OFFER you something that is CHEAPER or BETTER or
god forbidBOTH at the same time!
Affiliate marketing works as follows:
- Let’s say Company X (a.k.a. the “Business”) has an affiliate program on their company website. A content creator (a.k.a. the “Affiliate” or the “Publisher”) signs up for the affiliate program. Company X provides the content creator with a unique affiliate link.
- The content creator then promotes Company X’s service or product. For example, they can make a video or write an article talking about their experience with Company X. The content creator then adds their affiliate link to the end of the video or article.
- A follower (a.k.a. the “Consumer”) consumes the content by watching the video or reading the article. The follower then clicks on the affiliate link to check out Company X’s website.
- The follower likes what they see and makes a purchase. The content creator receives a commission from Company X for the sale. This commission is usually a percentage of the sales, but it can also be a flat amount.
TL;DR: Businesses run affiliate programs to gain more sales and more customers. They provide unique affiliate links to Publishers who promote their business. When a Consumer makes an online purchase through an affiliate link, the Publisher receives a commission from the Business.
In the case of scatteringclouds.com, I act as the affiliate / Publisher / content creator. I.e. the person who writes the articles and blog posts, and the person who gets paid for recommending a service or product.
You act as the Consumer / follower. I.e. the person currently reading this article, and the person looking to purchase a recommended service or product.
Affiliate programs are good, but not always.
When done well, affiliate programs are beneficial for the Business, Publisher, and Consumer alike.
- The Business gets a sale;
- The affiliate / Publisher gets a commission from the sale;
- The Consumer gets recommended a good service or product.
In reality, affiliate programs are not always beneficial for everyone involved.
The hidden cost of affiliate programs for Consumers.
Before we begin, it is important for me to clarify the following:
I do not have any experience with affiliate programs as a Publisher or as a Business. This should be obvious since I have only started blogging this month (Sep 2022), and I have nothing to sell (yet).
However, I have been building random websites on and off since 2018. So I do have experience with website hosting affiliate programs as a Consumer.
Thus I am only qualified to talk about this from a Consumer’s standpoint.
Hidden cost 1: You might end up with an unreliable service or product.
I decided to try my hand at building a WordPress website mid-Jun 2020, and needed a website host. After some initial research, it came down to a choice between Bluehost.com and SiteGround.com.
I ended up signing for a 1-year subscription for SiteGround’s medium GrowBig plan, because:
- I hated Bluehost’s corporate-like website. They have since changed their design but I still don’t like it.
- Publishers were raving about SiteGround’s stellar customer support and low prices. “Just a few dollars per month!!”
- It is MUCH cheaper to pay for a yearly subscription instead of monthly. In reality, this discount only applies to your first payment term with SiteGround. But nobody bothered pointing that out to a WordPress hosting newbie, i.e. me.
- I chose the medium plan (instead of small) because I was thinking about freelancing as a website designer. It didn’t happen, but I’m not ruling out freelancing just yet.
Things went well in the first few months.
Then, I started noticing strange connection issues with my test website.
When everything worked fine, my test website would load in under 2 to 3 seconds. But there were times when it would take much longer, up to several minutes of waiting. Sometimes the website will refuse to load altogether.
I would stare at a frozen browser tab for minutes on end, wondering if I should continue waiting. Or if I should just freaking hit the freaking refresh button the freaking nth+1 time already.
And the website can get disconnected and stop responding anywhere at any given time. Both on the front-end (also written as front end or frontend), when I want to view my actual website; and the WordPress admin back-end (also written as back end or backend), when I want to edit the settings or content of my website.
This intermittent and unstable website connection persisted for months, until the day I left SiteGround!
Worse still, I could not build a case with SiteGround support. The connection issue would always disappear after a few refreshes. And it would always reappear at the worst times, usually when I am deep in the middle of work on my test website.
And of course it was too late for me to get a refund. Like it or not, I was stuck with SiteGround for the remainder of my payment term. Typical, isn’t it? This is the first hidden cost you have to pay for following a bad affiliate recommendation.
Just so we are clear:
- I had no more than two test websites with zero traffic in my SiteGround account. So there is no chance for me to run into any resource or bandwidth limits.
- Everything is built from scratch with the default 2017 WordPress theme and no more than five active plugins. The plugins are for basic functionality, e.g. contact form, WordPress SMTP, inserting code snippets into the header & footer & functions.php, and a page builder plugin. Bog-standard WordPress setup.
- I had the error-prone SiteGround optimizer plugin deactivated, so there should be no conflicts. None of my other plugins are heavy enough to cause such a massive and inconsistent slowdown.
- The page builder plugin I used is the Oxygen Builder. It is famous for its speedy front-end performance, though not so much in the back. It normally takes 10 to 15 seconds to load Oxygen’s page builder interface in the back-end, which further exacerbates my problem. When my edits stopped saving to the front-end (because of yet another disconnect), I had to reload the page builder interface to get it working again. And each reload would take an indeterminate amount of time due to my connection issues. It was downright infuriating.
There is absolutely no good reason why my test website behaved the way it did. I have since used the exact same setup on three other WordPress hosts, and they all worked fine.
But I didn’t know then what I knew now.
The younger me tried a bunch of solutions to no avail, and ended up dreading working on WordPress. It also made me give up on my dream of becoming a freelance web designer (note: I am still not ruling it out just yet).
During my search for an answer, I found a bunch of complaints about SiteGround. It appears I am not the only one regretting buying into SiteGround hosting:
I switched one of my larger clients to SiteGround…
… After a few months, everything was going alright. However, when my client had one of his articles linked to on a popular site, within minutes of the traffic spike SiteGround disabled access to the site. They claimed that the site was now given “limited access” due to high resource usage. … This was a huge loss of business/traffic for my client, and I’ve never had this aggressive behavior on shared hosting before.thesitebros, May 2017
… I have five WordPress sites running on SiteGround.
… For the last two months at the end of my billing cycle, I have gotten a CPU usage warning email from SiteGround. … In short, my websites were temporarily suspended until the start of the next calendar month.
… Until the time when SiteGround reconsiders their CPU usage limits to the extent that they at least impose an acceptable level, I suggest that you buy hosting from SiteGround alternative…Harsh Agrawal, last updated Jan 2019
I’m migrating from Siteground because the renewal cost is so far outside of the value considering the performance. … £280 for 12 months means no longer overlooking the massive lag spikes … hunt for a new webs host commences.360fov, Apr 2020
Note: 360fov’s experience reflected my own. “Massive lag spikes” are an apt description of the connection issues I experienced with my test website.
Multiple issues with Siteground cloud hosting since they moved to Google Cloud…
For starters, every site on my account is suddenly experiencing 502 Bad Gateway errors on almost a daily basis. … Upon contacting their support team, they said it was due to having poorly configured databases and too few server resources…
… it’s worth mentioning the sites that I moved to another hosting provider (and which were largely getting the most 502 errors) haven’t had a single 502 error since being moved, despite no change in the coding of the site itself.adiabatic_storm, Sep 2020
Agreed with you. Years ago they were great, but their stupid site tools, their increase in prices, … and their annoying CPU limits made me move to another hosting too.gblanco89, Sep 2020
SiteGround appears to impose very strict hidden limits on their hosting plans. And the further you upgrade your plans, the harsher the limits will become (examples will be provided later in hidden cost 3).
It gets to a point where your website will no longer be able to function normally.
As a side effect of their stringent limits, SiteGround can quickly turn into a slippery slope – one that is not easy to get out of. Take a look at their support article on the limitations of creating and exporting your own website backup:
Why BackupBuddy fails to send backups to a remote server?
When backing up to a remote server, the successful completion of the process relies on many different factors including the type of the remote server (FTP, Amazon, DropBox, etc.), the load on the two servers, the network connectivity between the two, the size of the backup, server limits, and more. The way BackupBuddy works is to create one process to initiate the transfer, which for large websites becomes too long and heavy. The larger the website, the more likely it is to hit various server limits like Apache timeout, PHP max execution time, max CPU seconds, and more.
On SiteGround servers, it is not recommended to try to send backups over 150MB to a remote FTP [File Transfer Protocol] server because that transfer may take too much time and the process will reach the timeouts set to protect the stability of the server or will be killed by the server monitoring system if deemed to be creating load.SiteGround support article
Let’s talk about image sizes to give you an idea of how stringent these limits are. Say you are a photographer, and you want to show your work on your website.
A single, high-resolution photo can easily go up to 10MB in size.
With SiteGround hosting, your website backups or exports might fail if you have over 15 high-resolution photos stored in your website. Just fifteen! That is barely enough to fill two pages, let alone an entire portfolio website!
SiteGround searches in Google Trends took a large hit around July, 2020.Tom Dupuis, last updated Sep 2022
The decline of Google searches for SiteGround in Jul 2020 explained a lot. The connection issues I faced back then were symptoms of a much bigger problem within the hosting company. I joined SiteGround in Jun 2020 during its peak. Past that point there was nowhere left to go but down. I was experiencing the deterioration of a once-great hosting company firsthand.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much the Consumer can do about this. The best course of action is to vote with your wallet and take your business elsewhere. And maybe you can write about your experience and post it online.
Sadly, I paid for the first hidden cost of affiliate links in full. Working with an unstable website connection was painful. But I am stuck with them for better or for worse, because I got lured into paying for hosting for an entire year.
Hidden cost 2: You might have to cover for their affiliate commissions.
SiteGround and indeed many other web hosting companies offer massive discounts to new customers who pay for a full year upfront. What they don’t advertise is that the discount is only available for the first payment term. Some of them will even conceal their actual monthly pricing to further mislead people.
First term discounts are not a bad thing in of itself. It makes their hosting plans look a lot more affordable, and it lowers the barrier of entry to host a website.
But it also sets the wrong expectations.
SiteGround certainly succeeded in giving me the wrong impression. I thought I would always get some kind of discounted pricing if I pay for a full year upfront! You would think this is worth clarifying front and center, but all you get is a vague footnote in the checkout page. See if you can spot it amongst all that clutter:
In case you were unable to find the footnote, or had trouble reading the tiny text, it reads: “The special initial price applies for the first invoice only. Once your initial term is over regular renewal prices apply.”
Obviously they will not clarify what the “regular renewal prices” are. You will have to dig deep into SiteGround’s knowledge base to find out. And since you were offered a massive discount for your first yearly subscription, it sets the expectation that you would get some kind of bulk discount when renewing for another year.
Back then, SiteGround’s medium GrowBig plan cost me 12 months x $9.99 per month + 10% GST = $131.87 AUD in the first term.
I couldn’t remember what my GrowBig renewal cost was, but the current large GoGeek plan is also discounted to $9.99 per month if you pay for a full year. So if we went with today’s standard renewal pricing, my second year renewal cost would be 12 months x $49.99 per month + 10% GST = $659.90 AUD.
Holy smokes! This represents a jump of more than 500 dollars, at a markup of 500% compared to the initial pricing!
Author’s note: And yes, I am based in Australia, so my calculations are done with Australian dollars. I’m so glad you asked.
Siteground is a decent host.
That said, when your initial 12 or 36 month term is over they will rate jack you massively. If you go in with all eyes open, then there is not a problem. Most people get blindsided by the massive price increase.alento_group, Mar 2022
Between the intermittent connection issues and a massive bill shock, I left SiteGround for good.
Later on, I found out that:
- Affiliates recommend SiteGround because they get paid a huge flat-rate commission for each sign-up, ranging from $50/sale to $160/sale or even more, paid depending on their local currency.
- SiteGround’s first year sign-up discount is nothing more than a honey trap. And the amount most people pay in their first term (between $52.67 to $131.87 AUD) is barely enough to cover the cost of SiteGround’s affiliate payouts (between $50 to $160 AUD).
- Customers who are unwilling to accept SiteGround’s renewal prices have to go through the hassle of finding and migrating their websites to a new host.
- Customers renewing with SiteGround have to pay up to fivefold for the same level of service. A portion of their payment is used to cover the cost of affiliate commissions, AND the deficit left by customers who leave after the first term.
- You can get better hosting plans at much cheaper prices elsewhere. Especially when you factor in SiteGround’s stringent limits and exorbitant renewal costs.
So the Business wins and the Publisher wins. But the Consumer has to jump through hoops or pay through their noses. Most people would call this a marketing fraud.
SiteGround is only living now thanks to all the affiliates. It’s too expensive for what it offers.gblanco89, Jul 2022
Fortunately, I managed to dodge a bullet and avoided paying for the second hidden cost. No way am I going to help SiteGround cover for their affiliate payouts.
Hidden cost 3: You might have to deal with bad or powerless support.
From what I gathered, SiteGround used to have the best customer support in the industry way back when.
I dug up my support history with SiteGround, and found that I had only reached out to them once. Despite the horror stories, our exchange was actually quite pleasant. Things did get a little weird towards the end though.
Perhaps the person I talked to needed a break too.
If you didn’t bother reading through the above screenshot: I managed to solve my problem before the chat had even started, so I apologized for bothering them and exchanged some light-hearted banter with my chat support representative.
Others were not as lucky. Look at all the complaints about SiteGround support in recent years:
I don’t have an IT background so when I noticed my site would occasionly [sic] go down, it made no sense to me, so i just upgraded as suggested… 3 times. Unfortunately the problem was still there, my website kept going down. So i started migrating a few websites away, problem still there. Eventually I got so frustrated I just started to migrate everything. The strange thing is I migrated my websites individually to the CHEAPEST plan on Krystal hosting and not only do they work fine now but according to google insights, they load faster. It surprised me as Siteground seems to have all the bells and whistle hosting. Migration could’ve been better by Krystal but you can’t win them all.
And another thing, siteground blocked me from using Support Chat due to the number of times I had contacted them regarding this problem. So support is good but if you use it too much they block you.Dee, July 2018
Had been using Siteground since 2015…
… It was OK.. until I upgraded from shared packages to cloud 4 months ago…
… After we make the switch, we started to have lots of issues and 503 downtimes. They were telling us that we have some resource usage issues. Yeah, I can see that!
… Back and forth after several messages and tickets, … they were telling us that “we’ are [we’re] bored of giving you support and we don’t want to do anymore”. Really? Do you think I am having fun getting my website closed?
Anyway, I said that’s enough. We started searching for a new hosting company.
… Now I feel like, I changed my Toyota and got a Mercedes. I didn’t expect to have this much difference between hostings.
… Thank you Siteground for all the years we’ve spent together. You were good for the shared hosting stuff but we’ve just upgraded. Take care.someka, Apr 2020
I run an e-commerce site, WP+Woo [WordPress + WooCommerce, an e-commerce plugin for WordPress].
… I usually publish 70-100 products in a day by changing their status from Draft to Published. Recently it’s been taking 5-6 tries to publish all the products … as the operation would timeout and only a handful of products would change their status to Published. So I would have to repeat the process until they were all Published. This behavior coincided with my upgrade from GrowBig to GrowGeek [GoGeek].
I contacted Siteground, and one of their “Senior Technical Support” agents answered.
… Apparently this “Senior Technical Support” agent got aggravated enough and decided to change ~50 products I had in draft to Publish on my LIVE website without any prior consent or warning, just to say “see it does work and I didn’t get any timeouts”.
… This is the second time Siteground has made changes to my live website without my permission.
… I’m at a lost of what to do. I’m within the 30 days to get my money back for upgrading … but I don’t want to deal with people this incompetent behind the controls.
… If nothing else let this serve as a cautionary tale about Siteground and the “support” you can expect.UkrainianConflict, Jan 2021
Note: Would you look at that. The timeout issue mentioned above coincided with the intermittent connection problems I had back then.
Is Siteground an acceptable host? I’m a novice looking to find a host with wordpress installation…
Hmm, … I’d stay away. I’ve been with them on/off with various websites for close to 10 years and their support has degraded to the point of now being infuriating – almost impossible to access their live chat. They’ve hidden the link behind many, many layers of KB [Knowledge Base] articles, tutorials, etc., and on most days the best you can do is post a ticket. With active client issues, asynchronous communication ain’t the best solution!
I’m moving my last site in the next month and won’t look back.Busy_Safe7389, Jun 2022
The third hidden cost is somewhat irrelevant to me, because I never did end up having to deal with SiteGround support.
Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. At least I had some awkward-but-good memories with the only person I interacted with.
Looking back, it is unlikely I will get any help with my website connection issue. Because the roots of the problem run much deeper than what a poor support staff can do to help.
I want to think that SiteGround’s support staff are trying their very best. It is not easy to be on the brunt end of angry customers, especially when the company you work for is running itself into the ground.
As it stands, SiteGround has trapped itself in a perpetual downward spiral.
- SiteGround is bleeding money through their marketing, with affiliate programs and sign-up discounts likely being the main culprit.
- To make up for the deficit, they place stringent limits on all hosting resources.
- Customers hit the monthly limit on their hosting plan and reach out for support.
- Since it is easy to hit the stringent limits, SiteGround support gets overwhelmed.
- SiteGround support refuses to service customers who get rate limited frequently.
- Customers are told to upgrade their plans. The upgrades are costly but doesn’t help much because the limits are still too stringent.
- Customers leave SiteGround in frustration.
- SiteGround loses customers and invests even more into their marketing.
- Rinse and repeat in a vicious, never-ending cycle.
It’s funny how this article turned out.
I started talking about affiliate links, then went on a full-on rant about my time with SiteGround as a Consumer. Then again, I would never have heard of SiteGround if not for all those pesky affiliates that simply would not shut up.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses for affiliates either:
I Stopped Recommending SiteGround
Back in 2019, I left SiteGround after paying about 4x in upgrades to fix CPU limits…
… Since moving which instantly fixed both, I shared my experience on my blog. I was totally not prepared for SiteGround’s reaction.
It started with terminating my affiliate account. Then they sent a cease & desist letter referring to a non-disparagement clause in their TOS [Terms of Service] which I’ve seen other affiliates get threatened for.
… SiteGround isn’t the company they once were. Not just because of their declined service in multiple areas, but because they have to cover up their mess with lies, threats, and censorship.
… If SiteGround works for you, by all means keep using them. But even if they’re [sic] service was good, there’s no way I would support a company who acts like the police, makes a mess, then covers up their tracks with misinformation. The hosting/affiliate marketing space is bad enough as it is.Tom Dupuis, last updated Aug 2022
You can read all about Tom’s horrifying experience with SiteGround as an affiliate by following the link above.
Unfortunately, not all Publishers care about what they promote, so long as they get paid. They push their responsibilities onto the Business to serve the Consumers well.
But no matter how they spin their stories, affiliate programs will forever remain a marketing expense for the Business, and it will always affect their bottom line. So when a Business abandons quality and integrity for profit, Consumers have to foot the bill one way or another.
As a blogger and a Publisher, the onus is on me to recommend only the things I use. Ideally, my recommendations should always come from a Consumer’s standpoint.
But in reality, I am only human. And I am very much susceptible to greed. I cannot proclaim that I will always be pro-Consumer. And I cannot guarantee that the Businesses I promote will not change course in the future.
So the best I can give you is a warning and an apology: You should never fully trust what others are telling you online. Sorry about that.
Always do your own research and make your own conclusions.