I was browsing the ThankYou Network catalog, which is Citi’s reward program, when I noticed something funny. When I was logged out, the price for certain gift cards would be different than when I was logged in.

For example, Home Depot gift cards are available on this schedule when logged out:

  • $10 gift card for 1,500 points
  • $25 gift card for 2,500 points
  • $50 gift card for 5,000 points
  • $100 gift card for 10,000 points

Screenshot:
HD-gc-logged-out

When I logged in to “buy” them, the schedule (and number of options) changed!

  • $10 gift card for 1,500 points
  • $25 gift card for 3,500 points
  • $50 gift card for 6,000 points

Screenshot:
HD-gc-logged-in

This is a huge difference!

I checked another gift card, Starbucks, and found the same difference.

Logged out Starbucks options:

  • $5 gift card for 1,000 points
  • $10 gift card for 1,500 points
  • $25 gift card for 2,500 points
  • $50 gift card for 5,000 points
  • $100 gift card for 10,000 points

Logged in:

  • $5 gift card for 1,000 points
  • $10 gift card for 1,500 points
  • $25 gift card for 3,500 points
  • $50 gift card for 6,000 points

Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t buy anything unless I’m logged in but I don’t know there’s such a big difference in both price and options.

It happens to be 500 -

Coolest part has to be that insane jump to avoid some coins (points) in 8-1.

You have speed runs (fastest is just a hair under five minutes… four minutes, fifty-eight point eight nine seconds!) and now there are low point runs.

And to put the low score into some perspective, just going for speed the guy scored 25,600 points in the first level!

What’s next?

disqus-discoveryFor about a month, I used Disqus on another blog, Microblogger, and it’s been a bit of a learning experience for me. I eventually abandoned it, because it was getting in the way of commenting, but here’s a little bit of knowledge in case you’re still running it.

One thing I noticed recently was that there were links to other sites appearing below the comments in a box Disqus labeled “Around the Web.” It reminded me a lot of the Outbrain modules boxes you see on mainstream news sites, but I didn’t want them on Microblogger.

It’s part of Disqus’ “Discovery” platform and they call it a Discovery box. By default, the left column contains links to your site, headlined “ALSO ON YOUR SITE.” The right column contains links to other sites, headlined “RECOMMENDED FOR YOU.” and it’s a potential stream of revenue for bloggers, though it’s not clear how much it could be (I wouldn’t think it’s much).
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When I first started Bargaineering, I would joke that it had three visitors – my girlfriend (now wife), myself from home and myself from work. When you first start a website, you will make up a significant portion of your site’s visits. In order to get actionable analytics, you really need to exclude yourself even if it may hurt the ego just a little bit. :)

How do you exclude yourself? It’s relatively easy with Google Analytics. What you need to do is set a filter that excludes your IP address or a range of IP addresses if your changes from time to time. The settings you want to set are:

  • Filter Type: Custom > Exclude
  • Filter Field: Visitor IP Address
  • Filter Pattern: A regular expression for your IP.

What is your IP? 54.161.147.106

If you aren’t a regular expressions guru, Google provides this tool to help you create the expression for a range of IP addresses.

It’s that easy.

LinkedIn has a feature where you can see almost everyone who has looked at your profile. If you pay for their premium service, you find out exactly who has looked at your profile. If you don’t pay, you see a few of the people but the rest are “LinkedIn Member” or a version of “Person In XYZ Industry in XYZ Place.” If you want to surreptitiously do some background research on someone, having your name appear on that list can sink your surreptitiousness. Big time.

So how do you read someone’s LinkedIn profile without them knowing? Google.

Use Google to search for their name along with “site:linkedin.com” and chances are you’ll see them listed. If you can’t find them on name alone, add in the state they live in or other details to narrow it down. Eventually, you’ll find them. Then, just look at the cached version of the page.

Let’s say you want to find a Michael Jordan, so you search “michael jordan site:linkedin.com” and get these results.
michael-jordan-search-results

Just scroll down to the one you want and look for the double arrows pointing right (indicated by the green arrow). Then move up to the top of the cached image and click on Cached, indicated by the red arrow. That’ll load up the page you want to see and you’ll never appear on that person’s viewed list.

If you already know the person’s LinkedIn profile URL, you can search on that and that page will be the first result.

Remember the Million Dollar Homepage?

by jim on February 6th, 2013

Million Dollar HomepageIn 2005, Alex Tew did something absolutely ridiculous. He registered MillionDollarHomepage.com and then sold pixels at $1 each, with a minimum 10×10 slot going for $100. He got tons of press, sold his million pixels, and it spawned a ton of copycats both with their own Million Dollar whatevers and scripts to build your own Million Dollar Homepage. The amazing part is that he sold them all.

I was reminded of it over the weekend and took a quick peek at the atrocious looking page. Then I wondered, seven years later, how many of these businesses were still in existence?
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What Version of WordPress am I Running?

by jim on January 25th, 2013

Every time that WordPress comes out with a new version, you see the familiar yellow bar at the top that tells you there’s a new version out. It’s convenient for upgrading but inconvenient if you aren’t sure what version of WordPress you’re currently running. When there is no upgrade available, you can always look at the lower right corner and it’ll tell you which version. When there’s an upgrade, that helpful text is replaced with a link to upgrade.

So if you need to upgrade, what’s the easiest way to find out your current version? If you are logged in then it’s quite easy. Find the WordPress logo in the upper left, click it and then select “About WordPress.” That’ll load up the About page, which has the version number clearly at the top.

If you’re not logged in, you can often look at the source and see a meta generator tag that says what version it is. It’ll look like this:
< meta name="generator" content="WordPress 3.5.1" />

But many site owners remove it because it can be a liability, bots can scan the interwebs for old versions that are easily hacked (there are still ways to scan but why make it so easy?), so people usually remove it. If you want to remove that tag, you can add this to your theme’s functions.php file:
remove_action('wp_head', 'wp_generator');

Hope that helps!

23andMe Review

by jim on December 27th, 2012

Discover yourself at 23andMeI’d heard about 23andMe a few years ago, likely when it was launched, but I wasn’t going to give it a try until recently. They received a recent investment and dropped their kit from $299 to $99, which puts it into the “novelty” price range for something like this. I still find it stunning that this is even available for under a hundred dollars but this is the wonderful world we live in.

What is 23andMe?

23andMe is essentially “genetic testing light” and it’ll give you some insight into your ancestry and health just for spitting into a tube that they analyze. The ancestry section is actually pretty interesting as it’ll give you a genetic breakdown based on how much African, Asian, and European ancestry you have. It’ll then show you other 23andMe members who share DNA with you.

The health bit is a little less precise, with it telling you the genetic chances of you getting a particular disease. I’m skeptical about the accuracy of this (plus what are percentages anyway?). It might give you reason to wonder whether you should keep eating steak every week though!

So to get the kit, you pay up $99, get the kit, send it back, and wait 2-3 weeks. I’m going to order us a pair of kits and see what happens!

When it comes to affiliates, one of the most common questions I get asked is how do I know I can trust my affiliate partner? With affiliate companies popping up every single day (and closing down every single day), how do I know that the company isn’t shaving conversions or doing some other shady stuff?

Sadly, there is just one perfect way to confirm conversions and that’s to add tracking to the final success page (the page a visitor reaches once they complete the necessary action) and getting that is nearly impossible for most major corporations. Would Citi let you add a pixel on their success page? No. A smaller tech company, without all the levels of red tape, might but for many companies it’s not worth the hassle.

Tracking Clicks

That said, you can confirm clicks by simply tracking actions on your side. You can do this by setting up event tracking in Google Analytics. If you have Analytics installed, it’s a simple matter of adding code to the OnClick event handler.

There will always be a small discrepancy. Some people don’t have Javascript enabled, which renders Google Analytics inoperative (you can get around this by using PHP redirects and having the code enter a row in your database… but do you really want to increase the lag between the click and the affiliate page popping up?) and some people will click and somehow not continue through the redirect (it happens). Whatever the case, sometimes it won’t match but it should be significant. If it deviates too much, I’d be worried.

Split Test Affiliate Companies

The only way to know if an affiliate company isn’t shaving leads is by running a split test. Send half your traffic to one affiliate company, half to another. If the conversion rates deviate too much, you know who to trust. Sometimes companies can offer higher CPAs because they’re shaving leads, so the effective CPA is much lower. The only way to confirm this is by testing this way.

Be sure to run the test long enough to be confident that your data is statistically significant. If one company converts 10 out of 100 and another converts 15 out of 100, that’s a difference of 50% but it’s really only 5 people. Is that significant?

What is Significance?

The best explanation I found, which includes the math behind it, is here. Jason Cohen uses a Pearson chi-square test to calculate whether a difference is statistically significant.

Essentially the equation is:
N = number of trials, a trial is a conversion – NOT a visit
D = half the difference between winner and loser (clicks)
Significant if D2 is larger than N

For our simple examples of Company A converting 10 on 100 visits and Company B converting 15 on 100 visits, we calculate the variables to be:
N = 25
D = (15 – 10) / 2 = 2.5
D2 = 6.25
D2 is not greater than N so it is not statistically significant.

Multiple each number by a ten and what do you get?
N = 250
D = (150 – 100) / 2 = 25
D2 = 625
D2 is greater than N so it is statistically significant.

In some cases, it doesn’t take long to get to the truth. In other cases, it can take a while.

This is, of course, a win win situation. If you find out one company is statistically better, go with them after you factor in payouts. If you don’t find out either is better and both pay the same, you know have a suitable backup that you’ve vetted in case one company’s servers go down.

Lastly, remember that this does nothing to explain why one company performs better, just that one does (or doesn’t).

As President Reagan said – “Trust but verify.”

How do you verify affiliate companies?

Setup & Check Your Webmaster Tools Account!

by jim on November 29th, 2012

I was recently talking to my friend Cap at StopBuyingCrap.com and he shared a harrowing tale with me about what happens when you stop monitoring your Webmaster Tools account. Apparently his site had been hacked, Webmaster Tools warned him about it, but since he never logged into to check… he never knew. It didn’t help that his focus was on another project and so that message, along with a decrease in traffic and revenue, sat in his Webmaster Tools inbox for an entire month!

What is Webmaster Tools?

If you aren’t familiar with Google’s Webmaster Tools, get familiar with it. It’s one of the many ways you can check the health of your site based on what Google thinks. By adding your site, Google will be able to tell you if it’s experiencing any problems crawling the site, what pages it has difficulty with (duplicate META data, server errors like 404s and Not Founds, etc), and any recommendations they have to improve performance (such as upgrading to the latest version of WordPress).

It was in one of these messages that my friend Cap was told that his site was hacked – “potentially compromised.” It was a pain to clean up the hack but it was necessary. He only knew about it because of Webmaster Tools.

How to Set Up Webmaster Tools

It’s almost trivial. All you do is log into Webmaster Tools and click on Add a Site, it’s a red button. Then, you need to verify ownership of the domain. You can do this up uploading a file or an alternate method (adding an HTML tag, via Google Analytics, or Domain name registrar). If you don’t have your FTP credentials handy, the easiest way is probably via Google Analytics or updating your theme to include the META tag.

Once you verify, you get can start getting data for your site and clean up any minor issues you have. It’s hard to say whether something has an impact but I figure that if Google is bothering to tell you, you might as well fix it if you can.

Now that you have it set up, be sure to check it!