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Affiliate Link Bashing and The Self-defeating Marketing community

I noticed that “Black Friday” is a very popular search term this month. I noticed that “Black Friday” is one of the top 5 topics on social platform Twitter. Of course there are affiliate marketing opportunities surrounding Black Friday, because it is a shopping event. Black Friday is followed by Cyber Monday, known as the biggest Internet shopping day. So obviously Cyber Monday, although not as well known as Black Friday, is big for affiliates, since millions of referring affiliate links will be driving the traffic that leads to those sales.

I noticed someone posted an “Black Friday” link to Twitter, using a URL shortening service similar to When I looked closely I noticed it was an affiliate link to Amazon. Cool, I thought. Innocuous, harmless, helpful and covert. I wondered what sort of adoption that link experiences.

Today I noticed yet another search community member bashing affiliate links, specifically those posted to twitter. It happens too often. Why?

Spam is spam, but affiliate links are not spam. If someone posts a self-serving message to his audience and includes a self-serving affiliate link, then the audience is in control. Garbage is garbage. If you don’t like the message or post or comment or tweet, that’s fine. You are free to handle it. But the affiliate link should not be the cause for your dislike. The affiliate link is a perfect vehicle for referrals. Every industry wishes it had an accountable, trackable, meaningful means to refer potential customers like we do. And if the link is meaningful, innocuous, harmless, and helpful plus covert, all the better! But “covert” in this context is incorrect – I should say “unobtrusive“. There is nothing wrong with the affiliate link in proper supportive context. And if there is a spammy post meant only to carry a self-serving affiliate link, there is still nothing wrong with the link. The spammer might be offensive, or the post exploitative, but not the link.

I find the search community self-defeating. The world doesn’t consider affiliate links to be spam, only these self-defeating search marketers do. And the more they say so in public, the more the public is influenced to view affiliate links as unworthy. Why is that?

Commerce is something that must be driven. Commerce doesn’t happen by itself. The intent to buy might be spontaneous, by the act of buying must be prompted by some commercial driver. Sometimes it is an advertisement that creates warm fuzzy associations between a purchase and a person. The ad drives commerce. Sometimes it is a coupon that ties a purchase to an added value, causing the actual purchase to take place even in cases where the intent to buy pre-existed for quite some time. Very often endorsements drive commerce. Given no other knowledge, I’ll buy what my doctor says is best. Of course the doctor doesn’t use an affiliate link, but are we dumb enough to believe the doctor isn’t participating in an affiliate program? Have you ever heard of the pharmaceutical industry?

I think every link should be an affiliate link, because almost every link drives commerce. Someone is potentially gaining commercial value every time I link to anything that leads to commerce. Google knows this, which is why Google is a search engine. Google has gone after the ripest, lowest-hanging fruit on the tree – un-monetized value injected into the system by those who link without affiliate tracking codes. lately Google has been referring to “undisclosed affiliate links” as potentially felonious. I think that is an obscene abuse of the public trust. Of course I am not referring to “free” scams that are not actually free, lotteries no one can possibly win, or negative opt-in programs that obligate you without your explicit permission, or ones that lock the consumer into a costly situation beyond the initial response transaction. Fraud is fraud, but affiliate links are not fraudulent.

Google would like nothing better than a law (with felonious teeth) forcing all links to be un-trackable. Google will settle for a law that requires all trackable links to be highlighted as suspect, or otherwise discountable via Google’s own aggressive business tactics. That helps Google secure a winfall of profits. Strangely, it appears that many search marketers not only accept this, but support it by bashing affiliate links as unworthy or spammy. And the oddest part of all of this is… those same people tend to complain when Google doesn’t pay webmasters back an adequate portion of profits via the AdSense “Nickels for You” webmaster program.

I have tried to understand this perspective, but failed. We webmasters inject value into the web, but are supposed to refrain from trying to track that contribution for some return (because affiliate links are spammy somehow?), and then we are supposed to participate in Google AdSense to try and eek a minimal fraction of the earned profits back, at the whim of Google, which takes the lion’s share?  That’s way inefficient, and wrong.

Instead, how about we stop bashing affiliate links, track every link we create, block Google from monetizing that value we’ve injected into the world wide web, and then we all participate in a giant tracked link share system that returns a fair portion of the profits according to each of our contributions to driving the commerce that led to those profits? Wow..that’d be great! Feel free to stop listening to anyone you find off-putting.

On second thought, that’s what we are doing with our affiliate links, isn’t it? Nice! We’re on the road to a better web world! Maybe it will eventually lead to a fair trade web.

I hope that people will consider contributing to that Greater Good by stopping the tarnishing of affiliate linking, and refraining from related self-defeating activities like “voluntary disclosure policies” and “nofollow” and “colored hats” for web publishing tactics. Despite what Google wants you to think, you do not need to highlight or disclose your affiliate relationships except in limited, government-regulated markets (like pharmaceuticals, licensed professions, etc) or in certain situations where fees are paid for promotion, or where you (or your affiliate upline) are actually defrauding the consumer. The FTC is a consumer advocate,not Google’s private police force: “The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them“.


  1. aaron wall wrote:

    What is even worse than what you mentioned, is that many of the AdSense ads are bought by affiliates. So rather than promoting the products and services WE know and trust, it is somehow deemed better to let Google sort it by whoever will PAY THEM THE MOST for a click.

    Many automated ad systems increase earnings by accepting fraudulent and scammy ads. For anyone to assume that Google’s editorial judgement is better than our own is quite stupid.

    Early on in their research phase even Google’s founders noted how ad networks are tilted toward advertiser interest and away from consumers. But now that they are the world’s largest ad network it seems they misplaced their memo.

    Friday, November 28, 2008 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Scott K wrote:

    I completely agree with you. I do not have any problem whatsoever with affiliate links. Providers should be reimbursed for quality content in some way.

    Monday, December 1, 2008 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  3. Jason wrote:

    I have to agree, there is a purist movement out there that refuses to accept the way things are suppose to work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with affiliate links.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  4. Mike wrote:

    Personally, whenever I see a link on a site pointing to a product or service, I assume that the publisher is getting something out of it. I have no problems with that at all and find the whole disclosure issue a bit tedious. As you say in your post, webmasters inject value into the web so why shouldn’t they be able to get something back in return?

    I do tire of reading the self righteous BS that comes out of some of the folks in the community. Maybe they’re just bleating because they never made any money from affiliate marketing?

    Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 10:40 am | Permalink
  5. Affiliate links are generating a lot of revenue on the internet. If someone has a good looking website and it points the visitor to the right direction, then why not give the webmaster a cut? It doesn’t cost the consumer anything. To the visitor, it is truely a “free” service.

    Monday, August 3, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  6. uk deals wrote:

    I was just searching the web for info on the latest slap when I came across this article. It’s seems that G goes through a regular cycle of slapping down sites with affiliate links on (there’s a pretty big hit right now). I can only guess that right now they’re pushing their own affiliate programme hard and want people to sign up to it rather than using other networks.

    Sunday, August 9, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink