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Good and Bad Guys in the Affiliate World

Affiliate Marketing TipsBloggers are for the most part very protective of their reputations. When topics like affiliate marketing come up in conversation, some people get nervous. I have been challenged a few times by folks who were worried about my recent appearance at A4UExpo – had I been lost to the “dark side”?

Controversially, I don’t think the affiliate world is necessarily a hive of “scum and villainy”. The problem is not so much with affiliate marketing as a whole, but with some of the people involved in it.

It’s not just the spammers either, although they are probably the most visible culprits, some of the common practices while not illegal, are still down right shady. It’s inevitable that when there are large profits to be made some people will put morals to one side.

At the other end of the spectrum are authentic and ethical folks who are trying to make a living in a fair and honest way, without resorting to nasty tricks of any kind.

How do you know the good from the bad? Easy! How much value is being added? Are you delivering on your promises? Do these sites deserve a commission, and if so, how much?

A lot of emphasis is being put on being the last cookie to drop, even if there is no fair reason why the user should be assigned as your customer.

Take a look at the typical voucher code site. As the linked article points out, people are finding these coupon and voucher sites looking for a bargain, but they leave with the affiliates cookie and no voucher code. Not good.

Some of the instances could be down to bad maintenance. If that’s the case then an easy solution is to fully automate the coupon system with a free service – it’s as easy as copy and paste, just like adsense. I am sure though the dodgy geezers will not want to use a fully automated system like this as it will take away their “bait and switch” technique.

How to Make Ethical Profits in Affiliate Marketing

There is a lot of honest money to be made in affiliate marketing. You just need to drive buying traffic and add value.

Adding value could be

  • News – I would say the higher value is when you don’t just copy and paste press releases, but even so, being first for that reader is a benefit
  • Price Comparisons – We all like to get the best prices, especially when money saved in one area can be put towards another.
  • Reviews – Honest reviews rather than promotional puff pieces are very valuable. This is one reason I do a lot of shopping at Amazon.
  • Tutorials on using a product – Some of my best affiliate sales have been where I wrote tutorials than involved using products in a certain way, be they craft materials or certain software to achieve an objective.

For example, a gadget site announces the release of a new gizmo, you find out about it through their site, so they deserve a commission because they brought the news to you. I use price comparison sites for flights or car rentals so I can save money, it’s a useful service without making the merchant lose out so they deserve a commission.

When I recommend a product like the Genesis theme found in my sidebar, it is because I can stand by that product 100%. I would recommend it even if I didn’t make a commission, but I don’t feel any guilt in recommending it with a commission. You don’t pay any extra, and the Copyblogger folks still make a decent profit I am sure!

Pick a product you believe in, join the affiliate scheme, and give it a try.

Bottom Line

More now than ever you need to look at all ways that you can make income, without drifting into sleaze. This is not an economic environment to be snobby about one type of monetization over another!

While you can honestly say that you are honestly adding value I would say you definitely should feel happy and proud to say you are an honest affiliate marketer.

What do you think? Still wary or do you think you would give affiliate marketing a try? Please share your thoughts in the comments …

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Comments

  1. Just a note for people creating affiliate programs, make sure that you have a well-defined policy for search marketing. If you are bidding on keywords that you consider “branded” or have trademarked, make sure you spell that out in your affiliate agreement. There’s nothing wrong with setting ppc bidding limits on those terms. The big guys do that all the time.

  2. Just a note for people creating affiliate programs, make sure that you have a well-defined policy for search marketing. If you are bidding on keywords that you consider “branded” or have trademarked, make sure you spell that out in your affiliate agreement. There’s nothing wrong with setting ppc bidding limits on those terms. The big guys do that all the time.

  3. I’ve been meaning to add Amazon links to my site for a while – if I remember rightly you can now place specific products rather than letting Amazon choose and there’s definitely some stuff on there would be of value to my readers.

    I have had plenty of offers from dating sites and whatnot but when you go and look at the site in question they are clearly just out to make a profit and they look like they’ve just been thrown together.

    I guess it boils down to protecting your blog’s brand. I’m careful what external sites I link to and I will be just as careful when selecting affiliate links.

  4. I’ve been meaning to add Amazon links to my site for a while – if I remember rightly you can now place specific products rather than letting Amazon choose and there’s definitely some stuff on there would be of value to my readers.

    I have had plenty of offers from dating sites and whatnot but when you go and look at the site in question they are clearly just out to make a profit and they look like they’ve just been thrown together.

    I guess it boils down to protecting your blog’s brand. I’m careful what external sites I link to and I will be just as careful when selecting affiliate links.

  5. Affiliate marketing has an interesting reputation.

    I’ve always focused on its less than ethical reputation, but as you say, that comes from the minority. But a minority it is and one that shouldn’t be there.

    The classic example is of all the bloggers who promote BlueHost. I won’t name any names, but there are hundreds of bloggers who promote BlueHost with affiliate links, despite the fact that the blogger doesn’t use and has never used BlueHost services. They just happen to hand out a very high commission, so bloggers promote them regardless of ethics.

  6. Affiliate marketing has an interesting reputation.

    I’ve always focused on its less than ethical reputation, but as you say, that comes from the minority. But a minority it is and one that shouldn’t be there.

    The classic example is of all the bloggers who promote BlueHost. I won’t name any names, but there are hundreds of bloggers who promote BlueHost with affiliate links, despite the fact that the blogger doesn’t use and has never used BlueHost services. They just happen to hand out a very high commission, so bloggers promote them regardless of ethics.

  7. As a former e-commerce site owner who had an affiliate program for my store I can say over half of my applications were from sites that you have described above, they were low quality sites that were basically just “affiliate farms” with no direct niche. I never understood that philosophy since I would never click a link from a site like that.

    Now, as a blogger with several niches, I use affiliate programs to provide my readers the exact products/services they are coming to my blogs to read about. My main site is photo related, I will only post relevant affiliates to that site. I believe too many bloggers are trying to hard to offer everything to everyone-which in turn becomes less credible! I am selective about the companies I promote and have to believe in their products-after all it is my reputation on the line!

    This was a great read! Thank you for sharing this important topic!

  8. As a former e-commerce site owner who had an affiliate program for my store I can say over half of my applications were from sites that you have described above, they were low quality sites that were basically just “affiliate farms” with no direct niche. I never understood that philosophy since I would never click a link from a site like that.

    Now, as a blogger with several niches, I use affiliate programs to provide my readers the exact products/services they are coming to my blogs to read about. My main site is photo related, I will only post relevant affiliates to that site. I believe too many bloggers are trying to hard to offer everything to everyone-which in turn becomes less credible! I am selective about the companies I promote and have to believe in their products-after all it is my reputation on the line!

    This was a great read! Thank you for sharing this important topic!

  9. Great article- and timely, as I just broke my all time one-day affiliate earnings record yesterday! I make nearly 2/3 of my income with affiliate commissions through all three of my websites, and while I’m sure the “big” sites and the “shady” sites make much more than I do, I know I’m making the money I make because my visitors value my opinions, my honest reviews, and the fact that I NEVER recommend a store or product I wouldn’t buy myself, or that I have personal experience with. Period. I wish stores who use affiliate marketers would be more selective of who they work with; I think that would solve many problems for US, the affiliate marketers, but of course, they want sales, however they can get them, so that probably won’t happen…

    IMO, the key to successful affiliate marketing is context – and establishing a trust and relationship with your visitors…most of the time, the graphic banners/ads DON’T produce like product links do.

  10. Great article- and timely, as I just broke my all time one-day affiliate earnings record yesterday! I make nearly 2/3 of my income with affiliate commissions through all three of my websites, and while I’m sure the “big” sites and the “shady” sites make much more than I do, I know I’m making the money I make because my visitors value my opinions, my honest reviews, and the fact that I NEVER recommend a store or product I wouldn’t buy myself, or that I have personal experience with. Period. I wish stores who use affiliate marketers would be more selective of who they work with; I think that would solve many problems for US, the affiliate marketers, but of course, they want sales, however they can get them, so that probably won’t happen…

    IMO, the key to successful affiliate marketing is context – and establishing a trust and relationship with your visitors…most of the time, the graphic banners/ads DON’T produce like product links do.

  11. I’m just starting to monetize my blog and am pretty confused about affiliate marketing. I hear high praise from one quarter, and cautions from another.

    One of the problems I see is getting ads that I can support, like Thesis, rather than some flash-laden sleaze that I have no control over.

    There’s a lot to learn in this minefield!

  12. I’m just starting to monetize my blog and am pretty confused about affiliate marketing. I hear high praise from one quarter, and cautions from another.

    One of the problems I see is getting ads that I can support, like Thesis, rather than some flash-laden sleaze that I have no control over.

    There’s a lot to learn in this minefield!

  13. pardon my niaveness, I am relatively new to blogging and affiliates. i recently just started making a wee bit of green from my site. However, I am very particular what I allow on my sites. Being a journalist with intergrity I wont put anything up there I wouldnt purchase myself. I dont allow guns, tobacco, alcohol, politicians, lawyers, and a few others to advertise in my print magazine either. Some of us have morals and ethics.
    thanks for the article.
    Adventuregirl2

  14. pardon my niaveness, I am relatively new to blogging and affiliates. i recently just started making a wee bit of green from my site. However, I am very particular what I allow on my sites. Being a journalist with intergrity I wont put anything up there I wouldnt purchase myself. I dont allow guns, tobacco, alcohol, politicians, lawyers, and a few others to advertise in my print magazine either. Some of us have morals and ethics.
    thanks for the article.
    Adventuregirl2

  15. There are definitely some shady characters in affiliate marketing, just like any other form of commerce both online and off. As long as you’re providing quality and stuff the people are looking for I think it’s cool.

    Review sites are a good type of setup, as well as blogs that offer stuff related to the main topics of their blog. When I see unrelated banners on a site, I know it’s just for the commission.

    good topic.

    There are definitely certain things that I won’t promote.

  16. There are definitely some shady characters in affiliate marketing, just like any other form of commerce both online and off. As long as you’re providing quality and stuff the people are looking for I think it’s cool.

    Review sites are a good type of setup, as well as blogs that offer stuff related to the main topics of their blog. When I see unrelated banners on a site, I know it’s just for the commission.

    good topic.

    There are definitely certain things that I won’t promote.

  17. Good food for thought Chris. I am an affiliate for some products that I use or that I believe my readers/clients would benefit from. I would never become an affiliate just to sell something but then again I respect those honest folks who make their living that way.
    What puzzles me is why some potential customers of a certain thing get offended if they find out I make some jingle if they buy it through my affiliate link.
    In my estimation I balance the affiliate referrals which cost $ with free info, contests etc. so I don’t let it bother me. Frankly I’d like to do a better job at marketing these affiliate products cause it’s a pretty easy way to make some money but with all the other things to do on a daily basis I’m afraid that goes on the cutting floor.

  18. Good food for thought Chris. I am an affiliate for some products that I use or that I believe my readers/clients would benefit from. I would never become an affiliate just to sell something but then again I respect those honest folks who make their living that way.
    What puzzles me is why some potential customers of a certain thing get offended if they find out I make some jingle if they buy it through my affiliate link.
    In my estimation I balance the affiliate referrals which cost $ with free info, contests etc. so I don’t let it bother me. Frankly I’d like to do a better job at marketing these affiliate products cause it’s a pretty easy way to make some money but with all the other things to do on a daily basis I’m afraid that goes on the cutting floor.

  19. This is a well-thought and timely article, Chris. Affiliate marketing gets the same undeserved bad rap that SEO does. The people who are succeeding ethically at this are not making noise and attracting anyone’s attention. They are quietly making money while the “bad guys” get all the negative publicity.

    If anyone wants to know if they should trust an affiliate program or a person who runs one, I would suggest you look to who that person is associated with. For example, if you trust Chris and think he’s one of the “good guys” (and I believe he is), then look at the programs he endorses and the people who create them, such as Brian Clark and Chris Pearson. Scratch the surface, and you will find that quality associates with quality, and that ethical people associate with each other.

    Making a commission by selling someone else’s product is one of the oldest forms of revenue in existence. As a method, it’s neither ethical nor unethical. That is determined by the person doing it.

  20. This is a well-thought and timely article, Chris. Affiliate marketing gets the same undeserved bad rap that SEO does. The people who are succeeding ethically at this are not making noise and attracting anyone’s attention. They are quietly making money while the “bad guys” get all the negative publicity.

    If anyone wants to know if they should trust an affiliate program or a person who runs one, I would suggest you look to who that person is associated with. For example, if you trust Chris and think he’s one of the “good guys” (and I believe he is), then look at the programs he endorses and the people who create them, such as Brian Clark and Chris Pearson. Scratch the surface, and you will find that quality associates with quality, and that ethical people associate with each other.

    Making a commission by selling someone else’s product is one of the oldest forms of revenue in existence. As a method, it’s neither ethical nor unethical. That is determined by the person doing it.

  21. Chris,

    Affiliate partnerships is not a big part of my business plan, at this point – and that has to do timing.

    That being said, I really appreciate when you wrote: “The problem is not so much with affiliate marketing as a whole, but with some of the people involved in it.” Couldn’t one who judges others based on their ads be called an “Affiliate-ist”?

    As Michael implies, It all comes down to the person behind the keyboard.

    John

  22. Chris,

    Affiliate partnerships is not a big part of my business plan, at this point – and that has to do timing.

    That being said, I really appreciate when you wrote: “The problem is not so much with affiliate marketing as a whole, but with some of the people involved in it.” Couldn’t one who judges others based on their ads be called an “Affiliate-ist”?

    As Michael implies, It all comes down to the person behind the keyboard.

    John

  23. Nice post Chris, its nice to hear someone defending affiliate marketing for once.

    At the end of the day affiliate links are just advertising, just like Adsemse, just like banners ads and just like other forms of advertising. Those unethical marketers will abuse all these forms of advertising in any way they can – it is not something that is reserved to the affiliate marketing industry. Yet if a blogger has Adsense or banners on their site nothing is said, but they will often come under scrutiny if they place affiliate links, often for the conflict of interest.

    I just don’t get this. Put a Adsense ad on your site and whatever you write effects the ads (and can effect the CTR on ads) so there is a conflict of interest as it can influence the topics, words and nature of an article by a blogger if they put money first. If they discuss a product the product will then be advertised on their site through Adsense. Yet this conflict of interest is ignored and Adsense is accepted as a legitimate form of advertising and associations with those Adsense spammers is ignored.

    Yet when it comes to affiliate marketing people are much more keen to point out the conflict of interest in how affiliate commissions can affect a bloggers writing. Yet the conflict of interest is very similar to that conflict of interest in Adsense. The only difference is that affiliate links can be more thoroughly editorially controlled so perfectly match the topic being discussed, are less intrusive and give a better user experience as they are more helpful than most other forms of advertising.

    After understanding how to use affiliate links in a useful way that benefits readers and converts well my affiliate income has sky rocketed and I’ve been able to reduce other forms of advertising. I’m able to offer more targeted advertising than ever making my sites much more user-friendly.

    At the end of the day it is down to the individual blogger’s ethics and site’s policies that will determine whether a site works in an ethical way to provide value, or puts ethics aside to make more money.

    Low quality, bullshit articles and spam are not reserved for affiliate marketers. Similarly high quality and useful articles are not reserved for those using more accepted forms of advertising.

  24. Nice post Chris, its nice to hear someone defending affiliate marketing for once.

    At the end of the day affiliate links are just advertising, just like Adsemse, just like banners ads and just like other forms of advertising. Those unethical marketers will abuse all these forms of advertising in any way they can – it is not something that is reserved to the affiliate marketing industry. Yet if a blogger has Adsense or banners on their site nothing is said, but they will often come under scrutiny if they place affiliate links, often for the conflict of interest.

    I just don’t get this. Put a Adsense ad on your site and whatever you write effects the ads (and can effect the CTR on ads) so there is a conflict of interest as it can influence the topics, words and nature of an article by a blogger if they put money first. If they discuss a product the product will then be advertised on their site through Adsense. Yet this conflict of interest is ignored and Adsense is accepted as a legitimate form of advertising and associations with those Adsense spammers is ignored.

    Yet when it comes to affiliate marketing people are much more keen to point out the conflict of interest in how affiliate commissions can affect a bloggers writing. Yet the conflict of interest is very similar to that conflict of interest in Adsense. The only difference is that affiliate links can be more thoroughly editorially controlled so perfectly match the topic being discussed, are less intrusive and give a better user experience as they are more helpful than most other forms of advertising.

    After understanding how to use affiliate links in a useful way that benefits readers and converts well my affiliate income has sky rocketed and I’ve been able to reduce other forms of advertising. I’m able to offer more targeted advertising than ever making my sites much more user-friendly.

    At the end of the day it is down to the individual blogger’s ethics and site’s policies that will determine whether a site works in an ethical way to provide value, or puts ethics aside to make more money.

    Low quality, bullshit articles and spam are not reserved for affiliate marketers. Similarly high quality and useful articles are not reserved for those using more accepted forms of advertising.

  25. Watch out for trademark/keyword poachers!

  26. Matt Soreco says:

    Watch out for trademark/keyword poachers!

  27. Good to see an article looking at both sides of the fence.

    I wrote a post on my blog that discusses mistakes I feel Internet Marketers are making with Affiliate promotions (specific to Twitter).

    Certainly there is nothing wrong with affiliation promotions, they pretty much help to “make the ‘net go round”.

    Is all about the process I feel.

    Just jamming an affiliate link in front of your visitor without giving value is wrong in my opinion.

    People are pretty clued up these days (well many are) and can see threw thinly veiled affiliate promotions that are just about making money, and not actually helping people.

    As that old saying goes, you can have anything you want, if you help enough people get what they want.

    Cheers

    Tim

  28. Good to see an article looking at both sides of the fence.

    I wrote a post on my blog that discusses mistakes I feel Internet Marketers are making with Affiliate promotions (specific to Twitter).

    Certainly there is nothing wrong with affiliation promotions, they pretty much help to “make the ‘net go round”.

    Is all about the process I feel.

    Just jamming an affiliate link in front of your visitor without giving value is wrong in my opinion.

    People are pretty clued up these days (well many are) and can see threw thinly veiled affiliate promotions that are just about making money, and not actually helping people.

    As that old saying goes, you can have anything you want, if you help enough people get what they want.

    Cheers

    Tim

  29. I haven’t gotten involved in this in the way many bloggers have (currently only through lack of time to understand the procedure – although I did downlaod the ebook – cheers Chris!) but it seems to me that any system that’s abused will usually implode on itself in time. Current state of the world’s financial markets would be a good example.

    Anyway, I’m planning on giving it a go in the new year as we already review books on the blog, so an Amazon widget would certainly be appropriate. Hopefully I’m not leaving it too late.

  30. I haven’t gotten involved in this in the way many bloggers have (currently only through lack of time to understand the procedure – although I did downlaod the ebook – cheers Chris!) but it seems to me that any system that’s abused will usually implode on itself in time. Current state of the world’s financial markets would be a good example.

    Anyway, I’m planning on giving it a go in the new year as we already review books on the blog, so an Amazon widget would certainly be appropriate. Hopefully I’m not leaving it too late.

  31. Although I’ve heard many times that affiliate marketing can make big bucks, I’ve been hesitant to try it out. People are just promoting products which they themselves don’t know about. I promote only one or two products which are the services I use. So I’d be promoting them even if I don’t get a commission.

  32. Although I’ve heard many times that affiliate marketing can make big bucks, I’ve been hesitant to try it out. People are just promoting products which they themselves don’t know about. I promote only one or two products which are the services I use. So I’d be promoting them even if I don’t get a commission.

  33. Great post Chris… and thanks so much for supporting Thesis!

  34. Great post Chris… and thanks so much for supporting Thesis!

  35. Hi Chris

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article. It’s timely for me, as I’m just looking into adding affiliate links to our website. Seems to be one of those areas where you need to tread carefully and research thoroughly beforehand.

    (And thanks for the link to Promotions.co.uk On a different tangent, that could be exactly what I’m looking for, for some domain names I’ve recently purchased and haven’t been sure how to use!)

    Cheers, Jon

  36. Hi Chris

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article. It’s timely for me, as I’m just looking into adding affiliate links to our website. Seems to be one of those areas where you need to tread carefully and research thoroughly beforehand.

    (And thanks for the link to Promotions.co.uk On a different tangent, that could be exactly what I’m looking for, for some domain names I’ve recently purchased and haven’t been sure how to use!)

    Cheers, Jon

  37. I agree with Grechen’s comment about the importance of context. Years ago, in earlier days of online ventures, I experimented with a lot of affiliate programs with great disappointment.

    More recently, after having sustained a popular site and developing relationships with others in my niche, I began to promote a few affiliate links again with great success:

    My current criteria:

    *It must be a product or service that I have personally used and swear by; would happily recommend to others for free.
    *It must be a product or service that represents something I would/could potentially create and offer myself — meaning, the context is seamlessly in alignment with what my audience wants.
    *It must be a product or service that is not likely to be saturated within my niche (as in a “canned” affiliate product offered to anyone with a web page).
    *I must have some authentic personal relationship with author.
    *I put it place and forget about it, with no expectations; focusing instead on assisting the worthy author in promoting something I truly admire. Any accumulative commission is icing on the cake of that relationship.

    Generally, I feel that the highest possible degree of integrity and authenticity in your decision to promote a product — coming from the best possible place for all involved — creates some powerful affiliate karma.
    🙂

    Slade

  38. I agree with Grechen’s comment about the importance of context. Years ago, in earlier days of online ventures, I experimented with a lot of affiliate programs with great disappointment.

    More recently, after having sustained a popular site and developing relationships with others in my niche, I began to promote a few affiliate links again with great success:

    My current criteria:

    *It must be a product or service that I have personally used and swear by; would happily recommend to others for free.
    *It must be a product or service that represents something I would/could potentially create and offer myself — meaning, the context is seamlessly in alignment with what my audience wants.
    *It must be a product or service that is not likely to be saturated within my niche (as in a “canned” affiliate product offered to anyone with a web page).
    *I must have some authentic personal relationship with author.
    *I put it place and forget about it, with no expectations; focusing instead on assisting the worthy author in promoting something I truly admire. Any accumulative commission is icing on the cake of that relationship.

    Generally, I feel that the highest possible degree of integrity and authenticity in your decision to promote a product — coming from the best possible place for all involved — creates some powerful affiliate karma.
    🙂

    Slade

  39. I have had plenty of offers from dating sites and whatnot but when you go and look at the site in question they are clearly just out to make a profit and they look like they’ve just been thrown together.

  40. I have had plenty of offers from dating sites and whatnot but when you go and look at the site in question they are clearly just out to make a profit and they look like they’ve just been thrown together.

  41. pick a product that serves a purpose. I think eliminating the useless products from the market place and getting back to the basics will help out the economy in the long run hurting a few in the mean time but thats life survival of the fittest.

  42. pick a product that serves a purpose. I think eliminating the useless products from the market place and getting back to the basics will help out the economy in the long run hurting a few in the mean time but thats life survival of the fittest.