Affiliate Ethics

The Internet has largely been an open world without any real restrictions, laws or guidelines to keep the greedy and unethical from doing what they wanted. Posting a lie in a magazine would be admonished by readers and liable for damages, but a similar article online wouldn’t have nearly the same impact. The sad truth for us affiliate marketers (and the SEO and Internet marketing communities at large) is that people expect lies. Our readers have come to expect deception, exaggerations and blatant bending of the truth. However, this strategy has paid many people a pretty penny. Most marketers have learned that putting commissions before quality is the best way to make money, but that’s changing. Just like Google got smart to the rampant blackhat techniques that made its search results a cesspool of spammy links and websites, many readers are understanding the affiliate process. They have become wary of reviewers.

They understand that they are being sold whenever they click on links, and this has led to many of them outright avoiding websites with commission-based monetization. They also understand that most reviewers have never bought, used or really looked at the product they are promoting. I feel it’s time to start being accountable for these ethical issues. That’s exactly why I created Reviewpon. I felt the state of Web hosting affiliate sites was dismal, and I needed to create a website based only on ethical principles where I actually used the hosts that I reviewed. We should take a commission off its pedestal and replace it with good, honest reviews. For some, this might seem like a peculiar change, but others will understand why this is so essential. I’m not saying that every affiliate marketer is unethical because that simply isn’t true. But, there are many that review products and services without ever buying them. Let’s talk about readers.

They are the lifeblood of any website, and you need to treat them like this if you want to make any money online. If your website is simply touting the most expensive program as the best, then don’t think that your readers won’t take to Twitter and Facebook to warn others about how unethical your website is. There are many websites that have lost traffic or a good chunk of their money from promoting programs and products without actually reviewing them, and readers understand how to tell the difference between ethical and unethical affiliate websites.

We should also consider the SEO implications. SEO has been moving towards a more organic linking strategy since the major Google updates. This means that you should be writing content that people want to link to. You’ve heard that before, but what does that really mean for affiliates? That means that you should write honest content that gives your readers something useful. This is the type of content that people link to, share on social media and keep coming back to for more. Another topic that should be covered monetization. There is nothing wrong with using affiliate marketing. It has been used to make many online millionaires, but I think those days are ending for certain marketers. I’m not saying that affiliate marketing is going out of style. I just think its current flavor is coming to an end. Many people feel that they have to create fake reviews for short-term income because it’s the fastest way to create content.

However, the opposite is true. Ethical websites get more traffic, they stand out from the crowd because they are offering good and honest information and people want websites that give them something real and substantial. It might take a bit longer to get started, but both your short-term and long-term income will look much better. People are expecting transparency and quality from the websites that they frequent. The days of the affiliate that creates 10-20 reviews of products he has never used or researched are practically done, but this leaves us at an impasse. What is the new affiliate website like, and what should we consider ethically if we want to gain the most traffic and money? First of all, learn how to write ethical reviews and articles. Don’t just look at a product from afar and write a review based on its specs and features. Actually, buy the product and write about it. If you have ever read an article from the perspective of someone that has actually used the product, then you will instantly notice that they include more details. They don’t just talk about features. They’ll talk about how the product feels, works under real conditions and if it matches their expectations. Yes, it costs money, but how can we stand on the ethical ground and expect people to pay attention to our reviews if we aren’t even willing to buy and try the product? Transparency is another issue that readers are expecting from every business, website and publication.

Don’t hide the fact that you are an affiliate marketer. Tell people that you do get a commission from them if they buy the product. Some people may not like this admission, but that’s because most affiliate marketers have been sneaky about how they get money. In fact, many people are thinking that this might become a law soon. Rules and laws are starting to encroach upon Internet marketing, and it’s best to be as honest as possible when you are running any type of affiliate marketing website. Lastly, you should rate products based on their quality, not their commission. If something is terrible, then say it’s terrible. If something is good, even if you don’t get as much money, then tell people it’s good. Honesty and business don’t always go together, but people expect an honest affiliate to guide their buying decisions. Use this power for good and really tell them what is worth their money. Is being ethical convenient? No. Are there going to be those making money while spreading lies and only caring about commissions? Yes. However, you shouldn’t make a business because it’s easy, and you shouldn’t do something sneaky just because others are doing it. How would you feel if you read a website or magazine that told you a product was good, but it was absolutely terrible when you bought it? That’s exactly how readers feel, and they are learning to figure out what is and isn’t trustworthy. I honestly believe that 2013 will be the first year for truly ethical affiliate marketing on the Internet. Maybe that’s a little idealistic, but the honest truth is that we are only going to survive if we move forward with good content that actually reviews the product or service that we are writing about. Just spend some money, get the thing that you are promoting and your readers will reward you with traffic, commissions and you’ll feel good because you are actually helping them.