When researching something to purchase, a typical search technique is to Google the best of these items. Maybe it’s the best camera or the best backpack. Search terms like these will provide you with a plethora of pages devoted to “Best cameras of 2017”, “Best backpacks under $200”, etc.
On the forefront, this is great; a plethora of pages devoted to giving me all the information that I wanted. I used to think all of this information was great until I started my first website. Now I am forever skeptical of search results.
Why Affiliate Programs
For a website to make money, there are a variety of revenue generation options. The site can post ads, sell a product, offer fees for membership, and a popular option: be an affiliate. When a site registers with a company as an affiliate marketer, the site’s owner receives a commission from every sale a customer makes as long as the owner referred that customer.
Because of this, affiliate marketers try very hard to optimize where to put links so that readers click their link before going to Amazon.
There is nothing wrong with affiliate marketing, but it is easy to abuse. Using affiliate links is a great way for visitors to a site to give the owner of the site a benefit without having to pay anything extra out of pocket. The problem arises when site owners provide poor content or links to products solely because of the affiliate commission, not because of the quality of the product.
Conflict of Interest
Assume you are a site owner, have a sports site, and want to tell your readers about the best baseball gloves. You do all your research and create a top 10 list with a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of each glove. You worked hard to create this quality content. Now you plan to add affiliate links so that you can gain some benefit when readers click these links to buy a glove.
Unfortunately, only the last three gloves on your list have affiliate partnerships.
Your top ranked gloves, the ones most readers will likely purchase, have no affiliate commission from their links. This conflict sparks the dark side of affiliate advertising appears. If the site owner focuses only on monetizing the site, he may change the ranking of these gloves to show the affiliate gloves first, even though these are not the best options. Worse, the owner could create the list only with gloves with available affiliate commissions.
This situation is similar to agency problems related to commission-based financial advisors.
When creating my first site with affiliate monetization, I spent the time researching products and pouring through reviews before recommending anything to my readers. This research took a lot of time, but I wanted to become a valuable information source in my niche, not a one-stop shop. There were some products I recommended that didn’t have affiliate links, just regular links to retailers, but I refused to compromise my goal of creating quality content.
Unfortunately, many affiliate sites do not rank quality as a top priority. Be wary of top 10 lists that include every item with a link to Amazon. Amazon has a large and easy to use affiliate program, and while very useful, it is also simple to abuse.
Don’t just read through the list. Read the content.
If the page reads like someone in a foreign country wrote it for $5.00, it probably was. The article will be riddled with spelling errors and horrible sentence structure. It is so inexpensive to hire foreign writers on freelance sites that putting up a top 10 list or review page is quick and painless for a site owner with no value on quality.
Once I realized that this was happening all over the internet, I couldn’t stop seeing it. Now I almost never trust a top 10 list or product review sites. As soon as I see a link to Amazon, I start to wonder about the quality of the list. Did someone research these products? Or, has a large commission check lured the site owner in to simply create a list of the most expensive Amazon products available in this niche.
Identifying the Scam
Here are a few things you can do when researching a product to weed out these scam sites:
- Check for proper grammar and spelling. This is a huge red flag alerting you to site content creation that the owner has farmed out on the cheap to non-English speakers. These writers will likely have no idea or inside knowledge about the content they are writing. Most review pieces will be horribly paraphrased versions of Amazon product descriptions.
- Look at other pages on the site. Are they all product reviews and top 10 lists about the same niche? Does every page have an Amazon link or other affiliate looking layout with a focus on clicking links? It is likely that this owner has this site for one reason: to make money, not create quality content.
- Do all of the reviewed products include a link to the same site? Depending on the product, it is unlikely that all the best prices and selection are on one site. Not a huge red flag, but something to consider.
- Focus on the site’s reputation. Is this a reputable review site with in-depth reviews and comments? Or, a site that looks like it was created in a few hours with 10-20 pages.
- Check for out of date information. Are any of the links broken? If so, this is a good sign that the site creator abandoned the affiliate links and content. If the owner hasn’t maintained the links, they surely haven’t updated the list with the most recent products or information.
Test it out for yourself. Google “best ______ “ or “top 10 ______” for a certain product. Watch how many product review sites pop up and worse how horrible the writing and design are. Their focus on getting you to click a link and not to provide quality content becomes obvious.
Be careful out there. While a site looks like it has all the information you need, make sure the information is correct and truthful. It is effortless to publish false information or information motivated by incentives not aligned with the reader’s interest.
Being open about affiliate relationships is something I feel strongly about, and I invite everyone to read my affiliate policy for this site. I want you to know that if I recommend something, it is because I use it or have done extensive research on its quality. The last thing I would ever want is to lose the trust of my readers because I recommended a product in exchange for a little bump in compensation.