Why I Don’t Want Affiliate Fees, Thank You

Posted on 16 June 2010

I see them everywhere. Affiliate links in tweets, e-mails, e-newsletters, sales pages… And I’m often asked to recommend someone’s product or service, with the promise that I’ll receive an affiliate fee or commission if the recipient of my message uses my unique affiliate link to buy the person’s product or service.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole affiliate system leaves an icky feeling in my gut, and I don’t want anything to do with it.

Why? Because if I genuinely believe that a product or service is good (usually because I’ve used it myself or I know and respect the seller), I will happily recommend it to my friends, followers and subscribers, with no expectation of payment. I’m a connector, so I LOVE sharing useful information with people. And I hope (perhaps naively) that others will do the same for me, if they genuinely think my products or services are good. What goes around comes around.

Another reason I feel so uncomfortable with the whole concept of affiliate fees is that if you’re offering to pay me for recommending your stuff to my friends, it feels like you’re saying that my friendships are for sale. They’re not.

When I recommend something, my reputation and credibility are on the line. If people think I’m recommending something only because there’s a financial benefit for me, why would they trust my recommendation? After all, if I know that someone’s using an affiliate link to promote something, I find their recommendation less than trustworthy.

I recently became even more disillusioned with the whole affiliate system when I heard about the practice of “link cloaking”. I saw a tweet saying: “Link cloaking is an essential action if you ever hope to make money from being an affiliate.”

What is “link cloaking”? I Googled the phrase and found these two explanations:
”Link cloaking is basically when you show search engine bots one thing and humans another.”
“To be as plain as possible, cloaking affiliate links is the art of showing your visitors an internal link when they mouse over an affiliate link so that the visitor doesn’t think they are leaving your site.” The goal is “so you make more money”.

It’s about deception. Deliberate deception, for the sole purpose of making money. And that makes me want to vomit.

OK, so maybe I’m not very business-minded or entrepreneurial. Some people are great at negotiating deals, putting sellers in touch with buyers and taking a cut; I’m just not like that, and I don’t want to be.

4 responses to Why I Don’t Want Affiliate Fees, Thank You

  • Kay, I think there is another motivation for using “link cloaking” which is actually what prompted its creation in the first place.

    There are many marketers who earn their living by Affiliate Marketing, which is promoting other companies’ products in return for a commission.

    They do this by using a link given to them by the owner of the product, which is usually of the form http://www.hiswebsite.com/affiliatename

    What was happening was that some customers, having been introduced to a product, for whatever reason did not want the marketer who had done the work in connecting them to that product to receive a commission, so they would go back to the supplier using the link without the /affiliatename suffix.

    This denied the marketer his commission, so cloaked links were created.

    And in my opinion, this is a perfectly ethical reason for using them.

    Of course, like any tool, it can be mis-used, and certainly has been.

    But the new rules about declaring when an action is likely to lead to a commission for the marketer mean that we all have to declare that clearly and openly, so the scope for deception is reduced.

    • kay says:

      Ah, thanks Shelagh for that clarification. It’s unfortunate that some unethical marketers have used link-cloaking in a deliberately deceitful way, which gives the whole industry a bad reputation.

  • Karmel says:

    Much of what you write about here is not yet on my radar screen… (link cloaking?)

    BUt as I read your piece, I got a sense that this was a new frontier in business, one new way of exacting profit (and a new strange one, based solely on technology used in business, and not on working harder at what I might call ‘standard business practices’ or based on classic business principles’).

    But, actually, the more I think of it, I think we’ve seen this all before… but the breeding ground was Wall Street, not TWitter et all.

    GUess you can call this the derivitives of Social Media…

    • kay says:

      Thanks Karmel. As I understand it, “link cloaking” means deliberately changing the URL that a reader sees so that they don’t KNOW it’s an affiliate link, i.e. you don’t disclose your vested interest in promoting someone else’s product or service. Of course not everyone does that – some people are perfectly upfront about saying they’ll receive a commission if you buy the product or service, and they genuinely do believe the product or service will benefit you. And the whole concept of affiliate schemes has been around for a long time.

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