Hackernoon logoAffiliate Marketing Can Be Dangerous But Is It Always Bad? by@camsecore

Affiliate Marketing Can Be Dangerous But Is It Always Bad?

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@camsecoreCam Secore

I write about tech on the internet.

Affiliate marketing has become the norm among review sites. I don't know if a review site exists without any affiliate links. On one side, people hate this because the reviews are poisoned by green. But, on the affiliate's side, why would they write something without getting compensation?
Let's look at why affiliate marketing gets a bad rap, and the major difference between the good and unethical sites.

Why People Hate Affiliate Marketing

You are curious about buying a product, but you don't know if it's the right fit for you or if the product lives up to expectations. So, you do what anyone else does and search for a review. However, all you find are articles saying how amazing the product is. Most of them are only rehashing what was said on Amazon and not adding anything new. Did they even use the product?
This is the most common type of affiliate site and it’s why people are frustrated with affiliate marketers. You’re looking for a real review, not to be sold something. While this is the most common type of affiliate, not all are like this.
The truth is that affiliate marketing makes it possible for many writers to make a living online. I'm not condoning artificial or fake reviews (as I will explain later), but it's a double-edged sword. If you're careful about your source, then an affiliate website isn't necessarily bad. However, you have to make sure the person used the product and is giving you an honest review.

Good Affiliate Marketing

I’ve been focusing on review sites up until now because those are the most common affiliate sites. I’ll still be using them as an example, but I also want to bring up cashback sites here as they are doing a wonderful thing.
Cashback sites like Rakuten, Ibotta, Honey are all affiliate advertisers. However, there is a major difference between their model and review sites. With a review site, a potential buyer clicks on a link and buys a product. The commission goes solely to the affiliate. Cashback sites do things differently.
They start in the same way. They direct you to a website or store, you buy stuff, and they get a commission. Here's where it changes. Instead of taking the whole chunk of the pie, they share 50% with the buyer. If a cashback site earns a $10 commission, the cashback site keeps $5, while the buyer gets $5 back. Depending on the cashback service, this can work with physical stores, online stores, or a mix of the two.
There are also honest review sites that do good affiliate marketing too. These are people who have bought and used the product. You can tell the difference because they'll use photos and videos of them holding and using the product (not just stock images that are taken from Amazon), and they'll tell you if something is bad, even if it hurts their end commission. A good affiliate adds value to the reader's buying decision.

Bad Affiliate Marketing

These are the affiliate sites you're more accustomed to, unfortunately. These are the majority of affiliate sites, but they often get pushed down and are relegated to finding keywords with very little competition (that's how they get traffic, not from quality content). These websites are known for two things: dishonest reviews and pushing any product or service.
Dishonest reviewers typically don't buy or try the product, they only write about its features and make it sound like they've used it. Some marketers take info from other honest review sites while others will just rehash what they found on Amazon. If they aren't adding anything new or are just fluffing up the review, then it's likely that the writer didn't use the product.
They'll also push any product or service, even if it's bad or useless. This is especially common with web hosting, get rich quick, and health products (raspberry ketones, anyone?). Web hosting commissions are insane. $100 referrals are the norm. This pushes many affiliates to climb over each other for your attention. They don't care if the service is good, they just care about that commission.
Aside from rehashing, you’ll notice that every product they review is THE BEST EVER, NO FLAWS! That simply isn’t true. Even the best product has one or two small errors. The only time these reviewers will say something is bad is if it makes a product with a higher commission look better. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but often these marketers will spend more time talking up a product than actually reviewing it.

Ethics

I've already said that honest reviews are from those who buy and use products, but let's go a little deeper. Can anyone honestly review a product when money is on the line? An affiliate marketer is screwing with their commission check if they say a product is bad. All that time put into buying the product, using it, and writing up a review just so you won't click the "buy now" link seems like a stupid idea.
A real review can take hours to write, not to mention all the time placed into actually testing the product. While this might enhance their authority, it won't improve their commission check. This is a person by person debate, but what do you think? Do you think anyone can be honest when money is on the line?
I believe affiliate marketers can be, but it’s a minority.
However, despite the wasted time, I think authority is worth its weight in gold. I'd rather be believed and honest than promoting some garbage product that doesn't help anyone. Sometimes this means getting several products that won't make any money, but that's the price you pay for honesty and building long term value.

Conclusion

Affiliate marketing gets a bad rap and it's well deserved. There are far too many people pushing bad products (or never even testing the products) just to get a commission. While it's hard to be honest when money is on the line, I believe more affiliates can do this. It might mean investing in products and sometimes saying that certain products are bad, but that's what a review is all about. You need to be honest and tell people what the truth is.

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