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Affiliate marketers have earned quite a negative reputation over the years. This post might come as a shock to some since I have been doing affiliate marketing since 2007 and I have been praising affiliate marketing since I started in this industry. So let’s get right into it.
First of all, what is affiliate marketing? In short an affiliate marketer is simply a middle man between the seller and the buyer. This concept has existed for a very long time, even before the internet became a thing. You find products, you find a buyer for that product and you receive a commission if the sale takes place. If you want more details you can check out my post on the whole process of using affiliate marketing online.
So far so good, right? Nothing shady in that process. What has ruined the reputation of affiliate marketing is not the process itself but rather the marketers (some marketers to be more precise).
The Bad Apples
Affiliate marketing hit its peak in 2006-2008 in my opinion. Thousands of people were promoting someone else’s products online and earning a good chunk of their income from it. Many affiliate marketers built a long term sustainable businesses on this model and continue to earn a full time income in 2015.
However, there was a huge influx of newbies into this world of online business. Every time there is a “hot opportunity” online, a bunch of people jump on it. Unfortunately many of them weren’t thinking of building a business but rather making a quick buck, any way possible. Many of these “ways” were unethical and some were outright illegal.
First came the link spam. Some programmers started building software to help you spam, Xrummer comes to mind as one of the most popular services back then. A few clicks of a button would make the software create thousands of forums accounts, forum posts and blog comments, all on autopilot.
This was done for search engine optimization purposes. Google’s algorithm was easy to game and basically Google would rank your sites based on how many backlinks you had. So if you went out and posted thousands of comments on thousands of blog, all with a link back to your site – you had a fair chance of getting top rankings. This lasted for longer than I thought but eventually Google did catch up and changed its algorithm. Lots of spammers lost their income.
Then there was autoblogging. You would simply set-up a wordpress blog and use a plugin which would automatically pull content from other online properties and post it on your blog. Most of these blogs used Amazon associate program on their sites to make money. This also worked for a while because Google saw these blogs as “good quality”. Content was consistent and fresh, exactly what search engine is looking for. However, Google also cracked down on these blogs with time (mostly because of the duplicate content) and most of these blogs disappeared from Google search results overnight.
Then came the CPA offers. The Cost-per-action model is very similar to affiliate marketing however in many cases you need to find a lead instead of making a sale. For example, a company that sold Acai Berry (or some other weight loss supplement) would pay you as much as $60 every time you signed up a new “FREE TRIAL” customer to them. That was also hot for a while until most of these supplement businesses got banned from their affiliate networks. Google Adwords and similar PPC networks banned them as well. Some of these companies were even sued for millions of dollars.
What really happened was that while they offered you a “FREE bottle of weight loss pills, only pay $5 shipping”. They would then proceed to renew your subscription every month. So their customers would be charged 30-50-70$ per month for a new bottle, without realizing it, until they cancelled. Needless to say that cancelling was extremely difficult and in many cases the only way to cancel your subscription was by cancelling your credit card.
Making $60 per sign-up meant easy money so a lot of same shady marketers promoted such offers heavily. Millions of dollars were made within months and affiliate marketing reputation dropped down another notch.
The Affiliate Marketer Today
In our time and age the same people (or at least people with same mindset) are still online, still chasing the easy bucks. This is very noticeable in the world of fake reviews. Sure, many affiliate marketers have been writing up exaggerated and fake reviews for the past 15 years, however I noticed a decent spike in this activity in the past 3-4 years. This is something that I’d like to talk about in detail.
Generally there are 3 kinds of reviews of products that you will find online: The Customer’s Review, The Researched Review and The Fake Review.
The Customer’s Review
The customer review comes from someone who used the product. Sometimes the customers buys the product, sometime the product is given out for free but in the end of that day, this type of reviewer has a first hand experience with the product hence he can produce a more detailed and more honest review. Sure, some of these reviews might be biased however it’s up to you to decide if the review is honest and is intended to help you make a decision or if the main goal of the review is a reward of some sort.
The Researched Review
The researched review is a result of experience and research. If you want to write a review of an iPhone 6, you don’t necessarily need to own that phone. You could spend a few hours researching it online, reading reviews from real customers (Amazon is a great resource for that). If your friends own that phone you can also borrow it from them for an hour to get the general feel of it.
Same goes to digital products. I have been learning online marketing for the past 8 years and if I learned one thing it’s that there is no shortcut to riches. If I see someone advertizing an opportunity that promises to “earn $16,983 in 2 hours with a simply click of a button” I can guarantee it’s a scam. I don’t need to spend 3 days going through such program because I know from many years of experience that such claims are false and simply impossible. If it was that easy we would all be rich. Sometimes I might review a particularly bad product just to warn others about it.
The Fake Review
Last but not least, the Fake Review. This is where the shady marketers strike again. These folks grab EVERY single product off of JVZoo or Clickbank.com and give it 5 stars out of 5. There are a few problems with this. None of these marketers actually bought the product. None of these marketers actually believe in that product. None of these marketers care about you or helping you, all they want is their commission and the way to get that commission is unimportant to them.
Unfortunately an astounding number of “affiliate marketers” fall into this category. Many of them don’t survive in this industry for long because their lies get uncovered sooner or later, however they still make a significant impact and they do ruin the reputation of affiliate marketing a little more.
How can you spot a fake review?
I’ve noticed one main pattern that all shady reviewers use: they do not provide any helpful content. Their review is simply a paraphrased version of the product’s sales page (although some are too lazy to rewrite the content so they just copy/paste it). These reviews are often very hyped up (just like the sales page) and don’t offer any new details. I was just looking at “honest” reviews of an infamous “Get Paid for Reviews” products and all of their affiliate reviews go like this:
- This is the only real deal
- You won’t make millions but you can easily make $3,000 per month working 1 hour per day
- It’s legit because they work with major companies
- It’s legit because there are testimonials on the site
- It’s legit because they offer 60 days money back guarantee
Now, all of that information is available on the sales page of that survey site. In fact, these are their main selling points. As you have probably realized such reviews doesn’t help us make an informed decision on the legitimacy of the offer. First I would like to have a few questions answered:
- How many users actually made money with this site?
- If anyone made money, how much money was it? Can you prove it?
- What major companies do they work with? Can they prove it?
- If it’s so good, why don’t they let me in for free for at least 1 day? This way I can make sure it’s legit and then I’ll be more than happy to pay a fee to become a member!
Besides, the testimonials on the sales page are totally fake and purchased on Fiverr. The 60 days money back guarantee is there only because it’s required by Clickbank (marketplace that handles the product sales). I can go on and on and on about other details and red flags but the main point stays the same: these reviews do not offer any additional information other than already available on the official product website.
Remember, these “honest reviewers” promote every single product they come across, they never actually buy or use these products themselves. This is the main reason they don’t post any original information about the offer they are promoting
Can Affiliate Marketing be Honest?
I believe it can. You have probably noticed that I actually reviewed a few different products and service. You probably also noticed that I use these exact product and service to build and grow my online business. I guess whenever you’re about to suggest a product ask yourself if you would be using that product yourself.
One of my main examples is Hostgator. This is one of the world’s largest hosting providers and they built their entire business with affiliates. Hostgator offers $100 commission per sale (yes, even if the total sale amount is only $40). I made good money with them and I used them to host most of my sites for 6 or 7 years. Unfortunately the company was bought out by EIG who doesn’t seem to believe in a good service and good support. Their quality went down so much that I stopped promoting them as an affiliate. Eventually I also closed my own Hostgator account and found a new host.
My new host has been providing an incredible service and support whenever I need it for the past 6 months or so and I proudly recommend them to others. These guys are a lot smaller than Hostgator and they offer a very low 25% commission per sale which means that I only earn $10-$30 per sale. Sure, I would make a lot more by promoting hostgator but it wouldn’t be fair to my readers and people who trust me.
Same goes for every other product that I endorse here at Extra Paycheck and outside of this blog. MailChimp, Aweber, Wealthy Affiliate, Elegant Themes – I have been a customer of these companies for a long time, I still use them and I still enjoy using them so naturally I am happy to promote them as an affiliate. I could make a lot more money promoting every single product or service that I stumble upon but I know that eventually I would crash and burn – and that’s the opposite of my goal to build and grow a sustainable long term business.
Now, I am calling out all of the affiliate marketers out there. Folks, stop chasing the easy buck, it’s not worth your time and effort. I understand that instant gratification is oh-so-tempting but it simply isn’t worth it.
I’d like to conclude this by saying that I have mentioned several bad practices in this blog. I wouldn’t call those people “affiliate marketers” but rather scammers or simply “dishonest money chasers”. Many of them venture into affiliate marketing at some point or another but they have a tendency to jump from one strategy to another, from one shiny object to another, from one trend to another. If you want to earn a good income for the years to come, stay away from these practices and stick to honesty and hard work. Sure, this will take longer to get your rewards but it will be something you’d be proud of and it will be a lot more profitable in the long run. Help people find a solution to their problem and affiliate income will come to you as a result.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Don’t be shy and use the comment form below 😉