The ethics of affiliate linking
March 7, 2006 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I want to put affiliate links on my weblog. Do I identify them as such? I feel sneaky if I don't, but I don't see anyone else doing it, so maybe I'm overreacting?

I am interested in the opinions of both bloggers and blog readers. Do you feel there is a difference between affiliate links in product reviews, and "general" affiliate links, that are just there to illustrate a point? (for example: in an article about weight loss I link to a kitchen scale on Amazon). Any other considerations?

I want to be up front and honest, but I feel my articles become very cluttered and too commercial if I mention (affiliate link) after every product or site I mention. I am afraid a large portion of my readers will have no idea what that means, and will only be distracted. The topic of my blog (if that matters) will be health/weight loss. It is important to me that my readers trust me and enjoy my content.
posted by davar to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
if you're linking everything to a product, then some people might find it distracting, or maybe too commercial. i know i wouldn't trust you!

if you think the product is good and are actually discussing it, though, instead of just linking with reckless abandon, you should be okay. i don't think you need to say (affiliate) after all of the links or anything, it's pretty implied/harmless.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:23 AM on March 7, 2006

I think maybe you're over-reacting. But, then, it depends on how much linking (and what kind) you're doing.

I don't mind if weblog authors use affiliate links. In fact, I often go out of my way to use a link when I'm ordering from Amazon. Google ads can be a bother, but they're not so bad if they're used sparingly.

I've been placing Amazon affiliate links on my weblog for a couple of years. I have a fair number of regular readers, and nobody's ever complained about it, even when I've blatantly linked for the sake of making a dime. (The truth is, I make very little, so no wonder.)

Just this past weekend, though, I added Google adsense to my archives (and only my archives) as an experiment. Lordy, how people have complained. And yet I've made more from adsense in three days than I generally make in a month from Amazon affiliate links. (It helps that I have nearly a thousand pages of archives.) Now there's a moral dilemma.
posted by jdroth at 8:25 AM on March 7, 2006

Your example is something I, myself, would never do. I freely post Amazon associate links when I'm talking about specific books or albums, so in your case, my post would have to specificially be about that scale, otherwise it does seem sort of quiestionable.
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:47 AM on March 7, 2006

If I'm looking for a blog to read, and I find two of them with the kind of content I'm interested in, I'll choose the one that's more clearly not shilling for anybody.
posted by jepler at 8:53 AM on March 7, 2006

I've got a sidebar on my blog where I showcase current books I'm reading, as well as "currently rotating" music. These are amazon affiliate links, and I absolutely don't worry about it.

If people are interested in a book or CD, then why should they care about anyone making some cents off of their purchase.
posted by richardh at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2006

Best answer: I would find some way to label them. You could use a different type of hyperlink formatting/colouring or a floating window when you hover over the link (for example, use border-bottom:1px dashed instead of the usual link style).

I agree that this might be overkill, but if you do differentiate then no-one can complain that you have a hidden agenda.

Whereas if you don't, someone could and your credibility may be dented.
posted by mr_silver at 9:16 AM on March 7, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses so far. I am definitely not going to use affiliate links for everything, the focus is on content. I have had websites before, and never did any advertising, so this is new. I like the different underlining mr_silver suggests, but I wonder if my visitors will understand it.

I just thought of an example: it seems everybody these days recommends Dreamhost with an affiliate link. Sometimes they say they get money if you sign up through them, sometimes they don't. I think I will add a small disclaimer after an extensive review, but when I mention the product in passing, it seems too invasive. I'm not sure yet if I agree with Robot Johnny that you should only use an affiliate link in a product review (should I dedicate a whole post to a kitchen scale and then link to the review? That seems even more scammy). I am still interested in your opinions.
posted by davar at 11:55 AM on March 7, 2006

I think that ethically, as long as you keep the focus on content, and don't go totally overkill with the links (like soma lkzx's first sentence) you don't have to identify your affiliates. In fact, I really think you shouldn't. Better have one in ten savvy readers think you might not be credible, than having all of them know you're not credible.
As long as you're not overkill, your readers won't notice. The only links like that which I notice personally are obvious. What they don't know can't hurt them.

I'm speaking as a longtime blogger and blog-reader.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 12:53 PM on March 7, 2006

Best answer: On my blog I denote Amazon links with the color green instead of traditional "link blue". The sidebar has a bit of text explaining the green links and I'm careful to only green link the proper nouns, such as exact video game titles. I think it's a fair balance.
posted by Servo5678 at 1:29 PM on March 7, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks again. I think I'll do it the way Servo5678 is doing it. I understand some people are upset with any kind of advertising/affiliate links, and that's okay with me. If I get many complaints I can always change my strategy.
posted by davar at 8:52 AM on March 8, 2006

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