If there’s one thing I really, really hate it’s affiliate programs. We don’t have one, we don’t have affiliate links in our blog posts, and we would appreciate it if you stopped asking us to.
Why do I hate them? Well, first up, because they corrupt and destroy the web. Seriously.
Trying to find an unbiased and unaffiliated review of different WordPress hosts via Google? Like the massive one we did in 2013. You can’t! Because every effort like ours is hidden under heavily optimized, promoted and affiliate-heavy posts and sites.
Which, at best, are very subtle in letting you know you are clicking on an affiliate link.
We make nothing from our survey, never have done (unless you count the goodwill and continued interest of our members and also readers who hopefully will become a member at some point), so we don’t have the inclination or dedication to spend all day every day pushing it, whereas sites that make piles of cash from them do.
They might be well-written, illustrated and promoted but they aren’t independent or impartial and you will not be getting a recommendation for the best WordPress web host, you’ll be getting the one with the best affiliate program.
Mea Culpa! Again! We Used to Have an Affiliate Program and It Was Awful
October 2010 got off to a great start with the annual sales for WPMU DEV at an all-time high, at least until the chargebacks started to pile in. The problem – our affiliate program.
What had we done? Nothing that all of our competitors weren’t also working hard at – desperately trying to incentivize our users to promote the heck out of us on their blogs, discussion forms, comments threads, email and anywhere else they could cram a link, in return for 30% of the revenue.
What we didn’t realize was that the credit card thieving crews operating out of Vietnam (or at least via a Vietnamese VPS) also saw this as a wonderful opportunity.
They set up an affiliate account, purchased a stack of $419 accounts with stolen cards and pick up the 30% slice on PayPal before heading off into the hills with nice, clean cash. Bastards.
Fortunately, as we were technologically backward enough to have to manually process our affiliate payments, we pretty much caught every single one of them and then quickly refunded every connected account, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. It meant that all we really lost was a bunch of $20 chargeback reconciliation fees and some money that was never ours in the first place. Still, it was pretty painful.
And they came back, again and again, 2011, 2012 and 2013, until we pretty much (bar one remaining relationship) killed the program entirely and eventually made ourselves completely affiliate-free.
Which allows me to, with a relatively clean conscience, complain about affiliate programs, finally. Yay 🙂
Good and Bad Affiliate Programs
There are pretty much only two kinds of affiliate program I don’t mind.
When sites like Boing Boing that recommend cool stuff for their readers do so and link to Amazon etc, accordingly. It keeps them afloat and good on ’em.
It makes sense, they don’t have a way of selling it, I’m keen on buying a bunch of stuff they recommend and I know that none of their recommendations are made from a revenue generating standpoint (their audience would destroy them if they were), plus it gives me a way to give back constantly browsing the site with Adblock on.
Also, I don’t mind the kinda programs Uber or Transferwise offer. They are friend-to-friend, based on personal experience, they are based on positive experience (after all, you only get something as part of that service), and hey, you’d want to promote both of them!
If we do happen to do an affiliate program again in the future, it’ll be just like that, not for cash, just bonus rewards for members who already like the service, and for friends. If we promote other services or products it will be because they are awesome, we use them and at the very worst we’re doing a cross promotion.
But that’s not what we’re constantly being asked for and it’s not what our blog writers are being constantly hassled to do – we’re not interested in cash for links. We’re trying – really hard – to provide bona fide independent WordPress resources, tutorials, tips, reviews and news for our members and readers, and there’s no place for affiliate links.
We’ve got no advertising on our site – bar our own products – and no affiliate links, and we’re not about to start loading up our pages with affiliate links and ad, not for any amount of money.
Trying to Find Quality Theme and Plugin Reviews for The WhiP is Damn Hard
There’s a section in our daily newsletter, The WhiP, where we like to include products reviews, mostly about themes and plugins, and sometimes other stuff we think would be valuable to readers.
The problem is, it is so incredibly hard to find decent reviews that aren’t salesy, loaded to the max with affiliate links, or just so overwhelmingly positive you have to wonder if the theme or post author wrote the article themselves.
We’re up to about 50,000 subscribers now and each and every one of them expects quality content – they didn’t subscribe so they would have another newsletter to delete from their inbox every morning. So when we’ve inadvertently included reviews with biased content and affiliate links, we hear about it from readers who, like us, are tired of being sold to and aren’t afraid to complain.
So from now on, any time we can’t find a single decent review for that section in The WhiP, we’ll simply leave an editor’s note letting subscribers know that there aren’t any good articles worth reading.
Oh, and just for the record, we have NEVER included affiliate links in The WhiP. Ever. And we’re not about to start.
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So, Seriously, Please Stop Asking Us. In Fact, Stop Doing It
We’re not gonna change our minds.
Instead, why not start offering your members service rewards, which allow them to benefit in terms of what you offer. Hey, we’ve even got a plugin that we’re developing to allow you to set that up (you can hack it now). You don’t need to use some third-party shady affiliate service that’s all about the cash.
Because just offering cash isn’t going to work.
Google are onto it and will increasingly become so, which means you won’t benefit that way (in fact, you might lose, big time).
You’re most likely to get spammers and people trying to rip you off like they did with us.
And like I said, it’s really not cool, not at all. You’re making the world a worse place and it won’t last.