I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Affiliate infuriation

I’m irrationally, disproportionally offended by affiliate marketing on the internet. Early on, when Tumblr was just three people (me, David, and Marc), we had to decide whether to allow affiliate-marketing blogs.

These are the sites whose primary purpose is to drive traffic through links for which the blog publisher gets an affiliate payment, often for scammy, non-physical products like paid “how-to” ebooks. They’re easy to spot, usually looking something like this:

Best Floor Tile Reviews Blog

Did you know that the Best Floor Tile Reviews are on the internet? Let’s explore the best floor tile reviews together so I can tell you all about the best floor tile reviews. Click here to learn more about the best floor tile reviews.

The decision isn’t black and white because they don’t fit everyone’s definitions of spam. They’re usually human-created (in the same way creepy Scientologists offering stress tests in the subway are technically “human”), usually without automation tools. They’ll pass any CAPTCHA. And affiliate links aren’t always spam, such as when an otherwise non-spammy person links to a great book on Amazon with an affiliate code once in a while.

I don’t object to online commerce in general. Furthermore, I don’t object to other content that’s often lumped in with spam, such as porn. So how can I justify my hate for affiliate marketing?

I think it’s about sincerity.

Porn makes no effort to hide that it’s porn. It puts it right out there. “You wanted to see some naked people? Here are some naked people. Bam.” No ambiguity, and no attempts to trick visitors into thinking it’s something else.

Even regular bot-spam is pretty blatant. Sleazy guys write programs to spam the internet with thousands of cheap-drug offers. There’s no pretense of humanity or sincerity.

Affiliate marketing spam is much more offensive because it purports to be legitimate content. It relies on lost, naive Google searchers arriving on these pages, thinking they’re finding real content or reviews or recommendations, and being convinced that the best way to proceed is to spend a few dollars on this helpful ebook to learn more.

It’s not just commercial — it’s dishonest. Affiliate marketing is an attempt to trick people, Google, and web services into thinking that it’s real content. This inherent deception is far more offensive and reprehensible than its commerce.