Does Being an Affiliate Marketer Mean Abandoning Ethics?

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Does being an affiliate marketer mean that you have to abandon your ethics? Someone who hasn’t done this marketing or doesn’t intend to can easily say “no.” Of course you don’t have to abandon your ethics, why should you? It will only weaken your ethics? However, those that do actively participate in this marketing practice have a much harder time saying “no.” While it is true that fake reviews will hurt your business, but they will only hurt you if people find out about them. There is a lot of unsaid pressure put on these marketers to go the fake route. While this area hasn’t been studied enough, and case studies are few and far between, there will be some facts here to show you that being ethical is the way to go.

Reasons for Unethical Behavior

Why would a seemingly normal person who typically doesn’t lie or deceive others be turned into a lying, deceitful affiliate marketer? One reason is that most people don’t even understand that they are doing it. Read any cheap affiliate marketing guide. They will tell you to just read the specs of the product and make a review from that. It’s good enough to make money, so it doesn’t matter if you never used the product. Speaking of cheap, fake reviews are cheap. Would you rather spend $20 or more whenever you need to review a product, or make a fake review that costs nothing? You don’t need to buy the product to make one of these reviews, but you can still make money on it. Others are pressured to create an article ASAP about a new product.

You don’t want to be the last one to release a review. Everyone else has already read someone else’s review and you now have no chance of making money. People also like good reviews. If a marketer writes even one bad thing (even if it’s justified), the chances of people buying that product and the marketer making a commission are significantly decreased. This is because people expect perfection where it doesn’t exist. These are just the most common reasons for becoming an unethical marketer, but there are dozens more. If you look at the current affiliate marketing landscape, you will also see that being an ethical marketer is difficult. You are competing with everyone else that has an advantage. They can make reviews faster than you, don’t have to spend a dime on buying the product or waiting for it to ship and their always glowing reviews might (this is not a definite) capture more commissions.

Consequences of Unethical Behavior

Yes, there are consequences, and we aren’t talking about moral ones. Here are some concrete consequences that many unethical marketers have faced. Weakening of your brand. You are a brand. Your website, or you personally, will often be the biggest tool in selling or pre-selling a product. Let’s say that you position your website as an expert in technology reviews. People will come to your website expecting expert and hands-on reviews. If someone discovers your unethical reviews (and some telltale methods will be highlighted below), then your brand will be significantly weakened. People put trust in you to leave an honest review. If that trust is broken, then prepare to lose a lot of readers and commissions. Fines are also possible if the product that you are promoting is also participating in illegal or unethical practices.

For example, let’s say that you are promoting a rebill product and you forget to add something about this on your page. You might be cited and considered liable for the person’s losses. That $100 you gained on each sale might turn into a $100 loss or more, especially if you become an authority in your field. If you go to the really dark side of affiliate marketing, like Make-My-Baby.com, then you’ll possibly face fines, jail time and removal from your affiliate network and marketing outlets. Make-My-Baby is a simple website where you can add glasses and funny hats to baby pictures. Simple enough.

The weird thing is that it was the third-largest advertiser on Facebook at the time (2010), right behind Match and AT&T. How was it making money? Whenever you went to Make-My-Baby, it would ask if you wanted to install a plugin. This plugin automatically changed your homepage to Bing and it forcibly installed a Bing search bar on your browser? Why? Because Make-My-Baby was a major Bing affiliate. After this was discovered, Make-My-Baby was barred from advertising on Facebook (which accounted for about 80% of its traffic), and it was removed from Bing’s affiliate network.

Discovering Unethical Reviews

As stated above, discovering unethical reviews will hurt your brand, but how can people tell truth from fiction? It’s not that difficult. In fact, computer science graduates have created a program (which is currently being improved to increase its efficiency) that effectively discovers fake reviews. This program can accurately predict fake reviews about 90% of the time. Also, there are sites dedicated to looking through product reviews on Amazon and telling their legitimacy.. Not only that, but people use the same techniques implemented by these programs.

First of all, fake reviews are murky and vague on details. They talk more about the writer rather than the product itself. For example, you might describe your reasons for going to NY more than the hotel you stayed at, even though you are writing a hotel review.

Fake reviews also tend to sound like marketing material because this is often referenced by unethical affiliate marketers. Why? Because that’s all they know about the product. They can’t really tell you how good it is, if a certain feature doesn’t work as promised or if there are some hidden gems in the product. Lastly, fake reviews are too nice. Unethical affiliate marketers don’t give bad reviews. Some might do this because they want to write easy reviews, but more commonly it’s because they’re scared.

Most affiliate marketers haven’t made much money, and they are worried about writing a bad review because they know that they won’t make any commissions on the product. For example, you might say the some random ebook on Kindle is better than anything from literary geniuses like Orwell or Hawthorne. People catch on to this very quickly. Sure, sometimes a glowing review is justified and understood, but when all of your reviews are like this, then people will lose confidence in your ethics.

Case for Ethical Marketing

Now that we established why unethical reviews are bad and damaging, let’s examine why ethical marketing is better. To do this, we have to look at capitalism. What is capitalism? Many people degrade this financial framework by saying that it’s a dog-eat-dog system where only the fittest survive. That’s true to an extent, but it doesn’t account for value. The strongest companies get their strength by providing value to their customers, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Wal-Mart provides cheap products, but they products have value to its clientele.

The same goes for all other businesses that sell cheap to luxury items. You gain trust, clients and ultimately profits by providing value to your customers. If you don’t provide value, then your profits will be short-term at best. Unethical reviews have no value. What you are providing is a rewriting and rewording of the product’s marketing. This is a business strategy that is doomed to fail, regardless of how well it might work right now. Not only that, but it hurts the businesses involved. People don’t just stop trusting you. They also stop trusting the company offering the product. This creates an unstable economical landscape that is sure to collapse in coming years. In fact, most people now feel the need to check several review sites to ensure that the reviewers aren’t lying, though this generally backfires considering the current state of affiliate marketing.

Ethical affiliate marketing is profitable. This gives people real value, and it will show in your writing. While there may not be many facts to support this yet since, as stated above, there are few case studies on the subject, the truth is clear that people value real marketers. They know that you are getting a commission, but they don’t want to be lied to and sold.

Here’s a personal example: A friend of our blogs about the latest tech products. They test all the products that they compare, and intentionally take non-professional looking pictures to make it clear that they bought the items themselves. Also, They tell everyone up front that they’ll earn a commission if you click through their links to make a purchase. They are not afraid to bash products if they don’t like something, and the readers appreciate this! Occasionally, a reader will email to say they specifically clicked through their link because they wanted them to get the commission for helping them with their buying decision. Another great blog is Power Moves which follows the same pattern.

Ethical affiliate marketing can sometimes be more profitable!

Conclusion

No, you don’t have to abandon your ethics to be a successful affiliate marketer. In fact, the vast majority of these people stop marketing after a few months because they aren’t pulling in much money. Do some experimentation and see if real reviews are better for your sales. It will undoubtedly give you more respect. You can remain ethical and still make money. Otherwise, you are lying, and your readers will abandon you as soon as they discover how unethical you are.

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