Jason Calacanis has an interesting discussion around undisclosed affiliate links on his blog.
For those of you who don’t know what an undisclosed affiliate link is: it is essentially a hyperlink going from a publisher’s website to another website, but the link is paid for by the target website, but the fact that the link is paid for is not disclosed on the publisher’s website. People do this for two reasons. First, to increase their Google page rank, second, to generate traffic to their site.
There are two problems with this. First, Google has a problem, because its search algorithm becomes less effective. This makes Internet search less effective for all of us. The second problem is somewhat bigger. Essentially, users of the publisher’s site get ‘duped’ into clicking these links, many of which will not provide much value to the user.
I think there is a very good reason why you shouldn’t have links that you get paid for without disclosing that you get paid for them in a reasonably obvious way. The reason is that having these kinds of links has the potential to lower the usefulness of your site. As a principle, when links are not useful, they waste a website visitor’s time. This means the you lower the benefit users can generate from the site in order to make money. You should be doing the opposite. You should be increasing the benefits that users generate from your site.
At the end of the day, links should only be there when they are useful. It is fine to have paid for and useful links, but they should be labeled as such. After all, when they are labeled and still useful – what would be the problem with labeling them? Requiring labeling means only those loose out that don’t actually add value. In the long run, this will benefit us all.
As a side comment, I guess the reverse type of this form of marketing would be “push polling”, where you spread negative marketing messages about a political candidate without making it clear that you work for the other side. I guess we all know what we think of that kind of tactics.