David Hawk is wrong – the Affiliate Marketing Industry is alive and kicking


David Hawk is wrong, wrong, wrong. His recent article entitled "How the affiliate marketing industry killed itself" is so biased to the bad apples of our industry that I can only assume it was wrote as link bait. What also saddened me was people like Lee and Linda agree with him, surely you don't guys? Anyway, here is why David is completely and utterly wrong. First of all David's article talks about brand name bidding affiliates and how merchants have wised up to these "tricks". Brand name biding is indeed on its way out, thanks to Google's landing page quality score and merchants indeed becoming more aware and protecting their brand. But here's the rub; brand name bidding isn't really affiliate marketing, it used to be an easy way for affiliates to reap some low hanging fruit but thats all. David talks about spyware too, I mean come on David no self respecting affiliate has ever been involved in spyware. Yes maybe a very small handful of bad apples did once upon a time but again they are firmly in the minority. David's next section talks about how Google's quality score updates have pushed out the arbitrage sites and the poor quality landing page sites. Well David, we true affiliates welcome these changes. We don't want crap landing pages and arby sites in the sponsored results either. Knocking them out of the way leaves more room for us and our high quality sites that have no problem with Google's landing page algorithm. David's final "argument" is entitled "Pay-Per-Performance went mainstream" and I just don't get it. David argues that as affiliate marketing becomes more popular it is less "novel" to merchants. Eh? So because it is more popular it isn't as good? I just don't follow this argument whatsoever, it looks to me like David is just filing space in his blog post. So to summarise, David's whole argument is that because merchants have cracked down on brand name bidders, spyware and tightened the terms and conditions around coupons then the market is collapsing? Oh and along the way Google have helped? Again, what utter rubbish. What about all of the very high quality affiliate sites out there that don't fit into any of the above categories? What about Flightmapping? A very well known and established affiliate site that generates millions of pounds worth of sales for its merchants every year? Or what about children's interest site AllKids? A site that Elaine has built up over the years and now generates enough income to employ half of her family! Not to mention spawning their own affiliate program. Or how about Loquax? One of the biggest competition sites in the UK? Shall I also mention GreasyPalm, Quidco or my very own eToys site that compares prices on tens of thousands of toys? I could go on and on and mentions hundreds of other high qualiy affiliate sites that are alive and kicking. Some of these sites have never even used PPC to get traffic, never mind any of the other unsavoury ethics David talks about. Instead these sites concentrate on quality content and offering a genuine service to their users, in other words they are just good sites. So David, you are very wrong indeed. Yes of course there are bad apples who use dodgy tactics like registering mis-spelled domain names like www.laurashley.com and idiots who register trademarks like www.tesco1.com but do you know what? Honest affiliates like myself and the people mentioned above are doing our best to educate the industry that this sort of behaviour isn't acceptable. We use blogs and forums to spread the word and rid our industry of this nonsense. Articles like yours do nothing positive for this industry so next time you write an article why not focus on the many positives instead of the very small minority of people who give us a bad reputation. What I'm listening to right now: Ashanti ft Nelly-"Switch" Update: Just noticed that Jason has a point of view on this too.

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15 Responses to David Hawk is wrong – the Affiliate Marketing Industry is alive and kicking

  1. Linda Buquet says:

    Hi Kieron, sorry if it wasn’t clear but I don’t agree AT ALL that affiliate marketing is dying.

    And I do agree with every one or your points Kieron too. We can agree on all that, being on the inside of the industry, knowing what WE know. But many people in the corporate world, some merchants and many traditional and SEO marketers think spammer, scammer, arbitrage, fraud – when they hear the word affiliate.

    If we weren’t IN the biz and the only exposure we had to affiliate marketing is all the porn and RX spam and SEO and PPC black hat stuff we may not think so highly of our industry either. David’s views accurately reflect what man “oustsiders” think of our industry. Hence his point “Sadly, the weakest link in the chain brings down everyone else.” is very true.

    I’m the ever eternal optimist when it comes to our industry – so I will say again NO WAY do I think our industry is dying and didn’t mean for it to sound like I did.

    What I was trying to say is I agreed with some of his points and tried to take them and turn them into a positive lesson or a warning that we need to stay vigilant about cleaning our industry up. Guess I didn’t communicate it well.

    But these were my main points.

    “I agree with that fact that the state of affiliate marketing today is primarily due to the rogues, black hatters and fraud affiliates that have given our industry a black eye. More importantly, the bad guys have made the business so much harder for the honest, value-add affiliates to succeed.

    I also agree that had our industry been self-policing or somehow held to best marketing practices, we would not be suffering from the stigma and set-backs he describes. He makes a strong point when he says “Sadly, the weakest link in the chain brings down everyone else.”

    It’s not too late to try to clean things up. When any of you “good guys” out there get the urge to try out a “gray tactic” or an outright “black hat trick” STOP and think about the big picture!

    Like I always say “Market with Integrity and Everybody Wins!”

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  3. Linda Buquet says:

    Kieron, I also just added an update to my blog to clarify my position and plus a link to this post for people to read your good points and the continued discussion here. (Since I had to turn comments off until I get my blog upgraded.)

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  5. David Z Hawk says:

    Hi All,

    First of all, thanks for reading my blog. Good or bad feedback is always appreciated. Second, I’d like to take a moment to respond to some of your comments (briefly, I may try to write more later on my blog).

    1. “I can only assume it was wrote as link bait.” – I wish I knew how to write good link bait articles but alas I don’t. I truely just write about whatever is on my mind at the moment. And it so happened that I had just returned from the Search Engine Strategies conference where I had had a very enlightening conversation with the former head of one of the largest affiliate programs in the US (more on that later).

    2. “brand name bidding isnt really affiliate marketing, it used to be an easy way for affiliates to reap some low hanging fruit but thats all.” Low hanging fruit that would otherwise go directly to the merchant. Thus, the merchant is not making a positive ROI on this affiliate traffic and this creates a negative feeling about affliates. In my opinion, anything that creates “positive ROI” results in “positive results for the affiliate community.” Anything with “negative ROI” has the opposite effect.

    3. “no self respecting affiliate has ever been involved in spyware. Yes maybe a very small handful of bad apples did once upon a time but again they are firmly in the minority.” So I sent my article to my friend the former head of a major affiliate program (and still a very prominent figure in a different capacity in the online marketing community), and here’s what he wrote: “Good post, although no doubt in my mind that those hijacking sites/programs
    are still in affect – too many affiliate managers that are nave and/or have
    incentive to look the other way (the “top” affiliates are helping them make their
    number – same conflict the networks have in policing, imo).” Not that this proves anything, but he and I both agree that there are one or two major affiliates in the US that get users to download their software, then do an instant re-direct whenever the user goes to a merchant with an affiliate program to capture the commission. The user has no idea that he is getting redirected, but the affiliate gets money at the merchant’s expense. Again, we are talking about year-after-year top ‘performers’ in the US.

    4.”Googles quality score updates have pushed out the arbitrage sites and the poor quality landing page sites. Well David, we true affiliates welcome these changes. We dont want crap landing pages and arby sites in the sponsored results either. Knocking them out of the way leaves more room for us and our high quality sites that have no problem with Googles landing page algorithm.” Google does not differentiate between “crap affiliates” and “true affiliates.” Trust me, over time Google will do everything it can to push out ALL affiliates. I sat down with Google last year and tried to persuade them that there were different types of affiliates (though I did not use the words “good” and “crap” :) ), and the message I basically got was “all affiliates” are not wanted on AdWords. So whether this impacts your site now or a year from now, I’m sorry to say that it will likely eventually happen. More on this concept here: http://blogation.blogspot.com/2006/11/more-on-google-quality-score-law-of.html

    5. “David argues that as affiliate marketing becomes more popular it is less novel to merchants. Eh? So because it is more popular it isnt as good? I just dont follow this argument whatsoever.” The basic argument here is that the ‘coolness’ factor of affiliate marketing no longer exists, and it’s much easier to work with one or two major partners on a PPA basis than 5000 small affiliates. I suppose I would modify this to say that if you are a high-quality, high-volume affiliate, there’s a good chance a merchant would keep you on, but if you are generating $500 of revenue a month for a merchant, I believe most merchants will eventually decide that the risk of a ‘crap affiliate’ outweighs any benefit derivered from dealing with many small affiliates.

    6. “What about all of the very high quality affiliate sites out there that dont fit into any of the above categories?” Of course there are good affiliates, my point was and is that the bad affiliates are ruining your reputation.

    7. “Davids views accurately reflect what man oustsiders think of our industry.” For the record, I worked at Adteractive for two years heading up their paid search team. Adteractive does not have a presence in the UK, but when I was there we did over $100 million a year – all from affiliate marketing. And in my current position, I am responsible for the affiliate program for a major US merchant. When I tightened the T&Cs on our program (no trademarked keyword buying, very few coupons, etc) the revenue from affiliate marketing went way down, but the revenue for the company was not impacted. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion from that data that our affiliates were not driving ‘positive ROI’ to our company.

    Anyways, what was supposed to be a short response has now made me late for work. Thanks for the comments. – David

  6. Couldn’t agree more Kieron.
    Is everyone who goes into a bank, a robber?

    I meet and talk to great affiliates every day who make a point of sticking to the rules, so I know there’s plenty of good ones out there, you just have to do a little sifting for the gold to rise to the top.

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  9. I have to say I agree with David on this one. The affiliate marketing industry is dieing. In 2005, it was the wild west, anyone could put an ad on Google for a really cheap price. But now competition for the keywords has increased and Google has artificially raised the price.
    I think the industry still has its roll to play, but it won’t expand at the rate it has in the last few years.

  10. Kieron says:

    James – you’re assuming that just because competition is more evident on Google, that has a negative effect on affiliates? There are plenty of ways to drive traffic to affiliate sites without using Google AdWords.

  11. But I am sure you will agree that, with Google being the major source of traffic for affiliates, not being able to advertise on it would cause affiliate to lose traffic, therefore lose revenue and ultimately profit. The affiliate marketings industry’s barriers to entry are a lot higher than they were in 2005, which will slow the growth of our industry. What we need to do is diversify and change so that most affiliate are not dependent on PPC search engine traffic.

  12. Matt Sweet says:

    I largely agree with you Keiron that the industry is still positive and will continue to be so. It won’t die, it will just evolve. The Google changes will continue, but so will the development of top affiliates and also the more dedicated of the smaller guys. I hope so anyway or we’ll all be out of a job…

    However while Davids article is definitely towards the negative end of the scale, I think he’s perfectly entitled to write something like this without it being accused of being link bait. There are enough reasoned (if a little biased) points of view to back this up.

    BTW – As far as I can see, all Lee has done is link to the article to generate some debate on his blog and I think it would be disapointing if your comments made him change anything.

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  14. zowoco says:

    of course! affiliate marketing is a potential that can never be saturated.

  15. Just wondering if there will be a massive technology change (that we can’t foresee) that could chance the affiliate marketing world as we know it in the same way that the technology created the affiliate marketing world in the first place. That worries me (but not a lot).

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