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Author: Jason

Shady Affiliate Marketing

Shady Affiliate Marketing

As many of you know, this site normally only gets blog updates when someone asks a question and one of us needs a place to publish a relevant article. Today, however, we’re going to go over something that I came across and want to get out that nobody asked about. It’s easy for those of us who are building our own websites and have a clear understanding of how things work on the internet to forget that some people may not be on the lookout for suspicious activity.  Or maybe it’s just my Overactive Hyper-Vigilance from the Army that the shrinks keep talking about.  Either way, I want to explain this to some people.

To start off, what is affiliate marketing?

In and of itself, affiliate marketing is a good thing (in my opinion).  Someone selling a product or service will place an affiliate rate on their product or service and those affiliates (people marketing the product on behalf of the company/owner) will receive a commission based on sales.  Think door-to-door salesperson for the internet. Usually the goal of this person will be to gain the trust of an audience and then recommend products that they use to their followers and get paid for using and promoting their product.  This is all done at no additional cost to the consumer, so when it’s done right, it’s a win for everyone.

Affiliate marketing gone bad

So why am I writing this post about “Shady Affiliate Marketing?”  Well, there are times when people cross the line with affiliate marketing and are entirely too focussed on promoting the products instead of ensuring that they are doing what’s in the best interest of their followers.

One example of this might be that the person really isn’t qualified to give advice on a particular subject.  Let’s say, for example, you are a painter and you’ve got followers that love your art.  You then decide to take advantage of those followers by recommending a hair product.  That might be too obvious and nobody is going to take your advice.  Well, as an affiliate marketer, you may decide to dig through Google analytics and find out that people are looking for safe paints for children.  Then you find some product that says it’s kinda safe for children and offers a good affiliate rate.  You then promote this “child safe” product to your followers who believe you have done your due diligence as an expert on painting and they trust you.  They then purchase this product and their kid has to go to the emergency room only to find out that the product was drop shipped from some country where you have no legal recourse.

Not the situation you want to be in, right?

Another example might be when there is a conflict of interest.  Imagine you hire someone to come teach your children to paint.  You think you’re hiring a professional and you’re going to get professional advice on painting products.  Only the top products don’t offer affiliate programs and some lower-end products do.  How would you feel knowing that your “professional” is promoting those second rate products instead of the best because they’re getting a commission.  Not the end of the world if you’re getting free advice, but you’re paying for professional advice!

*I know nothing about painting and am using it as an example because I would have to do my own due diligence in this area.

How do you spot shady affiliate marketing?

One key giveaway that there may be some shady affiliate marketing going on is looking at the links.  If you’re using a good web browser like Google Chrome, you can simply hover over a link to see where it’s going to send you.  Let’s try an example.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait if you have to switch browsers.

Here is an affiliate link for Headway Themes.  Hover over that link and you should see an indicator on the bottom left of your browser that looks like this:

Shady affiliate marketing?

Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?  You can see right in the link the letters “afftrack” which stands for affiliate tracking.

But what if I wanted to hide the fact that I am using affiliate links?

Let’s try the same test.  Hover over this link For The Best Theme Ever.

Both links will take you to the exact same place!  (not on this website)  Go ahead, give them a try.

See the difference?  In the first link I allowed it to be perfectly clear that this is an affiliate link and on the second I made it look like you were going to another page on my site.  Now there are valid uses for this.  The only one I can really think of is that some affiliate programs change your link every year and if you have that link in multiple places, it is easier to just tell the link to go somewhere else in a menu than to have to go back and manually update any place you’ve recommended that product on your site.  But more often than not, it’s used to hide the fact that a person is going to be making a commission off of a recommendation.

*Note: Some affiliate programs are even nice enough to leave the affiliate link in the URL for you like this:

Affiliate Reference

That “ref” here indicates the reference code for an affiliate.  Others, such as Amazon use “tag” or other terms to indicate affiliate links.  Some do not indicate affiliate programs at all.

So what about non-technical signs?

You may be fully aware that affiliate marketing is going on and be completely ok with that.  So how do you know that they’re not just pushing junk on you anyways.

This is a combination of the consumer doing their due diligence and appropriately reading what I like to refer to ass your bull&#*! meter.  Do your research on the product elsewhere.  If you’re familiar enough with the type of product or service, you should be able to get enough of an understanding to make an intelligent decisions.  If you’re not familiar enough or you can only find information coming from other marketers, ask questions.  Ask deep, challenging questions about the product or service.  If they’re promoting a product, they should be able to answer technical questions.  If they can’t, that should naturally trigger your bull$#*! meter.  If it does not, you are not the person who should not be purchasing anything from anywhere, real world or online.  Just give the checkbook to your significant other.


Don’t get suckered by the used car salesmen of the internet.  If you think you’re getting advice you can trust, confirm it!

HOA 52: Angie Meeker the Brand Healer

HOA 52: Angie Meeker the Brand Healer

Angie Meeker provides digital strategies for small businesses, is a WordPress organizer of WordCamp Columbus, and shares tons of great business strategies with us.  This interview is perfect for anyone looking for business ideas and tips.

Picks of the week

HOA 51: Bradcast and the WordPress Sickness with Brad Williams

HOA 51: Bradcast and the WordPress Sickness with Brad Williams

Brad Williams tells us he has the WordPress sickness.  We’ll let you be the judge.

In 2008, Brad founded Web Dev Studios.  He’s also the co-host of The Dradcast and has written books on WordPress (Yes, the things that use real paper).  He’s also developed AppPresser and runs WordPress Meetup groups.  If nothing else, he’s got to be sick to have the time to do all that and join us on the Round Table.

Picks of the week

The Pain of Hosting a Website from Colombia

The Pain of Hosting a Website from Colombia

For anyone who follows the show, you probably know that I currently live in Medellin, Colombia.  The city is beautiful, the climate perfect, and there’s plenty of high tech stuff going on to keep me from feeling like I’m in the Stone Age.  But working as a web-developer has some unique challenges.   In fact, if you ever visit any city in Colombia and wonder why there are either no websites for other-wise website worthy businesses or the websites are horrible, there’s a good reason for it…


You wouldn’t think this would be such a huge problem.  Go sign up for a hosting account and get started.  That’s how we do it in the U.S. right?

If my first website had been as difficult as it is to get a good website here, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Hosting Websites in Colombia

Let’s clear the sheet a little here and make it clear that you don’t host websites in Colombia.  The most reputable hosting company is horrendous.  For example, I literally spent 3 days on hold waiting for their “live support” at one point.  Although I had selected the option for English support, when they finally responded it was in Spanish.  No worries, move on in Spanish…

The whole reason I had contacted them was because I wasn’t able to change a theme.  It turned out that I didn’t have enough RAM to make theme adjustments (seriously, if someone can explain this to me, I’m waiting).  So they gave me a “temporary” increase in dedicated RAM so that I could adjust the theme and get the site launched.  After ordering in food and sleeping with my computer speakers plugged in so that the support chime would wake me up, all I get is a couple of days to adjust a theme?

OK, fine.  I was sick of the issue anyways, so I jumped on it and got it done.  Of course, this was all after the client had gone through several days of trying to get the hosting account set up in the first place.

Oh, by the way, the only way to set up the account is to file to open account, get the routing number to the bank and make an ATM transfer, then send a support ticket with the confirmation number and a photo copy of the receipt.  I hope the ATM doesn’t run out of receipt paper.

I had thought that having a local host would make up for losses in performance of a better hosting company and in theory it should have.  However, despite their “promised bandwidth” and the fact that it was a relatively simple site, performance was slow.  It wasn’t unbearably slow, so we moved on.  It was running out of date PHP among other things, but the site was working and it was competitively fast for the competition, so the clients were happy and we moved on.

A week after launch, the site was shut down along with my client’s account.  The reason for this shut down?  Backup Buddy was too resource intensive!  

It was time to move on.

Fortunately I had a solid backup of the completed site and the client was only going to have to re-do a couple of listings.  I immediately put the site on my shared server and we went to work on getting hosting in the U.S.

Getting U.S. Hosting from Colombia

These clients happened to also be U.S. citizens.  So after the standard flagging and sending off identification that took about 12 hours for everything to be confirmed, my clients were back on their own account and the site was transferred over with no issues.  But they were lucky.

For non-U.S. citizens, here’s where it really gets painful.  For Colombians with the standard Colombian bank accounts, there’s no way to directly send payments to a hosting provider.  The first step to overcome this is to actually go to one of the few banks that work with Visa and get a pre-paid Visa card.  If you don’t bank with that bank, this also means a pile of forms to get everything put in your name and the money put into a pre-paid account.  Once you’ve got your pre-paid Visa card, you can purchase your hosting package.

Your account will immediately be frozen and you’ll receive a message telling you to contact the hosting company with various forms of identification and a photo copy of the credit card.


If all goes smoothly, you can scan the id and credit card and things will generally work themselves out in about 12-24 hours.

What typically happens is that the client sees some message in English, assumes everything is hunky-dory and not forward the messages onto you as you’ve asked.  Then after about 48 hours of waiting, you come to the conclusion that it got screwed up.  There will be a long chain of support tickets verifying the identity of the client, payment method, type of site that they will have, etc.

After about another 24-48 hours of negotiating with the hosting company, things will get worked out.  Of course, this is all on you if your client doesn’t speak English.  Most of the time the hosting company is ok dealing with the developer, sometimes you have to pretend to be the client.  I personally hate pretending to be anyone or anything, so I usually start off admitting to being the developer and then have to start an entirely new support ticket pretending to be the client if that doesn’t work.

I’ve been through this process with HostGator, GoDaddy, and a couple of others that I can’t think of off the top of my head.  I do want to point out that I just went through it for myself with A2 hosting for the first time.  After the interview with Ben Cool (Episode 38), I really wanted to give them a shot.  While I was flagged, which I do consider to be a reasonable security measure, I was done with the process in about 10 minutes as opposed to the 6-12 hours I’m accustomed to when going through the process myself (not the client).  So, although this is my first time using A2 and I’m not yet ready to give them my full blessing, they get kudos for their great support in getting through this process.

The Solution?

I have an idea in mind as a solution, but I want to fully test the theory before I write about it.  I’ll definetely come back and update this post when I figure out if this is going to work or not.  For now, if you have any other ideas, I’m listening.



HOA 50: Interview with Jake Goldman

HOA 50: Interview with Jake Goldman

This week’s episode features the founder of 10 UP, Jake Goldman. 10 UP is one of, if not THE, fastest growing WordPress businesses. Jake discusses with us the inner workings at 10 UP, how they organize, hire, fire, and much more.  We’ve had other current and former 10 UP employees on the show over the last year, such as Steve Grunwell and JJJ so it was only fitting that he joined us for our 50th episode (officially marking 1 year with two weeks of no show).


You can find out more about Jake here:


Here are our pick’s of the week:

HOA 49: Cory Miller, founder of iThemes

HOA 49: Cory Miller, founder of iThemes

So, does Cory Miller even need an introduction?   I guess I’ll give one for SEO sake.

Just kidding, we don’t have time to do SEO over here.

I will just point out that some craziness went on in this episode.  James Dalman crashed our party to get Cory to open up with us in a more personal way and we got to hear some really great stories about the two of them getting scared off of busses.

Picks of the Week




HOA 48 Chad Warner from OptimWise

HOA 48 Chad Warner from OptimWise

Chad Warner is founder of OptimWise, a WordPress web design agency in Holland, MI. Chad’s a co-organizer of the WordPress Grand Rapids meetup group and WordCamp Grand Rapids. He empowers small businesses, camps in forests, and has a passport to Middle-Earth.

In this episode, on top of talking about his work experience and current company, Chad also goes into some psycho-diagnosis that he claims not to be qualified to get into.

Chad also talks about his first time meeting Dustin Hartzler and how that got him involved more in the community.

Of course, the quote of the day was from Kellen, where he decided that we were the “Pokemon of WordPress Podcasts.”  This is why anyone who comes on our show loses 5 twitter followers.

Pick’s of the Week

HOA 47: James Dalman from Happy Joe

HOA 47: James Dalman from Happy Joe

For anyone who doesn’t know, James is a veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard as well as a veteran designer.  In this episode we discuss how James got to where he is today.  We cover aspects such as his time in the Guard, his experiences in design, and how feeling like he needed a higher purpose led him to start  Happy Joe is an organization that helps veterans enter the technology workforce through sponsorship programs with various training institutions and a mentorship program.  Any veteran who is accepted into the Happy Joe program will receive a personal mentor and free training from a relevant online training program in their field of interest.

We also talk a little about guns, knives and other shiny objects.  I’ll tell you, this was a fun one.  And if you want to hear more from James, especially him completely crashing another one of our interviews, check out episode 49 with Cory Miller from iThemes.