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!

5 thoughts on “Shady Affiliate Marketing

    1. By all means, share them! I only listed these ones specifically because they were relevant to a conversation I was having. But I’d be happy to get deeper into it if you’d like to share.

        1. I enjoyed the article. Not a lot of shady tactics discussed, but I’m familiar enough with the business to know that there are a lot of people in it that I’d rather smack than talk to. But, then again, there are a lot of waiters I’ve wanted to smack in the past and I can’t put that on the food service industry.

  1. Well i think Jason the one thing which protects those star figures (like the painter in your example) is that they promote already reputable brands.

    And it is done everyday..take for example NBA ,Soccer,Football and other stars, they promote hair products and stuff not related to sports…of course this is another conversation.

    But what you mentioned is true, it is shady affiliate marketing.
    And the world would be a better place if these are the only bad techniques used in affiliate marketing, there are so many black hat methods (like cookie stuffing) that will make what you mentioned looks like a high school kid trying to sneak a cigarette.

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