I'm not a professional affiliate marketer. I'm a user of several networks, but it's not my goal to be the top dog in that industry. Obviously, I've got advertising on my little site here. It's pretty minimal really, compared to some. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's being beaten about the head and shoulders with ads when I visit a website, but I do recognize the need for monetization. Site owners shouldn't be made to feel like scumbags for trying to make a few bucks to support their sites (or their vacations). So, yeah, I have a few ads that will hopefully bring in a few bucks.
That leads into other ways to monetize – you like that word? That's a fancy way of saying "other ways to make money with" but it sounds better. Professional online money makers are forever trying to use jargon to make it sound like what they're doing isn't making money, because many of them have some misguided notion that site visitors will be turned off if they know you've got income. Anyway, there are other ways to monetize a website that aren't intrusive. Banners and buttons are okay, but it's far less intrusive to simply link to products that you talk about naturally. I don't write opinions solely for the purpose of affiliate linking, but when I talk about a product (like my review of the Snakes & Arrows disc), I'm going to use a link that will earn me a few bits. It's passive. I like that.
However. Affiliate programs do suck in some ways, and I've got five ways they do.
- Link structure. I have yet to find an affiliate program or network that gives you the appropriate link code in a way that will validate. The worst offender I've seen so far is Linkshare, who refuses to even stick to standards that were written ten years ago. Look at the following code (modified for length only). Uppercase tag, no quotes for some attributes, no ALT attribute, and it's not closed. This will never validate, and if you put it into your website, your page won't, either. Don't make me rewrite every link you give me.
<IMG border=0 width=1 height=1 src="http://ad.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/show?id=zT/Lp5bfCPY&bids=1151&type=2&subid=0" >
- Linking to products. If a program doesn't have a user-friendly way to link directly to a product, the program sucks. Like I said, banners and buttons are all well and good, but linking directly to a product should be a requirement for any site designer worth a damn. It's usually small companies that do this, I've found. If you're small and you're trying to run your own program and you can't figure out how to offer links to specific products, sign up with Share-A-Sale. They're good.
- Slow integration. Affiliate networks that really want to have the reach they brag about need to step up and produce tools that allow webmasters to advertise the goods easier. Blogging tools like widget support for WordPress and plugins for various platforms go a long, long way.
- Pop-ups, pop-unders, and pop-tarts. Okay, the third one was just to have a heading that reads better. The era of pops is over. Reputable browsers block them by default, and those that don't have users that install easy-to-use plugins to block them. Nobody likes them – except for some advertisers that are about 8 years behind the curve. Affiliate networks and programs that give users code to generate pops suck. Yes, users can write their own code to generate pops, and there is a wealth of information online about how to do it. HTML editors include it in their snippets catalogs. It's easy. But that doesn't mean it should be encouraged.
Affiliate programs are an important part of life on the Internet. If used well, they're great. Some folks resisted the commercialization of the web back in the mid-90's because for a long time, everything was free. On the flip side, everything was also very dull and boring. I don't think anyone can argue that the web of today isn't better than the web of 1995, warts and all.