I’ve been meaning to write a post about affiliate programs for a while, but the message I received this morning through my website contact form really kicked me into gear on it.
Hello Friend, I noticed you are promoting Backup Buddy. I have a tool that does the same thing with double the commissions paid. If you are interested, I’ll send you a review copy upon request.
Eeewww. I’m going to change which product I recommend just because your payouts are bigger?
Okay, so he did offer to let me actually review the product. But here’s what I saw when I actually visited the link included in the message:
That’s right–almost nothing about the product’s features, and a whole lot about how much money you could make if you pushed it.
Now, as it happens, I do in fact recommend BackupBuddy all the time, because I use it myself. I also recommend VaultPress and BackWPUp, depending on your needs and circumstances. (If you use managed hosting, VaultPress is going to be your only option aside from relying on the host for backups; BackWPUp is free and very good, but not as easy for restoring or migrating sites as BackupBuddy.)
The big mistake this person made is in assuming that I recommend BackupBuddy because iThemes pays me a commission. I am not an iThemes affiliate. I never have been. I recommend BackupBuddy because I think it’s a fantastic tool. It’s not the only good tool, or the best one for everyone, but it’s the one I use myself and use for many client sites, both while building them and after they’re up and running.
I recommend several other WordPress-related products and services based on my experience and on what I think is going to serve the client’s needs best. For instance, I’ve used the Genesis Theme Framework a lot and I think StudioPress produces good code. But I’ve also built child themes of Twenty Eleven and Twenty Twelve, because Automattic produces good code, too. And I’m taking a fresh look at Woo, because they seem to have fixed the things I used to dislike and people I respect think their code is solid.
Likewise, I have a longstanding loyalty to Page.ly, which sponsors the East Bay WordPress Meetup, but managed hosting isn’t for everyone, and for some people, WP Engine might be a better option or ZippyKid an equally good one. For others, setting up a dedicated server or VPS is really the best choice. Life and WordPress do not tend to come with one-size-fits-all solutions.
All of this is a long way of saying that I don’t want my recommendations to my clients to be influenced by kickbacks from vendors. Even if I believe I’m still basing my recommendations on the needs of the clients, can I be sure that there’s no subconscious influence? And even though it doesn’t cost the client more to buy when I’m getting an affiliate commission, if I don’t disclose the fact that I’m getting one, that seems dishonest. And if the client even thinks that anything is influencing my recommendations but his or her best interests, I can’t imagine that’s going to do any good for my relationship with that client.
(After all, the FTC requires me to disclose any such links on my blog, which is why you will see “affiliate link” in parentheses after any links to Amazon.com from book reviews. I haven’t made a dime from Amazon since probably the 1990s, very likely because I don’t push it, probably because of my ambivalence more than any disclosure rules.)
It really turns me off whenever someone jumps up and says “Use my affiliate code!” in a meetup after someone else asks for a recommendation for X (usually hosting), even though at least the person jumping up is being clear that s/he is going to make a buck off the person who wanted the recommendation. So far as I know it’s not technically an abuse. I think many people in the room are happy to help their peers make some money (better someone you know than a stranger), but it still seems to me to carry faint overtones of taking advantage.
The thing I did like about Amazon’s Associates program was that they paid you whatever someone bought–whether it was a book you recommended or a completely different book. But I find myself, when I actually have the time to write a book review, putting in a direct link to the publisher’s website as well as to Amazon, even though I really can’t see that there’s any conflict of interest for me in using the Amazon code. When I recommend books directly to clients I usually tell them to check the library first, anyway.
So perhaps I’m just excessively scrupulous, or allergic to making money, or something. But I feel as though I either have to belong to every single affiliate program out there (at least, for every company I could possibly recommend, not the ones for companies that I tell people to avoid), and then somehow put in a lot of time papering my website, which I haven’t even yet managed to update to the new theme I bought months ago, with affiliate links that will then confuse the heck out of folks who see me recommending lots of competing products…or just not do the affiliate thing at all. Which is easier because it gives me more time to focus on consulting and training.