Let’s talk about it!
In all of my years of blogging, I’ve never really spoken much about affiliate links and I know they can be pretty controversial. I’ve seen tweets saying that bloggers who don’t disclose them are as shady AF and others that don’t mind so much.
Since I’ve been using them since 2012 with varying degrees of success, I thought I’d share my thoughts and why there needs to be more transparency. As an industry, we need to be prepared to discuss difficult topics (Liv wrote a great post about consumerism and blogging recently) and understand both sides of the equation. I know we’re all still figuring this out (me included) but it’s so important to make improvements and constantly keep evaluating the way we work.
What are affiliate links?
To put things simply, affiliate links are a way for a publisher (so a blogger or magazine) to earn a commission when a purchase is made through a certain trackable link. Basically a ‘cookie’ is embedded in your computer once you click and whilst it’s active (usually for 30 days), anything you purchase from that site will result in a commission for the blogger. For example, if you happened to buy the Oasis dress featured in this post, it could result in £5.25 for yours truly. If you were to click on another blogger’s affiliate link for Oasis and purchase, the cookie gets transferred to them and they would earn the commission instead (this site explains the logistics further).
Affiliate links technically belong to the ‘ad’ family and are all over the Internet in various forms. Sites like the Daily Fail will use them to make a celebrity’s outfit shoppable, Money Saving Expert explains how they fund the site and most cashback programs use this model to make money and share the revenue. Retargeted ads (the kind that follow you around the Internet) work differently but in essence, there are always going to be ads all over the place, whether you like it or not.
Why are they great?
So as a reader, purchasing through affiliate links is a great way to support your favourite bloggers. It doesn’t cost you any more (since the commission is a percentage of the total transaction) and it’s a nice way to say thank you. Of course there’s no obligation to ever buy anything and it’s up to the blogger to reinforce this through their language and disclosure policy. You can still search manually for products, buy in store or double check that you are getting the best deal.
I like using the links on IWYTK as I can actually see what products you’re interested in and it makes sense, since I would be linking to these sites anyway. I use a couple of different networks and although I don’t make mega-bucks, it does help to fund things like hosting costs, development and all the Adobe programs.
What are the issues?
It’s affecting content – I know that blogging is essentially a business and like any business, you would have strategies, goals and a content calendar. However I believe that there’s a certain kind of responsibility that we need to have and an awareness of the wider implications.
Looking at some of the emails I get from certain networks, there can be a pressure to feature new items constantly and focus on the same occasions as everyone else. It’s important to take a step back every so often, be discerning and remember the bigger picture. Is every post you’re creating in line with your mission statement? Does everything need to be shoppable?
There’s no concrete guidelines – Blogtacular has touched on this during Twitter chats and the ASA/CAP site isn’t exactly the most straightforward. It is relaunching soon though and I hope that it will make things clearer for those of us in the UK who use these links without a brand controlling the content. The main thing is to retain integrity. If you’re linking to items you would feature without any kind of commission, then surely there shouldn’t be an issue.
What would traditional media do? – I’ve noticed that some blogs like Khoollect, British Beauty Blogger and Estée Lalonde’s have clearly laid out disclosure policies, in a similar way to magazines. Even though my page isn’t the easiest to find (I’m working on it), it does exist and it’s important to keep re-evaluating it. In a similar vein, I like how Carrie has incorporated sponsored posts into her design and I’m sure we’ll see more layout tweaks happening in the coming months.
Where I stand
Like many things, I think the key is balance. Affiliates are my smallest income stream and therefore, not my main focus. When I started using them, I quickly realised that shoehorning lots of different links into my posts would not guarantee Blonde Salad status and that it takes a lot of factors to make an affiliate strategy profitable. Some bloggers can make a decent salary from them and I’m guessing that it comes to down to having a certain style, consistency and a sizeable audience that is constantly looking for new things to buy.
Personally, I will always think of the content idea first and the links come in later. Sometimes I have months where I don’t see anything I like or wear a lot of older items, so there’ll be less links as a result. I try to use a mix of affiliate and non affiliated links since not everything I like necessarily has a programme and I think that it’s important to support smaller businesses where possible. Also, I don’t want to be deceptive. I’ve seen people say that something is Zara and link to Net a Porter instead and ‘similar’ items that look nothing like the original. I know how it feels to be misled as a reader, so I don’t want to do that to my audience.
I would love to know what you think about affiliate links and transparency within blogging! Are you happy to click and does it affect your perception of the blogger? I’m by no means perfect, this industry has evolved rapidly and I’m still hopeful that there’s a way to balance creativity and commerce.
TL:DR – Click on my links if you want to. If not, that’s fine. We can still hang out and eat cake!