Affiliate DOMination: Pervasive Passive Performance

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Written by Brook Schaaf

A few years ago in our newsletter I offered up the concept of “Affiliate DOMination,” a play on words for Domain Object Model. ChatGPT defines DOM as “a representation of the structure and relationships of objects within a specific domain, often used in software engineering to design and understand complex systems.” More succinctly and for our purposes, it’s the control of what the user sees on their screen and what it links to.

The domination part is the controlling agent (a website, app, browser extension, or, for that matter, the browser itself) inserting an affiliate link wherever applicable with an obvious discount or promotional incentive.

Of course, obvious doesn’t mean immediate, much less instantaneous. But the speed of such things, including affiliate recruitment and activation, seems to be headed in this direction. Bad publicity, such as the doomed Pinterest Skimlinks partnership a decade ago or Brave Browser getting caught making redirects, may have contributed to the slow pace. 

But if the thesis is correct then we shall see examples by and by, such as the ones Adam Riemer posted on his blog “Yahoo & Bing Knowledge Panels Are Sometimes Affiliate Links.” 

Now here’s the debate: On the one side, why wouldn’t a DOM agent do this? As Riemer writes, “Companies have every right to make money, especially if they offer free tools like software.”

On the other side, how many merchants will allow such passive links? Then again, is this much different from buying ads against your own trademark terms? If a merchant successfully prohibits this, including through alternative monetization channels, they might leave themselves open to conquesting. It would be easy to put in a “Similar Merchants” box in the knowledge panel. Redirecting some small percentage of the traffic could easily outweigh the value of the affiliate commission. Riemer points out that the controlling agent could also remove the link entirely.

What do you think? Is this in fact a trend? If so, is it a meaningful one that we should track? Email us and let me know your thoughts.

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