Can Affiliate Unruin the Internet?

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Written by Brook Schaaf

The Verge recently published an inflammatory piece about search engine optimization (SEO) practices that made me think of its overlap with the affiliate space — and not just because Missy Ward, the co-founder of Affiliate Summit (which apparently sold for $40 million, by the way), made an appearance. 

The lengthy article characterizes the stereotypical SEO practitioner as a “content goblin … nihilist … [and] prankster,” whose manipulations have “ruined the internet” by displacing good content with bad. In a somewhat weak rejoinder, Search Engine Land cast the piece as “bitter” and “cynical,” though they also aptly noted that the party Ward was at sounded more like an affiliate marketing affair. 

The overlap between the two worlds exists largely because SEOs can and do monetize traffic with affiliate links. Indeed, affiliate links may well be the best monetization option for publishers, proven true in recent years by commerce content sites that aggressively pursue optimization and user community-based traffic tactics to maximize revenue.

It occurred to me last night while researching car seats (safety, convenience, comfort, and cost make them a considered purchase) that content- and coupon-rich affiliate sites may be the best remedy for the complaints in the article, especially afore an anticipated tsunami of AI-generated text and images. While researching, I read at length on The Car Seat Lady and Consumer Reports, then searched for available deals, ultimately buying two car seats for about $400 after a coupon.

Thus, multiple sites that monetize with affiliate influenced and improved my purchase journey. These sites put a lot into content creation and curation — including, yes, the aggregation of deals and products. (I know a great company that can ease some of this burden.) Given that the search engine listings will inevitably be gamed, it makes sense that commercially relevant topics should go to the properties that provide the most value to the user. The two most likely category candidates for this will generally be either merchant or affiliate sites — the former because they sell goods, and the latter because serious review sites will naturally move toward affiliate monetization over time. 

Affiliate is generally a better category because users have a chance to see commentary on more products sold by more merchants. 

Otherwise, why even bother going to a search engine? 

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