Yesterday I gave the keynote at the Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas. It’s a fantastic event filled with great folks, many of which are doing good work. Of course, many of us know that affiliate programs–the ones where folks get a commission for selling something–are one of the major contributors to index spam and pollution on the web.
As you would expect, having me speak at a conference about Affiliate Marketing is almost as bad as having me speak at a conference about SEO (search engine optimization). After all, I started Mahalo.com as a reaction to the large amount of low quality sites on the internet and the degrading quality of search results.
In the Affiliate World I’m the bad guy. The more Mahalo succeeds the more folks in the Affiliate business will suffer because the honest truth is that most consumers DON’T want to go to the sites that Affiliates are making. Affiliates typically make sties that are “thin” with little original content, and in some cases stolen content. These sites are typically made with goal of spending as little as possible to get you to click as much as possible–the result is profitability, but the cost is the user experience.
Now, some of the folks do create nice sites and most of the folks are good people. Overall, my impression is that there are much better content creators out there making better sites in almost every vertical so these sites don’t need to exist 90% of the time. However, they exist because they are economically viable.
As you can imagine, coming into a room full of hard working folks and telling their hard work is kind of a waste of time isn’t going to make you the most popular guy. However, I did make a point of telling everyone that they are very hard working and very smart and that they should work hard make high-quality sites.
The number one question I got was how do you define high-quality. I gave what I think is a very simple test: take the ten best sites out there for your vertical. Loook at them deeply and ask yourself “can I make something at least 20% better? If you can’t then why do it? The users don’t need you and you’re basically spinning your wheels.
That’s what I’ve always done as a benchmark for myself. Let me show some examples:
- I started Silicon Alley Reproter magazine because I didn’t think WIRED or Red Herring did a good job covering New York City. I was right, and we created a product that was 1,000% better for New York coverage.
- I started Weblogs, Inc. thinking that we could create blogs that were 100% better than existing media options out there. We were correct and Engadget, Autoblog, Joystiq, Luxst, and BloggingStocks all had amazing success.
- I started Mahalo.com with the idea that we could create pages that were more helpful for “guidence” than Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask, Wikipedia, About.com, and DMOZ. Will we be right again? I don’t know yet, but I think so.
Jangro has a really nice point in his coverage of the keynote:
- But his basic message is that Internet Marketers are pissing in the well, polluting our rivers, overfishing our oceans, insert your own tragedy of the commons metaphor here.
While he delivered his message it in a way that shouldn’t have surprised anyone, I am glad he did it.
To those of you who took offense to what Jason said, I say grow some skin and really think about what this guy is saying. Would you really rather have someone here telling us all how awesome we are while blowing smoke up our collective asses?
News flash. There ARE internet marketers out there who are making a mess of the Internet.
It doesn’t matter if Jason gets it or not. It doesn’t matter if you think what you do is “affiliate spam” or not. It doesn’t matter if he insulted our boy Zac. (Zac will be just fine).
What matters is this is what a not insignificant portion of the world outside of our little industry thinks about us.
And it’s not people that don’t matter to us. It’s the people who have control over our traffic.
That last line is the key point. The Affiliate folks making thin, lame, or weak sites have to understand that the Valley looks what they do as the lowest form of creativity on the internet. Content creators hate Affiliate spam sites, bloggers hate the spam comments from then, and the PhD’s at Google and Yahoo spend all day trying to kill them.
If Affiliates keep up their spamming antics they are going to become a real target by not only the rest of the industry, but also the FTC, which doesn’t take nicely to covert marketing.
At the end of the day I’m really glad I went to the Affiliate Summit because I met a ton of great people, I learned a lot, and once again we’ve started a really important dialogue–not disimilar to the one about SEO.
I’m really looking forward to continuing the discussion… the comments are open.