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The Problem with the Affiliate System

By Rick Hendershot
Posted Sunday, November 14, 2004

I've recently been reminded that product reviews and recommendations from "affiliates" are completely unreliable and untrustworthy.

Anybody who has dabbled in web marketing knows that a prime source of revenue for web marketers is selling "affiliate" products. If you don't have your own product — and many of us do not — then all you have to do is get your web visitors to click thru to "gurus" like Jim Daniels, Cory Rudl, or Ken Evoy, and they will gladly give you anywhere from 25% to 60% of the retail price just for the click thru.

Everybody in the business seems to think this is a wonderful system. What could be better? You build traffic to your site and gradually gain credibility as a reliable source of marketing information. And you leave the product development to the guys who really know what they're doing.

You send them the prospects. They send you the checks. Cha-ching.

Just another "marketing expert"

Unfortunately the only products worth selling are "info-products" that pay large commissions. Companies that sell "real" products like golf balls, computers, and books pay such a small commission it is hardly worth your while sticking their link on your site.

So this means that in order to make money as an affiliate, you have to become another of the thousands of Mini Marketing Gurus out there. And because there are so many of us, your chances of actually making any money are pretty slim.

Mini Gurus are just lemmings

Even worse, while you build your business and (maybe) develop your own products and services, you must prostitute yourself to the gurus who already have the products.

Because as far as I can tell the "affiliate" relationship turns us into lemmings.

It encourages newly created Mini Gurus to latch onto affiliate products in an absolutely uncritical way. Many of these products are nothing more than glorified "how to" manuals, but intense hype by experienced marketers turns them into "super products". And a bevy of willing affiliates cannot offer objective information about them because they think their livelihood depends on selling them.

For instance, Ken Evoy has thousands and thousands of affiliates for his SiteSell products -- including his flagship product called Site Build It. Do you think the fact that someone stands to make money by selling a product affects his or her objectivity about it?

Is there any question? The truth is, I have never read a critical review of Site Build It from someone who sells it. Why would you be objective about a product if you stand to make money every time it is sold?

In fact, this is an unwritten rule about web marketing products. No criticism. Ever. I'm sure just the fact that I dare mention "critical review" and a product name in the same sentence will draw gasps of disbelief. But, the truth is I think Site Build It is a really good program. Not perfect (gasp!). But a lot better than than almost anything else I've seen.

As a result of the Mini Guru's utter dependence on sales of products like this, it is virtually impossible to get objective third party information about them.

Do you see what a beautiful system this is for enterprising marketers? Create a product. Make it available to affiliates. Offer a handsome commission. And no one (except the poor suckers who buy it) will ever say a negative word about your product again.

Do affiliates mislead their own customers?

In fact, it gets worse. Not only are affiliates uncritical about products, but they can be downright misleading in their praise of them.

For instance, I was recently searching for an autoresponder program, and because I was an affiliate for Cory Rudl's products, I thought I would try his much-hyped program called "My Email Manager". One of the reviews I read about the product praised it up and down and gave it a glowing "five star" rating.

After struggling with My Email Manager for a week or so I concluded it was a turkey. It just didn't do the things it claimed it could do. The product promotion was clearly misleading, and the review I had read bore no resemblance to my experience. I doubt very much whether this person had actually tried the program.

But that's how the affiliate system works.

About the Authob
Rick Hendershot is based in Conestogo, Ontario, Canada. He has spent many years as an advertising consultant, and small business owner. He currently publishes several small business websites and ezines, and provides web design and online marketing services to small business owners wanting to jump start their online marketing efforts. He can be reached at


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