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Ethical Affiliate Marketing Guidelines

We have already discussed how unethical or parasitic affiliate marketing works, and now let us outline some key elements in ethical affiliate marketing. The bottom line of ethical affiliate marketing is to build value. It is all about value.

A common ethical standard for content value exists

What is value? Some shady marketers would say that value is subjective. What may be quality content to you might be trash to me. What might be trash to me would be high-quality, useful content to you. Live and let live. Do not judge as everybody should follow their own standards and move on. Right? No. There is black and white when it comes to ethical affiliate marketing and when it comes to value. What is that black and white metric?

The Golden Rule helps you make Gold Ethically

Just use the golden rule of do unto other people what you want them to do unto you. If you want people to give you materials that you are looking for that add value to your life or that help you build up your skills or get you to where you need to go, then you should do the same to them. If you use the internet to get value, then you should participate in internet marketing by providing value. That is really the core of ethical affiliate marketing. It is not harming other people, but providing a benefit, providing a useful experience, giving them something that would help them because that is what we want to other to do to us.

The most common violation

The most common way this definition of value is violated is when marketers produce thin content. Thin content is really the curse of search engines. If you are doing a search for a particular product or service, you want to be taken to a page that gives you what you are looking and actually provides value for you and moves your life forward. You do not want to go to a page or a website that is really just a thinly disguised advertisement. Unfortunately, in way too many cases this is the rule rather than an exception. Through excellent search engine optimization, websites that are advertising heavy and do not contribute much value rank higher and more people pull them up, click through and bounce back in disguise or disappointment. Ethical marketing is not about thin content because these websites they use thin content just as a lure to get people there and to look at the ads and to click through or to buy something. Ethical affiliate marketing, since it is focused on providing value, avoids thin content. It is all about producing rich content that your users need. In essence, you place advertising to add value to the content.

Advertising is not content

Advertising in of itself is not the value and by no means the content of your site, but too many unethical marketers or those pursuing the quick buck disregard this and just put up garbage sites one after the other. The internet is littered with them. Google is well aware of this problem and that is why it launched the dreaded Penguin and Panda updates to try to mop things up. Unfortunately, the unethical behavior and shady tactics of parasitic affiliate marketers poisoned the well for everybody else because these changes to Google were so stringent that they harmed beneficial sites and high-quality websites as well. The bottom line is that ethical affiliate marketers avoid thin content, avoid using flimsy content to get traffic to view ads or to convert them to a sale. Here are some common ethical affiliate marketer tactics. We list them out here not because it is an exhaustive or final list. This is by no means a complete list, but these are just very common practices and methods of responsible and ethical affiliate marketers.

The end objective is to build credibility for one’s online brand and also to build authority for a website. There are many ways to do this obviously with some shadier and scummier than others. The most ethical and “white hat” ways are the following:

Build Rich Content News Sites

The key words here are rich content and news. News can be a rich form of content. Let us face it, most people that go online and search for information are looking for up-to-date relevant information. Many of the times, the information that they are looking for do not change. There are just so many ways you can, for example, make ice cream at home or make homemade cheese, but other than that is a large bulk of searches that are for topics that are subject to change. These include stock information, company information, developments within a particular body of technology and all points in between. If people are looking for a body of knowledge that is subject to change, they are inherently looking for news.

Differing types of news timelines

Of course, news has its own differing timelines. There is some news that is rapidly changing. These types of news items need to be updated on an hourly, if not, every 30 minutes. Financial news is an example of one body of news that is prone to rapid changes. After fast-changing news, there is a wide spectrum of the types of news that are subject to change. Some change really gradually, like it takes every six months or every year, for there to be changes to this type of news. Others are more periodic like daily, monthly, weekly and that kind of thing.

There is a difference between News Rewriting and News Rewording

You can boost the quality of your content and by extension, the authority of the website that you are using for affiliate marketing by investing in a qualified news rewriter. There are many article production companies online. There are website copywriting companies that advertise online. These companies could easily handle news rewrites. However, not all news rewrites are the same. Some news rewrites are just basically rewords of the news. There is a big difference between rewording and rewriting.

Rewriting adds value

Rewriting does not necessarily mean just rewording everything, although the words would be different, but rewriting is more fundamental. It takes the events that are talked about in the news item and focuses on one part and magnifies it or focuses on another part and dwells on that. In essence, it takes the news, reports the same facts but the angle is different. This type of news rewriting gives your website’s news content a different personality from your competition. This is exactly what you need to do because differentiation builds your brand. The fact that you are covering timely news helps build your authority. However, just the fact that you are doing that does not necessarily build your brand. By taking a different angle and by injecting a lot of personality or taking the path less traveled, you can stand head and shoulders over your competition. This is a very different scenario than mere rewording.

Rewording adds little value

Rewording is offered by many cheap website copywriting services. What they do is they take the news and they just reword it word for word. You would be lucky if the material is actually readable, but most of the time it is not. Many of these companies just use software to do this. Google can spot this a mile away because there is a grammatical footprint. The grammar is just horrendous, but also there are other factors that really give you away to Google and might subject you to content penalties. For example, the text looks like it was just fed to software that just synonymizes all the words. The most important signal it sends to Google is the social signal. Few people will retweet garbage, unless those “people” are basically just automated software that targets Twitter to send social signals to Google. If this sounds far fetched, it is not. It is a very common practice among black hat SEOs. The best way to avoid the problem of having low social signals and low viralization of your news content is to look for website copywriting firm that injects at least a modicum of personality or at least takes a different angle when they are rewriting the news. Just mere news rewrite is not going to cut it. It would not elevate your site’s authority level and push your brand forward. To build real value, you have to use news rewrites that injects your site’s brand and personality into the rewritten news.

Build Value Added Content

Create value added content. Another example of a rich content site is a site that adds value to existing content. Sure, Google penalizes duplicate content. Everybody knows that by now due to the many Panda updates and also their Scraper update. That is common knowledge. What is not common knowledge is that even some sites that have duplicate content do not get penalized. What is the secret? The secret is in the amount of value added content. Copyright law in the United States has an exemption for commentary. If you publish somebody else’s work, excerpts of it and not the whole thing, and you add on commentary, review, roundtable discussion or any other content that seeks to dissect, pull apart or analyze the content that you excerpted, that material is deemed to be original. Google applies the same type of methodology.

When duplicate content stops being duplicate content

Just because you have duplicate content on your site does not mean that it is a death sentence or that it is game over for you. It means that Google is looking for other content around it. Did you take any effort to make that content your own by adding commentary? That is one of the most common ways to create value added content. Another is taking data pulled from other websites and having your users interact with the content. The only limit to the types of value added content websites out there is one’s imagination, but it all boils down to one basic premise, which is you take content from elsewhere and you make it your own by adding value to it. You just do not show it as is and you do not republish it in its exact same form. That kind of content policy no longer works. It devalues your site and really you are not offering real value to your users because if they wanted to see a duplicate, they just go to the site where it was published originally.

User Generated Content

While user generated content is often not in the same quality level as professionally generated content, you would be missing the point if you assume that the definition of quality content or user value would necessarily have to revolve around professionally produced material. Depending on how your site is set up or your site’s niche, user generated content adds a lot of value. Why? Some target markets are looking for spontaneity. If your niche is focused on user assistance or customer assistance or customer support in any way, or if you are offering references, then interactions by users is greatly appreciated.

Not all interactions have equal value

Of course, not just any interaction is valuable. One common example are worthless blog comments There are many blog commenters that just say good job, good work or I bookmarked this page, but that is worthless. That does not add value to the discussion. You might want to police how your users generate content on your site, but user dynamics and collaboration among the users of your site add value to your site. It creates a community. “Building community” is easier said than done. The most common way to do this obviously is through a forum, but there are many ways to build community around content. Digg is a good example. Reddit is another great example. Pinterest is all about user generated content. You could come up with your own tweets and build a website with specialized software to foster user generation. As mentioned earlier, the only limit really is your imagination.

Turn Your Ads into Content

Many affiliate marketers have a tough time breaking out from the old advertising mentality that ads by their nature are disruptive or that ads need to be eye catching and attention grabbing for it to work. While that is true, there is also an alternative route you can take. You do not have to make your ads compete with your content. You can turn your ads into content. How? Look at woot.com. The whole website is really about selling a featured product. There are no secrets about that. However, the site is successful because of the content that is published on a regular basis on the site and heavily updated. It infuses a lot of personality into the product and engages the readers and the readers not only form a community about the product discussion, but the product becomes the content. Compare this to reading a news site and there is an ad on the site, which site would engage you? What site would get you excited to participate in the conversation, to viralize the content and which site would get you to buy? Of course it is not completely fair to compare a purely content website with woot type of site, but it is indisputable that a higher level of engagement is needed for you to stand out from your competition.

Advertising and Content are not mutually exclusive

There does not need to be an iron wall between advertising and content. They can blend. The best AdSense affiliate marketers are those that write content that get people excited to click links and I am not talking about commanding your readers to click the advertising links because that would get you banned by AdSense. I am talking about getting them excited about your subject matter, getting into their heads, lighting a fire under their butts and they look at all elements of your page as content and this includes the advertising. You would be surprised the difference good copywriting make in terms of click volume on ads. The bottom line with making the product part of the content is to first get a clear idea of the content that your user is looking to consume and then keep tweaking that, massaging the product message in there and expanding the mind of your readers.

Turning Ads into Content takes patience and versatility

It does not happen overnight. It is not an exact science, but it will take a lot of time, but it is worth doing because it may mean the difference between your website becoming a success or just a mediocre “me too” website or worse just a flat out failure.

Related Topics: Checklist before starting a blog, More blogging tips

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that ethical affiliate marketers focus on enriching the experience of their website visitors. They are not in it for the quick buck or the quick hit. They are in it for the long haul and the best strategy for long-term success is to play within the rules, no tricks, no false advertising, no false promises and no false information. Just focus on the truth, build your website on integrity, treat people how you would like to be treated and just take it one day at a time in terms of building value for your visitors. If you keep at it and you have the right mind set, you will develop a discipline and a habit of providing genuine value and this would elevate you above most of your competitors. We say most because in this age of convenience and quick results, people are tempted heavily to take shortcuts and the first things to go out the window are always quality and value. Stick to the high road as it always leads to a good place if you stick to it and continue until the end of the journey.