Hidden Rewards

You see them everywhere. Links to hosting providers, Amazon, and other referral programs. Ads, like Google or Yahoo, are clearly indicated as ads but Amazon links often aren't. Referral programs, especially for hosting companies, almost never are.

My question to you is whether there should an obligation from the site owner to disclose these types of things? Does it matter whether the site owner receives any financial bonus from including a link on their site? Does it matter if they make a full post about a product or service and receive a financial bonus from any link on the page? Does it matter if the product or service in question asks for and is willing to pay for a review on the site?

Published November 17, 2005 · Updated September 14, 2006
Categorized as Writing
Short URL: https://snook.ca/s/456


10 Comments · RSS feed
Wesley Walser said on November 17, 2005

There is a lot of discussion about this recently, I think mainly out of the rise of 'pro blogging'. I personally don't see why there should be any obligation for bloggers to tell that what they are linking to is a referral link. Now I do assume that what they are linking to is something that they are actually supporting.

Links to your hosting company are fine, because you pay them, you hopefully support others using their service. Amazon referral links should be fine. If you are reading the books, or those books are on your wanted list then you would buy the books, therefore if someone wants to read it because you have/would they you should get a kickback from that.

The sites that are linking every referral program to high heaven just because they want money will eventually get weeded out because people either realize what they are doing, or their content suffers in quality. If people still read them, and they still make money, then their content is apparently still up to par, so perhaps they deserve to get paid.

Ben Kennedy said on November 17, 2005

I think there is a clear line between payola reviews and other links. What's important is the intent of the poster, and the perception of the reader.

If you are linking to some product I might want to purchase, there's no harm in a referral kick-back so long as the link goes toward true and valid information -- I don't particularly care whether you make 5 cents from it, so long as I'm buying what I expect. However if you are shilling a review for some paid sponsor in a context where the reader assumes greater integrity, well, that's bad.

Nathan Smith said on November 17, 2005

Well, yes and no. Here are examples: On my site, sonspring.com I have a Dreamhost referral link in the footer, and a little plug on the side of some pages, because they have a good service that I can in good conscience recommend.

On another site I did, but am not the sole contributor to, godbit.com, I don't have such links, because other guys are involved in creating the content. In that case, I think it would be misleading for me to profit from their labors. Plus, I want to keep the focus of that site away from money, and more towards free information.

Matt said on November 17, 2005

I was under the impression talking about your Adsense money or encouraging it at least is one of the things they can use against you, i.e. not pay you.

I think this could be a good opportunity to make use of the XFN microformat to distinguish what each link is... that way it's there if you really need to know.

Tim said on November 17, 2005

This is something I've been wondering as well. It came to my mind not too long ago, when I was reading Jeffrey Zeldman's (daily) report. I was clicking on every link he provided, thinking that if Mr. Z. put a link to something on his site, well, it was worth the click. (and after all, on the web almost everything is just one click away.
His words were pure gold to me. But some posts sneaked doubt in my mind. I couldn't tell if he was payed or not do review some (37s) products. Then others famous name (hicks and co.) did the same thing.
I trust them for only providing content relevant to their readers, and I'm sure gentlemen like those, would announce links that are part of a referral program or anything of this kind.
If you've instored some trust btw your readers and you, then mentionning which links are "rewarded" should not hurt your readership... if it's relevant to them.
For instance, I wouldn't mind YOU linking to some JS book on amazon and making some cents on it. I consider you as a "trusted" blogger, and your longevity speaks for itself. So pls, tell us which link are referrals... it will just make us trust you even more.

ps: I'm coming over to Toronto (from Montreal) for the weekend... any suggestion of what I should visit ? Thx !

Jonathan Snook said on November 18, 2005

I've also maintained full disclosure about any referrer links. Just as I'll be honest about any financial remuneration that I receive for linking or discussing a particular topic.

I just see people do it all the time and it always bothered me a little that they weren't up front about it. I'm certainly not going to call them on it as it seems clear that others are a little more blas? about it.

ps, Tim: I'm in Ottawa, so I'd recommend you take some tomatoes and take out a few Leaf fans. ;)

Tim said on November 18, 2005

Ooops ! Sorry Jonathan ! :-S
Glad to hear you'll maintain full disclosure about referrer links and stuff. :-)

Bobby said on November 18, 2005

This is some cool functionality

Professional web design Specialist said on November 19, 2005

i think there should be some sort of agreement between the two parties

Jonathan Fenocchi said on November 19, 2005

I say, if someone can make money off of it, more power to 'em. Honestly I don't mind, and I don't really need to know about it.

However, I do believe that, if inquired, those who profit from my purchase should elaborate information willingly and responsibly.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.