Just Because We Can, Doesn’t Mean We Should: VigLink and Bit.ly
In the Affiliate Marketing Industry, trust is like currency.
We as an industry suffered a major setback recently when Viglink and Bit.ly decided to collect user's revenue without properly alerting the users. We have teamed with Shareist to provide an alternative solution if you don't want to be swindled.
Read on to hear our thoughts on this disappointing development.
This is copied from a post on our blog, by Scott Jangro, which you can read here: http://blog.prosperent.com/just-beca...ean-we-should/
Just Because We Can, Doesn't Mean We Should: VigLink and Bit.ly
In the Affiliate Marketing Industry, trust is like currency. In an industry where it is so easy to take shortcuts, copy another’s ideas, create worthless sites just for revenue, and do shady things to trick your site visitors into earning you money, it’s historically been difficult to find companies that can be trusted.
A few years ago, this pattern began to shift. Specific companies made it their mission to change the feel of Affiliate Marketing. Many of us made an effort to turn the industry into what merchants viewed as a legitimate advertising channel. They committed to not working with anyone who used practices such as cookie stuffing, toolbar downloads, sneaky redirects, black-hat SEO, and other tactics that amount to adding no value to the channel.
As an industry, we've worked for years to affect a shift from anything-goes to quality-rules.
Many publishers that were known for black hat practices cleaned up their acts and became legitimate content producers who wrote valuable content which added to the value of the internet, rather than spamming it.
There are always publishers pushing the envelope and testing the limits. Then we look at it and either it sticks or not. That's what makes us such an innovative group.
But sometimes things happen that just make us scratch our heads
Remember when Skimlinks made a deal with Pinterest to turn all links into affiliate links that basically turned Pinterest into an enormous affiliate? Suddenly millions of links that were curated by other publishers were turned into affiliate links for Pinterest -- not the publishers who curated them. It didn't take long for them to reverse that action after the uproar, and now a few years later, Pinterest has eliminated all affiliate activity from their platform. (Surely so they can move to monetize in their own way.)
At least with that, merchants could sorta come to terms with it. Pinterest is a content site. Their products were getting showcased and promoted on Pinterest, affecting consumers' decisions to purchase. It's a thin argument, but it's there.
Recently, Viglink has taken a similar step, partnering with bit.ly to turn into an affiliate link for Bit.ly, every. single. directly. link. to. a merchant. forever.
If you don't know what bit.ly is, it's a link shortening service. You give them a long link, they give you a nice short pretty one to share in email, social media, etc. It's great.
But can someone please explain the value that bit.ly is providing to the merchant that is linked to that justifies them getting paid by that merchant that was linked to by someone else, using a service that they otherwise provide for free, in a way that they cannot "perform" better or worse based on any effort whatsoever?*
I thought this was Performance Marketing. Meaning, you get paid when you perform. Not when you coincidentally are inserted into the link building process.
The value of the auto-linking providers like Skimlinks and VigLink, and even our own similar tool ProsperLinks, that is just a small part of our service, has always been under debate.
However, there is no denying the convenience and ease of using these tools to manage linking to affiliate programs rather than having to create links manually, one at a time. It is a huge benefit, and it also streamlines the whole process of finding programs to join. This puts the responsibility on us to keep quality high, and through increased transparency, we've gained trust.
These companies have worked for years to build up the credibility of this model, quite successfully.
And then this.
Consider these scenarios:
- The Chrome browser filters merchant links and sends them through an affiliate network on every click with their own publisher ID.
- Comcast automatically turns every click to a merchant from their Internet customers into an affiliate link and takes that commission (and any earned within the cookie period) as theirs.
Those don't seem right, do they? The first one actually happened with Viglink a few years back. They stopped and changed it so the site owner can opt-in and earn from it.
Thankfully, the other two didn't happen. Because it would be wrong. (though the second one has happened over and over with hidden browser toolbar downloads, which were also generally considered wrong).
This deal between Viglink and Bit.ly is no different than these. Bit.ly happens to sit in a place where they can simply change the linking codes entered by their users.
There are two parties that can be hurt in these scenarios:
- Another affiliate whose links are overwritten
- The merchant who is paying the bill
When called out, Viglink was quick to point out that they do not overwrite other affiliate links. (Which they absolutely cannot guarantee 100%). But okay...
But what about the merchants?
There is no added value in this for them. Bit.ly is just like Comcast. Or Chrome. Or Cloudflare.
So why should merchants pay for this through the affiliate channel?
Dude, chill. What's the big deal?
Bit.ly is also an enormous company. They provide shortened links for users, so that users' links go from long and difficult to repost on social media to short and easy to post.
Bit.ly is not necessarily in the affiliate space, and no one would have a reason to trust or not trust them. They were simply a third party tool that could be looked upon with ambivalence. This just changed.
Not a big deal, right? The*hundreds of millions of links would now be monetized, Bit.ly users would now be able to earn on their content. Oh wait.
The money is not getting passed on to the users. Instead, it goes to Bit.ly and Viglink.
Not only are users now unwittingly posting affiliate links, but the deal was hidden in the terms of service.
Because of this, most users of Bit.ly don’t even know that their links are now earning Viglink and Bit.ly what likely amounts to millions of dollars each month.
It is shocking that in an industry that has spent years trying to repair its reputation by being transparent, honest, and trustworthy, that something this dishonest and secretive could occur.
This not only hurts the reputations of Viglink and Bit.ly, but impacts the industry as a whole. This gives people the opportunity to look at affiliate marketers, shake their heads and say “That’s not surprising, all affiliate marketers are dishonest."
It also means that people's links are getting monetized AND changed without their knowledge or consent. Deb Carney pointed out in a conversation on Facebook that many people use bit.ly in their Amazon ebooks to make the links cleaner, and so they can manage them after the book is published. If you link to an affiliate link in an eBook on Amazon, you get banned as an author. Oops, thanks for that guys.
Can this be done right?
A better solution would have been to give users the ability to turn on or off link monetization, then share between Bit.ly, Viglink, and the user.
Otherwise, this is no different than a toolbar or cookie stuffing.
It would have been so easy to be transparent and honest.
Viglink’s actions have also renewed our commitment to transparency and honesty as a tool provider for affiliate marketers.
Prosperent has its own affiliate link format, and because it is not one of the "recognized affiliate link formats", it would likely be overwritten. Would they fix it quickly? Maybe. But only if asked. And if not us, there will always be others.
As a company, we have worked extremely hard in attracting valuable content creators and providing eduction*to them. We're making an effort to help them earn on their sites while being an asset to the brand they’re representing.
What we are not doing is looking for massive sources of traffic unrelated to the affiliate channel that we can simply tap into and make money while providing no value to merchants footing the bill.
Just because we can, doesn't mean we should.
This action by Viglink sets us back because merchants frequently see affiliate marketers as one big group. Bloggers that aren’t familiar with affiliate marketing do the same, and this will prove to be a setback in convincing them that we are honest.*
There are countless other link shortening services, such as goo.gl and is.gd. And if you want to host your own URL shortner, you can use the free software YOURLS.
As a part of our commitment to transparency and helping publishers, we’re providing an alternate solution to those who need a url shortener, and want control over whether their links become affiliate links or not. With our solution, you can not only shorten URLs, but you can get the automatic affiliate commissions for yourself.
Or not. It's completely up to you. But it won't ever be us making that decision for you.
We've partnered with Shareist, a content marketing platform, who has integrated our affiliate tracking technology into their shortener: shrs.it, where you earn the commissions.
Here is more information on the shrs.it shortener.
Want more information? See what others in the industry are saying:
VigLink Affiliate Method Deceptive? Hurting Merchants | Performance Marketing Insider | With Pace Lattin
Let's first State that I am not a fan of Viglink, I think the company is perhaps the worst example of "affiliate marketing" that produces revenue that isn't
Bitly and VigLink - What Affiliate Marketers Need to Know!All Inclusive Marketing
Are you an affiliate marketer? Are you using Bitly and VigLink? If so you’ll want to read this about the recent changes with Bitly.
Bitly-Viglink Affiliate Deal Raises Concerns | Practical Ecommerce
In early February, Bitly, the popular URL-shortening service, partnered with affiliate tool Viglink to auto-monetize every shortlink generated by Bitly’s millions of users. To understand ...