Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Sun Mar 24 2013 21:41:23

When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

By: David Steiner

Sponsored Link

If, over the past several months, you noticed a search on Google News for terms like "eBay" or "Amazon" bringing back barely relevant results, you're probably not alone.

In our research since mid-December, searches for "eBay" and "Amazon" brought back articles about baseball cards, a girl inadvertently listing a dress on eBay that included her naked image in the photo, or even 15 stupidest reviews on Amazon. Interestingly, many of them had one thing in common: affiliate links embedded in the content.

Affiliate programs have been around for years, and some of the Internet's largest retailers and publishers participate, including EcommerceBytes (although never in news stories), in order to subsidize the content that consumers expect to be free.

What's new is that some publishers appear to be gaming the system in violation of the traditional Chinese wall between advertising and editorial, and news aggregators seem unable or unwilling to stem the tide of, well, just plain crap rising to the top of search results over quality stories with original reporting.

In a multi-part series we're running this week in EcommerceBytes NewsFlash, Kenneth Corbin explores how publishers stealthily earn revenue by embedding affiliate links within articles purporting to be "news." As an avid online news reader myself, I'm not surprised by this type of behavior from certain popular, lowbrow websites. But thanks to new services, mainstream publishers are also monetizing their content in new, creative ways.

There are several issues at play here:

Is the publisher to blame for Google News picking up their affiliate-optimized articles and placing them at the top of Google News search results?

Or are publishers studying affiliate reports to determine which topics are most lucrative and writing "news stories" around high-value keywords?

Can Google, Bing, or any search engine for that matter, rely on algorithms to recognize when sites that are attempting to game the system? It would appear that more human interaction and vetting is called for.
 
Many of us have figured out how to hover our mouse over hyperlinks to see if they might be affiliate links, but services like Viglink and Skimlinks, both direct affiliates of eBay for example, are cloaking the URLs, making it harder for readers to see if there is an ad relationship between the publisher and the seller of the item being linked to.

To be fair, Viglink prominently advises publishers to disclose affiliate links to readers: "The Federal Trade Commission requires that you disclose to your readers when you endorse a product or service and have a "material connection" to the seller. If you're using affiliated links, with or without VigLink, you have that connection." However, that doesn't necessarily mean its clients are doing so.

The FTC's newly updated guidelines call for labeling hyperlinks as specifically as possible, and they caution advertisers to consider how their hyperlinks will function on various programs and devices.

Kenneth spoke to the FTC to see how they weighed in on this issue, as well as speaking to search and affiliate experts and executives at Bing and Google News.
  •  As a reader, how do you feel about clicking on a revenue-generating link in an article posing as a news story?
  •  Does this decrease the trust you have in that publisher?
  •  Have you had a similar experience with results on Google and Bing searches for ecommerce news?
  •  Is this a practice we should get used to, or is this a line that legitimate publications should not cross?
We're interested in your take.

Update: Two days after this series kicked off, Google addressed the issue on the Google New blog and issued a warning to publishers. Congratulations to Kenneth Corbin on a great story!




Comments (20) | Leave Comment | Permalink

Readers Comments

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Dr. McCoy

Sun Mar 24 23:01:23 2013

I was wondering what was going on. I tbough maybe ebay had secretly bought Google...

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Dr. McCoy

Sun Mar 24 23:03:21 2013

Make that THOUGHT they bought ebay. Damn i-phone...

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Sun Mar 24 23:36:17 2013

NOT a fan of adverts mostly anywhere that do not CLEARLY make the point that they ARE ads--that means the blends-in-with-=the-background tag line on magazine ads and the seemingly innocuous on line adverts.  

Seems dishonest somehow and takes away cred.  

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

by: TomH This user has validated their user name.

Mon Mar 25 00:39:12 2013

>legitimate publications

Not quite sure what that is since almost all are riddled with ads of one sort or another. Is not ''legitimate'' in the eyes of the beholder?

As far as the search engines go -- really? Maybe it's just me but search results I get are maybe 20 percent useful and 80 percent non related to the search term except maybe with the thinnest stretch possible or gamesmanship by the web site. Been that way for years.

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: 360

Mon Mar 25 07:33:20 2013

I've noticed this too. Tamebay is great for sliding in affiliate links into their stories, but I'd expect that from them. Also seen this in Examiner articles, especially the ones written by notorios eBay schills like Danna Crawford.

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Sandymenu

Mon Mar 25 13:27:42 2013

''Does this decrease the trust you have in that publisher?''

I am wearing my 3-D glasses while reading this interesting article;however, it does also seem that this EB Blog continues to get smaller with highlighted Las Vegas style neon bordering ads taking away from these meaningful EB Blogs.

Do they make eyewear nowadays in 4-6D too?

Goo Search? Oh, another burp to let out.

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles

Mon Mar 25 14:28:05 2013

I saw something similar here in a local newspaper. Some news are more ad related than info.  

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles

Mon Mar 25 15:21:24 2013

Just ending reading this article. I went to other site and found something that can be count. Jajaja!  

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: David Steiner

Mon Mar 25 15:37:34 2013

And how, Sandymenu, would you suggest that publishers support their sites?

Just to be clear, the article is not suggesting that publishers don't accept advertising, such as banners. We're specifically talking about links within the content that are affiliate links, with little or no disclosure that they the publisher is earning revenue from that link.

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Mon Mar 25 18:03:24 2013

At least in many newspapers these ads posing as news are clearly labeled. The ads I see here are ethically separated from industry news.

Google and only to a somewhat lesser extent have become a waste of time if you're trying to find actual information as opposed to advertisements and articles written by the likes of LiveWorld and Reputation Defender to push anything unfavorable about a company so far down in search results few see them (like ebafia's search works these days for most of our items).

As our society becomes increasingly less literate and our collective ability for analytical thinking in decline, more and more people will believe that advertising propaganda is news.

The model for this information perversion is Fox News.

An independent study showed that Fox News viewers are less informed about the news than are those who watch no news whatsoever.

And so it will be for those who use the corporate search engines.

Infomercials as "news."

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Mon Mar 25 18:05:01 2013

That should have read:

Google and only to a somewhat lesser extent Bing have become a waste of time...

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Mon Mar 25 20:58:40 2013

I usually zone out from most advertising, whether it is on an eBay listing, google sidebar, a blog, or a news site. I steer clear of news ''stories'' clearly marked as advertising. And they should be. Clearly marked, that is.

Flashing, moving ads annoy me. Latent hostility appears. Want me a Taser hostility.  I would never click on those ads on purpose!

BUT what really chafes my hide?  Inadvertently mousing over or touching an ad on my computer, tablet, or phone screen.

The sucker springs to life, fills your screen, and you can't always tell how to make it go away. I've been known to leave a site and NEVER go back due to those stealth ads that are waiting to strike out at you like a carefully camouflaged pit viper. Somebody please invent a Taser app!

and I don't use Bing.

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

by: esnipe This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Mon Mar 25 23:32:41 2013

I am deeply disappointed in eCommerceBytes for reporting this story without including a link to the chick with the naked picture, or at least a screen shot (pics or it didn't happen). Whatever happened to sourcing your article? Shoddy journalism. Don't make me resort to Gawker, people.

Yours,

Tom Campbell

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Tue Mar 26 00:30:47 2013

There's an unfortunate and related corollary on local TV news.

Many stations have abandoned their consumer complaint segments because they lost advertisers or potential advertisers as a result.

So we have big money corporate interests insinuating themselves into internet news stories and brick and mortar newsrooms afraid to report local stories about bad companies.

It's ALWAYS about the money. Always.

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

by: Cassie This user has validated their user name.

Tue Mar 26 00:38:41 2013

Not all of it aggressive affiliate works do an image search on google for an image of yogurt dip you run into a few pornographic images to private sites for ease access. I chalk it up to well computer savvy teens or internet pranksters.......too!

If affiliates are doing mass dumpings they are pushing for also non- relevant abuse warfare too...

Why google has a tab to report images as offensive too & most searches are now providing links now have non relevant reporting - a tool that too can be abused to disclaim valid searches...

All this is a hidden embedding tactic done in the past to hide access to some restricted access those in the know for groups to key sites as open access for other's who normally barred or restricted ......old school stuff bypass parental controls & such. others soft target miss application playing. Saw it 20 years ago when parental internet controls first rolled out.

Just trying to find a nice veggie yogurt dip for veggies to pin on pinerest during the holidays to try for superbowl sunday and you get your retina's scorched out! -eh

@ esnipe just do a google image search random for puppies and kittens or eggplant dip you might get lucky!---hhhhaahh!

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

by: xcergy This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Tue Mar 26 01:18:09 2013

everything you see on the internet is true.  I saw that in a Geico commercial.

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Tue Mar 26 09:28:31 2013

Want a good search engine? I recommend Blekko.

Does the Chrome Ad Block block the affiliate advertising?  I'm wondering, but I have not investigated this.

I barely trust anything I read these days.  I always do my on research and fact finding and I never assume that just because I read it that it is true.  Unfortunately there are so many who don't.  Ming's example of Fox News is a good one.   Isn't Fox News banned in Canada?   Apparently Canadians don't like being lied to.

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Tue Mar 26 09:29:12 2013

"my own research, not my on research"

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Thu Mar 28 08:50:19 2013

See the update at the bottom of this post (above) - Google responded to this article in Wednesday's Google News blog.  

Perminate Link for When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room   When Ecommerce Affiliates Run the News Room

This user has validated their user name. by: FidoSysop

Thu Mar 28 11:10:31 2013

Thought they preferred Spin over News.



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