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Affiliate/shill marketing – how it works

One form of advertising on the Internet is what’s known as affiliate marketing.  The marketer places affiliate links on his/her website.  Whenever a visitor clicks on the link and makes a purchase, the marketer is credited with that purchase and receives a commission.  Note that there are both ethical and unethical ways of doing affiliate marketing.  The problem with any marketing is that there is a conflict of interest between the advertiser (which sells a product or service) and the publisher (e.g. a website owner).  There is a conflict of interest as the publisher may promote the products that make them the most money.

The sinister thing about affiliate marketing on the Internet is that some marketers will say ANYTHING to make a sale.  Some of them will engage in deceptive practices like “independent” review sites.  Don’t get suckered by these sites as their goal is to make as much money as possible rather than providing useful information.  And in some cases, the marketers putting up these sites haven’t even used the products or services they are marketing.

How to spot affiliate links

To check for an affiliate link, move your mouse cursor over the link and look at the URL that is displayed by your web browser in the lower part of your screen. You should see the following URL for the previous link:

The codes /BI/1234/KBID/5678 at the end of the link identify the affiliate marketer’s account (1234 and 5678 are made up numbers).

Other affiliate links look like the following: (Anything with clickbank in it is probably an affiliate link.) (commission junction link; will redirect to the retailer’s website.)

Unfortuantely, there are ways for affiliates to cloak their links to make them hard to spot. To spot those links, you can download a Firefox add-on called Live HTTP headers.  The add-on will let you spot the sequence of re-directs and show you all the URLs, which may contain the affiliate link.  Fortunately, most affiliate marketers aren’t bothering to cloak their links.

Another way of spotting fake review sites is if you found the site through paid advertising. Those who pay for advertising (e.g. sponsored links in Google) is looking to make money.

But be careful!  Not all shill marketers have affiliate links on their website!  Many companies have employees write positive reviews while posing under fake identities.  Some marketers are crafty and will hide their tracks, e.g. by not using affiliate links.  Sometimes, sloppy fake reviews can be detected if the marketer does not write natural-sounding reviews or does not cover their tracks completely (e.g. uses same IP, IP does not match their stated location, etc.).  However, there is little that can be done to prevent a good shill from posting positive fake reviews.