Credit Card Affiliate Links: The Debate Continues…

“B anner ads, long forgotten as a viable revenue source, are slowly being replaced by credit card referrals and affiliate links that can earn $100 or more from each successful applicant — an amount that drastically outpaces revenue from advertisements.”

So says Grant Martin in this article called The Blurring Ethical Lines Between Credit Card Companies and Travel Writers he authored for Skift, continuing the debate over the controversial practice of articles with a proliferation of credit card affiliate links or content which is disguised as a blunt “advertisement” for banks who aggressively push those credit cards through weblogs in order to provoke people to sign up for those credit cards.

How blurred are those ethical lines depends on what you read. One of the most vocal advocates who opposes what appears to be the rampant growth of articles crammed with credit card affiliate links is George of TravelBloggerBuzz, where his latest rant can be found here; and a significantly longer yet classic rant is found here.

Regardless of the proliferation of weblogs whose topics are travel or frequent travel loyalty program miles and points, the community is still relatively small and I know quite a few people who write weblogs. I have been told that George could have chosen a better way to criticize those “bloggers” who flood their articles with affiliate links…

…but then there are those who applaud his efforts and welcome his exposure of those articles loaded with affiliate links disguised as useful information with headlines meant to entice and “bait” people to read.

This is the problem I have: I do not like reading a headline which is potentially interesting to me — only to be used as “bait” for me to read an article which is disguised as little more than a blatant advertisement. Sure, it wastes only a few seconds of my time; but multiply that by each day and then again by each year — especially as I am a part of this industry and want to read topics about what other “bloggers” write.

I have no issue with an article which has a blurb at the end of it as long as it contains useful information. In fact, I have no issue with anyone who authors a weblog and uses credit card affiliate links as a means to earn additional revenue. There is nothing wrong with making money — as long as it is done ethically.

In the section pertaining to defining the relationship between banks and writers, Grant Martin writes:

Where that relationship gets murky is in how that content is being presented to the consumer. In many cases, writers are being fed content from the banks and then turning around and profiting from the credit card referrals that they generate through the story. And while it’s reasonable to expect writers to profile any new credit card instrument or promotion, it’s also important that readers understand the source and purpose of the content. To that end, the government has stepped up to make those relationships more clear, now requiring that most content has a disclosure about affiliate links.

A perusal through BoardingArea.com, a popular points and travel portal, will often yield numerous articles about financial instruments and their headlining disclosures therein.

Further clouding the issue, however, is any editorial bias when a bank pays for ads or affiliate links directly on a consumer website. As highlighted in this Mr. Money Moustache post, advertisers like Chase aren’t above nudging the editorial in a direction of their choice — and when bloggers don’t step in line they risk losing their revenue stream.

In the most recent article I posted here at The Gate, I wrote the following:

I receive no favors, incentives, amenities, or any other form of compensation or favoritism from any lodging company. I do not have an affiliate credit card and I do not post affiliate links here at The Gate. I am a “free agent” and can write about whatever I want.

That is not because of ethics. Rather, the reasons are listed below:

  • I do not want to be a salesperson for big credit cards companies
  • I do not like the idea of pushing something incessantly upon you — especially if I do not completely believe in it myself
  • I do not want some outside entity dictating what I should and should not write in my articles; nor telling me how I should edit them
  • Although I do commit my fair share of errors, I do not want to mislead readers of The Gate in any way, shape or form, as I want you to trust what I write

 

I am not passing judgment on people who choose to post articles with affiliate links. They have a right to choose how to earn compensation in any way they see fit — as long as it is via legal means…

…but you as the reader also have choices. You can choose whether or not you want to continue reading weblogs filled with credit card affiliate links; and you can choose whether or not you want to patronize — and even reward — those “bloggers” by clicking on the affiliate links which they provide. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Besides, people must be clicking on those credit card affiliate links — otherwise, you would not find articles littered with credit card affiliate links in the first place.

One can perhaps offer a similar argument for “spam” via e-mail messages: someone must support them — otherwise, “spam” would not exist either.

Then again, I do not believe that the credit card affiliate links bandwagon will last forever, as there are only so many qualified applicants from which “bloggers” compete for credit card affiliate link revenue.

As I first wrote in this article, I believe that we as “bloggers” need to be held accountable to keep what we write in check to ensure that we deliver content to you which you find useful, valuable, informative, interesting, insightful and entertaining — and if that means what could be considered responsible posting of credit card affiliate links in articles, then so be it.

What are your thoughts about weblogs with credit card affiliate links? Where should the proverbial line be drawn — if any?

5 thoughts on “Credit Card Affiliate Links: The Debate Continues…”

  1. Matt B says:

    I don’t mind supporting bloggers who produce valuable insight/articles and mix in credit card links appropriately. To me, examples of that are Viewfromthewing and Onemileatatime. Everyone is entitled to make a living and Gary/Ben earn their keep. But I’ve also stopped visiting other blogs that I followed when I first started this hobby which have now gone completely commercial (i.e. FrugalTravelGuy after Rick sold out, Thepointsguy).

  2. robert says:

    You spoke just in time…it’s the US Air card day.

    1. Wait…readers were told to hurry back then and now they get screwed so I think they should demand the missed miles from the blogs they applied! Haha, yeah right.

      I am sitting in the Thai Airways Royal First lounge trying to catch up with the blogs. Only 882 unread which I thought it was not as bad as I had feared. Soooo many about the US Airways card omg!

      For full disclosure I have added a cc tab in my site and every offer they sell is likely offered there too.

      It has been very educational to say the least. I applaud Brian and all the others for not having credit card affiliate links. For two years I did not and I got tired not earning even a dollar per hour for the amount of time I spend on my blog. So I added the tab to make a little more and satisfy many readers who had been bugging me about it. Trying to find a middle ground…It is not easy! Some readers were livid with me. Hey, I understand it. You should see my wife talking about “the (TBB) blog” LOL.

      The big money is in the DIRECT affiliate links, not the subpar newbie banner cc links like creditcards.com some of us have (me included). For those you need more traffic AND you need to not shoot yourself in the foot, meaning your content must pass muster from the banks that WILL check it out to see if it is “worthy”. You can bet your Chase UR points that the “controversial” stuff I write will never be approved. And I do not want to at this point. Because that is WHEN you sell out completely as you get in a treadmill of having to sell enough “conversions” so you can keep the lucrative links. This is why you see VFTW and OMAAAT have turned so much their content into credit cards (still far less than the mega cC pushers for sure but compared to their great content it is kind of sad to watch to see how theirs have turned too).

      One day when I kicked out of this “money pit” (lol) I will do a final reveal all blog post to, yo u know, educate readers.

      Vast majority of blog readers have NO clue about the economics involved in this space. NO clue. And the ones who are making the money like to keep it this way…

      Anyways, they are almost here to pick me up to drive me to The Gate (pun intended) for my next flight to Hong Kong. I do not want to leave this lounge!

      1. Brian Cohen says:

        You forgot to post “Third!”, TravelBloggerBuzz.

        Enjoy your trip; and travel safely!

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