Is there room for White Hat Affiliates anymore?

ionSearch Advanced Search Marketing Conference. 18th & 19th April, Leeds
Well firstly I’d like to say that I’m not a big subscriber to the whole white hat black hat thing anyhow. Technically all SEO is black hat blah blah blah… I’m not going to get into that. I’m just using these terms for convenience sake so before somebody jumps on it that base is covered.

There is also a very clear reason for this post, and that is ionSearch. Now whilst I do agree with a lot of points made on the panel, it was not fairly represented. I’m a big believer that all SEO has a time and a place and probably fall into the border line camp of I’ll do whatever you want as long as you know the risks and are going to pay me.

But aside from Andrew Girdwood (LBI) that opinion probably left me as the most “white hat” member of the panel. That is not balance. And not entirely accurate or fair.

We all know the darker side can be more fun to talk about and certainly in some cases more interesting to listen to and a lot of people working in agencies which don’t allow them to play with this stuff (Blueclaw included) need to hear this sort of thing so they know what they’re up against.

There were some particularly interesting points about cookie stuffing which it seemed that a lot of the audience had previously been oblivious to.

On a personal note for side income I’m partial to a bit of spam, I’m an email spammer and a spam ranking affiliate, but hey I don’t have the time to build things properly outside of work and I’m just looking to make some quick cash so why the hell not. But, these tricks are not long term business models and aren’t really something I’d often recommend to a client outside of a hub strategy.

Why blackhat’s don’t have the edge they used to anymore

I can confirm that I’ve been party to black hat ranking tactics for hub sites created by large brands (PLC’s, FTSE companies, etc.) so the thing is, the brands have cottoned on, so in those areas they can’t always compete because someone is spamming their way up the SERPs they’re happy to set up an affiliate site and do the same. This was the edge of the affiliate being able to take the risk the brands can’t as Nick Garner tried to hammer home. But, there’s a catch, if the big brands are doing this and have the budget well you’re still buggered. And of course if they want to have an employee register the domain and slap in an affiliate code, prove he wasn’t just doing it off his own back….. not easy.

Granted we’ve seen some cases recently like lookupcasino a spammer that dominated SERPs recently with lots of awful domains which all redirected to lookup, odds are he could retire off one month’s worth of traffic if he really wanted to.

So blackhat isn’t quite as glorious as it used to be for rankings because the brands are doing it to and they have more money than you. It still works, but maybe it isn’t entirely right to suggest that every affiliate should do this.

Google is getting better, it’s not as good as they pretend to be, but it will move in the right direction and continue to do so, this means there will be less room for these sort of practices. My advice is generally to meet somewhere in the middle, do both. You really shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket anyhow so have a couple of sites with different strategies.

We can’t all be Moneysupermarket!

Ok so not every affiliate can be a mega affiliate, and not everyone should try. But, as always the truth of the matter is somewhere in the middle, there is nothing wrong with niche sites that you can be proud of.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on building something with a brand, it’s not for everyone and realistically is likely to require a bit more time and investment, but why not fund that with your spammy sites and build something that lasts or you can sell?

That’s not to say it will be easy to start with, but again affiliates do have an edge here, and it’s called brand restrictions. When a brand gets to a certain size it gets bogged down in red tape no matter the industry. You CAN avoid this, if you want to do something that’s a little edgy like sponsoring a wedding with a gambling company (been done guys) then YOU can! Try getting that past the board of directors at a PLC, it can be done, but it isn’t easy! Then there is reacting to current events, again going through an approval process and a PR team which gets upset if you steal their thunder and as a response has to find something wrong with it because as an SEO you’re doing their job for a lot less money……

This is something we probably should’ve spoke more about on the panel, but of course black hat can be more interested and we all got side-tracked.

There is some hope for whitehats

There are a multitude of other points I could make as to the virtues of being a white hat affiliate for example not jumping from site to site every month is actually quite nice. There is also the fact that when your friends and family ask you what you do you can be honest with them.

As a personal example I genuinely swear my grandmother is still expecting somebody from the Russian mob to send a hit man after me and that I’m selling porn, whilst I can attest to not doing the latter it’s hard to  because she simply doesn’t understand because I have very little tangible to show. It’s never nice when people ask you where that couple of grand for your expensive holiday came from and you have to sigh and say “you know that spam you got in your inbox promoting well that was me…..”

Reality Check!!!!

Some markets simply don’t really have any more space for affiliates at all, let alone white hats, payday loans, casino, even travel if were honest. At least if you don’t have a decent budget to put into this and know what you’re doing.

There is a little space and some people will get lucky or have the drive to make it take off, but that is not everyone.

The reality is that affiliate marketing is NOT a get rich quick scheme and hasn’t been for a long time. At least unless you’re an amazingly talented black hat or you’re sat on a mega email list (and if you are then you’re probably not reading this).

The reality is that the English speaking market is pretty full, as is the Spanish speaking one, it’s probably best to look internationally if you really want to succeed in affiliate marketing, but that’s a drum I’ve been beating for a while now.

The End

So whilst this post may seem a little mangled and thrown together it does serve a very specific purpose. In that it says there are ways to make money from both. Both can make you a lot, both can cost you a lot. But, also it isn’t a choice of one or the other, there is room to do one of each. You shouldn’t just run one site anyway if you rely on search for your traffic.

I was originally going to put this on ion’s blog but it all got a little waffley so it’s going on my blog.

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