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The Google Affiliate Network: Hypocrisy or Honeypot?

Published: July 1, 2008

Author: David Rodnitzky

Yesterday Google announced that the DoubleClick’s Performics affiliate program will renamed the Google Affiliate Network. While I have no doubt that Google will a) come up with some innovative way to improve affiliate marketing and b) integrate the affiliate program with AdWords, AdSense, and Google Analytics, I imagine that there are many affiliates who shudder at the thought of having their affiliate revenue tracked and managed through a Google-owned affiliate network.
Why? Primarily because Google has made it very clear over the last few years that they don’t like affiliates. Indeed, Google has specifically called out affiliate sites as ‘meriting low quality score’ and there are countless stories of affiliates getting ‘blacklisted’ by Google without any recourse. So if you are a successful affiliate who has (thus far) avoided a Quality Score smackdown or outright ban by Google, you would probably be pretty wary about joining the Google Affiliate Network. Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing!
Indeed, if Google really wanted to thin the AdWords ranks of affiliates, they could use the Google Affiliate Network as a massive honeypot; attract affiliates with incredible commissions or tools, and then wipe them all off the map. Yes I know it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but if you are one of the many affiliates already banned, you are probably nodding your head vigorously at the moment.
Of course, the other scenario – the one that I would argue is more likely to occur – is that Google basically draws a line between ‘their affiliates’ and ‘other affiliates.’ Affiliates who participate in the Google Affiliate Network (and who, ostensibly, adhere to the network’s standards) are given de facto approval by Google, while other affiliates are de facto denied. This benefits Google in many ways – it gives them more control over affiliates and more revenue, and it forces affiliates using other networks to migrate to their network, driving even more control and revenue.
Is this hypocritical? Of course it is! But there’s already plenty of hypocrisy in the Google ecosystem (for example, the fact that Google makes millions of dollars a year off parked domain cybersquatters via AdSense but decries ad relevancy elsewhere). So I expect Google to make some light efforts to create a Chinese Wall between AdWords and the Affiliate Network – but only to appease critics, not to really separate the two entities.
We’ll have to wait and see how affiliates react to the Google Affiliate Network. For now, however, my advice is to wait on the sidelines and see how it all unfolds.

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