I was reading another blog yesterday, specifically a review of a product I have been considering purchasing. I had been to this site many times before. The author's points struck me as fairly convincing, and I was leaning more and more into the 'make the purchase' column.
And then, there it was: the paid affiliate link. No deal.
Opinions are cheap. If someone, especially an Internet personality that I don't know personally, gives me any reason to suspect that their recommendation is unreliable, I will simply go elsewhere. Self-interest is a pollution that corrupts reader perception and trust wherever it touches, and it can make even the most convincing and objective-sounding efforts look like sheisty peddling.
I've regarded affiliate linking as a fun way to be rewarded for recommending products and services that I actually recommend. But that's really the problem: regardless of my actual intent, it gives my audience a substantive reason to doubt my honesty and suspect that I am putting my own self-interest above their own.
I will be removing all advertising and replacing all affiliate links over the next week or so. Please let me know if I miss any!
What will happen if, ten years from now, this site hits the big time and I realize I'm giving up on thousands of advertising dollars per month? Why, I'll get creative and come up with ways to make money—selling a book or consulting services or something—that don't require sacrificing any of my credibility.
A Note to the Big Guys
While I'm new to the personal finance blogging community, it's beginning to become apparent to me that self-interest is the major factor interfering with accomplishing our stated goal: improving people's lives by educating the wider public about money. Instead of working together to create high-quality, definitive guides, we instead rehash the same ideas over and over again to keep people coming back to our sites. If the focus was more on the mission and less on pageviews and affiliate earnings, the situation might be different.
I realize that part of this is due to the fact that we all have slightly different ideas about what we should be recommending. At the same time, wouldn't it be much more effective to run a point-counterpoint on Obamacare or index mutual funds or Personal Capital instead of writing essentially the same article 100+ times?
Perhaps I'm being naive, but I think the concept has merit.