Amazon Affiliates Shuts Down Twitter and Link Shorteners

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Update: It seems that Amazon is going out of its way to make me look foolish 🙂  Just kidding. Actually, just got an email update, partially excerpted below, from the Amazon Associates folks about a new way that the affiliate program will integrate directly with Twitter. Basically, it makes the rest of this post moot, but if you want to read, go nuts 🙂

The Share on Twitter feature is easy to use. Simply log in to your Amazon Associates account and then visit any detail page on Amazon.com. By clicking on the Share on Twitter button in the Site Stripe, a new window will open and an Amazon-generated message is pre populated in the ‘What are you doing?’ text area of your Twitter account (you may be asked to log in to your Twitter account). That message will include a shortened URL that already includes your Associates ID. You’ll have the option to edit this message or simply hit the ‘Update’ button to post to your Twitter account. When Twitter users click on the link in your post and make a qualifying sale, you’ll earn referral fees. That’s it.

A bit of a rumble making its way around the Blog-o-Go-Round regarding Amazon’s denial of commission payments for sales made via links shortened and then posted to Twitter.

There are many different ways to make money using the Internet. One of the most common is by enrolling in what is known as an affiliate program. Basically, “affiliate program” is an euphemism for getting commissions for sales or traffic that you generate by linking to the website or products of the selling website.

Amazon Associates is the brand name of Amazon’s affiliate program which pays commissions to people who refer buyers to Amazon’s website via links. In the Utopian version of this referral program, people sign up to become Amazon Associates and then link to various Amazon products that they recommend or endorse based upon either personal experience or research. In the real world version of the program people try numerous ways to game the system, oftentimes providing links either indiscriminately, or deceptively.

Of course, such trickery is only valuable to those in it for the quick buck. The Internet Marketer (another euphemism) doesn’t really care if the person who follows the link feels like they were treated well, or honestly, as long as they buy something after they follow that link to Amazon.  Amazon feels differently, and for good reason. They are a multi-billion dollar business that depends, in no small part, on its overall reputation as a legitimate online retailer for sales.

Consider the number of people willing to pay a few dollars, to many dollars more for a given product in order to buy it from Amazon, instead of some other website that they have never heard of before. Couple this with free shipping for orders over $25 and the trust that people have about Amazon’s return policies and you have one of the only ways possible to defend against smaller cheaper competitors.

I, myself, routinely shop around online using a variety of websites, tools, and just plain old Google searches of the shopping type and to a lesser extent Microsoft shopping searches that offer cash back. In the end, however, unless the price difference, including shipping, is at least ten bucks or more, I’ll just buy it from Amazon. It is worth the extra money to avoid the potential hassles of not knowing whether or not that other online store is a good one or not.

Twitter, Link Shorteners, and Scams

Amazon has decided to not pay affiliates who link to their products via links that have been shortened. There are multiple reasons for this, but the main one is that by shortening a link, it conceals what the link is, and where it goes. It may be the case that most people don’t watch the status bar when they mouse over the a link to see where the link goes, but for those who do, a shortend link is a unknown link.

Another reason Amazon is not too keen on shortened links is that the destination of those links can be modified at will. The idea behind Amazon’s program is not to link to Amazon whenever their commission is the highest, or there is a hot product available, but rather to link to products and pages as part of a bona-fide recommendation.

Obviously, making arguments against these points is difficult. However, those opposed to the Amazon policy to not pay commissions for referrals via short links have finally found their rallying cry. As with all unsavory things, it is necessary to find a squeaky clean example to lead the protest, otherwise, people just tune out the cries of the “gray area” crowd as the whining of people who are getting what they deserve.

For the no short-links policy, the rally point is Twitter. Since Twitter messages, or tweets, must be a relatively short 140 characters or less, a full Amazon link including the associate ID or affiliate ID is pretty much out of the question. The only answer, for these clean cut, all-American, Twitter folks is to use a link shortener for their earnest, well qualified recommendations.

The reality is that the vast majority of Twitter users spewing out affiliate links via short links are exactly the kind of hucksters that Amazon doesn’t want using its program in the first place. Twitter’s number one danger for becoming a second-rate, spam only, destination, on the Internet is the number of charlatans using the service to find suckers customers. The traffic they send is less likely to convert, and worse, more likely to complain.

Of course, there are those who make legitimate recommendations via Twitter. They would have to use link shorteners as well. However, even they, have a bit of a weak spot. The idea that Amazon considers something like, “I love these new Chewy Chips Ahoy Cookies – http://bit.ly/NOTAREALLINK” to be one of the ways they want to get traffic to its site isn’t very convincing. Sure, publicity is good, and so are well-meaning referrals, but Amazon knows that whatever good these limited cases might bring, it pales in comparison to the negatives the vast majority of link shortened links provide.

In the end, the Amazon policy is better for the “straight” Amazon Associates membership, better for Amazon, and better for Amazon’s customers. It stings the sneaky, weasel, membership right where it hurts by taking away one of their most prevalent tricks. It may catch a handful of good guys along the way, but I think given real unbiased consideration, without the emotional attachment of a missed commission, even they would approve.

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