Ethical Marketing or “Don’t Be an Asshole”

Meme of Old Ladies Using Social Media

I recently discovered the world of affiliate marketing. Well, “discovered” isn’t the right word, because I’ve been aware of its existence for some time. I’ve only just discovered that some digital marketers still use it as a viable source of income, usually to supplement their full-time jobs. (I thought affiliate marketing died along with GeoCities sites and AOL accounts).

I was having a chat the other night with some alum from my UX Design class at General Assembly about freelance work, and how UX and design lend themselves to more easily to a freelance/project-based model. You come in. You do a little competitive analysis. You do some wireframes. You do some user testing. You’re in. You’re out. You’re on with your life. Obviously, the timeline of the project can greatly vary according to its site, but sometimes within 6 weeks you can walk away with a fancy paycheck, and never have to see your client again (if you don’t want to).

SEO does not work like that. It’s not a one-off project that you can spend a couple months on, and quickly forget. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it’s like a lifelong endeavor. Google will always try to help users find relevant, quality content. People will always try to game the system. So the algorithm will always keep changing. So luckily for me, I will always be able to find job within this field, but convincing SEO is actually worth the money? That’ll always be the challenge.

Anywho, while reading this blog post about freelance SEO work, they referenced Warrior Forum. Now I’m leery of anyone who calls themselves an “excel ninja” or a “marketing rock star,” but I put aside the douchey moniker for a second and dove into the forum. It seems like people were asking legitimate questions, but Jesus Christ, if the website wasn’t super busy and everyone’s signature was crammed with affiliate links. I asked a friend Paul Shapiro if Warrior Forum was a scam. He said not really, but it’s a hotbed for affiliate marketing.

Now I’ve taken a little informal survey of my friends that work in the industry (who shall remain nameless), and a surprising number of talented SEOs dabble in affiliate marketing on the side. And I was kinda flabbergasted. These are people whose technical prowess is light years ahead of mine (aka I respect them), and they might be the ones trying to sell you dog strollers or baby monitors.

So this led me think about why I do digital marketing, and my approach to it. For starters, I like organic search over paid search because I come from an editorial background, and respect good content. Also, I respect people’s intelligence and assume that they aren’t dum dums who click on ads in SERP. (And I am obviously very wrong, as paid search is booming. The collective monthly paid search spend for the Top 1000 e-retailers in 2014 stands at approximately $158.4 million. But I run AdBlock on Chrome, so I don’t even have to see those silly things. And maybe I should, but this solidifies how I approach marketing: “Treat others how you’d like to be treated.”

I don’t like ads, so I don’t want to serve them up to users. I don’t like affiliate marketing ploys, so I assume others don’t either. I don’t want to be sucked in by some clickbait (unless it’s literally clickhole.com), so I assume others don’t want to be. At the risk of sounding preachy, I’d even go as far as to dub this “ethical marketing.”

Now while I think PLAs and banner ads are lame, I do think targeting (and retargeting) is really rad, and when done properly, I enjoy it as a user. I like getting emailed discount codes when I “forget” something in my cart. I like finding a cool, new clothing brand was I get sponsored post in my FB feed. However, I hate it when I get a sponsored Tory Burch post in my Instagram feed (Seriously? You guys think I wear Tory Burch shoes? Fix yr targeting, bro.).

So I guess the moral of this rambling story is my personal approach to digital marketing is “treat others how you’d like to be treat.” Don’t try to fool or trick others. Don’t try to lie, swindle or cheat. Or if that’s too preachy for you, follow the asshole rule: “Don’t be an asshole.”

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