Advertising is a huge business on the Internet. Actually, advertising is huge just about everywhere.
Some readers get annoyed by bloggers who use referral links in posts to promote products that will ultimately make them money. They feel like the Internet should be free of ads, and in some ways they’re justified. Occasionally, bloggers use these posts purely to generate money for their site (i.e. the post is simply a commercial), but others are just interested in telling their readers about a new product that they’ve discovered. And there’s a difference between promoting products that you use and love and just being a shill. In the same way, from a potential buyer’s perspective there’s a difference between watching a commercial or listening to a sales pitch telling you that Chevy makes the best cars and having your friend who’s a mechanic tell you how reliable Chevy’s are.
A lot of people (myself included) get annoyed by the amount of advertising on the Internet. It’s easy to become dismissive of the pop-up flashing pictures and AdWords, but I think there’s something to be said for people and sites that provide a service or take the time to tell you about a product that they use and enjoy. For example, last year I had never heard of the group Vampire Weekend, but I discovered their newest album on The Hype Machine Zeitgeist 2008 and really liked it. When I decided to buy the album, I made sure to click the referral link from The Hype Machine website to Amazon MP3 so that they’d get credit for my purchase because, in all honesty, they deserved it. We (as Internet consumers) need to embrace this and actually promote effective advertising. If a person, blog, or website grabs your interest enough for you to purchase something and they offer a referral link, give them credit and help them make a little bit of cash. It encourages them to keep doing what they’re doing and it usually doesn’t take any charity on your part.
If enough people take the time to encourage those who are advertising effectively (and unobtrusively), it will send a message to the industry that quality is at least as important as quantity in advertising.
I also feel compelled to promote less tangible goods. I use a lot of free software every day. It’s easy to forget that most Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) developers are working in their free time, which could easily be spent with their friends and families. Many such developers accept Paypal donations or offer an Amazon wishlist for people to donate from. A number of bigger software projects also sell merchandise that helps make them money. If you (consciously or unconsciously) have trouble convincing yourself to donate money, this is a great alternative that allows you to get something in return. I encourage people to buy these things for me as gifts, and I buy some myself. So far I’ve got 2 Firefox shirts and 2 xkcd shirts. I’ve got a list of quite a few other projects that I plan to support by purchasing merchandise in the future.
Advertising is a huge business on the Internet. Make sure to remember that you, the consumer, have the power to reinforce effective advertising and to support people who make your life better without providing a tangible product. If you provide useful information or reviews on your website, it might be a good idea for you to provide referral links that can actually get you something in return for your work. And before you buy your next purchase online, stop and consider who or what influenced your purchase. Is there any way for you to give them credit for it? If we could all capitalize on this word-of-mouth advertising, it would (hopefully) decrease the amount of in-your-face advertising that plagues us all.
Side note: Don’t get the wrong idea. This post is in no way implying anything about my wanting to make money from this blog or for projects that I support. It’s just a statement on advertising in general.