I’ve tried to leave this as a comment on Steven Bell’s post These Predictions Throw Caution To The Wind, but for some reason have been continually thwarted (my cocomment account knows I left them, but the site doesn’t seem to…). So here goes, cause this is driving me batty!
I suppose I am hyper aware because I have an ex who used to design these things, but I’m still shocked every time I encounter someone (or at least a professional) who doesn’t know about affiliate sites.
What Steven ripped apart was a blog post from an elearners.com affiliate (http://www.elearners.com/help/affiliates.asp) site that hasn’t even bothered to take down it’s “Hello World” post. This is some random person trying to make a quick buck, not a professional.
Both this site (http://associatedegree.org) and Learn-gasm – who has the top 100 blogs post going around currently (www.bachelorsdegreeonline.com) are sites designed solely to earn revenue through click-throughs.
When you use the drop downs to select types of degrees you are taken to elearners.com, which results in a “sale” for the directing site.
All of the links to request more information on any of the schools on either of those sites are affiliate links
The “bachelorsdegreeonline” at the end is a tracking mechanism to allow collegedegrees.com to reward sites that send them visitors. Just like libraries can send people to Amazon and get a kickback. The difference is libraries are trying be helpful – these sites are not.
While all the schools linked to are legitimate schools, both are misleading sites since they only link to schools that offer an affiliate kickback. They also only link to forms to enter your contact information at third party sites, not to the actual school websites.
While the content of the top 100 blogs and 25 predictions lists is completely non-objectionable, the fact that librarians are taking these sites seriously is.
ETA Section below
* apologies to Steven who did in fact know it was an affiliate site and was mocking how stupid the content is on these types of sites rather than mocking what he believed were someone’s sincere predictions (which is how I had originally read his post). Also thanks to Steven whose comment on the affiliate site people’s email tactics reminded me to add the comment below about SEO.
* a trackback to GeekDad because I’m not interested enough to sign up on their site to comment. I’m just going to give up if Wired.com is duped too. (edit – give up getting so frustrated that is)
* A comment on those Top X style posts (Top 100 School Librarian Blogs, Top Blogs for educators, etc. etc.) and why you shouldn’t link to them:
What the author is doing is trying to increase his traffic and SEO. He likely does some minimal investigation to determine what sites would have the biggest impact – so in that sense, the lists are probably somewhat representational of influential sites – like I said, the content isn’t the objectional part. He creates the page with the links to the 100 top whatever, then emails all of them to let them know they’re on the list. Every one of them that posts that they’ve made a top 100 list and links back to him increases his site’s page ranking. The more important your site is, the more it helps him, both in search engine algorithm terms (being linked to by someplace important counts for more than being linked to from less popular sites) and because it brings him more incoming traffic. Which also increases his site’s page ranking (and the chance of someone clicking through in a way that gets him paid).
To see this effect in action – search Google for “octopus.” Today the site asking you to help save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is #3 for me. Then do a “link:http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/” search and you can see that there are tons of educational sites linking to it – they’re linking to it as an example of a bad website to use when teaching kids how to evaluate websites, but a direct result of that action is to increase the site’s page ranking.
As a complete aside, because I love this so much, the owners of that site (who also have a page devoted to the tin foil deflector beanie) noticed their increase in traffic and wrote this response.
Why is that bad?
At the very least you are helping bad information be more likely to appear near the top of search results. In the case of the tree octopus, it probably doesn’t really matter much, it’s a funny site and hopefully most people will realize that.
But, this particular little batch of sites that is currently targeting higher education – they are ones that are ostensibly trying to help people find colleges, choose degrees, etc., when in fact they are only linking to forms to enter your contact information for a small subset of online only colleges that offer affiliate linking programs.
And then there’s the part that got me all riled up in the first place: These affiliate sites are exactly the kind of site we should be using in our examples to students for evaluating information – on the surface they seem related to education, some have .org addresses, but when we start looking at them critically they fail every test easily – no about page (or at least nothing informative on it), unauthored posts, little to no original content. One of the main components of being a librarian is teaching people to think critically about information, so when we fail to do so ourselves I find it incredibly frustrating.
Another ETA – an example of some critical thinking.
A word on nuance:
A representative from eLearners.com contacted me about this post, legitimately taking umbrage at being lumped in to this group and let me know some of the helpful items they offer. I was not clear enough initially that my comments on affiliate sites were directed at the sites linking to eLearners, not eLearners itself. While eLearners is certainly a for-profit entity that does take advantage of the affiliate model, they also offer a wide variety of content – including scholarships – and are very clear that they are focusing on online colleges only (as opposed to associatedegree.org for example). Unlike the two sites mentioned above that are currently linkbaiting librarians, eLearners.com is clearly not just some guy trying to make a quick buck through minimal effort.