Will fraud kill affiliate marketing?

It is up to you. You choose.

But here’s a clue: the BP oil spill probably just killed the Louisiana wetlands. I think we should take that as a warning of just what can happen.

The affiliate marketing industry is an ecosystem. It consists of a web of interdependent species: affiliates, merchants, networks, merchant processors, etc. Sometimes they compete, sometimes they are symbiotic. But they all rely on each other for survival.

As in Louisiana, it’s a nicely balanced ecosystem – but now disaster looms, threatening the survival of all.

In Louisiana the problem is an oil spill. In the affiliate marketing industry it’s a an unholy alliance of the FTC, the Russian mafia and the credit card companies. And while drawing a parallel between affiliate marketing and the Louisiana wetlands is an imaginary exercise, the issue of fraudulent activity is not.

If we don’t deal with it, it threatens our existence.

Here’s the point: we all need each other to survive. Merchants need good publishers. Publishers need good offers. Networks need both.

But we also need each other to behave. We all need to stick to the rules of the ecosystem.

There is temptation for all. Affiliates are tempted to try new traffic sources that may not convert well for the advertiser. Advertisers may push out creatives and disclosures that are incomplete or deceptive. And networks may choose to turn a blind eye so long as the conversions keep coming and advertiser cash keeps flowing through to wash away the dirt.

How do we change this dynamic? The only way has to be to recommit to a fraud-free environment. To recommit to the future of the industry. Which is our future.

Seriously, if you are tempted tomorrow, what will you do? Will you ignore the super-affiliate who sends you $50,000 of leads even though you’re not sure where they came from? Or will you syndicate an offer out to your network of publishers even though you don’t know if the advertiser can deliver?

It’s up to you. It’s up to all of us. We can stick to the rules of the ecosystem. We can play by the rules and prosper in the long-term. Or we can ignore advice and do our own thing until the drilling rig explodes and the crude oil washes over us.

It’s your choice. Just remember, the Louisiana wetlands aren’t coming back to life anytime soon.