Spammers are always looking for new ways to profit from their spam blogs and other junk content. To date, most have favored Adsense and other pay-per-click (PPC) schemes due to their ease of set up and high profitability, while others have used spam blogs as a stepping stone to help improve the search engine ranking of other sites.
However, a growing number of spammers have started taking a different approach to the problem. Instead of bathing a site with Adsense ads or spam links, they’ve begun using Amazon’s affiliate program to make money from their spam blogs.
Though not a traditional pay-per-click system, Amazon’s affiliate service makes it very easy for spammers to profit. By inserting a few links, they are able to get referral fees for items sold, in many cases days after the visitor was at the spam blog.
Given the current trend toward targeting technology and high-ticket prices, that amount could equal hundreds of dollars per sale and there is precious little that users can do to prevent spammers from earning the cash.
The Benefits of Amazon
For spammers, especially those targeting search terms for big ticket items, there are many reasons why Amazon would be a good “partner” for their sites.
- Higher Rates: Though there is no promise that a click is likely or that such a click will result in a sale, one sale is likely worth many dozens of clicks in terms of dollar value. With Adsense and other PPC rates in constant fluctuation, Amazon’s referral service offers a very stable revenue stream.
- Less Spammy: Where a slathering of Adsense ads may tip off even the most unaware visitor that something is wrong with the blog, nothing about a few Amazon links appears spammy to either humans or search engines.
- More Trust: Amazon is a major brand name on the Web and well-trusted. People are much less likely to believe that Amazon would partner with purveyors of junk even though the major PPC systems are backed by companies like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.
- Stickier: If you exit a spam blog by clicking an Amazon link you may think you are not giving them any money so long as you don’t buy anything. But it is possible, in some situations, that they could get the referral fee for items bought days or weeks later. There is no simple way to know if a purchase resulted in a referral fee being paid.
- More Difficult Removal: Where the process for reporting spam bloggers to Adsense is well-known, the process for reporting to Amazon is less clear.
Given the nature of spammers to constantly seek out new methods and techniques, it was only a matter of time before began to reach out to Amazon in a more meaningful way. The benefits are just too great to ignore.
Challenges to Webmasters
When many content creators discover their work being misused by a spam blog, they almost immediately seek to attack the revenue side of the site. The theory is that is does more damage to the spammer than simply getting the content pulled down.
However, working with Amazon can be tricky. For one, it is not always obvious that a spam blog is using Amazon links as they are often disguised as other kinds of links.
But even if one does spot the Amazon links, it can be very difficult to report the matter to Amazon. Though Google’s Adsense DMCA policy is the subject of great controversy, it is at least an established protocol. Amazon has no such system in place.
Amazon does have a DMCA process, but it is unclear how it would apply in this case. Since Amazon isn’t actually hosting any material on the infringing site, as is the case with Adsense, there is no clear role for them to play. Furthermore, despite heavy searching of the Amazon site, I found no link for reporting an infringing affiliate.
Amazon, from an abuse standpoint, seems to be caught completely off-guard by this problem and has no real technique for resolving these issues.
This gives spammers at least a temporary edge if they use Amazon to turn their profits.
In the meantime though, the best that Webmasters can do is report infringing sites via the DMCA process and make it clear that they are reporting an affiliate, not a direct infringement of their content.
Hopefully, the complaint will make it to whoever is needed in order to act upon it.
Earlier this week, I wrote on the Blog Herald about assembling the spam puzzle and the need for cooperation to really make any progress on spam.
I was speaking exactly of this type of cooperation.
Amazon is a potential weak spot in the fight against spam. The service already has known weaknesses against affiliate hijacking and that has helped give rise to the spyware and malware problems we face today, weaknesses in dealing with junk content could be fueling the spam blogs we see tomorrow.
When a company gets as large and as powerful as Amazon or Google, it has the potential to do either incredible good or incredible harm. But even if a company tries not to be evil, failing to think like an evil doer means that their systems can be exploited.
Currently, we’re fortunate in that the problem seems to be limited mostly to technology blogs, especially those in gaming and computers, but it is very likely to spread.
This is especially true as Adsense either starts to push back more or rates begin to drop.
The question is, how will Amazon respond and will it be enough?
Note: I contacted Amazon prior to this article and did not hear back from them before publication. I will update this article should they respond.