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The REAL Reason Pinterest Banned Affiliates

Posted on 2.19.2015

Pinterest is playing a dangerous, dangerous (and somewhat stupid) game.

The network finally decided to prevent users from appending affiliate links to the image-centric "pins" they submitted (essentially banning affiliates from participating on its network). It's a practice that has been going on for a very long time of course (read "The Dirty Secret of Pinterest - Link Swapping" from February, 2012 at Website Magazine). Some love it, some hate it, and some might even argue it is one of the reasons that the network has been so successful. 

Pinterest has for years made an effort to control/contain advertising related links submitted by users on its network under the guise of maintaining order and quality but by banning affiliates from doing what they arguably do best, is it in the best interest of Pinterest? The company banned "Pin it to win it" contests (taking brand marketers out of the equation) too, encouraging brands to let users "add what they like" (check out the Pinterest guidelines for brands). What's really going on?

From the site's perspective, thousands of users repinning a product image can easily mislead Pinterest’s algorithms, potentially assigning that pin undeserved importance in its relevance score. Affiliate linking can likewise lead to spam and bad algorithmic inferences. This really isn't about quality however; what this really comes down to  (as you might imagine) is the importance of brands' native advertising on Pinterest and the need for the network to show it can actually generate revenue.

Rich pins, a type of pinned image that automatically features relevant information — say, a map, address and phone number for a "place pin" — depend on an accurate link in order to fill in metadata. According to Pinterest, an affiliate ID tagged onto a link could mess with that process. So Pinterest thinks advertisers are too dumb to figure out which affiliate/source was responsible for the traffic? That's stupid. Marketers are increasingly using very sophisticated multi-touch attribution to understand performance and assign commissions accordingly. It's somewhat leading edge but not far from achieving a greater level of adoption.  

Pinterest's choice not only stifles new voices from emerging with its decision to ban affiliates, but will also stifle its growth in the long run. By embracing affiliates (or at least not banning the practice outright) companies have been seen time and time again to generate far greater revenue. For example, Google long embraced the practice of affiliate marketing, while Yahoo did not. Facebook didn't prevent developers from creating applications in which they could profit from its traffic (often through affiliate links) but Twitter dropped the hammer on the same type of 'Net professional - and you could be next.

That's reason enough to call Pinterest dead in the virtual water.

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