Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Hacks: Articles about programming in Python, Perl, PHP, and whatever else I happen to feel like hacking at.

Why does Amazon get the links?

Jerry Stratton, February 27, 2007

I’m posting this under hacks because this is for anyone programming a web service. M.J. Rose on Publishers Marketplace asks:

Why do authors link to Amazon (sometimes exclusively, sometimes they have all links but make the automatic link go to Amazon) when the Indies are the ones who hand sell our books?

I can tell you why I link to them, and why I will continue linking to them in the foreseeable future:

  1. They were first.
  2. They are consistent.

I originally started linking to Amazon because people occasionally told me it’d be a great money-maker if, instead of just putting Peter Pan on-line, I also provided free printouts. After one extremely long and rambling request, I wandered over to Amazon to see how easy it would be to link from my on-line books to the Amazon entries for each of those books. When I discovered that not only was it easy, but that Amazon wanted me to do this, I immediately began providing links to works such as Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

That was in 1997. Some of those pages I haven’t looked at in nearly ten years, and those links still work. I continue linking to Amazon today because those ten-year-old links still work.

Further, I didn’t have to change my system when I moved from linking to books to linking to DVDs and other products. The URL is the same, and even though many of those products don’t have ISBNs, the link works regardless. Amazon is consistent across both time and products.

So many other services don’t seem to want people deep linking, even if they say that they do. I provided rental links from my DVD reviews to NetFlix for a while, but NetFlix kept changing their link structure. So, I stopped. There were a few other DVD information resources I tried to use, too, and when they changed their link structure, I stopped linking. But those first links that I made to Amazon just keep going. The books may be out of print; the pages may look like they were written fifteen years ago. But the Amazon links work.

I’m lazy. When I make a link, I don’t want to have to check it. I’d love to link to independent retailers for these items. But chances are those links will fail, most of them pretty quickly. If you want me to link to items in your service, I need to know that you aren’t going to mess with your link structure a few years down the road. I need to know that you’re going to be consistent.

I also am unlikely to link when you make demands on my web page. Rose is responding to a post by Kate Whouley on Shelf Awareness.com. A bookstore there suggested BookSense.com. But BookSense is a lot stricter than Amazon. BookSense, for example, requires that I put the BookSense logo on every page that contains an affiliate link into their site.

If the links you create are not from the BookSense.com logo, we still require that you place the BookSense.com logo on the same page as the link.

I’m not going to do that. It messes with my page, and, further, I don’t even always know which page(s) a link will end up on. When I add a link to my site, I tag the link; that link may end up on any page similarly tagged. If it’s a book I quote from, that link may show up on any page that gets that random quote from my quote file. I’m not going to put the BookSense logo on every page on my site; nor am I going to waste time writing code to add the logo to a page only if there happens to be a BookSense link somewhere on the page.

That requirement shows a deep lack of concern for the people doing the linking; I’ve seen other affiliate programs that even require exclusivity. If one of their links shows up on a page, no other affiliate links can show up on that page.

Those are not people that I want to deal with. They don’t know what they’re doing, and this means that later they’re going to change the requirements and I’m going to have to go through and change some ten year old pages, or reprogram the CMS for the newer pages. I have other things I’d rather be doing with my time.

I’ve had the same thing happen with search engines. There are lots of search engines out there. If my autolinks to yours start failing, I’m not going to waste time figuring out why. I’m just going to stop linking to you.

If you want me to link to information pages on your site on a regular basis, here’s what you need to do: you need to be consistent, and you need to be nice.

  1. Be consistent. Use a unique identifier that isn’t going to change. Ever.
  2. Be consistent. When you start offering new kinds of pages, make sure that the old link style continues to work even with the new identifiers.
  3. Be consistent. Don’t go messing with your link structure after I’ve added several hundred links.
  4. Be nice. Don’t make requirements on my page design.
  5. Be nice. Make it easy for me to use.

Amazon got my links because they were first, and they keep my links because they still work. You’re too late to be first. The only draw left for you is to make sure that my links to your site keep working. If you can be consistent, and if you’re providing information that I want to link to, I’ll notice it, and instead of the occasional blog link I’ll start auto-linking appropriate content to your site.

But the moment I notice that my blog links have started failing, you can kiss any sort of mass-linking goodbye. And I’ll start looking elsewhere for my occasional links as well.

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