Oh Shut UP! You Know You Never Read the Pinterest TOS

People like something to complain about. Yesterday’s darling (Pinterest) has been coming under fire for (gasp) monetizing their website. While myself (and many other affiliates) had noticed Pinterest’s monetization model not long after the site started to become popular, I first saw the “buzz” going on about it outside of the affiliate marketing community when SEJ published “Pinterest: Covert Affiliate Link Scheme Exposed” earlier this month.

And that sensational title seems to be the general sentiment around the topic… “covert” and “scheme” (which is what affiliate programs are called in the UK, but the word has a negative connotation to American English speakers as being something shady).

“It should have been in the terms of service!” people cried! And that’s true. It should have been disclosed. But let me ask you to ask yourself an honest question:

Did you READ the Pinterest terms of service when you signed up?

My guess is that for almost all of you, the answer was no. The extreme majority of their users wouldn’t have known anyway even if it HAD been in their TOS.

Now, let’s pretend that the notification that they were using affiliate links to monetize products linked to from the site HAD been in the TOS you didn’t read.

Pinterest isn’t doing anything wrong. They’re SMART.

Pinterest has found a way to monetize their site without being obtrusive at ALL to its users.

No flashing banners. No interstitials you’ll click “skip” on anyway. No Adsense serving you up BS spam. They are simply behind the scenes monetizing products that its users are linking to and clicking on anyway.

Facebook aggregates your profile data and makes it available to its advertisers so they can target you based on the fact that you are 24, single, love action movies and live in Houston, TX. Then they serve you ads which are heavy on the spam and high on the stalker factor.

Twitter puts ads from random people in your stream, all up in your face, that you usually have no interest in.

But, yes, they also both disclose this in another TOS you didn’t read.

Not disclosing it was mistake on Pinterest’s part, and for all we all know, an honest one. That’s now fixed.

At least Pinterest WAS smart

About a week after the initial story broke, Search Engine Land reported that Pinterest had dropped their use of Skimlinks (the provider they were using to affiliate their likely hundreds of thousands of links) and was looking at selling typical site advertising.


A site like Pinterest will undoubtedly find that affiliate marketing is the best way they’re ever going to find to monetize the type of site they have. Even smarter would be a combination of affiliate and direct advertising options.

I’m not saying they should stay with Skimlinks. I’m saying they should let Skimlinks and Viglink vie for their business. Go direct to the bigger networks (updated to add: maybe they did). Maybe work out some direct affiliate relationships with the biggest and most frequently pinned merchants. Create their own internal affiliation system as time goes on.

Bottom line is that I’m very disappointed to see a social network I actually like cut their own bottom line because some assholes on the web feel like they should have say in how a company they don’t own and don’t put any money into monetizes its content.

My suggestion to Pinterest?

Create a paid account model that serves ZERO advertising. A few people will buy it. The people bitching the loudest won’t. And those who love your site will still use it. People shout much louder – and with much more reason to do so – at Facebook, and last I looked, they were still the most popular site on the web.

Rock on Pinterest.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

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  1. Makes sense, but Pinterest stopped using affiliate links last week. I think their investors wanted them to stop making money, because that’s not how Silicon Valley works. ;-)

  2. Brian – Yep, I linked to the SEL article above where they’d said they stopped using them (well, Skimlinks anyway)… it was dumb for them to allow themselves to be bullied like that. And this morning Shawn Collins noticed that they may have simply gone direct to the networks.

  3. Great response. The sheer ridiculousness of Pinterest articles has been amazing. Like many other people, I’ve had an account for quite some time and it is a fantastic and refreshing place to be. The DRAMA and the OUTRAGE and the endless guides and repetitive articles to keep cranking those pageviews really seem be by the marketers for the marketers and not anyone who is a genuine user or has real interest.

    They gave me a free, cool, fun way to collect things. Yay for them. Charge me for a pro account or make some money with affiliates, I don’t care. Make a profit so you can stay around.

  4. Rae, that’s interesting if true. Last week, someone high up at Pinterest said they had “no idea” how they were going to make money, and didn’t care right now.

    I don’t mind that they’re making money with affiliate links, but they should have explicitly disclosed it (whether anyone reads the TOS or not, put it in there). And if they are flat out lying in their press spin, then that’s two strikes against trusting this company in my book.

  5. I’m a marketer and I use Pinterst for business and personal and I couldn’t agree with you more. All of this complaining is out of hand. No one reads the TOS on anything. They could ask you to sign over your first born and no one would notice but it wouldn’t stop them from crying wolf.

  6. Pinning stuff around is fun and I am already loving it. This outrage, free publicity just got them some more users out of curiosity. I second Diane, they reserve a right to make profits as long as they don’t screw up their user experience. I’d not mind getting a pro account…

  7. I thought Pinterest’s monetization method was super smart. Sure, it should have been disclosed and they know that now. That’s what Beta is for, right? To learn stuff. It looks like they’ve changed to no-follow links, which is a bummer.

    When all this outrage started I was surprised at the number of affiliate marketers that were complaining about it – I mean, hello, as marketers we put links wherever we can most of the time, so why shouldn’t Pinterest do the same thing? If I added a pin and linked to it with my own aff link they left it alone, so they obviously had no problem sharing in the wealth.

    They weren’t taking money out of my pocket or charging me for their service, so if my crazy random pinning of shoes and crafts in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep helped them to make a few dollars then I say that’s a win.

  8. Great article, Rae. I totally agree that Pinterest was smart in implementing affiliate links, and that I personally didn’t read their terms of service. They provide a great service and should be rewarded for such.

    As far as Shawn’s test with CJ links, I believe he used his own affiliate link to demonstrate how an image still gets pulled in from a redirected link. I don’t think Pinterest is changing Shawn’s PID to their own (yet anyway), therefore Shawn will get the affiliate credit.

  9. I’m an addict, I admit it Rae…. My fiance is particularly happy that she can now show me photos of great shoes and bug me about them too.

  10. Sorry, but, I can’t be part of the Pinhead mania, but, I don’t read Good Housekeeping, either. Please don’t take offense to my comment~ I am sure there are sites I visit that you don’t have an interest in, either. More than the swapping of links, I find their system of data mining Facebook, if you use that account to sign-in with, to create auto-follows distasteful. If you think you have a lot of followers on Pinterest, chances are half of them are sleep-walking and don’t know they are following you.

  11. This is so right, I was really impressed by the early and smart monetization of Pinterest. Why all this rage when they provide a new service, that could go big as image sharing is getting more and more popular.
    If they move to standard ads, this is one more battle lost for affiliate marketing and for the users too.

  12. Better yet, create a paid model/subscription that lets US monetize our own pins.

  13. This is indicative of a cultural phenomena today, where people are hyper-critical of everything. The “movement” tries to fly under the guise that it is some kind of watchdog for the masses. Pointing out wrongs of others to ensure we are all better off, but to me it is just hypercritical finger pointing. It is real obvious in politics, but I have noticed it more and more seeping into all parts of our culture.

    A commenter on lostechies[dot]com called their logo racist. Sports writers jumping on any mistake made by athletes, politicians (bad example) roasting each other over the use of different pronouns, etc. Just out of control. It usually comes from one of two groups: competitors and people who do nothing but complain regardless of the environment.

    I agree that they should have put it on their TOS, but who is 100% mistake free? It would be so easy for any of us to rip apart anyone else’s endeavors. At some point the masses (me included) have to pull a Senator Flanders and attack these “watchdogs”.

  14. Interestingly, this is how I found out about Pinterest and Skimlinks. However, Skimlinks did not turn out to be a good money maker, at least on my sites

  15. It’s unfortunate, because it’s the most “out of the box” thinking we’ve seen from a social network in long time.

    At least going the affiliate route there’s a more direct interest in improving the usability of the site, and keeping it “sticky” rather than getting more users to have more targeting profiles.

    I actually appreciate the more grassroots approach. Makes it more relevant in my mind.

  16. People always want something to complain about if they owned Pinterest which we all wish we did lol.

    We would do the same thing in terms of monetizing the site and probably an even more noticable monetization strategy.

    I think Pinterest hit the nail on the head, and I love the site by the way so way to go Pinterest.

    Too your future success.

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