If you’ve read some of Cloudwards’ reviews and articles, you might have noticed we make some provider recommendations, not only about the quality of a service, but also how services compare against each other.
We are a publication that earns its income from affiliate links from some of those services. Because of this, we want to discuss how Cloudwards’ affiliate partnerships work so you feel confident in our reviews and recommendations.
- Cloudwards.net is owned by a small, private company, not a big tech conglomerate.
- We earn a small commission when users sign up for some of the services we review on our site.
- We chose this revenue model because we believe it provides the best experience for readers (without ads) while remaining independent from parent-company pressure.
In this article, we will discuss how affiliate partnerships work, if you can trust the affiliate model in tech publications compared to other income models, and how you can find trustworthy product recommendations when many giant conglomerates own tech publications and the services those publications review and recommend.
First, let’s talk about what affiliate partnerships are and how they impact you.
Updated this article to include information about Surfshark merging with Nord Security, forming the company Cyberspace, based in the Netherlands.
Updated this article to include more information about Nord acquiring AtlasVPN in October 2021.
What Are Affiliate Partnerships?
Affiliate partnerships are when a service or product offers a revenue program that publications, blogs or influencers can sign up with, where they earn a small commission if someone signs up for the service through their site.
Affiliate partnerships are the way most publishers earn revenue in the internet age. It’s estimated that 84% of publishers and 81% of advertisers use affiliate marketing to earn a portion of their revenue, according to a Forrester report.
Take Amazon as an example. If you follow an influencer, perhaps they suggest you use a certain product, then they include a link to Amazon. If you click the link and buy the product through Amazon, that influencer earns a small commission from that sale.
It works the same way with software; if you purchase a subscription, the middleman who recommends it earns a small commission.
If you’re wondering how to tell which publications are earning money from affiliate programs, in the U.S., sites need to have a disclosure about their affiliate programs. Take a look at the top, side or bottom of a site and see if they have a notice about it.
The Downside of Affiliate Commissions
Affiliate partnerships have the potential to create a conflict of interest between review sites and the products they are reviewing. If a site gets paid big bucks from a provider, it has an incentive to promote that product over others that don’t offer a commission.
How can readers trust that these review sites aren’t simply trying to push the most lucrative services, rather than the ones that would best serve the reader? The truth is, there probably are sites like that. Luckily, Cloudwards is not one of them.
Affiliate Partnerships & Cloudwards
Here are three things you should know about our approach to affiliates.
1. Affiliates Don’t Define Our Content
Yes, we have affiliate partnerships with many services we review, but we also review services we don’t have affiliate partnerships with (check out our extensive reviews on browsers as a great example). We don’t confine our topics to ways we can make money.
2. Widespread Affiliate Partnerships Level the Field
Affiliate partnerships tend to be more common in certain services than others. Take VPNs as an example. Almost all VPN companies use affiliate marketing to gain users, and because the practice is so widespread, it levels the playing field by removing any competitor’s edge.
3. We Tell Both the Pros & Cons
We don’t shy away from telling readers the cons to affiliate services, not just the pros. That’s because honesty is its own reward. We want readers to come back to our articles and trust our recommendations. If we have no readers, we have no reason to publish content in the first place.
However, if someone reads the cons and still wants to sign up for the service, well, we will still take that small affiliate commission and put it in our piggy bank.
Other Revenue Options for Publications
Not all publications use affiliate marketing, or they use it in conjunction with another revenue approach. Besides affiliate marketing, there are two main ways that publications make money: advertising or being owned by a parent company (or person) with deep pockets.
Most readers know how advertising works. Companies pay publications money to run ads on the site, hoping readers will click on the ad and buy what they are selling.
The benefit of this model is obvious to the reader. That’s about it.
There are many more cons. First, sites with ads look terrible. Nothing makes us want to leave a page faster than seeing tons of blinking ads and pop-ups when trying to read an article. At Cloudwards, we want to keep readers on the page and give them a nice user experience.
Second, we care a lot about privacy and security. Many of our best-ranked services get to the top because we value their dedication to security and privacy.
The truth about advertising is most of it is tailored to you specifically when big tech companies collect data on everything you do. Also, it’s not uncommon for ad-injection software (or adware) to hijack ads on websites.
Third, dependency on advertising for revenue is dangerous for the publication and its team members. A huge downturn in advertising is what led many news organizations to massive layoffs or to go up for sale over the past 20 years, which leads us to the next section.
Big Parent-Company Support
We can’t claim to know the financial inner workings of every publication, but there are many that likely make ends meet with the financial backing of bigger companies or wealthy individuals.
It’s important to note that some big-money parent companies also own services their publications review. This can create an obvious conflict of interest, especially when the publications list those products as “the best.”
We just want to note that Cloudwards is not owned by a big tech conglomerate. We are a small, independent company that has other small publication sites on topics such as coffee, travel and kitchen appliances.
The Danger of Tech Conglomerates Owning Tech Publications
When large parent companies own the technology publication and the technology software those publications review, trustworthiness gets murky. It’s unclear how much the parent company is leaning on the publication to feature providers that will benefit the parent company, rather than the folks reading the article.
Here are a few big conglomerates to keep a skeptical eye on, and some of the subsidiaries they own.
Subsidiaries of Kape Technologies:
Kape Technologies owns Webselenese, a media company that owns the review sites VPNMentor and WizCase. It also owns the VPNs: ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, Private Internet Access and ZenMate.
Subsidiaries of Ziff Davis:
Ziff Davis owns the publications PCMag, IGN and Mashable. It also owns the VPNs IPVanish, Encrypt.me, StrongVPN and SaferVPN, the latter of which merged into StrongVPN.
Subsidiaries of Cyberspace:
The newly formed Cyberspace company owns Nord Security/NordVPN and Surfshark, as of a February 2022 merger. Both VPNs claim to operate independently. Nord Security also owns AtlasVPN (since October 2021) and other Nord brands, including NordLayer, NordPass, NordLocker and NordWL. However, it does not seem to own any technology publications at this time.
At the end of the day, readers need to trust the publications they read. Otherwise, a publication is not a news source, but a marketing megaphone.
Cloudwards chose to earn its revenue from affiliate partnerships because we want to make sure the experience is good and safe for the reader and maintain our independence from parent companies. We strive to provide reliable reviews and articles you can trust, and we do not let our affiliate partnerships affect what we write about the providers.
We hope this article has provided more clarity on how Cloudwards earns its revenue and why we chose the affiliate partnership model. However, we’d love to hear from you about what you think about the different ways publications stay afloat, and what conflict of interests might arise from it. As always, thank you for reading.