Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Despite Its Reputation for Referring Traffic, Pinterest Is Blocking All Sorts of Links

In its short life as a top-tier Web site, Pinterest has earned much acclaim for sending gobs of good traffic to other sites. People see pretty pictures on Pinterest, and they click to buy things on other sites.

But Pinterest — which had 31.9 million global unique visitors in May, per comScore — has actually taken steps to disable sharing links, as part of its broader efforts to fight off spam.

Where many user-generated-content sites have embraced their roles as distribution tools, Pinterest is hindering some of the common methods used by brands and marketers to track traffic referrals.

Specifically, Pinterest is blocking or stripping three types of links, when they are “pinned” by any user:

  • The service mark affiliate links from sites such as Amazon; Pinterest treats them as spam, and has been doing so since April. Affiliate links help the original poster get a cut of sales from purchases made by people who click on the link. It’s actually a technique Pinterest itself tested without telling users, making some of them quite upset.
  • Pinterest is also now flagging links posted with URL shorteners. So if you want to post something using an analytics service like Bitly or that redirects to the actual site, anyone who clicks on the link will see a Pinterest roadblock sign warning them not to proceed.
  • The site is stripping information added to the end of a URL, another common analytics technique. So if you use links generated with something like Google’s URL builder in order to track click-throughs, Pinterest will delete the additional information from the end of the link before making it public. This has been happening for about a month, according to sources in the e-commerce space.

To be sure, all of these techniques are power-user stuff, generally the domain of social media managers and affiliate marketers. The reason anyone would post these sorts of links is because they are treating Pinterest as a distribution tool for their business, and they want to measure performance.

Many regular users just enjoy saving pretty pictures to Pinterest or looking at other people’s pretty pictures, and Pinterest isn’t stopping them from that.

When asked for comment, a representative for Pinterest said that the current policies don’t necessarily reflect Pinterest’s long-term philosophy, but rather ongoing stopgap efforts to fights scammers and spammers.

Here’s a closer read on each of the cases:

  • Pinterest may or may not introduce its own affiliate marketing product again. The company isn’t commenting on that. It would be an obvious way to profit from the natural behavior that is happening on the site, but it could also inject too much crass commercialism into the environment.
  • As for blocking short URLs, that may well be a longer-term thing. Pinterest would prefer that content doesn’t automatically redirect users to another page, because that process can be manipulated and land clickers in places they never intended to go.
  • As for URL stripping, apparently some tags were being abused by spammers. Pinterest is working on ways to allow legitimate referrer information that don’t give rise to so much spammy behavior.

But Pinterest hasn’t done much to explain all these blocks publicly, save for one support page, so the social media and e-commerce folks I’ve talked to have perceived the company as aggressively hostile to their business.

However, they were hesitant to speak on the record, because they are still hopeful they can ride the Pinterest rocket wherever it may go.

To be sure, saying Pinterest “has a mentality that’s developer-unfriendly,” as one person complained to me, might be a little premature, considering the company hasn’t even released an API yet.

Pinterest’s stance is not entirely unusual. While sites like Twitter and Facebook have generally allowed link tracking, not all social media services are friendly to marketers. Reddit, for example, does not allow short URLs, is unfriendly to affiliate links, and has even banned links from publications like The Atlantic and Businessweek for alleged spammy behavior.

However, while Reddit may be a very successful and active community, the reason Pinterest was valued at $1.5 billion in a funding round led by an e-tailer is because of the site’s clear link to commerce.

There might be a thin line between marketing and spam, but Pinterest’s strength is in sending traffic outward, so this is something the company will have to figure out.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work