YouTube announced this weekend that they will be disabling external links in the video description and comments for YouTube Shorts videos. This is the subject of my latest video.
This change, set to take effect on August 31st, has left me concerned for small and mid-sized creators who rely on affiliate marketing links for a portion of their revenue. When I first started making videos affiliate links drove most of my channel’s income and still represent a sizable portion of my overall revenue.
Affiliate links pay the creator a commission for sales that are generated from a user clicking on the link. What I really like about affiliate marketing is that it disincentivizes false advertising, as any returns made on an affiliate generated sale are deducted from the commission paid to the creator.
That’s why I was very disappointed to see the official response from YouTube’s “Creator Liaison,” Rene Ritchie, who said in a Twitter post that this was “the same as Reels and TikTok” and creators on those platforms were doing just fine.
I’ve always believed that YouTube offers a unique platform that stands out from its competitors through generous (and transparent) revenue sharing on long form videos, great discovery features, and the ability to use external links for affiliate marketing and other purposes.
The introduction of this restriction feels like a step backward – especially as their spokesperson devalues his own brand by comparing it to platforms that are the absolute worst for creator monetization. Perhaps Rene’s experience as a content creator and the creators he associates with are not struggling the way most monetized creators do on the platform. Some of us would prefer not to do the type of payola that clogs up TikTok and Reels.
One of the arguments presented by YouTube for this change revolves around security concerns, specifically the risk of scams and hacks appearing in comment threads. But YouTube solved that problem years ago by holding comments with links for moderation if the creator enables that feature (I do). Rene also rejected the idea of allowing those in the YouTube partner program to continue linking as he thinks it would make them a target for phishing attacks. But large creators are already the targets of phishing attacks as Linus Tech Tips found out a few months ago.
What I think is happening here is that YouTube is trying to get their own affiliate program off the ground which does work with Shorts. This new feature embeds affiliate links in the video itself but is limited only to retailers that agree to work with YouTube who presumably takes a cut of the action.
While this program has potential, my experience with it so far has been underwhelming. The click-through rates and conversions from YouTube’s affiliate links are significantly lower than my personally generated affiliate links and very few retailers that sell the types of products I cover are participating in the YouTube program.
I hope that YouTube will reconsider this decision and continue to support creators of all sizes. I love YouTube because it’s not a payola cesspool like their competitors. If that’s the vision for Shorts, fine. But the people I know at YouTube want to do better than that. And after all, it’s the creators who drive the platform, and their voices should be heard.