Ethical monetization versus unethical monetization: what are the differences? The pros and cons? And the potential profits of each?

There are a million and one ways to monetize content online…and not all of them are above-board. But there are definitely downsides to unethical monetization practices – but not just from a “moral” perspective. There are practical and legal downsides that make ethical monetization the smarter choice.

Unethical Monetization: Why Not?

We won’t get into a moral debate here: there are plenty of philosophical and moral arguments against unethical marketing. And there are a number of examples from history of what can happen when you do engage in unethical marketing.

Here are some practical reasons to avoid unethical marketing:

You can get in trouble with the law or the authorities. Worst-case scenarios often involve legal troubles. But even if you don’t actually break the law – through spam or other practices – you’ll probably end up irritating those who you rely on to make your money. Spammers, for instance, will never be on the good side of Google, social networks, or others that enable them to make their money.

You can make your customers angry. At the end of the day, you’ll leave a bad taste in your customers’ mouths if you spam them, install shady software, or trick them out of their money, time, or attention.

Your competitors will have the edge. Competitors will always be seen as the “good guys” in comparison. When you are the one selling shoddy products, spamming, or engaging in other unethical practices, you’ll end up giving your competitors the edge. And the spotlight.

You’ll probably ruin your reputation. People just won’t want to work with you once they find out that you’re engaging in unethical marketing and monetization practices. Business partners won’t want to be associated with you, customers will avoid you, and the press will only make things worse.

You won’t be building long-term assets. Unethical monetization practices typically involves short-term strategy. Affiliate marketers who develop fly-by-night websites, for instance, aren’t building long-term assets that appreciate. So when they run out of SEO tricks or the search algorithms evolve beyond their capabilities, they’ll be left without any actual assets to build a business with.

You’re setting yourself up for a future of unethical monetization practices. No reputation, no assets, and no competitive edge don’t bode well for a future in the business world. They don’t set you up for anything other than continuing the same unethical monetization strategies…so in order to change all that you’ll need to change your monetization strategies entirely.

Why Ethical Monetization?

Ultimately, ethical monetization practices have the opposite effects:

You’ll be able to build a solid reputation. Unlike unethical marketers, businesses who engage in ethical monetization practices can actually stand behind their products and services. They’ll be able to network effectively, promote themselves with confidence, and not worry about “being found out.”

You’ll create long-term assets that appreciate over time. Fly-by-night operations are shady by nature. And they aren’t designed to build value over time, so they will always be low quality, low value, and low-priced.

You’ll be able to compete above-board in the real business world. Real businesses will be able to compete with other real businesses. But unethical marketers can only operate in certain “neighborhoods” online. Once they surpass a certain threshold, they’ll be too big for their own britches.

Your customers will be happier. If you have to disappear on your customers because you’re offering a fake product or monetizing content under the table, then you won’t build long-term relationships.

You’ll probably make more money. One of the biggest side effects of long-term customer relationships, above-board marketing, assets that appreciate, and solid reputations is profit. The more that people trust you and your legitimate business, the more money they’ll be willing to spend on your products or services.

So Which Is It? Ethical or Unethical?

Unethical marketing can produce quick returns. And if you’re willing to risk shady deals, under-the-table operations, and questionable marketing tactics, then you can make money.

But the downsides are clear: you won’t be able to operate in the real business world and form real connections with customers and business partners.

Ethical monetization practices, on the other hand, rely on the creation of assets: products and services, relationships, a reputation, and so on.


But some may argue that all marketing and monetization is a shade of gray. After all, if an SEO tactic that may be a little “spammy” gets you a higher ranking, why not use it? Especially if your competition will use a similar tactic to get ahead of you.

While we’ve painted both sides of the picture in this article, it’s worth noting that most marketing falls on a spectrum between these two extremes. In many cases, real world marketing just isn’t this cut-and-dry.

At the end of the day, all marketing and monetization practices are judgement calls and calculated risks: if the risk of any strategy is worth the potential gain, then it’s usually worth considering.

Monetization Ethical Monetization 101: What to Do…And What Not to Do