Pinterest ditches marketers' links, may be planning 'buy' button

The company says the decision to ban third-party marketing links has nothing to do with making money and everything to do with improving people's experience on the site.

Pinterest may be more actively seeking ways to make money off its popularity. Pinterest

Pinterest, which lets people "pin" photos, websites, products and other items on virtual boards for others to see, has begun removing links to third-party marketing networks, possibly as part of a plan to boost revenue.

Pinterest has informed "power pinners" that pins will not be removed but will no longer include "affiliate links, redirects, or trackers," CNET has confirmed. Venturebeat earlier reported on the move.

As Pinterest's popularity has grown to 70 million users, marketing agencies have cropped up to link people who actively pin content with brands. The so-called "power pinners" create boards around a particular topic, as requested by a brand. When people click on the pins, they have often been redirected to the brand's site. The power pinners, in turn, are paid for their efforts, and the brands have found a new way to market to prospective customers.

Although several companies operate in this way, Hello Society is among the larger firms. The marketing agency actively recruits Pinterest "influencers," and its more than 350 pinners attract 30 million people to their boards each month. Hello Society's site claims that several brands, including Zappos, American Express, American Eagle and others, have worked with the company to attract Pinterest users.

In a statement to CNET, Pinterest said the move has nothing to do with limiting the way other companies make money off Pinterest users and everything to do with improving the experience of using the service. The company claims that it has recently seen some abuse by third-party networks that stink of "spammy behavior."

"We are removing affiliate links to ensure we're providing the best possible experience for Pinners," a Pinterest spokesman told CNET. "Recently, we observed affiliate links and redirects causing irrelevant Pins in feeds, broken links and other spammy behavior. We believe this change will enable us to keep the high bar of relevancy and quality Pinners expect from Pinterest."

Still, the decision comes as Pinterest is trying to find opportunities to make more money off its site. As its user base has grown, the company has so far failed to harness that and generate significant cash. Last year, Pinterest announced Promoted Pins to boost revenue, but far more work needs to be done.

That work might come in the way of a new "buy" button, Recode is reporting, citing people who claim to have knowledge of Pinterest's plans. Sometime within the next three to six months, the company is expected to unveil a feature that will allow people to buy products pinned on boards across its site. The buy button, Recode's sources say, would complete the e-commerce experience on the company's website or app, so users would never need to leave to get a product they want.

A precursor to the buy button might just be what Pinterest unveiled earlier this week: app Pins. The company said Wednesday that users can now create their own boards of iPhone and iPad apps. If others like what they see, they'll be able to click a button and immediately install that iOS app. The experience to buy products shared on the service would likely be similar, according to Recode.

The Pinterest spokesman remained tight-lipped on any plans for a buy feature, telling CNET that the company has other ideas that it has yet announce.

"App Pins is our latest effort and we have many more ideas but we don't have any additional plans to announce at this time," the spokesman said.

Update 9:07 a.m. PT to include Pinterest's comments.

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