Saturday, July 13, 2024

Google’s Response to Affiliate Link Heavy Content

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Google’s Response to Affiliate Link Heavy Content


Google’s John Mueller responded to a question about whether affiliate links have a negative impact on rankings, touching on factors that affiliate sites should keep in mind.

Hypothesis: Google Targets Affiliate Sites

There is a decades-long hypothesis that Google targets affiliate sites. SEOs were talking about it as far back as Pubcon Orlando 2004 and for longer than that on SEO forums.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that that Google wasn’t targeting affiliate sites, Google was targeting the quality level of sites that followed certain tactics like keyword stuffing, organized link rings, scaled automated content and so on.

Image Representing A Low Quality Site

The idea that Google targets affiliate sites persists, probably because so many affiliate sites tend to lose rankings every update. But it’s also true that those same affiliate sites have shortcomings that the marketers are may or may not be aware of.

It’s those shortcomings that John Mueller’s answer implies that affiliates should focus on.

Do Many Affiliate Links Hurt Rankings?

This is the question:

“…do many affiliate links hurt the ranking of a page?”

Google’s John Mueller answered:

“We have a blog post from about 10 years ago about this, and it’s just as relevant now. The short version is that having affiliate links on a page does not automatically make your pages unhelpful or bad, and also, it doesn’t automatically make the pages helpful.

You need to make sure that your pages can stand on their own, that they’re really useful and helpful in the context of the web, and for your users.”

Pages That Can Stand On Their Own

The thing about some affiliate marketers that encounter ranking issues is that even though they “did everything perfect” a lot of their ideas of perfections come from reading blogs tha recommend outdated tactics.

Consider that today, in 2024, there are some SEOs who are still insisting that Google uses simple clickthrough rates as a ranking factor, as if AI hasn’t been a part of Google’s algorithm for the past 10+ years, insisting as if machine learning couldn’t use clicks to create classifiers that can be used to predict which content is most likely to satisfy users.

What Are Common Outdated Tactics?

These are in my opinion the kind of tactics that can lead to unhelpful content:

  • Targeting Keywords Not People
    Keywords, in my opinion, are the starting point for identifying topics that people are interested in. Google doesn’t rank keywords, they rank content that’s about the topics and concepts associated with those keywords. An affiliate, or anyone else, who begins and ends their content by targeting keywords is unintentionally creating content for search engines not people and lacks the elements of usefulness and helpfulness that Google’s signals are looking for.
  • Copying Competitors
    Another tactic that’s more harmful than helpful is the ones that advise site owners to copy what competitors who rank are doing and then do it ten times better. That’s basically just giving Google what they already have in the search results and is the kind of thing that Google will not find unique or original and risks getting discovered/not indexed at worst and ranking on page two or three at best.

The essence of outcompeting a competitor isn’t copying them, it’s doing something users appreciate that competitor’s aren’t doing.

Takeaways:

The following are my takeaways, my opinion on three ways to do better in search.

  • Don’t just target keywords.
    Focus on the people who are searching for those keywords and what their needs are.
  • Don’t research your competitors to copy what their doing.
    Research your competitors to identify what they’re not doing (or doing poorly) and make that your competitive strength.
  • Don’t just build links to promote your site to other sites.
    Promote your sites to actual people. Identify where your typical site visitor might be and identify ways of making your website known to them, there. Promotion does not begin and end with links.

What Does Google Say About Affiliate Sites?

Mueller mentioned that he wrote something ten years ago but he didn’t link to it. Good luck finding it.

But Google has published content about the topic and here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Use the rel=sponsored link attribute. The following is from 2021:

“Affiliate links on pages such as product reviews or shopping guides are a common way for blogs and publishers to monetize their traffic. In general, using affiliate links to monetize a website is fine. We ask sites participating in affiliate programs to qualify these links with rel=”sponsored”, regardless of whether these links were created manually or dynamically.

As a part of our ongoing effort to improve ranking for product-related searches and better reward high-quality content, when we find sites failing to qualify affiliate links appropriately, we may issue manual actions to prevent these links from affecting Search, and our systems might also take algorithmic actions. Both manual and algorithmic actions may affect how we see a site in Search, so it’s good to avoid things that may cause actions, where possible.”

2. Google’s ten year old advice about affiliate programs and added value:

“If your site syndicates content that’s available elsewhere, a good question to ask is: “Does this site provide significant added benefits that would make a user want to visit this site in search results instead of the original source of the content?” If the answer is “No,” the site may frustrate searchers and violate our quality guidelines. As with any violation of our quality guidelines, we may take action, including removal from our index, in order to maintain the quality of our users’ search results. “

3. Site reputation abuse

“Affiliate content on a site previously used by a government agency”

Not site reputation abuse:

“Embedding third-party ad units throughout a page or using affiliate links throughout a page, with links treated appropriately”

4. Thin affiliate pages:

“Thin affiliate pages are pages with product affiliate links on which the product descriptions and reviews are copied directly from the original merchant without any original content or added value.”

5. Google has an entire webpage that documents how to write high quality reviews:

Write high quality reviews

Affiliate Sites Rank Highly All The Time

It’s a fact that affiliate sites routinely rank at the top of the search results. It’s also true that Google doesn’t target affiliate sites, Google generally targets spammy tactics and low quality content.

Yes there are false positives and Google’s algorithms have room for improvement. But in general, it’s best to keep an open mind about why a site might not be ranking.

Listen to the Office Hours podcast at the 4:55 minute mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Dilen



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