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How Google responds to content with a lot of affiliate links

How Google responds to content with a lot of affiliate links


Google's John Mueller responded to a question about whether affiliate links hurt rankings and touched on some factors that affiliate sites should keep in mind.

Hypothesis: Google targets affiliate sites

The hypothesis that Google targets affiliate sites has been around for decades. SEOs have been talking about it since Pubcon Orlando in 2004, and in SEO forums for much longer than that.

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

Image representing a low quality site

The notion that Google targets affiliate sites persists, likely because many of them tend to lose rankings with every update, but those same affiliate sites also have shortcomings that marketers may or may not be aware of.

John Mueller's response suggests that it is these shortcomings that affiliates should focus on.

Will having too many affiliate links hurt my rankings?

The questions are:

“…will too many affiliate links hurt a page's ranking?”

Google's John Mueller responded:

“I wrote a blog post about this almost 10 years ago, but it still holds true today: “Simply put, just because a page has an affiliate link doesn’t automatically make the page useless or bad, and it doesn’t automatically make the page useful.

You need to make sure that your pages work independently, in the context of the web, and that they are truly useful and helpful to your users.”

Independent pages

Some affiliate marketers who run into ranking issues say they’ve “done everything perfectly,” yet much of their idea of ​​perfection comes from reading blogs that promote outdated tactics.

Consider that even today, in 2024, there are SEOs who continue to insist that Google uses simple click-through rate as a ranking factor, as if AI hasn’t been part of Google’s algorithm for the last decade or more, as if machine learning couldn’t use clicks to create classifiers that could be used to predict which content will most satisfy users.

What are some common outdated tactics?

These are the tactics I believe can lead to useless content:

Target Keywords, Not PeopleIn my opinion, keywords are the starting point for identifying topics that people are interested in. Google doesn’t rank keywords, it ranks content on topics and concepts related to those keywords. Affiliates and others who target keywords to start and end their content are unintentionally creating content for search engines instead of people, and it lacks the element of usefulness and usefulness that Google’s signals are looking for. Copy Your CompetitorsAnother tactic that does more harm than good is to advise site owners to copy what their ranking competitors are doing and do it 10 times better. This is essentially just giving Google what they already have in their search results, and you run the risk of Google not finding it unique or original, and at worst not being found or indexed, and at best ranking on page 2 or 3.

The key to beating your competitors is not to copy them, but to do something that your users appreciate that they don't.

Key Points:

Below are my thoughts on three ways to perform better in search.

Don't just target keywords. Focus on the people who are searching those keywords and their needs. Do your competitors' research and don't copy what they're doing. Do your competitors' research and identify what they're not doing (or not doing well) and use that as a competitive advantage. Don't just build links to promote your site to other sites. Promote your site to real people. Identify where your typical site visitors are and how you can get them to find your website there. Promotion doesn't start and end with links. What does Google say about affiliate sites?

Mueller says he wrote something 10 years ago but didn't link to it, hopefully you can find it.

However, Google has published some content on the topic, and there are some things to keep in mind:

1. Use the rel=sponsored link attribute. Here's one for 2021:

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

“As part of our ongoing efforts to improve rankings for product-related searches and better reward high-quality content, when we find sites that don't properly value affiliate links, we may take manual action to prevent these links from impacting search. We may also take algorithmic action by our systems. Both manual and algorithmic actions can affect how your site appears in search, so we encourage you to avoid anything that could cause action whenever possible.”

2. Google’s advice from 10 years ago on affiliate programs and adding value:

“If your site syndicates content that is available elsewhere, it's a good idea to ask yourself: 'Does this site provide a significant additional benefit that would make users want to visit your site in search results instead of the original source of the content?' If the answer is no, then your site is frustrating search users and may be violating our quality guidelines. If our quality guidelines are violated, we may take action, including removal from our index, to maintain the quality of search results for our users.”

3. Abuse of the site's reputation

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

Don't abuse the site's reputation:

“Do not embed third-party ad units or use affiliate links throughout your pages, and handle your links appropriately.”

4. Thin Affiliate Pages:

“A thin affiliate page is one that features product affiliate links where the product descriptions and reviews are copied directly from the original merchant, with no original content or added value.”

5. Google has a webpage that explains how to write high-quality reviews.

Write a quality review

Affiliate sites consistently rank high

It's true that affiliate sites regularly rank higher in search results, and it's also true that Google doesn't target affiliate sites, but rather spammy tactics and low-quality content in general.

Yes, there are false positives and there is room for improvement in Google's algorithms, but in general, it's best to remain open-minded about why a site isn't ranking.

Listen to the Office Hours podcast at about 4 minutes and 55 seconds.

Featured image: Shutterstock/Dilen




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