When you are talking about SEO and Affiliate Marketing there are a ton of false facts that Affiliates add tons of value to your SEO, as well as the reverse where your Affiliates are only hurting your SEO. It really depends who you talk to. SEO, Media Buying and PPC firms will say Affiliates hurt you while OPM and Affiliate Management Companies will claim they only help. Because there isn’t a solid resource dedicated to just this topic, I wanted to do a post in my Are Your Affiliates Adding Value series that is all about the effects of Affiliate Marketing on your SEO. If you have any questions about this topic or want to add your own question and answer, please feel free to leave it in the comments section below.
- Do Affiliate links count as backlinks?
- Will Affiliates take away from our own SEO efforts?
- What do we do if an Affiliate is showing up for our Trademarks in SEO?
- How can Affiliates doing SEO with a keyword list we provide benefit us?
- How can Affiliates doing SEO with a keyword list we provide hurt us?
- Should I have to pay Affiliates who only send sales off my trademarks when they show up organically?
Do Affiliate links count as backlinks?
This is a common thing that is misleading. Just because an Affiliate puts up a link where the end user ends up on your site, doesn’t mean it will count as a backlink for the search engines. If you are on a network or use a tracking solution with non-direct links, guess what, the link isn’t pointing to your site; it is pointing to the network’s servers. You don’t get any SEO value from it. The exception of no SEO value would be the traffic on your site that comes from the Affiliate’s which may be a ranking signal for Google. So if your Affiliates are using CJ, Linkshare, Share a Sale, etc… guess what, those are not backlinks for you and will not count.
Now, suppose you have an in-house program with direct links and tracking parameters. This would seem like it would add SEO value, but you are missing a couple things. The one thing that you may not remember is that the Affiliate has the option to add no follow tags to their links. Why would they want to boost you up for the terms they rank for and knock themselves out of the SERPs? Many of the smart ones will no follow it, unless you are eBay or Amazon because they are very high authority sites and the Affiliate site may benefit from the link to them. Remember that even though Affiliates are your partners, they are also in business to make money and don’t want to lose their own rankings either or create more competition for their own sites.
The last scenario is if the Affiliate uses a do follow direct link. The issue with this is that you normally have a tracking parameter on these links. Now this isn’t proven, but if Googlebot, MSNbot, Slurp, etc… recognize the parameters or realize that these are not natural direct backlinks, it could potentially penalize you, or just not count because it could look like a media buy, ad buy or just a paid backlink which could be a very bad thing. You may actually want to have some of them no follow or have the settings be on no follow as a standard. The only one who can guarantee that these do or do not count as backlinks are the search engines and I don’t think that they will tell us an exact answer anytime soon. Certain people say they do count and others say they don’t. To me it just depends on the current updates to the algorithms on if they count or not as well as how many parameters you have on each, what they look like and how they are labeled and if they have a redirect or static landing (with or without canonical links) to determine if they look natural or not and can count or not.
Will Affiliates take away from our own SEO efforts?
This is a very valid question. Yes, Affiliates can take away from your own SEO efforts. If they can outrank you then they will get the traffic and send it back to your at the cost of an affiliate commission on each sale. At the same time, you will probably not be able to get all ten rankings in Google by yourself, and probably don’t want your competitors to be there either. Because you are spending time building relationships with the other sites that rank for these terms, and you are treating them well, you are essentially able to knock your competitors out of the top ten results and have your company be promoted on all ten positions. So yes, Affiliates can take away from your own SEO efforts, but they can also really increase them as well.
What do we do if an Affiliate is showing up for our Trademarks in SEO?
This is your own issue. If your SEO is weak enough that you have Affiliates ranking for your own trademarks, you need to do a lot more online reputation management as well as more PR. You can also add into your program terms and conditions that they must add no follow no index tags to the pages that are dedicated to your company. That way Google and the other engines won’t pick those pages up and there is less of a chance that Affiliate sites will show up for your trademark or your url + coupons, etc… At the same time, if those Affiliates disappear from the rankings, you may end up with negative reviews showing up for your trademarks which could be worse for you. This is more of an internal SEO issue and if you have a solid SEO working with or for you then you shouldn’t have these issue or shouldn’t have to worry about them.
How can Affiliates doing SEO with a keyword list we provide benefit us?
If you know your top performing keywords that convert well for you and give it to your Affiliates, they can work on optimizing for those keywords as well. If they can rank with you for them, not only will you have more of the visibility in the top ten spaces in the SERPs for your best keywords, but you should see an increase in sales as well.
How can Affiliates doing SEO with a keyword list we provide hurt us?
The downside to this is that your Affiliates may end up outranking you and you may lose out on and have to pay for some of the free sales you had been making before. The other thing you run into is your Affiliates leaving you and promoting your competitors on your best keywords. If you end up removing them because of nexus tax laws, because you close your program, etc… you have now given your competitors the exposure that you once had for your best converting keywords and traffic.
Should I have to pay Affiliates who only send sales off my trademarks when they show up organically?
Yes. Unless you specifically spell it out in your terms and conditions and can prove it, you technically owe them money for the sales they send, even if they are off of terms like yourdomain.com + coupons or your company’s actual name. This is why it is important that you think through the channel completely before you launch a program and that you also understand the ins and outs of each type of Affiliate you will come across or have apply to your program.
Affiliates definitely have an impact on your SEO efforts. They can be a great thing for your SEO, but they can also do a ton of damage if you do not treat them well. You also have to consider the long term effects of sharing your best terms with them and if you are going to be able to work with all Affiliates if more nexus tax laws go into effect. My opinion is that Affiliates, in their true nature, are great for your SEO. Some people will disagree with that, but if you can get all ten rankings for your best converting terms and keep your competitors out, you have a huge win.