Over the last couple of years I’ve seen a ton of traditional SEO tools move into the affiliate channels. You have backlink crawlers, social media listeners and even keyword research tools advertising at events, reaching out to agencies and even networks building their own. This is both good and bad for your company and website.
Affiliate Managers can both be an SEO’s best friend and worst enemy. This post has two sections and I highly recommend you read all of it, not just skip through.
The first is the harm and damage that could be happening because YOU are not educating or working with your company’s affiliate manager or outsourced agency. The second is how and why your affiliate manager or outsourced program manager could be your best friend in the SEO world.
This post doesn’t just make blank statements, it goes over the issues and provides you with solutions. By reading it you will discover how the two of you can work together to grow your company or clients, instead of potentially hurting your company’s overall financial health.
How Your Affiliate Manager May Be Hurting Your SEO
Affiliate Managers have the hardest job. They not only need to recruit sites to give backlinks to your company (similar to how you recruit backlinks), but they also need to drive revenue from those backlinks. Because affiliate program managers are measured on revenue, when they hear about a tool (backlink crawlers and site explorers) that finds websites that already talk about and link to you, it sounds like an instant win.
Remember, Affiliate Managers are not SEOs. They are not trained on backlinks, they aren’t required to know what a good link profile looks like and they don’t understand the harm that can be caused by replacing good backlinks with affiliate links. I wrote this guide on affiliates links and backlinks if you’re not sure of the difference between an affiliate link and a backlink.
Here’s what you need to know about affiliate managers and the SEO tools they’re being pitched by the type of tool.
Issue: Replacing Your Backlinks & Hurting Your Link Profile
Once a database or backlink list is in the hands of the Affiliate Manager, they start mailing the bloggers, news aggregators, YouTubers and everyone else who is currently linking to your site. In the email they have a “no brainer” pitch for the content creator.
“You already talk about and link to us, why not get paid for the sales you’re already referring”.
If you read the guide I link to above, you’ll know that many affiliate links are not backlinks, they need to be no followed (depending on the links and network) and if you’re an SEO you know that your domain loses the authority with the deacrease in quality links and that may hurt your organic rankings. If you wrote content and gave a link, then someone approached you and said you could be making money from the work you already did, you’d replace the link too.
Solution: Send the Affiliate Manager a List And Request One Back
The easy solution, although many affiliate agencies and managers will hate it, is to share lists. First pull your list of backlinks and make it available to your Affiliate Manager or Agency. Make sure they know that these are your backlinks and they are not to reach out to any site or person on the list.
Next open a Google doc or keep a spreadsheet and require that the Affiliate Manager or Agency updates it with all of the site’s they’re reaching out to on a weekly basis. I do this with some of my clients. Other ones I send a short or complete list of sites I reach out to each week so they can verify.
It is important for you to enforce that these weekly lists are updated and current if SEO is important to your company.
Now the two of you know who is ok to reach out to for the affiliate program and who is not. This also brings up a third issue. What happens if someone on the list wants to become an affiliate?
This isn’t actually always a bad thing. Most of the time you’ll want to let them join. If you reject them then they may pull links or not write about you as much giving your company less exposure to new readers and in new content on their sites.
Yes you’re going to lose the backlinks, but if you know there will be more sales and that the new relaitonship can drive social signals, it could be worth moving them to your affiliate program, depending on the partner. The big difference here is that you’re not intentionally hurting your own SEO efforts.
The partner found out you have a program and wanted to join on their own. Your agency or manager didn’t reach out and purposely try to replace a backlink. You’ll need to come up with your own guidelines for how to handle this, but at least now you aren’t paying someone to do negative SEO on your own website, and also paying commissions on sales you would have had anyways.
Website Database Providers
These are the companies that pull lists of websites that either link to your competitors, are within your niche, talk about content similar to yours or have very similar categories and content where you could be a natural fit.
Issue: The database providers don’t always say if there’s a backlink to you as well, just your competitors. This also lessens the opportunity for you to get the backlink for SEO if the affiliate manager reaches out first. One final thing to think about is if the affiliate manager does a mass spam mail (this works the other way around as well), the people on the list may have a bad impression of your brand because of the mass emailing and you won’t get them to sign up for the program or give you a backlink as you reach out to them.
Solution: Share templates and targets. One important thing to remember is that both you and your affiliate manager are reaching out to the same types of sites, contributors and influencers. It’s important that you work together. There are a few things you can do.
- Share your templates. By sharing the templates you’re using you can make sure everything is being customized so you don’t hurt potential relationships.
- Evaluate the revenue potential in your lists. This is like the one above, but divide them up with the potential for more revenue or potential for better rankings. If a potential partner can drive more revenue, they should be affiliates. More rankings and authority for your domain, they should be for SEO.
These are tools that help webmasters monetize their links through affiliate, CPC and CPM campaigns. I am incredibly hypocritcal on these. I tell bloggers, forums and a ton of other people to use them because they’re awesome for making money on past content. I tell merchants the opposite for a few reasons.
Issue: You have backlinks being no followed and you’re paying for sales you would have already had.
1. You as a merchant may have already had these sales coming in (especially if it is earned media or previously paid for placements). Check your referrals report and see if you already had sales and traffic from the referring sites before the tools were approved into your program. This is only one way to measure if they’re adding value or not. (From an uncompensated blogger standpoint I see no issues with this and stand with the automonetization tools.)
2. Once Google starts finding these tools are out there, there’s a good chance they’ll start penalizing the sites that use them if the websites aren’t using proper disclosures and no following the links. Remember, these sites are being compensated for linking to you, even if the links were given before they added the automonetization tools.
Unless the website owner discloses the relationship and adds no follow attributes to the links, the websites could lose their organic Google traffic and if they add the no follow links, you lose the backlink and your organic SEO may start to take a hit. It could be a very costly mistake to not know who these tools are, how they work and if they’re in your program or not. Here’s a post on advertising disclosures and SEO if you want to read more about how Google can find them and why they might be penalized for not no following their links and adding disclosures.
Solution: Set up a block list from the tool and enforce it
This is tricky because not all tools will allow this. If they don’t, you have to make a decision on whether or not they should be allowed in your program. If you need help measuring if they’re driving new sales or value, use my contact form and we can have a call. If there are specific sites you need from an SEO standpoint or that you have paid placements on, get these on the black list so you don’t have to double pay and can hopefully keep your do follow backlinks.
The Good That Comes From Working Together
So now that we know some of the damage that can be done by not working with your Affiliate Managers, how can the two of you work together to grow both channels?
Replacing bad links for Penguin Penalties
If you’re on a major network (ShareASale, CJ, Linkshare, possibly Impact Radius at this point) then Google already knows these are affiliate links so you may not need to add no follow attributes. This isn’t 100% certain, but adding a no follow attribute to affiliate links is now a best practice. This also makes link removal requests for penguin penalties easier on you.
Instead of asking sites with bad links to add no follow attributes or take a link down, you can send them new HTML code and let them know that by joining your program they can earn money by simply replacing the link. This way their website experience doesn’t have to change and because they may earn money, they could be more inclined to help.
Have Them Help With Link Acquisition
Because you’re both reaching out to relevant sites, why not work together? As the affiliate manager finds a site that is incredibly content relevant, but doesn’t have a lot of traffic or engagement, they can pass them to you. At the same time, if you get a rejection from a site or the site wants money, introduce them to the affiliate manager.
By having and opened door, you and the affiliate manager can now work on getting more sites into the affiliate program and backlinks for your company or client. It’s a win-win for you, the affiliate manager and for the webmaster, blogger or social media influencer.
Use Affiliates to Generate Buzz
When you have something that is buzzworthy, not the generic babble that most companies think is awesome content, share it with your affiliate manager. Not only do they have a list of people who like your brand, but these people earn money promoting you. If the content is actually good, your affiliates will be happy to promote it.
As these influencers and websites begin talking about and pushing out your content, it sends signals to the search engines that something is happening with your company. These signals can lead to others finding you which helps you to acquire links and bring in traffic.
You do not want to do this regularly, but when there is something really good available, this is a great way to get content out. The best part is that unlike traditional PR, you are now only paying when sales from placements are made…not paying for placements and hoping for sales.
Affiliate Marketing and SEO are extremely complementary and can also be the biggest cause of damage to each other. If you are an SEO, your ability to be effective is literally in the hands of your affiliate manager. If you are an affiliate manager, your company or client’s SEO team can be your best friend. SEOs know who has traffic and what keywords convert for well. Affiliate managers should know how to help partners make money and where the best placements for links for SEO targets are. By working together you can help to strengthen the company and grow both of your channels at the same time.