Do Affiliate Programs Add to Your SEO?

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One thing that is commonly asked when talking to someone about an Affiliate program is the SEO benefit that will come with it.  People who are not in online marketing, but know a little about SEO, may think that all links count as backlinks and an Affiliate program would be a great way to build more backlinks.  Other people assume that Affiliates can take care of negative reviews as well as create and rank for positive reviews to help with their Online Reputation Management campaigns.  There are a ton of thoughts about Affiliates and SEO and a lot of people may have it wrong.  Here are some of the most common questions about how Affiliates can help or hurt your SEO and my opinions on how they can have an affect on your efforts.

  • Do affiliate links count as backlinks?  – Network, In-house, Third party tracking
  • Can Affiliates help my online reputation management?
  • What benefits can Affiliates have on my SEO?
  • Aren’t all types of backlinks from Affiliates good?
  • Why would an Affiliate add a link as no follow?
  • What if they link to a subdomain?

Do affiliate links count as backlinks?

The answer in most cases is no, affiliate links do not count as backlinks.  Below are three examples of Affiliate links and why they may or may not count as a backlink.

Network – If your program is on any of the major networks (There are a couple of exceptions) and you are using their links, the affiliate link will point to the network’s server and then redirect to your site meaning it is not a backlink.

In-house – One rumor is that in-house programs backlinks count as backlinks for SEO since they point to the Merchant’s site.  One thing that you have to remember is that these links are probably not direct links to your site.  Instead they have tracking parameters on them which would not appear in a legit backlink or article.  Instead they look like a media buy, an affiliate link or something the merchant or site is paying for.  Although it may count as a backlink, it may also count a lot less or not at all because of the tracking parameters.

Third party tracking – If you are tracking through a third party system that uses direct links with no parameters or anything that wouldn’t appear in a natural link, then these links would count as backlinks for you.  The problem is that this is not always a reliable method and one that many Affiliates may not trust since Affiliates have relied on cookies and IDs for years.

Can Affiliates help my online reputation management?

Yes and No.  If the Affiliate ranks for your terms and has a positive review of you, this will help your online reputation management.  You do have to make sure they have an FTC disclosure on their site if it is a review, etc…   One problem you may run into is if you anger the Affiliate or close your program.  Since the Affiliate will no longer get paid or is angry, the Affiliate can easily change the review (which wouldn’t have been a legit review anyways) or just pull out links and put up your competitors’ links.  This would hurt you because the site is now showing your competitors to your customers.

What benefits can Affiliates have on my SEO?

One of the smaller ranking factors, but an important one is traffic on your site.  If Googlebot is crawling and finds people there regularly and they stay there, this could help you rank.  If you have an affiliate program and it consistently sends high quality traffic, you could get an SEO boost from having people on your site on a regular basis.

Aren’t all types of backlinks from Affiliates good?

No.  One thing you have to remember is that although you want a mix of links, not all of your Affiliates will be relevant to the topic of your site.  If all of the sudden you have a ton of links from irrelevant sites, you could look like you spammed a ton of sites which could not only penalize you, but it could also hurt your categories inside the search engines which could hurt your current rankings within your niche.

Why would an Affiliate add a link as no follow?

The reason an Affiliate would add a no follow tag to a link is because they do not want to boost you above them in the search engines.  They would be helping you have a stronger site than theirs and you could take over their rankings.  At the same time, if you are an authority site within your niche the Affiliate may not add a no follow tag so that they can help their own site’s rankings.

What if they link to a subdomain?

One common myth is that by giving Affiliates their own subdomain for tracking, instead of other links then your site will get an SEO boost.  Although this is partially true, subdomains can be seen as a unique url by some search engines and others consider them to be internal links.  They may also not able to help you boost up the pages that you want to rank for, mainly because it is one Affiliate per subdomain and not all Affiliates pointing to the same one building up its authority so you can pass the link juice to that particular page.  You also have to think about the duplicate copy issues on the subdomains since the copy, products, etc… will match your main url exactly.   You may want to no index and no follow those links, or use canonical tags so that you don’t have to have a unique version of each subdomain.

Affiliate marketing can help your SEO in some ways, but it can also hurt you in others.  The important thing to remember is to plan ahead and know how you want to work with your Affiliates.  If SEO is one of your goals, besides sales, make that clear and offer higher commissions, be careful who you let in and know what types of sites they are listing you on to keep the quality of the content relevant to your site.

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