Whether it’s a Blogger in a Facebook group claiming they got penalized for using affiliate links and warning others not to try them, or a resource or directory website that swears their Google traffic is gone because they joined a specific affiliate program, you’re going to come across some scary stories. Don’t let them turn you off from affiliate marketing.
The main thing to look for is the person claiming “Google hates affiliate programs” or “Google hates affiliate websites” and my favorite “Google hates affiliate links”.
Using affiliate links and programs is just like any other monetization plan or ad placement. Google even has an entire section in their webmaster support area of search console specifically for building solid affiliate websites to make money. For the most part, affiliate links are 307 redirects, cloaked links or just a direct link with parameters (which should be no followed). They are treated just like any other part of a page and piece of your website’s structure and anatomy. This is no different than some of the other things you’re already doing.
Just like with other inbound and outbound links, too many dilute the authority they can pass internally and externally, and you should not add them if they won’t provide value to the visitor and support the topic. You also should not load your sidebar full or place too many on a page and above the fold. It’s that simple. So why do so many people blame them for their sites not ranking or losing rankings?
Let’s dive into why some people say Google hates affiliate websites and links.
- Thin content being added and banners/links in the wrong places
- Irrelevant content being created
- Duplicate pages diluting your entire site
- Not using disclosures to say it is paid placements (use blogging penalty for sponsorships)
Thin Content Being Added and Using Ads in the Wrong Places
Example 1 – Bloggers and their first sales.
Bloggers who make their first sales sometimes start creating lists and just adding in random products or irrelevant products into posts. Lists can be good if they provide value and a solution (like a themed and content rich guide on products to complete a goal like weight loss in XY time or a gift guide), but too many can dilute the content and theme of a website. When there are too many posts that don’t stick to why the site was high quality in the first place, Google needs to reevaluate the blog and reassign if it is still a good resource to show. Gift guides can be an exception, but make sure they serve a purpose and add value to the site. The theme should also match the main theme of the site or category and they need proper formatting.
Example 2 – Bad Advice from Affiliate Managers
The next issue is bad advice from affiliate managers (the person who manages a program and is probably not an SEO). The most common problem I see is that one told the affiliate to keep adding in affiliate links and some send you sample pages where you mention a product but don’t have a link. Although this is how you can get higher conversions and I recommend it too, you have to be smart and remember everything is situational.
If your site is about instapot and you’re providing recipes, don’t link to Instapot with an affiliate link. The person already has one and is looking for the recipe not a second or third instapot. Instead link to the tools used for the specific recipe as you mention them and possibly again in a roundup at the bottom. You also have to remember that the more links you add to the page, the less authority you can pass which changes your websites architecture, structure and creates a new user experience with more ads and that means Google needs to figure out if it is still a good experience.
- Get a list of each of the brands they work with and then go through your website and make sure you “nofollow” each of the links to these companies. (If you sold a do follow link and are under contract, you’ve now breached, same if you agreed to not join their affiliate program because they did a sponsored post.)
- Google should be able to see the redirect on the outbound click and probably recognizes the code at this point (especially because the tool’s name is in it). Because these tools say you can make money by linking to the stores you already talk about, this is giving backlinks for profit and directly influencing pagerank which is against Google’s best practices.
- Make sure you know each merchant from the list you’ve mentioned in the past and keep track for the future. You’ll need to have advertising disclosures in the top of every single page because if you remember from a couple years ago, Google began penalizing blogs and websites that don’t disclose relationships. It’s on their guidelines page here.These pages include but are not limited too:
- E-books that are indexable
Example 4 – Too Many Links & Banners in the Wrong Place
The last point on the thin content is adding a ton of images and banners. Although banner ads can work, placing too many above the fold or in the wrong spaces signals to Google that the user experience has changed and is now about ads instead of solutions and content. Here’s a post where they designed good layouts and show you best practices (for adsense which tend to hold true with other ads).
Unfortunately a lot of these go ignored and when the links and banners (or even pop ups like subscribe to our newsletter) are added (whether in content or in the sidebar, header and footer), the pages get devalued. Not to mention they can slow the page down, and since page speed is a ranking signal, this can impact your site too.
When you add affiliate links, add them in places where it creates a better user experience by providing a solution, giving an example or helping the person to find a product to perform a task (similar to providing a solution). Here’s an example.
Maybe you have a post about installing a hot water heater and needing a specific tool or piece for an older model. If the piece isn’t readily carried at hardware stores because it is old or not common, using an affiliate link to a store that does carry it is helpful, provides and creates a better user experience. This is how you properly use affiliate links. You can also do FAQs about the installation process which can both be user friendly and incorporate affiliate links. i.e. which is better for XY purpose, product A or product B.
Irrelevant Content Being Created
Much like when sponsorships start showing up, affiliate sales can create a high that you crave and want more of. But don’t let it influence your content. Keeping your content true to itself is why you get readers, how you keep your site authoritative and keeps your audience coming back.
If you have an all-natural beauty blog or resources website featuring ingredient guides or resources about how each works, or what is the best, don’t just start adding all natural supplements for diets, shakes and pills. These are relevant for the majority of your audience who wants skin care that uses these ingredients. By all of the sudden adding these for the sole purpose of being paid for sponsored content and making commissions, the main content of your website is diluted and creates a need for Google to rethink what your website is about. The more irrelevant content you add, the worse your site’s health becomes and eventually the entire thing starts to slip. I see this with both my SEO clients and with affiliates (especially in the blogging space).
Even if the supplement is made from pure coconut milk or has peppermint essential oils, and you have a ton of content about the benefits of these and rank well, that doesn’t mean the products are directly relevant to that content, they just contain the ingredient. Relevance is key here and so is moderation. If you don’t keep that in mind, you may lose your traffic. You can absolutely add some of this, but don’t go overboard and be selective.
Think to yourself:
- Which of these is most closely related to skin care and is there a natural tie-in or crossover?
- Will the person reading about the ingredient in their skincare be a customer for this diet pill too? (if the answer isn’t an immediate yes, then do not add it).
- Is this something that can be used as an example in future content that is directly relevant for the main theme? (if the product is not something you’re willing to source and cite in future copy, do not add it. If you won’t source it from your own site, then why would someone else link too it and why would you include it anyways? That should be a main signal you shouldn’t be adding it to your content.)
Duplicate Pages Diluting Your Website Content
This happens more in the CPA and private network programs, but also carries over into the the cost per sale and traditional affiliate model. An affiliate manager sends out “swipe” copy or a post for you to use. Other times it is their higher ups or the PR team that wanted content out there so they have the manager mail it to everyone. When you publish this copy whether it is the same headers, the same paragraphs or the same products in the same or similar type of copy, you’ve now set your site up to have to compete with every other site that uses it.
By doing this you now show Google you’re no longer publishing anything original and if it sees the same or similar content, it’s going to have to choose which one to show, or devalue all websites using it because of low quality. There’s a good chance one or two older or more authoritative sites will survive, but there’s also a good chance it won’t be yours. Do not use swipe copy and always make sure yours is 100% unique and original.
If you are required to use a theme, adjust and modify and rewrite everything so it is a good and unique experience. If it doesn’t provide a lot of value and the content doesn’t match the main theme of your site, you’re risking the page and your entire site’s ability to rank.
There’s supposed to be a fourth header here about disclosures and no follow links, but I covered them above and linked to the Google resource pages as a reference.
Google does not hate affiliate websites, Google does not penalize a website for using affiliate links and Google is not against monetization scripts. What it is against is low quality sites, bad user experiences and content that is not unique, doesn’t provide value and doesn’t follow their guidelines. As long as you create really good content and use affiliate links the right way, you can keep growing with SEO and also make money.