One question that almost always gets brought up when I’m speaking is how Affiliate Marketing and SEO can help or hurt each other. Because Affiliate Marketing and SEO are two of the things I am most known for or at least speak about the most, I wanted to to a blog post about ways that Affiliate Marketing can help and hurt your SEO efforts. If you work with an Affiliate Marketing Management Company or an OPM, you need to keep a very close eye on this. I’ll start with the question I am asked the most and then give you 5 things to do to help and watch out for.
Are affiliate links backlinks? If you’re on one of the big 4 networks then the answer is more than likely no. They point to the network’s servers and redirect to your site. If your program is in house and you are using direct links to link to your site or a sub domain, then yes. If your links have tracking parameters on them, then yes, but they are devalued because they are obviously not a natural link.
1. Working with your SEO team.
By having your Affiliate Manager target specific sites which are extremely relevant, they can help work with your SEO team to get a banner on the site and also write content in exchange for a backlink as well. The SEO team can also talk to the Affiliate Manager and when they get a great article placed, they can also talk about the program and help recruit. This way you have two teams working together to increase their outreach and also help to get more links and active Affiliates. Make sure your SEO and Affiliate Manager are always talking to each other and educating each other on new tools, sites, etc…
2. Making sure backlinks don’t get replaced by your Manager or Outsourced Affiliate Program Management Company.
One thing that some OPM or Affiliate Management Firms can do when they start on a program is go after all of the top ten or twenty sites that reviewed you and show up for your trademarks. (This makes them a bunch of money and it will appear that you are “making sales”. The same goes for them going after the top ten and twenty sites that show up for your trademark + coupon or coupon codes.) They can also go after the sites that reviewed or link to you and are driving traffic through those links if they have access to your analytics and can see where the traffic and sales are coming from or by using their own analysis tools. This is one of the worst things that can happen. By approaching a site that already links to you and replacing their natural backlink with an Affiliate link, you are hurting your SEO more than you can do good with these poached sales. Those backlinks are what help to build the authority of your site and help you rank for specific terms. When the search engines see they aren’t there anymore then you lose some of your authority and can potentially lose your rankings. It also tells the Search Engines that your site is no longer important enough to show up for these terms so they may penalize you even more if they find numerous sites pulling backlinks and replacing them with affiliate links. This is a huge issue if you find that backlinks are being replaced with Affiliate Links and can have a large impact on your company, not to mention you now have to pay for traffic and sales that you would have had free anyways.
One way to find this is to look in your analytics or SEO tools for sites that have disappeared from sending sales via backlinks, in general or with tracking links. Once you notice some of them have stopped, visit the sites and pages that used to send the traffic and look to see if there are affiliate links on them now. You’ll also be able to see the poached sales that you would have had anyways coming in from your Affiliate program. If you find this happening you may want to talk to your in house Affiliate Manager or Outsourced Program Management Company. Both channels are important, but you don’t want to jepordize one to help the other, especially if it is replacing regular links with affiliate links which hurts your company financially and in the search engines.
3. Closing your program and loosing your Rankings
Someone was recently telling me about their company dropping out of many of their rankings in the search engines. They managed their program in house with direct links and many were product and keyword based. When they closed their program, they also killed their links from affiliate sites which ended up killing two of their channels at once. Even if their Affiliate channel was overrun with theft, poaching, adware, etc… (I’m not sure why they closed), they also lost their seo from the Affiliates who were giving them backlinks. If you have an in house program or one that uses links that point to your site, set clear terms and conditions and have a knowledgeable manager that knows advanced SEO, Analytics, Attribution, Adware, PPC and Affiliate marketing. Then you also need to make sure that your manager will enforce things like no adware, trademark bidding, coupon sites ranking for your trademark + coupons, etc… This way you’ll be able to prove the program is adding value and you shouldn’t actually have a reason to close it which also means you won’t lose your backlinks.
4. Relying on backlinks for SEO from affiliate sites.
Having a direct linking affiliate program can be a great way to get massive amounts of backlinks for your site. Affiliates will link off of products and keywords as well as your url. This can be awesome for you. Unfortunately, some companies make large mistakes like their Finance department running late on payments or questioning why they are spending so much money and putting all payments on hold. Things like this or having tracking go down can cause your partners to pull their links. This in turn will hurt your SEO which is why you shouldn’t rely on an affiliate program for backlinks and SEO benefits. You also have to be concerned that if they all decide to no follow their links because they don’t want to help your site rank above theirs for their terms, you can also get a large penalization in the search engines. No follow links were designed to tell the search engines to not follow the link or give the site it points to credibility as it is not trustworthy. That is why if your partners start changing to no follow links your SEO can take a large hit. You went from being trustworthy to not trustworthy.
5. Traffic and SEO
One of the smaller ranking factors in SEO is traffic on your site, bounce rates and activity on your site. By having an affiliate program you can drive more traffic to your site. If it is a larger part of your traffic then you need to think about the quality. If the traffic isn’t quality, doesn’t stay on your site a long time or actually look around or shop, the search engines can pick up on this and end up penalizing you with lower or less rankings since your website does not provide a solution. If you have sites pumping in traffic and the sales aren’t there, the traffic bounces or just leaves, you may want to end that relationship. If they send quality traffic that stays on your site and actually views multiple pages, then that can help boost your SEO. Traffic quality from affiliate sites can definitely have an impact on your SEO. That is why Affiliate Marketing is a quality and relevance channel, not a numbers one.
Just like other online channels, Affiliate Marketing and SEO definitely have an impact on each other. They can have positive and negative impacts on each other and other departments in your company can also impact both channels by not paying or having sites and tracking break. If your SEO and Affiliate Manager are not talking, then you are missing out on a huge opportunity to build backlinks and drive sales. Try to set up a meeting each week for the two of them to talk and create a schedule of topics for them to go over. Once they do they’ll both see the benefits of how they can help each other and grow your company’s sales at the same time.