There are various industries online where traffic and revenue from affiliate programs is a huge part of the overall revenue stream. If you work in one of these industries (gambling for example) then you may have the opportunity of optimising the affiliate program to get more value from an SEO point of view. In this post I’m going to outline some of the techniques you can use along with the advantages and potential risks of both.
I want to very briefly cover why some of these techniques may carry some risk. Google has traditionally sought to not pass value across links that appear to be affiliate based. I searched high and low for some official Google Webmaster Guidelines on affiliate links, all I found was this page which talks more about content rather than links. However I did find the following quote from an interview that Eric Enge did with Matt Cutts:
Eric Enge: If Googlebot sees an affiliate link out there, does it treat that link as an endorsement or an ad?
Matt Cutts: Typically, we want to handle those sorts of links appropriately. A lot of the time, that means that the link is essentially driving people for money, so we usually would not count those as an endorsement.
I think the gist is that the website has only put the link in place because they are getting some financial reward for doing so. ie they get paid a commission if someone uses the link and then buys a product etc. Therefore, Google doesn’t like to count them as editorially given links.
There are various arguments that can be had as to whether affiliate links should be counted or not, but thats not the point of this post. All you need to know really is that Google doesn’t tend to count affiliate links as editorally given, therefore you need to be careful how you use and optimise them.
Here are some ideas for you to optimise your own affiliate program to try and get some SEO benefit from the links.
1) Use of a Dedicated Landing Page for Big Affiliates
I quite like this technique. The principle is that you look at who your biggest affiliates are in terms of SEO value, as well as traffic. Then you create a dedicated landing page on your domain for that affiliate to use. You can even do this so that they can still link to their own versions of deep pages such as categories or product pages.
For example, if the SEOmoz affiliate program were to do this, a landing page to PRO could look like –
This URL would look exactly the same as the URL would if it didn’t have /paddy on the end. So for the user, they wouldn’t notice anything different and would have the same experience.
To stop the problem of having loads of duplicate content pages, you can make use of the rel=canonical tag. So on the URL www.seomoz.org/pro/paddy, I’d implement the rel=canonical which points to www.seomoz.org/pro. If you are unfamilar with rel=canonical then you should read this guide from Lindsay.
By doing this, you are telling Google that the /paddy page is a duplicate on the /pro page. therefore don’t index it and pass any links or authority to the /pro page. It should also stop the /paddy page from showing in search results.
As mentioned above, I’d say to do this for your larger affiliates, mainly because it can be a tricky process to get setup. However if you have a good developer who has some time to spend on this, you could potentially roll it out across your entire affiliate network.
2) Make Sure Affiliates Link to the Correct Page
We saw a case recently of a large client in a competitive industry having their own in house affiliate program. However the program had been running for quite some time. In that time the client website had undergone a few changes in terms of URL structure, so some affiliates were linking to old URLs.
Most of the time this isn’t a problem if the appropriate redirects have been put in place. Unfortunately, the client site had been through more than one change of URL structure, and on one of these changes, redirects were not implemented correctly. Here is how some affiliates were linking to the client –
Affiliate links to – www.client.com/category-name/
302 redirect to www.client.com/keyword-category-name/
301 redirect to www.client.com/optimsed-keyword-category-name/
See where the problem lies here? That pesky 302 is stopping link juice from being passed to the new version of the URL. This is a common problem when multiple developers and SEO agencies work on the same site over a period of time. The first set of URL changes meant that a 302 redirect was used instead of a 301. Then when an SEO agency came along to make the URLs optimised for keywords, they use a 301, unaware that previous work had been carried out.
We ran some analysis and found around 600 links going to old client URLs that were not redirecting properly, all of these were from affiliates who were pretty easy to contact and get to fix the problem.
The client was unaware that older affiliates were still linking to the very first version of the URL which went through several redirects, one of which being a 302 that meant that value was not being passed. So our advice was two fold –
1 – Change the 302 redirect to a 301 in order to pass value to the latest version of the page
2 – Contact all affiliates and ask them to update their links to the latest version of the URL. Some affiliates may not want to go to the effort of doing this, however you should point out that linking to a paid that goes via multiple redirects like this, could sometimes strip off their tracking code and not credit them for sales. They’ll soon change the links!
3) Help your Affiliates Make Their Content More Valuable (and get links!)
A few weeks ago I wrote a Distilled blog post about getting more SEO value from your YouTube videos. If you take a look at this article, it tells you a way to get clean backlinks by getting people to embed your YouTube videos. If you have videos available to you, it is worthwhile adding clean links and encouraging your affiliates to embed the videos on their website. This has three benefits –
1 – Your affiliates are adding more value to their own sites by having relevant, helpful videos on their site, therefore potentially increasing the click through rate to your site
2 – Embedding these videos will help the overall strength of your YouTube channel
3 – You get a nice additional link to your website
As an added incentive, you could even slightly increase commission for affiliates who embed your videos. This can help to get things kick started.
The end result will hopefully be something like this:
Video by ParryGripp
Ok, I really just wanted an excuse to put a video of a baby monkey going backwards on a pig on the blog 🙂 But the point is that you can add a nice clean link underneath your video.
4) Add More Value to Widgets and Iframes That Affiliates Use
I worked with a client recently who was looking to get a bit more benefit from their affiliate program. They are in a super competitive industry and had tons of affiliate links, so just a small change to this could result in higher click throughs and more revenue. The long term SEO benefit was also a big factor.
This client had embeddable chunks of content that were pulled in dynamically using an iframe. Links within the iframe couldn’t be seen by the search engines, nor could they see the content, so there was no SEO value at all. A solution was to add a HTML wrapper around the iframe which contained a link to the client and the affiliate could also add some content which the search engines would see. Again, there are several benefits to this approach –
1 – You’re adding value to the affiliate site by allowing for the option of adding content which the search engines and users can see
2 – You’re getting an additional link back to your website
Hopefully this has been useful and given you some food for thought when optimising your own affiliate programs. Any feedback or ideas you have, as always feel free to drop a comment below!