April 9, 2013
Just as Google’s latest Panda refresh is finishing up its 25th rinsing of online websites in Google’s main index, one has to seriously wonder if affiliate marketing on the Web is history. Again, according to feedback in many online forums and blogs, affiliate marketers seem to have suffered greatly under this whole series of Panda ipdates — which serves out “site-wide” penalties if your site is judged inferior or simply not worthy of the Google Index.
But Panda is just one of the many measuring rods Google has brought into play in the last few years. Let’s not forget its just as powerful cousin Penguin, which targets your site’s link profile. Then there is also the ‘Top-Heavy Update’ that penalizes your content if it has too many ads above the fold. Then there is the ‘EMD Update’ that penalized and down-graded sites that had the exact keyword match in the URL. Everyone knows this was an extremely effective way of targeting Google search traffic for your affiliate products.
We won’t even consider the upcoming “Merchant Quality Update” which Google’s Matt Cutts says is debuting in the near future, along with another “big” Penguin update. Will affiliate sites and affiliate marketing take more blows from the mighty G in the near future?
Now, we all know Google has stated they’re not really targeting affiliate sites per se, just those affiliate sites that have little content or don’t add any value to the whole mix. As always, user experience is all-important to Google — it wants anyone using their search engine to have the best experience possible. Sites or Web content covered in ads is not exactly what the searcher is looking for on the Internet.
Supposedly, affiliate sites that offer valuable tips, advice, reviews and editorial content will not suffer in the rankings. Like the broken record says, content should be king and any affiliate links should be an after thought. In other words, add valuable content and one should have no problem with Google’s countless algorithm updates. Many webmasters and affiliate marketers are probably cringing at that statement, as many innocent sites have been down-graded (unfairly in the eyes of those affected) by Google’s countless moves to improve its search results.
Whether intended or not, many affiliate marketers have been hit by these Google changes, and are struggling to survive without valuable search engine traffic from Google. Considering Google controls the majority of this search traffic, affiliate marketing has indeed taken a major hit, many have abandoned their sites. One simply has to ask the question: is Google really trying to wipe out affiliate marketing from the Web?
Not really. One does have to consider that Google has its own affiliate network which it promotes along side its AdSense program. Webmasters and marketers can join and promote companies/products within this network. While Google does favor its own products in their SERPs, anyone with YouTube videos can testify to that fact, the jury is still out on if Google favors its own affiliate network in its results.
One major point I have learned from having many affiliate sites: Google likes Amazon ads or links and hasn’t penalized these (Amazon only) sites as much with any of the Panda/Penguin changes. Other sites with non-Amazon ads or even a mixture of affiliate ads, have not faired so well, and some have taken major hits. Now, to be quite fair, this can all be brought back to the “user’s experience” since Amazon is a trusted and popular online shopping site. This factor could result in content/sites being rated higher or at least not penalized as heavily when they carry these Amazon affiliate links.
It is going to be interesting to see how the ‘Merchant Quality Update’ plays out and if these Amazon links will survive. I am betting those links and the sites carrying them won’t be touched, but I have been wrong before, so it’s wait and see time. In the same light, used sparingly, I don’t believe having AdSense ads or other ad networks on your site will totally wipe your site out of the rankings in Google.
But if you’re an affiliate marketer, recovering from Panda is not an easy task, especially if you have an older site that needs a major overhaul to recover lost rankings. There have been 25 different Panda updates over the last two years. Google now says it won’t be announcing the next ones, they will just be quietly incorporated into the regular ongoing changes of their index.
If you’re an affiliate marketer, how can you recover or make your site immune to these Panda updates? Many SEO experts give the same tips or advice:
- Remove or improve any low-quality pages and remove any duplicate content/pages;
- Make sure you have only original high-quality content presented above the fold and this content is not found anywhere else on the Web;
- Make sure you have a clean site with no broken links (interior and exterior) and redirect any “not found” pages via the 301 method;
- Avoid using a site which has a heavy template footprint — same keyword links on all the pages could be seen as duplicate and/or poor quality;
- Check all outbound links and make sure they’re not going to any bad neighborhoods;
- Make sure you reduce page load/speed times by limiting graphics, scripts and try limiting the number of links on a page to less than 100;
- Decrease your bounce rate and increase your page views per user to show your site offers a good user experience;
- Make sure your site and content has a heavy “social presence” and can be easily bookmarked in all the major social networks
- Use sparingly the number of affiliate links you have on any one page (some super affiliate marketers use an interior “php redirect” with their affiliate links to hide them and to cut down on affiliate theft — use at your own discretion) and make sure you “nofollow” your affiliate links.
Regardless, affiliate marketers and sites, who have suffered greatly with the Panda and Penguin updates in recent years must adjust their marketing tactics.
One major shift for me — I try to use more wisely the traffic I am receiving by first promoting affiliate products which have residual income: make one sale and get paid for years to come. Also, I am promoting products and services that have both higher commissions and longer cookie timeframes.
Here are a few other things I have done to make up for some of the lost Google traffic and which will keep your affiliate sites/links visible on the Web and in Google.
- Find other ways into Google’s index and search. Try YouTube videos, this is a longer route or method, but it does eventually deliver search engine traffic. Google Index — YouTube Video — Your Site. Along the way, make sure you’re building your own contact list or lists.
- Same as above, but use press releases. I use PRweb to get my content into Google — this is especially effective with holiday shopping events such as Cyber Monday and Black Friday. The Google News listing only lasts a few days, but your release can show up in Google’s SERPs for much longer and bring in targeted keyword traffic from Google. But be warned, Google is rumored to be cracking down on these releases in the near future.
- Try promoting on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin to get traffic flowing to your affiliate sites. Frankly, I don’t find social traffic and advertising to be half as effective as search traffic, but you will still make some sales. I am currently using Facebook and was quite taken back with all the negative feedback until I removed my sponsored story ad — users don’t take kindly to having these ads in their news feeds. At least this has been my experience. Side ads are drawing traffic and no negative feedback.
- If your site or sites have been affected badly by the Panda/Penguin onslaught, make sure you have Authorship Markup in place within Google. This way you can promote your name and brand all across the Web where your content is featured. This will still give you online visibility, even if Google has down-graded your affiliate site or sites into oblivion.
- Don’t forget the other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, Dogpile… these may not be the king of the hill, but they do bring in targeted traffic. While it is simply wishful thinking to believe Google will lose its search monopoly any time soon, the fall-out and uproar from all of Google’s changes and privacy issues could bring it down a few notches. Facebook has already knocked Google out of first place countless times as the top site on the Web, so anything may happen.
Lastly, if you’re like me and have more than a few sites, survival could simply mean promoting the affiliate sites that have not been affected by all these Google changes. The adage about baskets and eggs probably holds true, having several or more sites will increase your chances of not being totally wiped out by Google, as it narrows its version of a quality Web down to a couple of hundred thousand sites or less.
All opinions and views expressed in the article above are solely those of the author – +Titus Hoskins. He has been a full-time search engine marketer for the last eight years and has several niche sites on the Web. His main site offers free marketing guides/resources/tools and is located here: www.bizwaremagic.com Or follow us on Twitter @bizwaremagic.