“Should we continue with our affiliate programme or not?” We get asked this a lot and it’s an important question.
Given that most affiliate links are provided as part of an agreement – that is, in exchange for products or services – they’re viewed as paid links by search engines. As affiliates and paid links aren’t considered ‘organic’ links, they’re not always good for your SEO. This is because Google wants SERPs to be influenced by genuine and natural connections, as opposed to those that are simply paid for.
That said, depending on your industry and the age of your company, affiliate linking may have a time and a place within your wider marketing strategy. So it’s important to understand how and where it can affect your SEO strategy.
In this post we take you through the main considerations when running affiliate programmes and how best to approach them with SEO in mind.
As we’ve mentioned affiliate links aren’t treated as endorsements (backlinks) by Google, so they don’t bring you link juice or boost your SEO work. Their primary benefit for you is exposure (offline awareness and potentially direct traffic). In terms of cons for SEO, they’re unlikely to be harmful unless there are lots of them and/or they’re from non-trustworthy domains.
Given the value of affiliate links, it’s important that your marketing teams strike a balance, so that you can continue to utilise affiliates in a way that doesn’t hurt your search performance. This usually requires SEO and PR teams to work together, aligning their respective strategies so that the overall marketing output is leveraged for the better!
How to balance affiliate marketing and SEO
Avoid hardcore affiliates
It can be obvious when the affiliate marketer has no connection to your product, that is, they’re pushing multiple products that they don’t believe in. Any traffic generated from links on these sites could harm your bounce rate which is a ranking factor.
“Google believes that pure, or “thin,” affiliate websites do not provide additional value for web users, especially (but not only) if they are part of a program that distributes its content across a network of affiliates.…Because a search results page could return several of these sites, all with the same content, thin affiliates create a frustrating user experience.”
“Examples of thin affiliates:
- Pages with product affiliate links on which the product descriptions and reviews are copied directly from the original merchant without any original content or added value.
- Pages of product affiliation where the majority of the site is made for affiliation and contains a limited amount of original content or added value for users.”
-Google Support on affiliate links
As mentioned, using affiliate links is unlikely to harm your SEO unless used extensively and with poor quality domains. Google recognises affiliate marketing (and paid backlinks) as viable strategies, so won’t necessarily punish you for it but understandably, the search engine doesn’t want SERPs to be influenced by affiliate or paid links. So with that in mind, small scale use of affiliate links, particularly if in a way that’s helpful to users (see above pointers), can be okay. Consider who you partner with, choosing authoritative and quality websites, which leads me to the next point…
This ties into quality of domain, so avoiding ‘hardcore affiliates’ and user intent. Prioritise your affiliates according to the quality and authority of the content they share. Check metrics like domain authority and ask yourself, does their content provide value to the user, including the links to external websites?
“Typically, affiliate websites feature product descriptions that appear on sites across that affiliate network. As a result, sites featuring mostly content from affiliate networks can suffer in Google’s search rankings, because they do not have enough added value content that differentiates them from other sites on the web. Added value means additional meaningful content or features, such as additional information about price, purchasing location, or product category.”
Removing my SEO hat and putting my PR hat on, you’ll also want to prioritise affiliate partnerships based on how large the partners’ audiences are and the potential reach of the feature. Choose features according to user intent and relevance
The advice is to take a similar approach as you would with an SEO link building strategy: namely prioritise user experience.
Is this topic relevant to our target audience and does it fall within our marketing funnel?
Example: if you have an affiliate link in a piece such as this one: ‘12 best [your industry] companies’ the user intent behind the article aligns with the link. Similarly if your business is a vegetarian meal subscription service, a piece on ‘[x] easy ways to get more veggies into your diet’ would tick the user intent box.
Is this outlet relevant to our brand?
Relevance really refers to choosing domains with an expertise shared with your company. Taking the example used above this could be chefs or nutritionists who specialise in vegetarian diets. Taking our above example you’re not aiming to position [vegetarianmealsubscription].com as experts in economics, so an affiliate link on an economy website would be confusing and stand out to Google bots (this is an extreme example to illustrate the point!)
So there you have it! Nothing compares to a follow link from a quality and authoritative external domain that was not paid for, in terms of bringing value to your SEO (namely, link juice). But as a valuable marketing strategy, particularly for young brands who are looking to get their name out there and early on in digital campaigns when traffic and visibility are low, you’re likely to need to utilise some affiliate linking.
Here’s a quick checklist of questions to ask before pursuing or cancelling an affiliate link, in order to avoid harming your SEO performance.
Affiliate links checklist
- quality – how authoritative is the domain? This applies on two levels: in the specific subject matter of the individual article and where applicable, across the board – I’m specifically thinking of large newspapers here (they should be authoritative sources across topics)
- quantity – is your list of affiliates extensive? Is it a significant proportion of your strategy? If so, consider changing this
- relevance – is the link likely to generate high bounce rates? Is it a useful link for the user reading the affiliate page / article?