How Google feels about websites with affiliate links has been a passionately debated SEO topic since just about the very beginning. It seems that over the past year, bloggers are using affiliate programs to make money more than ever before. The SHE Media Partner Network often works with our partners to build affiliate programs. And because organic search traffic drives the far majority of our overall network traffic, we want to make sure our partners aren’t putting their SEO at risk as interest in affiliate programs increase.
Google has been clear, affiliate programs alone aren’t an issue. John Mueller (Google webmaster trends analyst) said earlier this year, “As far as I know we don’t explicitly go into the site and say well there are links that look like affiliate links therefore we will treat this website as being lower quality. In general, the main issues that I see with regards to affiliate websites is that they tend to just be lower quality websites.”. As usual with Google, the most important part is the quality of the page and the content.
We already mentioned some details around the last Google algorithm update, confirmed by Google on November 12 and having occurred on Nov 7/8, but now that a bit more time has passed, let’s take a closer look at what industry experts say the update was related to.
“The changes seem to mainly affect small and medium-sized affiliate websites, primarily in the USA. Many of the affected websites belong to the travel, food and health sectors.” – Search Metrics
“They seem to have been aggressive on small affiliate websites” – Twitter thread with Barry Schwartz
“…many smaller bloggers in certain niche categories were impacted heavily (like recipe sites). And when checking those specific sites, you could clearly see many unnatural links via recommendation widgets and other link building tactics.” – Glenn Gabe
We took a look at the sites who saw the largest organic drop around November 7-9 to see if there were any trends between the type of pages, sites, code, etc. Here are the highlights from what we saw:
#1 An overwhelming amount of content consisting of top ten lists, sales round-ups and best product listicles
#2 Blogs with thin content + affiliate links
#3 Blog posts with content recirculation modules on top of content recirculation modules on top of content recirculation modules
If the November algorithm update was targeting some sort of overall link evaluation that includes the way bloggers integrate affiliate programs into their content, we want our partners to follow the right guidelines when it comes to engaging in affiliate programs while still building a positive brand, creating high-quality, accurate and trustworthy content that is valuable to their readers.
Q4 is a particularly high time for product posts. Your seasonal editorial plan may include as many gift guide angles as you can think of, but with over 300 million web results for search queries like “best toys for toddlers”, your posts better offer more value to your reader than link lists of products and product descriptions copied directly from the seller’s website.
how to not hurt your seo while using affiliate links:
Include products that your audience would expect to see on your website
Qualify your outbound links (rel=nofollowed, rel=sponsored and rel=ugc)
Depending the program, some Google understand as affiliates and nofollow by default, but affiliate links should be nofollow
Actually know about and support the brands/products that you recommend to your readers
Choose high-quality product images
Your blog posts that include affiliate links (actually all posts, but especially affiliate posts) should have well written, helpful, unique, truthful, thoughtful content to go with it. A product image with one generic sounding line of copy about the product will not be enough to compete and may cause Google to devalue your content – this isn’t believable to your audience and doesn’t bring them value. This is a big red flag to Google that your content may be thin.
Disclose to your readers that you’ll make a small commission if they purchase from a link on your page.
One of our favorite Google algorithm experts, Marie Haynes had a great post on why the November algo update may have been link related. One of her most interesting speculations is that Google may have tweaked the link authority from recipe swap/promotion programs. If all of a sudden Google lessened the weight of those links across the board, many food bloggers could have experienced a drop in organic traffic/rankings.
“Please know that it is perfectly acceptable in Google’s eyes to ask other people for a link. It’s the scale and also the intent to manipulate rankings that is the main concern.” – Marie Haynes
If you’re using affiliate links throughout your content, please follow our recommendations on how to also provide value to your readers and keep your organic search traffic on the rise.