SEO and affiliate marketing can work in perfect tandem, if efforts are strategically balanced.
Affiliate marketing and search engine optimisation (SEO) have similar tactics, in that they both work around links, visibility, traffic and potential revenue opportunity generation. They also have the same overarching goals, in that they are both working to drive relevant, high-quality traffic to a site so that those visits can eventually turn into sales. So, there’s absolutely no reason for these two disciplines to be working against one another. Rather, they should work together in conjunction so that the site ultimately generates more revenue.
Depending on the industry, affiliate linking may have a necessary place within a wider marketing strategy, so it is key to understand how it can affect the same website’s SEO. Many fail to see that their affiliate and SEO strategies actually overlap, meaning their content performs poorly. For affiliate marketing content to perform well, as well as generate revenue, it needs to be visible to the right audience. That’s where SEO comes in.
So, what are the main considerations when it comes to running affiliate programmes with SEO in mind?
First of all, are affiliate links bad for SEO?
In short, no. Affiliate links do not hurt a website’s SEO as Google does not regard them as backlinks. As long as they are tagged correctly, but more on this later…
Although affiliate links aren’t especially bad for SEO, they aren’t by definition good for it either. Since Google knows how to identify and ultimately ignore an affiliate link, it doesn’t pass any SEO value from the linking site. Affiliate links also tend to go through a series of redirects which devalues them even more. Therefore if your goal is to build links to increase site authority, affiliates aren’t going to do what you need in the long run.
The main benefit of affiliate links is to increase the site’s visibility and drive financial reward, quickly. Though, if a lot of people interact and engage with those affiliate links, it could produce an indirect positive impact on search engine rankings. Google can see this act as good user experience, helpful content and positive web design practice, and reward the site in return. However, if the pages are irresponsibly stuffed with spammy affiliate links, it will negatively affect SEO ranking scores. Worst of all, affiliate links that do not match the content onsite could bring penalties from search engines.
Google endeavours to provide its users with the most relevant and helpful search results, which is why it rewards websites that meet its users’ search intent as a priority over sales-driven approaches. Google’s John Mueller shared in the 2021 Google Search Central SEO Hangout that the number of affiliate links on one page doesn’t matter, as long as the content itself is helpful to searchers.
In terms of negatives for SEO, affiliate links are unlikely to be harmful unless they’ve been irresponsibly built in mass, from non-trustworthy domains, and don’t sync with the content they’re linking to. Nevertheless, given that affiliate links also don’t provide any SEO value, it is important that marketing teams strike a balance between both disciplines so that affiliates can continue to be utilised in a way that doesn’t hurt search performance in the long-term.
So, affiliate links themselves will generally not hurt your SEO as long as you add the links responsibly.
In order to help Google to understand and differentiate the links on a page, they need to be tagged correctly. Different links have different purposes, so if Google finds that paid links or affiliate links are being used incorrectly to manipulate the algorithm, it may result in the site being removed from the index. When there’s financial compensation associated with a link, for example money is actively being earned through a link, then it needs to be tagged with the rel=“sponsored” or rel=“no follow” attributes.
So as we’ve covered, affiliate links only negatively affect SEO efforts if they are misused, or with a poor domain. Search engines understand the importance of affiliate links to a marketing strategy and won’t penalise a site for using them. Still, search engines do not want the search engine results pages (SERPs) to be influenced by affiliate links.
With search engines placing more emphasis on valuable and helpful content for users, sites will be rewarded when they provide it. So with that in mind, affiliate strategies should be focused around content that resonates with the intended target audience.
How do we balance affiliate marketing and SEO?
It’s not surprising in this digital age to hear that over half of consumers (53%) research products on a search engine like Google before they buy. So based on this insight alone, it seems obvious that for affiliate marketing content to drive the right traffic and engagement, and eventually convert that traffic into purchases, then it needs to be visible on search engines.
If the right keywords aren’t being used within that content, that also matches the target audience’s search intent, then it is unlikely that the affiliate content will even be discovered, nevermind engaged with.
Keywords, keywords, keywords
First off, to give affiliate content a chance of ranking for the most relevant searches on Google, then the right keywords need to be included. Conducting keyword research will help to shape ideas for both affiliate marketing campaigns and SEO strategy. It will also help to expand the reach of any content produced – work smarter, not harder.
Creating content clusters of relevant key terms allows for both an affiliate strategy and SEO strategy to work in alignment, and in a structured manner, that will maximise the success of the content being produced. This ensures that both disciplines have the same definitive direction, helping Google to see the website as authoritative within the chosen narrative or topic. Content clusters should be curated through a mix of short tail and long tail keywords, as well as transactional and informational keywords, that all relate back to the chosen overarching topic.
To encourage clicks, visits and most importantly engagement from the right audience, the right keywords need to be targeted and content needs to be optimised for SEO, so that rankings can increase. In turn, exposure is likely to be greater and there is more chance of users purchasing via the included affiliate link.
Once we have keywords down, the content itself needs to be valuable to the intended audience. Digital-savvy consumers are becoming more and more aware of the disingenuous sales messaging of some brands, and are looking for direct answers to their pain points or search intent. To drive growth from affiliate marketing efforts, content that matches that search intent is vital.
If affiliate marketing content fails to deliver helpful results to web users, then search engines will penalise and rankings will drop. Ultimately meaning that the content will struggle to be discovered, and when it is, consumers are more likely to bounce before they ever click on that affiliate link.
Optimise for SEO
Exactly what it says on the tin. Content optimisation is vital for ensuring an affiliate marketing and SEO strategy work in conjunction. If affiliate content is optimised for SEO then search rankings will improve, as will the performance of that content.
Avoid hardcore affiliates and be selective
It is extremely obvious to Google when an affiliate marketer or site has no connection to the product or service it is promoting. Traffic generated from links on these types of sites has the potential to harm bounce rate, which is one of Google’s ranking factors. Google believes that “thin” affiliate websites do not provide additional value for users and ultimately create a frustrating user experience.
Prioritise affiliates according to the quality and authority of the content they share and who their audience is. Does their content provide added value to the user? Including where they are linking out to. Is their audience relevant to the industry being marketed? This is also where tactics crossover with an SEO link building strategy.
Google recognises affiliate marketing, as well as paid advertising backlinks as viable strategies, so is unlikely to punish for it, however search engines don’t want the SERPs being influenced by paid and affiliate links. So an organic link building strategy alongside this is necessary for long term value and search visibility.
What happens when the affiliate program closes down?
If an affiliate program is closed down, or switched to another affiliate platform, then it’s likely that the affiliate links that were previously built could become broken – which is bad for both SEO and revenue potential. If a customer comes across an affiliate link and it doesn’t work, the customer will be met with a 404 Not Found page rather than the intended website. Meaning, they can’t explore that site, they can’t get any information, and possibly most crucially, they can’t make any purchases.
A broken link can also put customers off a brand entirely, making a website look badly maintained, unprofessional and out of date.
Cleaning up and redirecting these broken links is necessary. If switching to another affiliate partner, then these links can be correlated and restored so that they can continue to have the required impact and drive revenue. However, if an affiliate strategy is no longer required, then SEO core and hygiene work can be used to correlate these broken links and have them redirected to the appropriate onsite content or category landing page, providing long term impact through improved search visibility, especially if valuable user friendly content was created as part of the original affiliate strategy.
So what does this all mean?
To recap, affiliate links won’t provide any long-term SEO value, so they are not helping a site to rank. What they do provide is swift brand amplification and return on investment through almost instant revenue generation.
If the aim is to also rank higher in the SERPs, then not only does content need to be well optimised, but a long-term organic link-building strategy (so that Google sees the site as authoritative and a source of valuable information) is necessary. Otherwise, all that will be built is a website with a lot of affiliate links that Google knows it needs to ignore. This is why working in tandem is the most logical approach.
From an SEO perspective, nothing compares to a follow link from a high-quality and relevant domain that was built organically, in terms of bringing long term search value. But, for a valuable all-round marketing strategy, especially for young brands who are looking to generate awareness and increase traffic quickly, then utilising affiliate linking is a great addition.
Just don’t forget about the bigger picture and the overall health of the website.
If you need support with your digital marketing strategy then please reach out and get in touch with us today.