Google Penguin Update And Affiliate Programs

By: Chris Crum - May 9, 2012

In continuing our looks at Google’s quality guidelines, it’s time to talk about affiliate programs.

Google, as you probably know, recently released the Penguin update, targeting sites that violate its quality guidelines. With that in mind, it seems wise to examine what those guidelines actually are, and look for things to avoid (and of course, things to do right).

Here are some articles from this series:

Google Penguin Update: Seriously, Avoid Doorway Pages

Google Penguin Update: Don’t Forget About Duplicate Content

Google Penguin Update: A Lesson In Cloaking

Google Penguin Update Recovery: Hidden Text And Links

Recover From Google Penguin Update: Get Better At Links

Google Penguin Update: 12 Tips Directly From Google

Google Penguin Update Recovery: Getting Better At Keywords

Google lists one of its specific guidelines as:

If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.

So what does Google mean by unique and relevant content? That links to the page for “little or no original content” we referenced in the article about doorway pages.

To reiterate, Google says, “One of the most important steps in improving your site’s ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content.”

“However, some webmasters attempt to improve their page’s ranking and attract visitors by creating pages with many words but little or no authentic content,” Google adds. “Google will take action against domains that try to rank more highly by just showing scraped or other auto-generated pages that don’t add any value to users.”

The first example Google lists is “thin affiliate sites”.

“These sites collect pay-per-click (PPC) revenue by sending visitors to the sites of affiliate programs, while providing little or no value-added content or service to the user,” Google says. “These sites usually have no original content and may be cookie-cutter sites or templates with no unique content.”

The company later adds, “There is no problem in being an affiliate as long as you create some added value for your users and produce valuable content that gives a user a reason to visit your site. For example, you could create product reviews, ratings, and product comparisons.” Emphasis added.

Google has another page in its Webmaster Tools help center specifically about affiliate programs. On this page, Google provides four specific, important tips for affiliate sites.

1. Affiliate program content should form only a small part of the content of your site.

2. When selecting an affiliate program, choose a product category appropriate for your intended audience. The more targeted the affiliate program is to your site’s content, the more value it will add and the more likely you will be to rank better in Google’s search results and make money from the program. For example, a well-maintained site about hiking in the Alps could consider an affiliate partnership with a supplier who sells hiking books rather than office supplies.

3. Use your website to build community among your users. This will help build a loyal readership, and can also create a source of information on the subject you are writing about. For example, discussion forums, user reviews, and blogs all offer unique content and provide value to users.

4. Keep your content updated and relevant. Fresh, on-topic information increases the likelihood that your content will be crawled by Googlebot and clicked on by users.

I’d pay special attention to that last one, given the increased focus Google has put on freshness in general. That hasn’t changed, either, with April’s big list of algorithm changes.

Beyond that, the more you can do to distinguish your site from other affiliate sites, the better.

Jeff Slipko, SEO Strategy Manager for Expedia’s affiliate network wrote a good post on the Expedia Affiliate Network blog recently. He notes that affiliates shouldn’t add content just for the sake of adding content. In other words, don’t create worthless content.

“Worthless content will be general, boring, duplicated from other sources, and will be written for the search engines best interests instead of your users,” he writes. “On the other hand, content that adds value and will truly make a difference will be unique, interesting, problem solving, and tailored to your user base. Avoid write content that’s only purpose is to rank for certain keywords and fails to help your user base get the most out of your site. If your content is done properly, your site will rank for more keywords, bring in more traffic, satisfy your users, and ultimately increase revenue.”

Other suggestions he offers include: don’t stuff keywords into your content, be careful of overly optimized link anchor text and avoid being a thin affiliate. So basically, stick to Google’s quality guidelines.

Image: Batman (ABC/TV Land)

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • Brandon

    Good article Chris.

    I think the challenge for SEM professionals is finding the “truth behind the lines”, so to speak. Google is quick to point out that freshness is important. But as Jeff Slipko said, it may do more harm than good to publish for the sake of freshness.

    Which perspective is right? One might say to publish often and keep the content high quality. But the reality is, in many industries, this simply isn’t possible. In these cases, you have to take a trade off… either freshness or top-quality.

    My intuition says that “decent” content published frequently is more potent than excellent content published seldomly. This is something I’m testing. But I expect to change my modus operandi again in a couple of months with the next wave of algo changes.

  • jay

    I have several blogs that are essential aggregator sites and then I have several other with pure original content. The funny thing is neither ones have really been affected that much. I do notice a 8% bump in traffic if anything. No decreases though. The aggregator sites haven’t been hit either and still generate more traffic than my orginal content sites.

  • AstroTarot

    Very nice summarum-content is the king no other words to say it..

  • Affiliate Blogger

    One thing continues to the remain the same for affiliate marketing. Content! This seems to be a common theme through the years and all of the major updates to Google’s algorithms.

    By creating quality content, and using affiliate links sparingly it appears that we can stay on Google’s good side.

    Scott Hugo

  • Umar Mukhtar

    It’s a welcome idea.A hard-working affiliate will have to “make hare while the sunshines”.One has to proof his worth, not just relying on programmed search-engines to earn a-living.

  • Haroun Kola

    All of us who rely on affiliate marketing for a living should take heed of these changes and especially Google’s recommendations. To make the web interesting for all users is the key, and to give a great benefit to users of the mighty search engine is the way to go!

    Thanks for the article

  • Astro Gremlin

    I just started a couple of thin affiliate sites, so good advice to offer some reviews and good unique content. I guess the weird thing is that other methods than content ever worked at all. The freshness thing sure takes a lot of effort.

  • Anne

    It’s a welcome idea but not so new idea, probably many affiliates didn’t even know what it is to have unique valuable and fresh content first, if they initially started as affiliates – compared with those who started with quality website content building.

  • Zak

    I think small affiliate sites will die and will have to do some ppc to get traffic, Google kicked out small businesses and gave more importance to big brands and their advertising platform adwords. It’s not about quality content, spam or anything it’s all about money and benefits.

  • Ayahnieda

    Sound like we must learn more… Seo Trick nowaday more harder since Google have new Soldier like this Penguin…. affiliater must fight hard. btw Nice Article.

  • Alec Dieperink

    Hi I just started a couple of affiliate sites and I can use some good advice you have to offer.