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 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.
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.
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