How Affiliates Can Avoid the Wrath of Google

How Affiliates Can Avoid the Wrath of Google

For the last several years, Google has been cracking down on spam; many low-quality sites have disappeared from Google’s results. For most sites, it’s pretty black and white: generate quality original content, and you should be fine.

But there are some legitimate sites that have been caught in a gray area by the recent algorithm changes. Among these are affiliates, which often feature content distributed by merchants, and, thus, which are in danger of violating Google’s prohibition on duplicate content.

Word has finally come down from Google offering a little clarification of its position regarding affiliates. As with most of Google’s decrees, this one took the form of an innocuous blog post on Google’s Webmaster Central Blog (an excellent resource for anyone who manages a website).

It specifically calls out affiliates as sites with thin or duplicate content. Google’s major problem is that much affiliate content is syndicated across hundreds or thousands of different sites.

Here’s the word straight from the horse’s mouth:

If your site syndicates content that’s available elsewhere, a good question to ask is: “Does this site provide significant added benefits that would make a user want to visit this site in search results instead of the original source of the content?” If the answer is “No,” the site may frustrate searchers and violate our quality guidelines. As with any violation of our quality guidelines, we may take action, including removal from our index, in order to maintain the quality of our users’ search results.

Let’s unpack this.

It’s important to know Google prizes original, quality content. If you just throw up content you receive from a merchant, Google considers that content not original, and you run the risk of incurring Google’s wrath.

One way to keep Google happy is to use the content you receive as a guideline or template. Re-write it so it’s in your own voice. Add a paragraph or two that addresses the concerns of your specific audience.

There’s a reason people come to your site, and it’s not so they can read generic content. Putting a little effort into making sure all the content you put up on your site is original can go a long way, not just with Google but with the people visiting your site, too.

What happens if you don’t do this and just keep the duplicate content? It’s likely you could suffer the consequences of an angry Googlebot. This could include complete removal from its index – a death sentence for most sites.

What’s far more likely is that your site will simply drop in the rankings, possibly several pages. Only 8.5% of traffic even makes it past the first page, so getting downgraded could have the same practical effects as being removed from the index completely.

How can you prevent running afoul of the law?

Google has Affiliate Guidelines that are worth taking a gander at if you hope to earn money as an affiliate. Here are the major takeaways:

Create original content. Some duplicate content (such as product descriptions from merchants) is impossible to avoid. But, if you can embellish the content you get from merchants you will only be doing yourself a favor.

Provide value to the visitor. Google’s primary concern is providing a great search experience for users. If the company sees people are responding well to your content, you are less likely to be punished. Spend some time in Google Analytics looking at user engagement data such as bounce rate and average time on site. Do what you can to try to get these numbers moving in the right direction.

Post more than affiliate content. It seems counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to make money as an affiliate is to post about more than just affiliate content. Create posts that aren’t promoting anything. People don’t like to be marketed to all the time. Non-affiliate content will create an audience receptive to your product recommendations.

Creating original content is tough and time-consuming, but it’s the only surefire way to avoid being downgraded in Google. As its algorithm gets better and better every day, thin affiliates with duplicate content will continue to be punished.

Have other questions about being an affiliate? Check out our Affiliate FAQs.

Photo via Robert Scoble on Flickr.