Google’s Stance on Content Laden with Affiliate Links

  • June 13, 2024
  • SEO
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John Mueller from Google addressed a prevalent question regarding whether the inclusion of affiliate links negatively impacts website rankings. He also shed light on essential considerations for affiliate sites.

Hypothesis: Google Targets Affiliate Sites

The notion that Google specifically targets affiliate sites has been a widely debated topic for decades. Discussions date back to events like Pubcon Orlando 2004 and even earlier on various SEO forums.

However, upon reflection, it becomes clear that Google’s focus has always been on the quality of the sites employing certain tactics such as keyword stuffing, creating link networks, and using automated content at scale, rather than targeting affiliate sites per se.

Visual Example of a Low-Quality Site

The belief that Google targets affiliate sites persists, likely because many affiliate sites tend to lose rankings during updates. However, this belief often overlooks the inherent deficiencies that some affiliate sites may possess, which marketers might not always recognize.

Do Numerous Affiliate Links Affect Rankings?

The pressing question:

“…do many affiliate links hurt the ranking of a page?”

John Mueller’s response:

“We have a blog post from about 10 years ago about this, and it’s just as relevant now. The short version is that having affiliate links on a page does not automatically make your pages unhelpful or bad, and also, it doesn’t automatically make the pages helpful.

You need to ensure that your pages can stand on their own, that they’re truly useful and beneficial in the broader context of the web, and for your users.”

Creating Self-Sustaining Pages

Some affiliate marketers who face ranking challenges often believe they are adhering perfectly to best practices. However, their ideas of “perfection” might be outdated, derived from antiquated SEO blogs.

Consider this: in 2024, some SEOs still believe in simplistic metrics like clickthrough rates as direct ranking factors, ignoring the substantial role of AI within Google’s algorithms over the past decade. These outdated beliefs fail to appreciate how machine learning processes click data to classify content that is most likely to satisfy users.

Common Outdated SEO Tactics

These are, in my opinion, practices leading to unhelpful content:

  • Targeting Keywords, Not People
    Keywords are just a starting point for uncovering topics of interest. Google ranks content based on the topics and concepts associated with keywords, not keywords themselves. Creating content by merely targeting keywords often results in material designed for search engines, lacking the usefulness and helpfulness users seek.
  • Imitating Competitors
    Another detrimental tactic is imitating what successful competitors are doing, then attempting to do it better. This approach typically results in redundant content that lacks uniqueness or originality, reducing its chances of ranking well.

To truly outperform competitors, the focus should be on offering something valuable to users that others aren’t providing.

Key Takeaways

Here are three critical strategies to excel in search rankings:

  • Don’t merely target keywords.
    Prioritize understanding the needs of the people searching for those keywords.
  • Avoid copying competitors’ strategies.
    Instead, identify gaps in their offerings and make those your strength.
  • Promote your site to real users, not just through links.
    Discover where your potential visitors spend their time and attract their attention there.

What Does Google Say About Affiliate Sites?

Mueller referenced content he wrote a decade ago, though he did not link to it directly. Nonetheless, a wealth of Google documentation exists on this topic, emphasizing several points:

  1. Use the rel=”sponsored” attribute:
    Google’s 2021 guidelines state:
  2. “Affiliate links on pages such as product reviews or shopping guides are a common way for blogs and publishers to monetize their traffic. Using affiliate links is generally acceptable, provided they are tagged with the ‘rel=sponsored’ attribute, whether created manually or dynamically.

    Sites that fail to appropriately tag affiliate links may face manual actions to prevent links from affecting search rankings, and our systems might also undertake algorithmic actions. Both can impact a site’s search visibility.”

  3. Provide Added Value:
    Google’s guidance from ten years ago highlights:
  4. “If your site syndicates content available elsewhere, ask, ‘Does this site offer significant added benefits that would make a user choose it over the original source?’ Without such added value, the site risks frustrating searchers and violating our quality guidelines, which may result in index removal.”

  5. Site reputation abuse:
    Guidance states:
  6. “Using affiliate content on a site previously belonging to a government agency constitutes abuse.

    Embedding affiliate links or third-party ad units, when done correctly, does not constitute abuse.”

  7. Thin affiliate pages:
  8. “Thin affiliate pages feature product links with replicated descriptions and reviews from merchants, lacking original content or added value.”

  9. Google outlines how to craft high-quality reviews:

Affiliate Sites Can Rank Highly

Affiliate sites frequently achieve high search rankings. Google targets spammy tactics and low-quality content, not affiliate sites specifically.

While Google’s algorithms are not perfect, leading to occasional false positives, maintaining an open mind about why a site might not be ranking is crucial.

For further insights, listen to the Office Hours podcast at the 4:55 minute mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Dilen

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