Thursday, May 08, 2008

Does Google Penalize Affiliate Websites?

The title of this post is "Does Google penalize affiliate websites?", but the title should probably be something more like "Does Google penalize affiliate websites just for being affiliate websites?" I've seen webmasters go to great length to disguise or cloak their affiliate links so that Google won't penalize them for having affiliate links on their site. I think this is a silly waste of time.

I've seen editors at the Wikipedia who have displayed amazing amounts of derision about a site simply because "it's an affiliate site!" (Even though the site in question wasn't even really an affiliate site. I knew the owner, and he made his money via straight media sells. No affiliate revenue period. And the owner of this particular website was a known expert in the field, and the site had 100's of pages of high quality content.)

Do Affiliate Sites Suck Just Because They're Affiliate Sites?

Somewhere along the way, some people got the idea that all affiliate sites suck, are useless, or lame. This is probably because a ton of short-term thinking, opportunistic, and lazy webmasters have launched countless useless web pages whose sole purpose were to draw search engine traffic for the sole purpose of getting advertising revenue or affiliate commissions. But lumping all affiliate websites in with that category is silly.

Gambling Affiliate Sites and Google Penalties

I have some familiarity with the online gambling industry. It's a profitable and competitive niche. And nowhere else will you see a more motley assortment of lame, useless, and content-poor websites. The online gambling affiliate niche is so aggressive and competitive that it's hard to find a good source of information in a search engine on a specific subject, because some of the most competitive gambling webmasters have link bombed their way to the top. If they put 5% of their link bombing efforts into content creation, many of them would have a decent site.

The reason I bring up the online gambling industry is because there is a huge difference between a high quality gambling information portal and a useless content-poor website. That difference is not defined by whether or not the website has affiliate links. It's not even defined by how many affiliate links the site has.

For example, Poker News has affiliate links for online poker websites. But that site has thousands of pages of high quality, useful content about poker. But there is no Google penalty in effect for this site. Try a Google search for the phrase "poker rules" for example. Or "poker strategy". Both are extraordinarily competitive search phrases, and the Poker News website ranks just fine for those phrases.

Compare the content on that site with 10 randomly chosen sites from the search results for a phrase like "online casino", one of the most heavily link-bombed phrases on the Internet. Some of them might have respectable content. But many, if not most of them will consist of pages full of nothing more than affiliate advertisements. After reviewing some of those sites, someone might think that if Google isn't penalizing affiliate websites, then perhaps they should.

But if Google did that, sites like Poker News, which carries affiliate links, would get dinged in the results too. Google would no longer be providing what might be the best results for probably several thousand search engine phrases. That's counter to Google's interests.

Google Does NOT penalize websites just because they're affiliate sites.

I didn't write this post to bash the legions of gambling webmasters publishing low-content sites. I wrote it to point out that Google doesn't penalize sites just because they're affiliate sites. Nor should they.

A side note about linking to gambling sites.

(This is a side note, but I'll often see SEO gurus advise people to not link to sites in the gambling industry because you'll probably get penalized for linking to a bad neighborhood. Being a site about gambling doesn't automatically make a website a bad neighborhood to link to. The advice people should be giving in that situation would involve using discernment to see whether or not the gambling site in question was a quality resource that would be useful for your readers. It might make perfect sense for a site about football to link to an online sportsbook, for example, even if the focus of the football site isn't on wagering. It would make sense for such a site to link to a website reviewing online sportsbooks too. But only if the sportsbook or the sportsbook review sites are quality resources that the webmaster thinks would be useful to their readers.)

SEO Misconceptions and Myths

Being penalized by Google just for being an affiliate site is only one popular SEO misconception I'm tired of hearing about though. Nonsense like "reciprocal links don't work" or "linking is the single most important ranking factor" wears me out too. Reciprocal links work fine if you use your brain before linking to the other site. Linking might be the most important factor in ranking for some phrases, but that's not true for every phrase. Or probably even most phrases.

Why Your Affiliate Site Doesn't Rank Well in Google

If you run an affiliate website, and you think you might have been penalized for Google for having affiliate links on your site, then you are probably being penalized for one of these other reasons instead:
  1. Linking to crappy websites.
  2. Linking to a bunch of crappy websites which are useless to your visitor.
  3. Having no real content on your site. Thinly disguised content masquerading as a "product review" is the worst offender in this case, and my 13 year old son is smart enough to spot this kind of nonsensical content.
  4. Poor internal linking.
  5. Poor on-page optimization.
  6. Any other kind of obvious "link scheme".
Not all of the above are actual "penalties". Some of them are just reasons for your site to rank poorly. Sites that are concerned exclusively with driving traffic to affiliate links don't deserve to rank as well as websites which concern themselves with providing their users with quality information. In the long run, the high quality informational sites will make more money anyway.

How To NOT Be Penalized By Google

What to do?

It's pretty simple. Focus on building a good quality website with good quality content first and foremost. Focus on helping people solve problems. Give them the information they're searching for. Refer them to other quality resources online, and get other quality resources to refer peopel to you.

Once you've done those things, the affiliate revenue is a no-brainer. You'll have repeat visitors and a sustainable revenue stream that will last you a lot longer than a lot of other affiliate webmasters.

And it's more fun to build a useful resource too.


At 12:35 PM , Blogger Monopoly City said...

Really nice article Randy

At 5:48 AM , Blogger Dave Lopan said...

Very slick your perspective. A picture is worth 1000 words, but a niche topic is worth at least 500,000 by your explanation.

Ya know, I was just trying to be cute there, but now that I think about it, how much weight do you think a well titled, unique picture carries on an SEO scale? How many words is a picture really worth?

Sorry for going off topic, I do love your article - good writer's block remedy.

At 5:50 AM , Blogger Dave Lopan said...

Sorry dude, I commented on the wrong article (meant to comment on the 1000 piece of content one). This one's cool too though.

At 7:56 AM , Blogger Randy Ray said...

I don't know how many words I'd equate a picture to be worth, but yeah, I see your point. There's a tremendous amount of SEO value in a well-named image with alt text.

At 5:08 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

I read your article its really awesome and such helpful content..

Dale Morkel

At 10:48 PM , Blogger mikemiller said...

Thank you for the tips and advice. I have even gained knowledge just from reading the various comments.


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