It’s no secret that Google’s recent algorithm updates haven’t been kind to the traditional affiliate business model. I work specifically with travel affiliate sites and it’s been a painful experience for many of them.
In addition to this, late last year a copy of the Google Quality Rating Guidelines was leaked with certain sections firing a clear warning shot to affiliate sites by defining those which it felt to be “thin”:
Thin affiliate sites that only exist to make money, identified by checkout on a different domain, image properties showing origination at another URL, lack of original content, different WhoIs registrants of the two domains in question.
Previously the long-standing recipe for affiliate success was to buy a keyword driven domain, “acquire” perfect anchor text links from a variety of “quality” sites, and launch a comprehensive AdWords campaign. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of reference, Google via Panda and Penguin made this method obsolete, although, some affiliate site owners still hold hope that their old rankings will magically come back.
To be clear: time has run out for these sites. Those rankings are never coming back and the longer the delay the further they fall behind their competitors that see the writing on the wall.
Let's look at how affiliates can update their model to fatten up their sites to accommodate Google’s more recent changes and also anticipate future updates.
1. Think Like a Brand and Eventually Become One
In the past, you could get away with the old affiliate model, but today Google continues to give brands the spots in the search results affiliates used to occupy. It’s time to think like a brand.
Sure, you may offer a great range of products but why would someone buy from you over an established name?
You have to ask yourself how your site is going to stand out. Are you going to:
- Focus on a niche that isn’t targeted effectively by the big brands?
- Offer exceptional customer service that is way above and beyond your competitors?
- Offer a slick user experience?
Whatever it is, have that vision by understanding what makes you unique and use that as a basis to form a unique identity that gets users excited about buying from you.
2. Understand and Write for Your User
Helpful and unique content accomplishes a lot of things: it builds your brand, increases conversion, boosts loyalty and proves your site is a resource to be trusted. This can’t be achieved by churning out generic content on a daily basis.
You need to take the time to understand your customer.
- Who are your customers?
- Where do your customers come from?
- What do your customers expect from your site?
- What is important to your customers?
Once you have those questions answered, you can use the knowledge to create content that will make an impact.
From there, you can develop a credible blog that isn’t there just for SEO value, create landing pages that boost conversion, video content, eBooks, guides, infographics, and so on.
3. Unique Content is Key
If 99 percent of your pages are made up of duplicate content supplied by your vendor it will be impossible for Google to rank them. Even worse, your site could be slapped by Panda, which most affiliate sites don't have the resources to recover from.
The best solution to this problem is to rewrite all your supplied content. Yes this takes a lot of time, but taking shortcuts will significantly limit your potential to rank in the future.
Start by rewriting your top selling items and then work your way down. You can use data from Google Analytics to see which products convert most often, current rankings, or receive the most entrances on organic terms and start with those.
Be sure to keep your target audience in mind when rewriting the content. If re-writing your supplied content simply isn’t feasible then noindex those pages at the very least.
4. Look Beyond Google
This might sound unrealistic if Google provides 80 percent of your search engine traffic, but by diversifying your traffic sources you can become less dependent on Google and actually perform better on Google and other search engines at the same time.
Given all of the Google’s recent changes, it makes sense to prepare your site for the worst.
Consider whether your site would survive if your traffic from Google was cut in half. If not, then you should be looking to drive visitors from other channels, such direct type-ins due to brand awareness, email marketing, or referral traffic from social media, guest blogs, YouTube, and so on.
The more referral traffic you can generate from other sources to boost your name recognition, the less you have to worry about Google controlling the future of your business.