People conduct an affiliate marketing campaign for one simple reason: to make money.
There's no giant group of affiliates trying to drive altruistic traffic to a site that seeks only to give you information (with no links to buy anything) on how you can eat healthier, for example. There's one major end goal, and that can make link building much harder. But it doesn't have to be.
Google recently adjusted their Webmaster Guidelines to state that affiliate sites with very little good, unique content might not rank well. What will this mean for link building?
Maybe, if you've been doing link building properly all along, Google's change won't mean much. But for those of you just starting out, or if you've approached this in a haphazard manner, it might mean a massive change in your methods.
The Automatic Disadvantage
Affiliate sites are automatically at a bit of a disadvantage because they're trying to compete with the manufacturer or home sites of the products they're selling. If those home sites aren't great, you're going to have it easier of course, but outranking big brands can be very tricky.
Affiliates can't solely focus on rankings. While this is common sense to those of us who live and breathe SEO, it isn't always common sense to people who decide they want to make money online.
Instead, focus on raising your visibility wherever you can get converting traffic, and focus on making sure that when someone clicks through from the SERPs, you can keep there until they convert.
For many affiliates, the key is to draw traffic through capturing different types of searches that the big brands might attract. You don't need to rank for brand terms in order to capture brand traffic.
For example, if you're wondering which smartphone is the best bet, you probably won't simply search “iPhone” and “Android.” You'll search for long-tailed keyphrases like “what's the best smartphone?” or “differences between iPhone and Android.” An affiliate marketing smartphones could easily take advantage of this desire for information and provide enough content to make the user feel confident in making a decision, and hopefully purchasing through the site.
The first thing talked about is original content. If you're pulling in product descriptions that are being pulled in by 1,000 other affiliate sites and you're doing nothing else, you're not going to do well. You're just adding to the problem of duplicate content and not separating yourself from the pack.
Is there a recipe for success here? Basically, you must find a way to make your site stand out, whether it's through including original product reviews, producing your own videos or ebooks, or creating a community better than anyone else's.
Let's take BackyardChickens.com as an example (I first crowed about them in my post about How To Get Authority Links.) Their community is unparalleled. The forum is fantastic the site almost always ranks in the top 3 when I have a chicken question. (Chickens raise a lot of questions.)
They have product reviews and news articles and list the new ones out at the bottom of the homepage, so if you're a frequent visitor you can quickly skim the new bits. This site doesn't immediately make you think “they're just trying to sell chicken coops” either. They've got original content nailed with their 160,000 members though, so that puts them at a definite advantage. (And again, I have zero association with this site.)
Creating Unique Content
This shouldn't be a difficult concept but it does seem that some affiliates don't take the time to alter anything and simply pull in loads of product descriptions that are being used all over the web. Even though I don't think rankings are as important as some people do, you obviously aren't going to have the benefit of organic traffic if you're consistently ranking in the hundreds.
The guidelines state “As a result, sites featuring mainly content from affiliate networks can suffer in Google's search rankings, because they do not have enough unique content that differentiates them from other sites on the web.” If they're being transparent enough to say that, take it to heart and don't rely on product feeds and nothing else.
Unique content extends to more than just altering your basic product descriptions. It means creating something that people can't find anywhere else.
Many times, that's going to be in the form of product reviews and product comparisons. If you wade through pages of reviews and comparisons that allow you to make a decision about which product is right for you and there's a link to buy it right there, would you not be more likely to take the plunge? I certainly would, as long as the link went to a reputable site.
That brings me to another quick point about your affiliate program. If you choose to become a member of a program that doesn't have reputable sites, you may generate clicks to it but it may not result in a conversion, so choose your affiliate program wisely.
Choosing Keywords For Long-tailed Traffic
Remember, you're trying to intercept users before they hit the brand site but you may not be doing this with traditional money keywords. Long-tailed traffic adds up and as an affiliate, you need to actively court it.
If your link strategy is to hope that your content generates links on its own (and I hope you're doing more than that), then make sure you do your keyword and market research to find out what searches are being used so that you can work those phrases into your site.
Google Trends is a great place to look for what's, um, trending. As far as keyword research goes, there are loads of great free tools for this and I hate to keep touting Google but I do use their Keyword Tool quite often.
One thing to keep in mind here though: every other affiliate is using these same keyword tools to come up with ideas, so you still need to make sure that you're thinking creatively and using intention-based phrasings like “how do you find the best x?” and “where can I find a guide for y?”
Using Social Media
Social media can be a huge part of driving traffic to your site. You need to establish your Google+ authorship right off the bat, in my opinion, and start to actively use Google+.
Yes, a lot of people don't use or even like G+ (and it's taken me a very long time to come around), but I think it can be used to get people talking in a way that's completely unlike what you see on Twitter and Facebook. If people are discussing something and you can contribute to the discussion and bring them to your site, that's a good thing.
You should definitely use Twitter and Facebook as well, and any other platform that looks good to you. However, be careful to do more than only promote your site.
Keep an eye out for people asking for help. Don't be afraid to point them to a comparison review you just did, for example, but make sure that every tweet you write isn't a link to something on your site.
Some places where you can drop links socially will strip out affiliate IDs on links pointed directly at a manufacturer's site though, so be aware of that.
Guest posting is taking a wallop these days as, like many other tactics, it's become a spammed-up market. However, quality guest posting is still a nice way to mix up your link building and branding efforts and generate traffic to your site.
Definitely make sure that you're properly set up with a Google+ author profile though, and make sure that if you do guest post somewhere, you do it on a site that also adds value to the web (and your niche) and doesn't exist only to host guest posts.
Disclosure is very important in guest posts. Don't try and hide what you're doing and make sure you comply with any FTC guidelines.
Pursuing Links Actively, Not Just Passively
I realize that there are sites that naturally attract links, but let's assume your affiliate site isn't yet one of them. Considering all the recent problems with duplicate content, overly optimized anchor text, and spammy links, if you're going to actively go after links, you need to make sure you're talking to sites that provide value to the web and have the potential to send traffic to your site.
Spending a day submitting your site to every free directory on the web is a waste of time. Guest posting is one way of doing this but as I mention above, it's not something you should sink all your resources into.
If a directory makes sense and isn't one that exists only for the purpose of hosting links, try it and see if it brings you any traffic, but considering many of the penalized sites that I've looked at (who have cleaned up their links) are still being told they have unnatural links and most of those are on crappy directory sites, I'd be very careful with this.
Usually when I offer the advice of “looking for good sites, emailing them, and asking for a link” I have people telling me that that's not a scalable or effective method. While I agree with that in many cases, it's not always true, and it may very well work for you. Again, as with any link strategy, I wouldn't rely on this though.
If you're going to pursue a link, make sure the site is valuable for you. If nothing there is being commented on or socialized, it may be worth forgetting.
Broken link building can also work very well as most webmasters don't want to send links to 404'd pages. Pointing out where they have 404s and pointing them to a relevant resource on your own affiliate site can generate a lot of nice links.
When you're building links, remember to make sure that you aren't just sending everyone to your home page of course, as you want to do a lot of deep linking to your product pages, reviews, forums, etc.
What Not To Do
- Mimic competitors and pursue a link on every site that gives them a link: This leaves a footprint and doesn't take into account the variety of factors that make a site perform well.
- Use network links: Many networks have been discounted, but people do seem to still be using these types of links. Remember that when a network is discovered and devalued, and that's where you've built the majority of your links, you'll no longer have a link foundation.
- Ignore the fact that to compete, you're going to need unique and amazing content: I know it's quick and easy to pull in 7,000 product descriptions and walk away, but it's not going to help you for long, if ever. With loads of people trying to make money through affiliate marketing, if you're selling the same things they are, you have to find a way to stand out.
- Buy links unless they're nofollowed and can send you converting traffic: If you're going to spend money on links, don't violate Google's guidelines as you're already at a bit of a disadvantage anyway.
- Spam forums and blog comments: You hopefully wouldn't do this with non-affiliate sites either, but generally speaking this is a very poor way to build links.
...And For More Information And Ideas
I was lucky enough to be included in an amazing crowdsourced affiliate link post a while back and reading over it again, I am still blown away by some of the creative ideas that people mentioned, so that's definitely worth a read (and not a rehash here.) Just remember that as an affiliate, you probably have it tougher than anyone else, so make sure that you devote your time and efforts to links that will pay off in traffic.