A question came up on the SEOmoz forums yesterday about affiliate links. As I work in gaming and affiliates are a big part of our link profile it’s something I’ve thought about a lot and, while the implimentation of these ideas has had varying success, hopefully this gives you a few ideas about how to maximise your affiliate program links.
As a disclaimer it’s fairly complex to get decent value out of affiliate links and Google wants you to nofollow affiliate links, so gaming them for more positive SEO value could wind up with you getting in a little trouble.
Getting SEO value from affiliate links
This blog is a good place to start, however if you are really serious about it there’s a lot more depth you can go into.
To really maximise your affiliate links you’re going to want to start by having your affiliate program on your main domain. However you want to set that up is up to you but make sure that it doesn’t interfere with your normal content. At worst have the program links point to a subdomain, but to get any real value you don’t want to be on a 3rd party affiliate system.
If your affiliate program utilises links like example.com/?aff=12345 then you can start by ignoring the aff parameter in webmaster tools and also canonicalise the page.
It may be possible to get affiliates to give you a clean link, then drop a cookie on users based on the referral header. This has the advantage of requiring no work on the affiliates side (they simply link to anywhere on your site as normal) but it’s very easy to game for other affiliates. If there’s money to be made a lot of people are going to take advantage of it. A variation on this is you can use # links and then interpret them server side (so affiliate links to example.com#aff=123456 convert to example.com/?aff=123456). Again that’s game-able.
Another possibility would be to set up affiliate landing pages that override cookies (a force vs a default), so that affiliates can link into this page cleanly and visitors get cookied at that stage. You would then have a stripped down navigation to sections of your site you most wanted to promote. You’d have to make this page accessible to search engines though, which means there’s a possibility of that page showing in SERPS. On the other hand it could also give you a chance to be in the SERPS for their brand if you do it right You could get around this aspect by using ‘noindex, follow’ in robots.txt or in meta robots.
A somewhat dodgy (all right, actually dodgy) thing you can do is look at a list of your affiliates and see who’s not bringing in many sales, especially those with high traffic. You can then offer to match or beat their affiliate payments for their continued endorsement with a clean link.
Assuming you manage to impliment a decent solution something you’ll need to overcome is that affiliates are increasingly masking their affiliate links to keep the link juice. See this post for an example, though it’s possible to do the same thing without the plugin. No real solution to this beyond interacting with the affiliate and discussing it with them.
Affiliates may not be too happy about providing SEO friendly links as it makes it harder for them to rank/earn. One solution could be to offer additional rewards for SEO friendly links over traditional links.
A small negative to solving this if you have a widespread affiliate program is that you could suddenly have a lot of low value links pointing into you, diluting to a degree some of your stronger links. I’m not saying that getting a whole bunch of links could ever be bad, per se, but depending on your niche I still think some affiliates operate in ‘bad neighbourhoods’. I wouldn’t worry about it too much, but if possible roll these links out instead of flipping a switch.
The only real concern is if you then revert or change your affiliate program. I’m 95% sure Google doesn’t care if you pick up a whole bunch of links quickly, but if you lose a whole bunch of links quickly you’re going to set off some alarm bells.
Pic Credit: yandle