Is Google Killing Affiliate Marketers?
On October 2, Google released the latest edition of its Webmaster Guidelines, drawing the attention of affiliate marketers around the world. Still feeling the sting of the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, many, especially publishers of “thin” sites and scraped content, wondered aloud how Google would alter the rules of search engine optimization this time around.
The answer, it turns out, was not so surprising: Emphasize original content and deliver value.
The search engine juggernaut advised webmasters that wish to avoid Google penalties to write for humans, not the Google crawler, and to avoid publishing content that can be found elsewhere on the web. For affiliate websites, which often rely on product descriptions and copy provided by those running affiliate marketing programs, that can be problematic.
For its part, Google seemed unmoved by the SEO needs of affiliate sites, simply stating that “…sites featuring mainly content from affiliate networks can suffer in Google’s search rankings.” As for thin sites, Google stated flatly that it “…believes that pure, or ‘thin,’ affiliate websites do not provide additional value for web users.”
The guidelines also addressed linking strategies, a cornerstone of off-site optimization for many webmasters. “Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme,” the company said, calling such techniques “a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.” The implication was clear: just about anything an affiliate marketer might do to gain some link love probably deserves a Google penalty.
Doorway sites also received the official Google thumbs down, causing the company to threaten to threaten removing sites that make use of associated techniques from their index.
So, what are affiliate marketers to make of all these pronouncements? Unfortunately, the answer is unclear and depends largely on Google’s resolve to make good on its threats. If it chooses to follow the letter of the law laid out in these latest guidelines, the way affiliates do business could change forever.
In the meantime, it makes sense to embrace Google’s core value of offering as much useful original content as possible. Not only will this please the technocrats in Mountain View who seem to be holding all the cards, but it will show your site visitors that you respect their time and value their patronage. And that is the kind of relationship that ends in click-throughs.