Affiliate links are a useful tool for online advertisers looking to gain a little extra traffic. Essentially, you’ll be putting a link to your website, or a landing page, on an affiliate’s website or domain. You’ll receive the benefit of extra traffic in exchange for a small fee, usually a fixed amount per click-through. If you’re familiar with Google’s Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, you already know what affiliate marketing is like—traditional affiliate links work the same way, but with a site other than a major search engine.
Affiliate links can be tricky, however. Google is able to identify which links are designed for affiliate marketing, and traditionally, the search engine giant has held a firm stance that affiliate links do not pass authority on to the destination site. Affiliate links can be seen as endorsements, like a traditional backlink that offers a citation or a reference to an outside source, or advertisements, which are purchased and therefore do not pass any kind of authority. Google views links as respectable, but they also see them as a form of advertising—so the rules of linking through affiliates are different if you’re trying to get the most out of your SEO campaign.
It’s impossible to get any authority to pass through your affiliate links directly, but there are a handful of techniques you can use to optimize new content and build more authority for your domain in general. There are three steps to this process.
Depending on your budget, you may have a limited range of options for potential affiliates. There are many popular options available, but if you’re interested in getting the most for your time and effort, it’s better to find one with relevance to your industry, or one with a high level of authority. Working with webmasters of low-authority article directories or similar shady schemes could cause your affiliate links to be seen as unscrupulous, or otherwise irrelevant. It’s true that these affiliate links do not pass authority, but if your webmaster posts the link incorrectly or if your link appears too frequently on the site, you could incur a penalty on your domain.
Secondly, you’ll want to find a webmaster who is easy to work with. Should anything change with your link or your campaign, you need to have a line of flexibility. Most respectable online domains will pose no problem for you, but run through your long-term options before finalizing any affiliate in your program.
Once you’ve found a suitable affiliate, you can start brainstorming about your links. Ideally, you’ll have a handful of different links to post for each affiliate site, so they can cycle through or add some diversity to the program. If you’re an e-commerce site, you can create different links for different products. Otherwise, you can create different naming conventions or different destinations based on your service offerings.
Next, you’ll want to create a unique landing page for each domain you have in your network of affiliates. For example, if you’re only working with one affiliate, you’ll only need to set up a landing page for that one, but if you’re working with three different webmasters, you’ll need three separate landing pages. This isn’t a requirement of affiliate marketing; instead, it’s a key opportunity to optimize your site for SEO, and improve your ability to track traffic and conversions.
The landing pages don’t need to be anything fancy, but they will need to be designed in a way that captures your inbound lead’s interest and gives them a chance to convert—whether that means purchasing a product or filling out a form. You’ll also need to make sure each landing page is set up under your core domain, with a unique and relevant URL associated with it. For example, if your domain is SEO.co, you could set up a trio of landing pages such as SEO.co/affiliate/affiliate-name-1, SEO.co/affiliate/affiliate-name-2, and SEO.co/affiliate/affiliate-name-3. Doing so will instantly give you three new pages of content on your domain, which will assist your onsite SEO efforts if you write them in line with SEO best practices.
As what might be an obvious piece of advice, make sure your landing pages are all uniquely written. Don’t simply change a handful of words around and hope that Google doesn’t catch you cutting corners; take the time to write each page from scratch if you want to avoid getting noticed for posting duplicate content. You could also use these landing pages to post inward links to your interior pages, giving you a tighter network of in-linking to enhance your navigation simplicity in the eyes of Google’s robots.
As an added bonus to the separate landing page structure, you’ll be able to set up individual goals in Google Analytics and attain valuable data about the nature of each inbound stream of traffic. If you’re dealing with multiple different affiliates, you probably already have an easy way to determine which is bringing you the most traffic—but with Goals, you’ll be able to see exactly how your users behave once they arrive to the landing pages, and which types of users are the most qualified as potential leads.
Now that you’ve got your affiliates chosen and you have your landing pages set up, it’s time for the final step of the process: adding more value to your affiliate’s site. This is where the flexible relationship with your webmasters will come in handy.
If your webmaster is open to the option, offer additional content for them to post around your link. There’s a chance you’ll have to pay for this extra service, but in most cases, webmasters will appreciate the opportunity to feature extra content onsite. One of the best ways to do this is to feature an embedded video, showcasing your brand or the product you’re going to be selling through the affiliate link, near the source of the link. For webmasters, it serves as a bonus piece of content. For users, it serves as an interactive preview before they ever have to click a link. For you, it’s a key opportunity to improve your offsite SEO. Anybody sharing or linking to your embedded video will pass link juice all the way back to your original domain, giving you one extra push for search optimization.
Other options include posting similarly engaging pieces of visual content, such as infographics, or using short clips of copy to optimize for a product name or brand name. As with any SEO-related copy, you’ll want to take efforts to avoid over-optimizing with irrelevant or spammy keyword choices.
Affiliate links aren’t a great SEO strategy by themselves, since they pass no authority onto your site, but they can be useful in terms of generating raw traffic to your pages. If you’re going to use affiliate links as part of your overall lead generation strategy, applying these steps can help you make the most of them. You generally don’t have to worry about the threat of a penalty, since Google understands and condones the use of affiliate links, but don’t pass up the opportunity for a little extra SEO power.