How Does Affiliate Marketing Affect SEO?

Nicole Grodesky
By Nicole Grodesky

Affiliate marketing may be a useful form of advertising to generate some revenue, but is it hurting your search engine optimization (SEO)

Affiliate marketing is an arrangement in which an online retailer will pay a commission to an external website when traffic or sales are generated from that site’s referrals. If you’re the external website, you will recommend a product or service on your site. When people make a purchase based on your recommendation, you will get paid a commission for those purchases.

Ever wonder how your favorite Instagram jetsetters can afford their seemingly lavish lifestyle? For many, this is a big portion of how they make their money. They utilize their large followings to promote products and get a commission on any sale that comes from their page or from anyone who uses their special code.

While the impact affiliate links have on your sales will be easy to track, their influence on SEO is a bit more complex. In this post, we’ll answer six questions to help you understand the effect affiliate links can have on your SEO.

Related: Affiliate Marketing Pros and Cons for E-commerce Sites

  1. Do Affiliate Links Count As Backlinks?

If you didn’t know by now, bad backlinks can have a severe negative impact on your SEO rankings. Spammers actually purposely create low-quality links that rob your main site in the rankings and lead users to a spam page you didn’t create, discouraging your site visitors and even potentially leading to penalties for violating Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Clearly, if affiliate links count as backlinks, it could negatively impact your SEO, but… do they?

There are three different types of links to examine to properly answer this question: network links, direct links with parameters, and direct links with no parameters. If affiliates use text link based code from trusted networks and the URL code starts with a link that points to the network’s servers, rather than directly to your URL, then it is not a backlink and should have no effect on your SEO. However, they can be considered backlinks if the redirects are not done correctly, so to be safe, you should ask the network what types of redirects they use to determine if it can cause damage.

Direct affiliate links with parameters point directly to your website just like a backlink does, but they have parameters attached to them. Since they point directly to your site, they are indeed backlinks, but they appear as paid links and should be treated as a media buy.

Search engines track these links and can easily see that they are not natural which could lead to penalties. You’ll need to add no follow attributes to your system to avoid these penalties (more on this later). Meanwhile, direct links with no parameters look and act like genuine backlinks. If they are relevant, they can actually help your SEO, but if not, they should have no follow links.

  1. Are Affiliate Links Flagged By Google Penguin?

Google Penguin is an algorithm that catches sites that spam Google search results. This particularly goes for those that bought links or obtained them through link networks that were designed to boost a site’s Google rankings.

Your affiliate program should not trigger Google Penguin to your site if it uses a network and images, links datafeeds, custom links, deep links, and more. Direct links that have no parameters, are not spam and come from relevant sites can potentially help for SEO. But if links through these sources do link back to your site rather than the network, it can have a direct, negative effect on your SEO and hurt Google Penguin.

To be safe, have your team get together with your affiliate manager to establish what types of links and attributes should be used by what affiliate links across your program. A cohesive strategy ensure all of your affiliate links are accounted for.

  1. Do Images In My Affiliate Program Help or Hurt My SEO?

The way your affiliates use your images to rank and drive sales can affect your SEO. If your affiliates use your product images on their servers, you may see them climb in search rankings and generate more traffic and sales to your site. This can be a big boost to your SEO.

Whether or not affiliate images help or hurt your SEO also depends on where you host them. When the images on the network use network links, they won’t negatively impact your SEO. Image URLs and code should also point to the network or outside hosting to keep your SEO rankings safe.

But if your affiliates use images that are hosted on your own site, these could be considered backlinks, and may require no follow attributes to be safe. The same goes for if the code has your URL within it. To be safe, you should also check your product links, datafeed links, banners, and any other image-based affiliate links for these attributes.

  1. How Does The Datafeed In My Affiliate Program Affect My SEO?

Datafeeds can negatively affect your site’s SEO if they have the same information as your website. When your datafeed and main website have the same short and long descriptions, product names, titles, and more, the pages will compete with each other. The datafeed is an important component of your affiliate program and needs to have separate descriptions for everything involved to avoid duplicate content.

  1. What Types of Affiliates Help SEO?

For the most part, the majority of your affiliates do not directly help or hurt your SEO. They can have some impact and complement your SEO efforts through user experience and bounce rates, but otherwise, besides direct links and images, they have little impact on your own site’s SEO.

Where they do help is getting the overall word out about your company. If your main website is performing well and your affiliate is also earning a high ranking in search results, then your affiliate programs is helping your overall SEO. Therefore, your affiliate marketing efforts can help your SEO by eliminating some of your competition.

Effective affiliate marketing can boost your organic exposure by replacing competitors ads with your affiliates. While this can boost your SEO, you can lose a portion of your sales if people click the affiliate link instead of your main link, since you have to pay a commission to your affiliates. If the consumer had never heard of you, this is fine, but if they were familiar with your brand yet chose to buy on your affiliate site, whether on purpose or by accident, it lessens your profit margin.

That’s why affiliate marketing is most effective for generic search terms rather than something specific to your company. If a product isn’t available anywhere but through your company, you probably won’t benefit much from using affiliate marketing. However, when you can surround your main site with affiliate pages for a product that has a lot of competition, this can really boost your SEO and site traffic, and hopefully, sales.

  1. Should I Have My Affiliates Add No Follow Attributes To Their Affiliate Links?

This depends on a few factors. The answer is yes if your affiliate links are not content relevant and use backlinks as well as if they are relevant and use parameters. It’s a no if the links are content relevant but do not use parameters, or if they use network links that point to network servers rather than to your site.

As we mentioned earlier, search engines like Google track backlinks and can easily tell if they are unnatural. These unnatural backlinks may get you penalized by Google Penguin, which has a negative impact on your SEO.

When it comes to your affiliate links, the best course of action is to add no follow attributes to all of them to help avoid this situation.

How To Boost Your Affiliate Content

There are a few strategies you can use to improve the value of your affiliate links. For one, you can use a dedicated landing page for your higher ranking affiliates. This keeps driving traffic to a single landing page, which the user would not notice is different from the page on your main site. This familiarity provides them with a positive user experience.

As your sites and campaigns go through changes, you should also make sure your affiliates are linking to the correct page. The last thing you want is for your affiliates to link to old URLs. When a link goes to an old page or is redirected improperly to the current page, you won’t be gaining any of the valuable SEO you need for your current page.

Hopefully, this gives you a better idea of how to effectively use affiliate marketing to positively influence your SEO and improve your rankings. As always, stay tuned to our blog for more marketing tactics.

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Nicole is a Senior SEO Strategist with experience in technical SEO, SEO keyword strategy, content strategy, and Local SEO. She has experience with enterprise level Local SEO initiatives that manages multiple business locations up to over 300 stores nationwide. Her Local SEO expertise is in managing Google My Business accounts and building local citations to create an authoritative local presence for business owners.