Google Affiliate Guidelines: Getting Back to SEO Basics
Whether they like it or not, everyone who does business on the Internet is captive to the whims of the only search engine that matters. Google. The massive Mountain View, California firm controls upwards of 66% of the Internet search market and around 44% of the online advertising market.
Though Google will eventually face some sort of anti-trust action in the US, for now they’re pretty much the only game in town. That’s why it’s so important to for affiliates who are chasing top Page Rankings to have to good idea of exactly what Google is looking for from affiliate marketing websites.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basic steps for creating an affiliate marketing site Google really loves and share some tips for keeping the Internets biggest dog off your back.
Does Google Hate Affiliates?
Before we get into the technical stuff it’s worth taking a moment to ask something a little more philosophical, “Does Google hate affiliates?” Given the chaos that algorithm updates like Penguin and Panda have caused, that’s an entirely fair question.
While it’s true that Google and the affiliate marketing world are mixed up in one of the most dysfunctional love/hate relationships in history, Google probably doesn’t hate affiliate marketing. What Google bigwigs like Matt Cutts definitely hate is low quality content and any attempts at pulling a fast one on their ubiquitous search bots.
Affiliate marketing professionals need to also remember that Google’s customers are the people who use Google for actual searches, not search engine optimization.
These folks are sick and tired of getting keyword-stuffed, link-laden garbage in the search results and that’s Google’s biggest motivation by a long stretch. That’s why Google is so interested in dictating what kind of content is returned on their page.
Unfortunately for affiliates this relentless drive towards quality can lead to total chaos. This was the case when the Penguin update turned commonly accepted SEO practices like link exchanges into Page Rank poison with practically no notice.
That’s why understanding Google’s motivation is essential for getting the most out of Google’s Affiliate Guidelines and Webmaster Guidelines.
Google’s Affiliate Guidelines
If nothing else, Google is actually pretty good about laying out exactly what they expect from webmasters who want a top rankings. In a document helpfully titled, Affiliate Programs, Google is very clear about what kind of affiliate content they’re looking for:
Google believes that pure, or “thin,” affiliate websites do not provide additional value for web users, especially if they are part of a program that distributes its content to several hundred affiliates. These sites generally appear to be cookie-cutter sites or templates with no original content.
More than anything else, Google warns against generic product descriptions that are cribbed directly from affiliate operators. This isn’t as big a problem in the gaming sector as it is in retail, but plenty of casino affiliates are guilty of this infraction.
Writing fresh descriptions of 50 different slot games might not be all that much fun, but your customers, and Google, will definitely appreciate it.
Google’s Affiliate Guidelines goes on to say that not all affiliate marketing sites fall into this category and that many of them do, in fact, add value to search customers. Sites that are hoping to fall into this category should consider the following tips:
- Offer up a fair amount of content that isn’t affiliate-oriented at all – This type of content not only helps please Google, it also encourages your players to stick around a little longer.
- Keep your affiliate programs focused on your intended audience – Google is very serious about this so if you’re targeting sports bettors, you’ll want to steer clear of travel affiliates…even if they’re Las Vegas oriented.
- Regularly Update Content – Google bots go coo-coo for fresh content and so will your readers. Post up as much relevant content as you can and you’ll be able to distinguish yourself from your competition and provide value to your customers.
And if you doubt that Google is serious about their Affiliate Guidelines, they offer one last bit of advice:
Pure affiliate sites consisting of content that appears in many other places on the web are unlikely to perform well in Google search results and may be negatively perceived by search engines.
Google Webmaster Guidelines
When was the last time you sat down and took a good look at Google’s Webmaster Guidelines? Have you ever even sat down and read them through all the way? If you haven’t taken on this simple task, it’s something you really need to do right away.
While affiliates may not like Google’s rules very much, there’s no excuse for not knowing and understanding them. And, as they company points out clearly, you really don’t have to follow their guidelines if you don’t want to:
Even if you choose not to implement any of these suggestions, we strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the ‘Quality Guidelines,’ which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise impacted by an algorithmic or manual spam action.
The Webmaster Guidelines are broken down into three sections:
The concepts described in these guidelines are the foundations of good website design and content creation. Even if you’re not crazy about having Google looking over your should all the time, these guidelines are still a worthwhile read.
Design & Content
Search bots are the workhorses of the Google empire and, like all working stiffs, they want their workday to go as smoothly as possible. To that end, most of the Design and Content Guidelines are aimed at pleasing bots, rather than readers. Here are a few of their suggestions that are worth remembering:
- Site Maps – Most humans pass right by site maps, but it’s the first stop for search bots. Including a site map is an easy way of making your site search-friendly and there’s no shortage of free site map generators like SiteMapX that can do the heavy lifting.
- Make good use of links – Google lays it out in no uncertain terms, “Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.”
- Keep it Clean – Be forever vigilant when it comes to bad HTML and broken links. These basic errors can tank your rank in a heartbeat.
- Don’t forget to apply Google’s best practices to images and videos, too.
Some of Google’s Technical Guidelines are downright wonky, but we encourage you to read, and understand, them as best you can. Here are a few of the basics to consider:
- Always use a Robot.txt file – If you really want to whisper in a search bots ears, the robot.txt file is the closest you’ll get. These simple files are filled with specific instructions to the crawlers about which pages to crawl and which ones to avoid. Check out this tutorial for more on how to put one together.
- Test out different browsers – It’s not just Google that cares how your site looks in various browsers. Take a few minutes to see how yours looks in all of them, including Opera!
- Keep an eye on load times – Remember that Google values a positive user experience. Sites that are dragged down by excessive graphics and video content will definitely take a hit.
Here’s where the rubber really meets the road. Ever since the first Panda update mowed down content mills and scraper, quality content and white hat SEO have been Google’s mantras.
If you take away nothing else from this guide, or Google’s Guidelines as a whole, remember this passage from the Quality Guidelines:
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, ‘Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?’
Google is steadily moving webmasters away from the traditional SEO mindset of link and design manipulation in favor of more user-friendly tactics. That means content needs to be geared towards humans and not search bots.
Google frequently comes across as a Greek God who never tires of toying with mortal men. Most affiliates and SEOs have a laundry list of complaints about the company and most them are well founded.
For the time being, the best anyone with a web-based business can do is get well acquainted with the concepts outlined in these guidelines and pump out that quality content.
Do you pay attention to Google’s Guidelines or do you prefer to just wing it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.