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Affiliate URL Listed Instead of Merchant URL
bashyam




msg:206053
 3:39 am on Nov 11, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hi..

I have encountered a strange problem with google indexing... could anyone clarify this?

Actually I have been an affiliate for a website for over a year. I have been using their affiliate link..

for eg. "http://www.widgets.com/go.cgi?id=my_affiliate_id&page=product_page.html"

I just got an email from the merchant today stating that for certain product keywords instead of the merchant site, my affiliate url is been displayed on google results and asked whether I have used any redirect method to get my affiliate url in the index. I replied them stating that I have not used any redirect to get my affiliate url indexed on google and that this could have happened when google might have picked my affiliate url from various sources from web (where I adverstised) as my affiliate link is an .html link and I really don't have any control over this.

Could anyone confirm whether I am right? Also nice if could let me know your kind opinion or suggesstions realted to this issue on how it could have happened so that I can explain my merchant more clearly on this?

Thanks.. looking forward for your reply.

Regards,
Balaji.

 

bashyam




msg:206054
 2:17 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

I am still waiting for some SEO experts opinion on the above thread. I have got another mail from my merchant regarding this issue and they want me to take out my affiliate link out of google index as soon as possible... but I have explained them that I don't have any control over that link as I have not used any redirects of my affiliate link, but seems they are not convinced.

Could someone pls help me sorting out this issue?

Balaji.

macdave




msg:206055
 5:09 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Just to make sure I have this straight: the merchant is complaining about a URL on their site that contains your affiliate ID? And they're upset because that URL is higher in the SERPs than a version of the same page without an affiliate ID?

If that's the case, it's almost certainly problem that the merchant created and that only they can fix.

Your affiliate URL is probably ranking higher because you've published the link more widely (or used more relevant anchor text, or put it on higher-PR pages) than the merchant has published the non-affiliate-ID URL. As an affiliate, you've done a good job promoting their product -- better than they've been able to do on their own anyway.

If you've just linked to the URL they provided you, you've done no wrong. But the merchant made a mistake by allowing Google (and presumably other search engines) to index that URL containing your affiliate ID. This is something you have no control over, but the merchant could easily fix on their site, either by adding <meta name="robots" content="noindex"> when there's an affiliate ID present, or by redirecting affiliate referrals to the non-affiliate URL (and setting a cookie or session variable to track the affiliate ID).

I hope this helps. If I've misunderstood the situation, sticky me the URLs and I'll take a closer look.

Nikke




msg:206056
 5:23 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

So you have been more effective in marketing the merchant's site than they have been.

I think they should congratulate you for doing such a great job! And you yourself should muse that searchers will get your referral ID when searching for the keywords.

cabbie




msg:206057
 7:15 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Hi Bashyam and welcome to WW.Tell the sponsors that your it is your excellent seo that has got your affiliate link into the serps for their product keywords and has nothing to do with the hijacking of their site.
What google is doing is following your aff link from your page and then indexing that landing page in their serps.They have taken into consideration, the anchor text you are using and the keyword text on the landing page, and has considered that the landing page with your aff link the most appropiate one to display.This could be because of the high pr page that you have linked from or because of the number of links from one or more sites that you have or a combination of both.
The sponsor is being unreasonable here.
The precarious situation for you is that google could at any time decide to replace your aff link with either another aff link or with the sponsors own page.This will happen if they decide that your page is no longer the most authorative to display.
It sounds all very confusing but its really quite simple.
If the product keywords are general kws and not peculiar to your sponsor then if you replace your present sponsors links with another you stand a good chance, providing that the landing page is indexable by google and has the on page requirements (kws),of replacing that placement with your new links.So don't get intimidated.But if you get scared off and don't wish to cause fuss then you should mask your link.You will of course lose the SE traffic.
Cheers.I hope this helps and doesn't confuse you too much.

scoreman




msg:206058
 10:14 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Shows the lack of knowledge that affiliate program has over SEs. I run an affiliate based program myself and many of my affiliates have higher ranking for many keywords. Kudos to them, they succeeded in getting a higher ranking with G.

Not only that, Even when the pages are served by us and the only difference is the aff id, google throws em the bone. I believe this has something to do with G detecting duplicate content. You should really explain this to them and make sure they dont file a complain with G.

scoreman




msg:206059
 10:16 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Cabbie hit the nail on the head... :D

WebFusion




msg:206060
 11:57 pm on Nov 12, 2004 (gmt 0)

Used to happen with our affiliate program all the time (affiliate URLs would replace ours in the serps).

Unfortunately for us, Google was also seeing the pages with affiliate URLs as duplicate content.

It was an easy fix, however. We simply used the no-index robots meta-tag whenever a page was generated with an affiliate ID attached. Took about 6 weeks for googel to realize all those duplicate pages were gone.

bashyam




msg:206061
 4:26 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Thanks for all your responses...

Think the solution "<meta name="robots" content="noindex">" seems to be a good one if the merchant really want to get rid of their affiliate links been index on search engines. I am also going to forward this thread to my merchant.

Thanks again for all...

Balaji.

scoreman




msg:206062
 4:49 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Very interesting approach, but im not sure we are ready to penalize our affiliates in such a way.

cabbie




msg:206063
 6:55 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Yes,I would find another sponsor if they did that to me.

bts111




msg:206064
 9:38 am on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

Tell the merchant to jam it!

ciml




msg:206065
 4:41 pm on Nov 13, 2004 (gmt 0)

The usual problem in this scenario is that the merchant often does not understand. In many cases, merchants use affiliates precisely because the affiliates understand SEO better and can get the traffic.

It happens when there's a redirect, a META refresh or duplicate content. In the former two cases, many of us believe that Google's behaviour is strange. In the latter case, an engine can't reliably know which is the best URL to list.

The reason for your URL to be showing instead of theirs is that you have more power in Google. You're doing a good job for them, so they might do well just to appreciate your efforts and accept that sometimes your promotional efforts eclipse theirs.

Alternatively, the simplest thing for the merchant to stop this situation is to exclude /go.cgi using /robots.txt

That would prevent affiliates accidentally 'hijacking' their listings, instead they would just get a number of 'URL-only' listings for the affiliate URLs.

WebFusion




msg:206066
 3:05 am on Nov 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Very interesting approach, but im not sure we are ready to penalize our affiliates in such a way.

I think you misunderstood what our problem/coution was.

With our custom system, the only difference between a "regualr" page and a page that is encoded with an affiliate's ID is the affilaite's ID added to the URL.

For example:

[widgets.com...]

[widgets.com...]

The plus of this system is that the URL's don't "look" like an affiliate URL, and are spiderable.

The downside (which we failed to consider) is that both pages are IDENTICAL in every way (the affiliate's page does not actually physically exist on our server, it is created on the fly from their referral URL).

This led to google thinking there were hundreds of identical pages for each of our products, which, in turn, led to a duplicate content penalty.

We HAVE NOT penalized our affiliates, we have simply insured that duplicate pages are not indexed.

For the record...none of our "performers" saw the slightest blip in their earnings.

scoreman




msg:206067
 5:35 am on Nov 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

I know EXACTLY what you meant WebFusion and this is EXACTLY what happens on our end. The linking is even almost identical as yours and is created on the "fly". If you apply the exclusion, then your are omitting the entrance of these affiliate ids into G. So essentially, if an affiliate is sending 100s of PR5 pages to their linking ID (which resides on our end), google would never assign these pages (the one with the affiliate ID) its PR and they wouldnt show on the SERPS. This most definately affects an affiliate's payouts, especially with those working in the SEO field.

WebFusion




msg:206068
 3:21 pm on Nov 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Based on our metrics, I have to respectfully disagree.

As far as I'm concerned, an affiliate's SEO efforts applies to THEIR pages, not ours. If they are able to build their own sites/pages that outrank ours for any particular term (which, in fact, a great many are), more power to them.

However, preventing a duplicate content penalty from occurring on our site due to a referral system is not only good in the long run for all concerned (if we coninually accrued penalties, and then went on to become indentified as a "bad neighborhood", how would the affiliate's like getting a pss-thru penalty from linking to us?).

If we used a affiliate network or similar offsite tracking system, this wouldn't even be an issue, as those URLs would not be seen as residing on our server.

Having said that, we don't consider this an adversarial issue with our affiliates. It was s imple fix, and didn't produce a single complaint from our affiliates. It did, however, eliminate the duplicate content penalty we were experiencing (in about 120 days), which led to increased sales, etc.

macdave




msg:206069
 3:53 pm on Nov 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebFusion is correct. While some programs may allow affiliate URLs on their site to be spidered, the vast majority do not. In fact, the major networks have set up their redirects and tracking systems such that the merchants' landing page URLs don't contain any affiliate-specific identifiers.

And as an affiliate, that's just fine with me. I'd rather be SEOing my own pages than the merchant's pages anyway. If a merchant goes under or ends their program, it's a relatively simple matter for me to replace their link on my SEOed page with link to a different merchant selling the same products.

scoreman




msg:206070
 7:16 pm on Nov 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

Point taken.

g1smd




msg:206071
 8:45 pm on Nov 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

>> (the affiliate's page does not actually physically exist on our server, it is created on the fly from their referral URL) <<

At the point of creation the page does "exist", and since the visitor got to the page through a link, then the page is called whatever the link said it is called. Google, other search engines, and browsers have no idea what you really wanted to call it, unless you do a 301 redirect to the correct name (which is also a part of the www vs. non-www problem so oft wrote about in fora).

I could link to any content on any server and call it whatever I want in my link to it; if the PR from my site is bigger than that delivered to any other name that the same page of content is known by, then what I have called it in my link will become what it is commonly known as.

That's life, and the main-site vendor can take steps to mitigate the effects of that, but should not be banning the affiliate. They haven't done anything wrong. However, it is fair that you only want to pay for sales coming from the affiliate site not from visitors coming direct from a search-engine result via a faux-adopted URL. Your script could sniff referrers and ignore the affiliate part of the URL if the referrer is Google, Yahoo, etc.

vrtlw




msg:206072
 9:00 pm on Nov 14, 2004 (gmt 0)

unless you do a 301 redirect to the correct name

This was exactly my solution, 301 all bots to a non-affiliate page, duplicate (and higher) listings were removed in a matter of days, although this happened about a year ago.

I had zero complaints from affiliates.

cabbie




msg:206073
 12:10 am on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

All I can say is that its obvious some merchants don't have a clue how to work with their affiliates to maximise their search engine potential.
Let me give you one.
Anchor text.

WebFusion




msg:206074
 2:17 am on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

All I can say is that its obvious some merchants don't have a clue how to work with their affiliates to maximise their search engine potential.

Yawn.

Any merchant the NEEDS to use his affiliate program to build link popularity has more problems than the under-utilizations of (potential) incoming anchor-text links.

There are much better (and easier) ways of building relevant incoming links. Since we publish 15-20 articles per monthm which in turn are published by roughly 800-1000 sites in our industry (all of which contain a link back to our site), incoming links are not a problem.

If you can suggest a way to benefit from incoming anchor-text from our affiliate links, without getting hit with a duplicate content penalty, I'm all "ears".

While I certainly value our affiliates as a great part of our overall marketing mix (in fact, we sent ur best one to the bahamas this year), and we pay them accordingly (5% higher than our closest competitor), they are not the ONLY marketing channel. A balnce HAS to be kept between giving them as much room as possible to profit, and protecting our brand.

Ledfish




msg:206075
 4:13 am on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

I once owned a company where I had 6 salesman working for us. During lunch with a business friend, it came up that one of my salesman was going to make more money that year than I, as the business owner and CEO, was going to make.

This friend told me that I needed to do something about. I needed to change the commission plan or something because I just shouldn't allow that.

I told him what I really needed was to do was get the other 5 salesman selling so well that they made more than I did because with all 6 salesman doing so well. I could afford to give my self a raise.

The sponsor has to decide, does he want to sell himself or does he want to reward someone for doing so well and let them stand as an example.

g1smd




msg:206076
 4:22 am on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

>> Since we publish 15-20 articles per month which in turn are published by roughly 800-1000 sites in our industry (all of which contain a link back to our site), incoming links are not a problem.

Yuk. 15-20 articles per month. 800-100 duplicate copies.

Umm, that screams "spam" to me.

WebFusion




msg:206077
 6:40 am on Nov 15, 2004 (gmt 0)

Umm, that screams "spam" to me.

You must be kidding.

I suppose, then, that the Associated Press & UPI should stop allowing their articles to be distributed on MSNBC.com, CNN.com, and just about every other major(and minor) newspaper/news website in existence.

Distributing articles with a credited source cannot even remotely be considered spam.

Get real.

obono




msg:206078
 3:17 pm on Nov 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

> The sponsor has to decide, does he want to sell himself or does he want to reward someone for doing so well and let them stand as an example.

LedFish, you got the smartest point.

If a sponsor were to see me as his competitor, I would hire a writer, redo my content... and bye bye traffic. In fact, last time I did this it took less than a week. I didn't lose any of MY serps nor my traffic. Instead, the sponsor created a potential competitor and was affected to the point he saw no more hits from my end (enough to notice).

Sponsors tend to think that those IDed SERPS belong to them. They don't. They belong to those who have busted their butts to get the spots. They are also utterly confused thinking that those great placements have been achieved as a result of their brilliant content. Wrong again. Those placements are, among other things, the result of an entire structure running in the background that indeed belongs to the affiliate, who generously promotes, takes untold risks and shares without asking anything in return.

So now sponsors have woken up to the fact that serps are a mine gold and they are all over their own affiliates, give me a break.

The words 'affiliate' and 'penalization' should never be used in the same sentence. They are at odds. Of course, some sponsors ride their fine cars, pay their expensive mortgages and visit exotic places thanks to someone else's 15 hours-a-day routine.

Some of the comments on this thread are outright appalling. The reason why some affiliates may have NOT complained is because they would prefer to receive half a check than none. Period. But a common problem with sponsors is their inability to read their affiliates as has been demonstrated here. It is unfortunate that the great majority of affiliates aren't resourceful enough to find an alternative to keeping their mouth shut. While some may look into diversification and others may test the waters to become independent, the majority swallows it. But here, sponsors recommend other sponsors to nuke what they may have considered originally a deal made in heaven.

It is not about sponsors VS affiliates. It is only about bright minds and minds that may be just slightly less than bright. Problem for sponsors is, that if they ever get a hold of a bright mind within their marketing dpt. it will not last. So it is in their best interest to consider the bright minds that they can't afford -affiliates who excell in SEO- as their allies and avoid any tactics that may jeopardize their work. Unless they want to push them to become sponsors in turn, and perhaps face greater and more difficult competition.

scoreman




msg:206079
 4:51 pm on Nov 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

Obono, you couldnt have put it any other way. Thought I understand WebFusions reasons, I still believe it compromises the affiliate and penalizes them.

WebFusion




msg:206080
 8:17 pm on Nov 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

I still believe it compromises the affiliate and penalizes them.

Alright, then, I'm willing to be open-minded...what would you consider to be more "fair and balanced" to both affiliate and merchant?

1. We could switch to am affiliate network provider. this would:

a. Eliminate any chance of us incurring a duplicate content penalty, as all referrals would then be directed through the network, and not directly to our site.

b. Force us to lower our commission rate to pay for the 30% cut that the network takes

c. Elminate the "Lifetime Commissions" feature that we are able to offer by using our own custom system.

While I udnerstand that the affiliate marketers here who are screaming "foul" that a merchant would take the steps necessary to prevent affiliate pages from being indexed as duplicate content, I am still at a loss as to your reasoing.

A "good" affiliate marketer does not need their referral URL's (that reside on the merchant's site) to rank highly, nor should they consider it an obligation on the part of the merchant. A smart affiliate will apply their SEO tactics to their own sites, which leaves them with the option of switching merchants should the program they are involved with become unfavorable to them.

Again, saying that correcting what was essentially a "fluke" of the system is in some way an attempt to "penalize" our affiliates is simply wrong. While an affiliate program is a great part of an overall marketing mix, igonoring the other necessary traffic sources (i.e. organic traffic) is a quick way to go out of business. Were we to get banned due to thousands of (what google thought were) duplicate pages, which in turn would affect our overall profitability, we would then have to determine if keeping a commissions rate which was 10% higher than our closest competitor (not to mention paying lifetime commissions on every referred customer) would still be in our best fiscal interest.

Look...I started in this business many yeasr ago as an affiliate mayself. In fact, my affiliate income is what (largely) funded my startup two years ago, so I know all the crap merchants can pull on affiliates. In fact, I had that in mind when I made the decision NOT to go with a network provider, so I coudl be assured of being free of scumware affiliates, etc.

Having said that, I don't think it is an adversarial relationship either. We don;t consider a decision like this as an "us against them" marketing decision. hell, I wish all my affiliate outranked me for evey conceivable term in the search engines (talk about divserifiying our traffic sources!)....but for THEIR pages, not ours.

scoreman




msg:206081
 8:46 pm on Nov 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

Just because the page resides on your side doesnt mean its your link. Just as the content (your content) the affiliates host on their domains is not theirs. Links with their affiliate IDs are essentially theirs.

For example, www.widgets.com/aff=001/index.html may have achieved a PR 5, where as www.widgets.com/index.html may have a PR 2. The guy has thousands more links coming in and he has a higher spot on the serps. In this case, the SEO affiliate managed and deserves the higher ranking. Obviously, the affiliate made it to the top through SEO tactics that outweigh the program itself.

By canceling aff IDs to spidering SEs, you effectively "penalize" the webmaster. Yes, you may pay your affiliates more, but you're nevertheless penalizing them in this fashion.

Our affiliate program has been around for over 3 years and we have yet to suffer a dupe content penalty from affiliate links. Yes, aff links sometimes appear higher on the serps, but we know those guys are SEO affiliates.

WebFusion




msg:206082
 9:52 pm on Nov 16, 2004 (gmt 0)

I think the difference is our affiliate don;t just link to our home page, but to hundreds of individual product pages.

At any rate, these types of discussions always go in circles. I'll have to respectfully disagree on this issue. I've implements what I considered to be best for both our company and our affiliates.

This 42 message thread spans 2 pages: 42 ( [1] 2 > >
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