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Google, affiliate links and nofollow

 9:02 am on Aug 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

We have a large site that feeds into an affiliated site, up till now they have provided a solution so that search generated pages appear to remain part of our site using a sub-domain. However they have stopped support for this and we now have to change over to direct links with our affiliate code in, so it will suddenly seem like we are pointing a hell of a lot of links to this one external site.

If we put nofollow on the links will Google see this as a good thing? Should we find another way of "hiding" the links or does Google just recognise that it is an affiliate link?

We are not concerned about PR or anything like that, we just want to minimise any potential "damage" with the change in linking. The site currently ranks very well for its main terms.



 1:49 pm on Aug 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

Everyone will probably have a different opinion on this but I have had some experience on my own site that would suggest that adding the 'nofollow' attribute to affiliate links can actually do harm to your rankings in a post-panda universe.

My own website took a bit of a dive (not a catastrophic one) after Google's 'Panda' update. This followed a massive overhaul of the website before that (for the new year) which was, ironically, designed around the kind of things Panda is supposedly looking at - creating a more engaging user experience, better content etc... So I didn't want to dive in and make any sweeping changes because frankly, I could see no reason to do so (especially given that others many others were basically dismantling their websites and seeing no good come from it). One thing I did do, however, is remove the nofollow attribute from all of my affiliate links. Around a week later (possible coincidence but not in my mind) the website rose again in the rank for all of its key terms and enjoyed some positions it hadn't enjoyed even before Panda.

My personal take on this - if you are affiliated with a 'trustable' source there is no reason to try to hide anything from Google and they actually dislike you doing so.


 2:24 pm on Aug 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

I nofollow (and cloak) all my affiliate links, but I don't have boatloads of them on a single site anywhere.

Personally, I don't think it will hurt you to nofollow them. I am reasonably sure that Google actually has recommended it, but I could be mixing that up with someone else. You don't want them to be mistaken for paid links, and you need to provide a good user experience. And I for one believe strongly that followed linking out (non-aff) is probably considered a Good Thing(tm).

But I don't know how many products/links you're talking about. You might could try adding them a few at a time to see what kind of effect it has.


 4:34 pm on Aug 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

you would assume if G says to use nofollow to stop links being followed that would be a good thing! - why else offer it if they will then penalize webmasters for blocking there spider


 5:43 pm on Aug 15, 2011 (gmt 0)

Nowhere is Google lucid enough to say "you should use nofollow on affiliate links". The only guidance they offer on this is:

"Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

•Adding a rel="nofollow" attribute to the <a> tag..."

Affiliate links are not 'purchased' and Google is not likely ignorant of the big affiliate programs out there. In my case I did say "if you are affiliated with a 'trustable' source there is no reason to try to hide anything from Google". In my case the affiliate links were to a very trustable source that I am no doubt Google is very much aware of as an affiliate provider. And I see no reason to nofollow them (other than paranoia generated from so-called SEOs) if removing this attribute improves the website position in search. Obviously it does depend who you're linking out to and perhaps how frequently - in my case moderation and openness seem to work.


 7:09 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

anyone else have any views on this - with all the affiliate webmasters I would have presumed more with have views on the use of no follow or not ?


 8:56 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

Here's an interview with Matt Cutts from 2010 on this subject:


Eric Enge: If Googlebot sees an affiliate link out there, does it treat that link as an endorsement or an ad?

Matt Cutts: Typically, we want to handle those sorts of links appropriately. A lot of the time, that means that the link is essentially driving people for money, so we usually would not count those as an endorsement.


Eric Enge: If people do have ads on your site, it's still Google's wish that people NoFollow those links, correct?

Matt Cutts: Yes, absolutely. Our philosophy has not changed, and I don't expect it to change. If you are buying an ad, that's great for users, but we don't want advertisements to affect search engine rankings.

My reading of that is that you should no-follow the affiliate links (and it's in your interest to do that anyway, unless you want to pass juice to the merchant so they outrank you).

P.S. There is lots more in that interview about a whole host of stuff and I recommend reading the whole of it.


 9:26 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

I normally cloak affiliate links - but at the same time, the smaller sites where I have never gotten around to bothering to cloak the links don't seem to have suffered from it.


 9:41 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)


Personally I think thats a pretty strong endorsement to use Nofollow - not to "hide" the link but just not to offer advertisers / sponsors any linking benefit by directly linking to another site


 10:09 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

Personally I read it as "If it is a popular site you're linking to as an affiliate, we will know about it and treat it appropriately". The bit about 'ads' is in a different context.

Having said that I would just suggest experimenting with both. I won't rule out coincidence in my case but I can tell that there was a time (way before Panda) when my website enjoyed top 3 rankings for many terms and I made no effort whatsoever to nofollow any affiliate links. I then did add this attribute to all affiliate links and saw a little downward movement but nothing particularly alarming or sudden. Then 'Panda' comes along and my website falls down quite considerably - it is only once the 'nofollow' attribute is removed once again that the website websites jump up (and this time it was a sudden and noticeable jump).

I am half-willing to put back the nofollow and see what happens but I say if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


 10:56 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

so what your saying that in your view "panda" takes a view that using nofollow is bad ? - I really can't see that, but with so many variables is difficult to say whats right or wrong, but can nofollow be viewed as a wrong action ? If so why offer it to webmasters


 11:19 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

I really don't think there is a general rule (as seems increasingly the case with Google). My theory is that if you have a relatively high number of external nofollow links on a page (or a number of pages) compared to the number of exernal dofollows then that counts against the 'quality score' of the page. If you replicate these kind of pages across the site (not in terms of duplicating content, but by using a similar 'template') then these can really start to count against you. It is kind of like walking into a shop and buying a product that has nothing but an entirely white label on it - you just wouldn't necessarily trust it.

Likewise it could even be that because I was affiliated with a large and trustable "brand" (which I do outrank for my key terms, incidentally) that these outbound followed links to 'authority' were seen as a good thing in themselves.


 11:36 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

So it would seem that there is no clear agreement on this! Matt Cutts comment to me implies that Google recognises an affiliate link and will treat it as such anyway (whether or not it is a well known affiliate) so what is the point of nofollowing the links, other than to perhaps show Google that you as the webmaster is being honest to them that it is an affiliate link?


 11:44 am on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

We have a somewhat popular site that earns through affiliate links. Every one of the links, and there are actually only 10-12 of them sitewide... are nofollowed.

You said:

Should we find another way of "hiding" the links or does Google just recognize that it is an affiliate link?

Hiding an affiliate link, in my opinion, is exactly the kind of stuff that raises more flags. We mark our ads... as ads. And we have a basic disclaimer that we may receive comp for purchases in the footer of every page.

On the terms page, we even include contact info for the two affiliate offers we promote, so we can be 100% forthright about what we are doing.



 12:14 pm on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

maybe the use of the wording "hiding" should be "limiting" as in limiting the amount of links leaving a page as thats my reason for considering this.


 1:08 pm on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

I have an affiliate link only site in a gift niche. It has been live for over six years. While not at the top of the pile, I have decent rank for very competitive keywords - up against big brands.

For years my affiliate links had no no follow on them, and for the last six months they have had no follow on them. No difference in ranking. And for years they were uncloaked, and for the last two years cloaked - no difference in ranking.


 1:55 pm on Aug 16, 2011 (gmt 0)

So it would seem that there is no clear agreement on this! Matt Cutts comment to me implies that Google recognises an affiliate link and will treat it as such anyway (whether or not it is a well known affiliate) so what is the point of nofollowing the links, other than to perhaps show Google that you as the webmaster is being honest to them that it is an affiliate link?

Remember that the sole purpose of "nofollow" is to prevent PageRank being passed to the external site. There is no other reason for no-follow (no-follow isn't a cloak, it's simply an instruction to G not to pass pagerank).

Why would you want to pass Page Rank to the merchant you are an affiliate of. Do you have some wish to help them outrank you on the SERPs?

How do you think Amazon has become so dominant in the SERPs while similar retail giants like Walmart lag behind?

Simple - Amazon has been very aggressive about using affiliates since the beginning - and the links they provide in their toolbox are do-follow, and most of their affiliates arn't shrewd enough to add no-follow to them. Walmart and others haven't really used affiliates to the same extent and as a result don't have as many do-follow links coming into their site the way Amazon does. As a result they don't outrank most of their affiliates the way Amazon does either!

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