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Does Starting An Affiliate Program Kill Your Rankings?

1:09 pm on May 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I'm looking to grow my businesses (as we all are). I thinking of becoming an affiliate vendor to have affiliates represent my product.

Doing my research I have learned 2 things:

1. Most affiliate programs boost sales 5-10%.

2. I see that many vendors complain about dramatic loss of rankings. I and they assume because of the affiliate links and some black hat techniques used by the affiliates representing them.

The thing that throws me is that I thought using a 3rd party affiliate management company would deflect me from this, but those people seem to complain about ranking issues too.

I can't see hurting my rankings for just a 5-10% bump.

Am I just asking for SEO trouble by starting an affiliate program?
10:49 pm on May 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

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If you aren't experienced with affiliate programs and the SEO implications then you are probably going to find trouble. You can do affiliate and still have a strong site in the serps but you need to properly manage the process.

A common mistake is giving your affiliates sites a copy of your site content. This will lead to duplicate content issues.

Another mistake is accepting everyone into your program. This can lead to some affiliates who may do some very high risk moves that can risk your site and/or brand.

Also you probably will not want to allow affiliates to register domain names that include your brand or company name. This could lead to consumer confusion and some webmasters linking to your affiliates when they think they are linking to your main site.
1:15 am on May 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

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If done properly, starting an affiliate program can strengthen your site. Look at Amazon and their army of affiliates. They all link to product pages that contain the affiliate ID in the URL. Within the code is rel=canonical to the non-affiliate page. If you ever wondered why Amazon ranks so well, that's a big part of the equation.
10:47 am on May 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I think that the duplicate content issue and black hat links used by affiliates is what is topping me from even considering it.

I would need to create a buffer site to successfully pull it off. I just don't think the effort is worth it for a 5-10% bump.
12:59 pm on May 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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Well personally I wouldn't consider it unless I had an experienced affiliate manager on board. Because it's one of those things where if you aren't 100% sure what you're doing, you can do yourself a heck of a lot of damage.
2:15 pm on May 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

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From personal experience, it usually leads to a handful of "go getter's" who won't read your TOS and feel they have free reign to scrape your content to build their own wordpress versions of your pages in less than desirable neighborhoods. As ted said, it can work for giants, but for small sites, listen to netmeg.
I ran my affiliate program for almost 10 years, but closed it down just last month. Not worth the added drag.
6:35 pm on May 18, 2013 (gmt 0)

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I generally do whatever I can to discourage SEO clients from having affiliate programs. There are some exceptions, but they have inevitable complications.

In B2B areas, eg, where specialized affiliates are established as part of niche distribution networks, I have clients include contractual prohibitions against copying site content... and also to create a second set of marketing material "just for affiliates". It's usually not enough simply to tell affiliates that they shouldn't copy. Without the alternative content, the writers they hire will paraphrase.

The very best affiliates needn't be told not to copy, but they're rare. On the other hand, the very best affiliates may well end up outranking you.
1:10 pm on May 19, 2013 (gmt 0)

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On the other hand, the very best affiliates may well end up outranking you.

This is probably what you should be most afraid of.

In cases where I work with aff programs, the vendors are not suffering from Google penalties, despite the affiliates being high-risk high-reward (i.e. nothing is of the table to chase ranking), but some weak vendor sites are badly beaten by the affiliates.
On the other hand, if the vendor is really smart, they use some of the affiliates to help them rank and have done a good job.

My 2 cents, for 5% increase in sales I wouldn't even bother. I would rather spend the projected affiliate expenditure for advertisement of my own site.
7:07 am on May 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

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It is totally depending upon size of your product catalog, your brand and current status of the website. As per recent Google updates, many ecommerce websites have lost their ranks due to duplicate content issue.

If your brand is strong and you really has time and money to invest in affiliate, go for it by considering different points mentioned below:

- Only choose good affiliate websites who do not copy content from merchants
- Educate your affiliate in fixing product content and referral links.(you can gain benefits on backlinks from affiliate website - need to work smartly).
- Offer visual content
- Different offers and coupons can really help a lot to improve conversion.

It require good amount of effort and close attention to get success when you run affiliate program.