Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular ways to monetize your website. It allows much more control over your monetization than you would get with some random AdSense banner. Plus, with affiliate marketing, you can focus on the niche you're most passionate about as well as promote the products you truly believe in.
To succeed in affiliate marketing, it's important to focus on search engine optimization (SEO). It involves optimizing a website or webpage to increase its visibility and ranking on search engine results pages.
And since affiliate marketing success so heavily depends on SEO, today we'll look into blending SEO and affiliate marketing strategies in the most efficient way.
Companies that sell their products online often look to partner with bloggers in their niche. Bloggers who work with such companies are called affiliates. Basically, an affiliate blogger helps a company to promote its product and gets a commission for every referred client.
Let's take our own SEO PowerSuite affiliate program as an example. If you become our affiliate partner, we give you a unique affiliate link to place on your website. And when someone clicks on your link and purchases our software, you get a 33% affiliate commission.
In most cases, it's up to you how to promote your partner's product. You can recommend the product to your existing audience via email, blog posts, or social media posts. Alternatively, you can attract new audiences on behalf of your partner, like building a dedicated website and bringing SEO and PPC traffic to it, organizing training courses, launching promotional sales, etc. But the idea always remains the same: affiliate marketers refer new clients to a partner's website and get paid for that.
You might have heard that Google frowns upon affiliate websites. And there is some truth to it — Google does penalize affiliate websites often. Although it is not because of their affiliate nature. The actual reason is that affiliate websites are often created with very little effort, which often results in serious technical SEO issues that hurt websites' performance.
Or, as Google's John Mueller puts it in a Google Webmaster Hangouts session,
Of course, affiliate sites can have a lot of really useful information on them and we like showing them in search. But, at the same time, we see a lot of affiliates who basically just copy and paste the feeds that they get and publish them on their website. It's not something where we say that an affiliate site is bad, we just see a lot of bad affiliate sites. And if you have affiliate links on a website, that's not going to be something that we would count against a website.
So, the truth is — participating in an affiliate program can by no means hurt your SEO rankings. And when treating SEO seriously, you can turn organic traffic into a key source of your affiliate earnings.
A good place to start is a topic that you are passionate about. Especially if you are already a part of a community or even have a following in this niche.
However, there are three steps I recommend following before you settle into a specific niche and product.
Say, you are running an SEO blog and so the most obvious niche for your affiliate efforts is SEO software and services. But the topic of SEO is huge and you are unlikely to be able to cover all of it with high-quality content. And even if you do, you will become just another generic SEO blogger.
Instead, why not focus on a smaller part of SEO and establish a reputation as an expert in this specific area? You can do SEO tool reviews, run a/b tests, collect case studies, or build backlinks, among many other things. Over time, your blog will become the place to go to learn about this particular area of SEO.
In fact, some of the most well-known SEO bloggers have done just that. For example, you probably know Bill Slawski as the guy who writes about Google patents or Marie Haynes as an expert on the topic of E-A-T.
It's not enough for the topic to be interesting to you, it has to be interesting to other people as well. Here is what Adam Connell, the founder of one of the most notable affiliate websites for content creators, says on that matter:
"If I were to start again, my initial content plan would look very different from that of my earlier sites.
With my first couple of sites, I was publishing whatever topic I'd feel inspired to write.
That's not wrong as such. That approach can lead to some of the best content.
But you shouldn't waste that content at launch. Save it for when you've got an audience that can appreciate it.
The best approach is to launch with articles that at least have a chance to rank in organic search and drive sustainable traffic in the future."
Adam Connell, bloggingwizard.com
One way to check if the topic is interesting to other people is to see if they google it and how often. Or, in other words, see if the keywords related to your topic have substantial search volume.
There are plenty of ways to check keyword search volume, but we will use our own tool to give you an example. So, in Rank Tracker, go to the Keyword Research tab and use available research methods to discover as many keywords related to your topic as possible.Download Rank Tracker
When done with keyword research, switch to the Keyword Sandbox tab, which is where we keep all of the discovered keywords. At the very top, you will see the total number of searches for all discovered keywords, as well as the amount of traffic you'd get if you were to rank in a top position for all of them.Download Rank Tracker
You can also group discovered keywords by semantic similarity, effectively creating subtopics within your niche. This way you will see which subtopics are more popular than others.
Some of your keywords are probably already targeted by very powerful websites. So, hard as you try, you won't be able to rank in good enough positions to attract visitors. To check which keywords are too competitive, go to the Keyword Sandbox in Rank Tracker and check Keyword Difficulty for all discovered keywords as a group or for each individual keyword:Download Rank Tracker
Now that you know the stats of your potential topics, it's time to select the ones to work with. The idea is to find the topics that are low in competition, but still high in search volume.
This step fits in if you're planning to build your affiliate website from scratch. Here are a few SEO considerations you might want to take into account.
Exact match domain names used to be extremely popular over a decade ago, when they were a huge ranking factor. Today, having keywords in your domain name is largely irrelevant. When ranking your website in search, Google looks at your content and not your domain name. So there is really no need to obsess over exact match domains or pay huge sums of money just to purchase a highly optimized domain name.
…just because keywords are in a domain name doesn't mean that it'll automatically rank for those keywords. And that's something that's been the case for a really, really long time.
In most cases, affiliate program rules clearly state that using their brands in your domain name is strictly prohibited. So beware of purchasing a branded domain (unless you have explicit permission from the company) so as not to face a lawsuit for infringing on a brand name.
When acquiring a website, it's very important to check its history. Because you don't want a domain that spammed Google with bad content or bad links in the past. But also in the hopes of discovering a healthy backlink profile, which would be an advantage in terms of authority.
The first place I would check is archive.org. It's a website that logs past versions of the pages from all over the web. Enter a few key pages from your website and see what they looked like in the past. Look for obvious signs of spammy content.
Psst, look what I've found there! One of the first versions of this website back in 2006. Remember the times?
Another thing you should definitely check is the backlink history and overall backlink profile. For that, create a project in SEO SpyGlass and enter your website. To give you an example of how it works, I've run a sample check on a website currently available for sale for $15,000. Incredibly, the website has over 800K backlinks, almost all of which are dofollow:Download SEO SpyGlass
And, if we switch to the penalty risk tab, we can see that the profile is quite healthy with most linking domains posing no penalty risk:Download SEO SpyGlass
Of course, it's worth running some manual checks as well, like visiting linking pages and checking for obvious signs of spam. But, from the automatic check, it looks like the website is well worth the money.
Once you are ready to start creating content, it's time to decide on the exact keywords you should pursue. Before you start creating content, it's time to decide on the exact keywords you should pursue. As Adam Connell, founder of Blogging Wizard, advises:
"The biggest mistake I see is treating every strategy like it's in a vacuum.
Your SEO strategy needs to align with your content strategy. And they both need to align with your affiliate strategy.
If your key traffic driver is organic search, your content must be backed with solid keyword research. And it needs to be optimized. There are plenty of keyword research tools that can help.
For example, if you're publishing pithy thought-leadership articles and adding a few affiliate links, you'll probably see some sales from the traffic you send via your email newsletter. But chances are that you won't get any traction in organic search.
If you want traffic from organic search, you'll need to create content on topics that people are searching for."
Adam Connell, bloggingwizard.com
In other words, as you search for the right keywords, remember to focus on the ones that will give you the best chance to rank and drive traffic.
And since today we're talking affiliate marketing, I have to switch your attention from big SEO keywords to searching for little "low-hanging fruits".
Why is that? Because the biggest SEO keywords are already occupied by the brands you will be affiliated with. And I can guarantee they have more knowledge and resources than you to win that rankings battle.
So, what you would want to use instead are long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are longer, more specific search phrases with lower search volumes. These keywords are not attractive enough to be used by big brands, it's just too much effort for too little gain. But, for a small affiliate website, long-tail keywords are a perfect opportunity to start ranking in search.
To find long-tail keywords, go back to your Rank Tracker project, switch to the Keyword Sandbox tab, and click on the filter icon above the table of discovered keywords. In the pop-up window, set the keyword length to three words or more. Additionally, you may want to set the parameters for keyword difficulty and search volume:Download Rank Tracker
Once you click ok your initial list of keywords will be filtered to include only the keywords with matching parameters. All you have to do is scroll through the list and pick those keywords that you think will work for your content.
SEOs have noticed long ago that affiliate sites are kind of out of Google’s favor. Some of the updates (the helpful content update and numerous product review updates in particular) were noticed to drastically downrank such sites. Among others, one of the reasons for that may be a great amount of purely commercial content on affiliate sites.
Indeed, affiliate marketers often tend to focus on MOFU (Middle of the Funnel, i.e. commercial) and BOFU (Bottom of the Funnel, i.e. transactional) keywords for quick sales.
On the one hand, it’s a great idea to create content that targets users who are already at the middle or bottom of the sales funnel. Such an approach promises to bring faster results as you target those who are ready to buy a product/service or at least somehow interested.
Here are examples of such keywords:
On the other hand, if you create exclusively MOFU/BOFU content, you fail to create many touchpoints with future buyers. Plus, it looks like Google doesn’t appreciate such effort.
So, observe the proper ratio of informational and money content. It’s better if info content prevails or at least is equal to commercial.
Once you come up with the right keywords and map out an initial content plan, it’s time to start creating your content. Here, just like with any other step, are some rules and hacks.
For you as an affiliate marketer, it’s of prime importance to educate your audience so that they buy a product you promote. For that:
Surely, you should remember about proper SEO optimization of your content as well. Here are a couple of tips:
When targeting many individual low-volume keywords (the "low-hanging fruits" we've picked in the previous step), you will most probably end up creating quite a few separate pages for them. When your website is so fragmented, it is especially important to create an architecture that supports the flow of traffic and the flow of link authority.
In this case, your site structure should follow a top-to-bottom approach, where your homepage and your category pages are directed toward individual blog posts because this is where the conversion happens:
As opposed to websites where conversion happens on the home page. In which case you'd be catching traffic with individual blog posts and using internal links to direct users to your homepage:
If you're updating anchor text internally to make it more easily understandable by users then usually that also helps search engines to better understand the context of those pages. So I would definitely go for that.
And if you'd like to better understand what your current website structure looks like, just fire up the WebSite Auditor tool. In your project, go to Site Structure > Visualization and see how your pages are interlinked with each other. The tool will help you discover orphan pages as well as see if there is a logical flow to your overall structure.Download WebSite Auditor
When it comes to placing affiliate links on your site, it's important to strike a balance between promoting your affiliate partners' products and maintaining a positive user experience for your site visitors.
Here are a few tips on where and how to place affiliate links on your site:
Besides the placement itself, the context in which you put your affiliate link is important. Ultimately, the key is to make sure your affiliate links are placed in a way that feels natural and relevant to your content. Don't try to force affiliate links where they don't belong, as this could negatively impact your readers' experience and even hurt your affiliate earnings.
That being said, there is no hard and fast rule about where to place affiliate links. It depends on your site's layout, your content, and your audience's preferences. As you experiment with different placements, be sure to monitor your analytics to see which placements and types of content are generating the most clicks and conversions. This will help optimize your affiliate strategy over time.
Still, be cautious – don’t place too many affiliate links on one page. Here is a cautionary tale that tells how you can face Google penalty for using too many affiliate links in your content.
For Google, your affiliate links are a means of earning an affiliate commission (or, in other words, yet another type of paid link). And since paid links are far from being a natural authority signal, Google would like to remove those links from calculating link authority. This is why one of the basic requirements for you is to add the nofollow tag to all affiliate links.
It's likely that Google is able to automatically identify some affiliate links built via popular affiliate networks (like Amazon) and "nofollow" them automatically. However, you'd better use a nofollow tag in case you're on a less popular network.
We handle the vast majority of affiliate stuff correctly because if it is a large enough affiliate network we know about it and we handle it on our side. Even though we handle the vast majority of affiliate links appropriately, if you are at all worried about it, I would go ahead and just add the nofollow because you might be earning money from that.
To make sure that all of your affiliate links are nofollowed, switch to the WebSite Auditor's Site Audit dashboard and check the list of your dofollow external links:Download WebSite Auditor
Having too little content on your website or re-using the vendor's product descriptions and landing pages is likely to bury your SEO efforts under a Google penalty. Yet producing enough content might be an overwhelming task that you, as a small business, simply have no resources for.
A solution? Here is our beloved affiliate marketing tip. Try delegating some content creation to your users. Blog commenting, writing product reviews, testimonials, or any other option for users to express themselves on your website can charge your SEO campaign with additional content.
Furthermore, enabling user ratings lets you earn those nice-looking stars in your search engine snippets. Which, no doubt, makes you stand out in a crowded SERP and create the image of a successful digital marketing company.
As I previously mentioned, review updates and helpful content updates have ruined a lot of affiliate marketing sites. If you don’t want to suffer the same fate, it’s vital to send the right signals that speak of your trustworthiness and authority in the niche. And those are E-E-A-T signals.
While E-E-A-T signals are especially important for Your Money or Your Life sites (those that offer information or services related to health, finance, or other topics that could impact your well-being), they are also relevant for ALL websites that want to rank well in the search results.
Here are a couple of things you should do as an affiliate marketer:
To demonstrate expertise, you need to create content that showcases a deep understanding of your niche. High-quality, in-depth content that covers a variety of topics related to your niche is what you need to address this signal.
The topic cluster content model (in other words a content hub model) will help you come up with a content strategy that contributes to improved topical authority. In brief, you create multiple pieces of content grouped by a shared pillar topic and related subtopics to cover a specific subject to the fullest.
And of course, make sure you do thorough research and cite reliable sources to back up all your claims. It also adds authority to your content.
Backlinks are a key signal of authority. The more high-quality backlinks point to your site, the more likely Google is to view your site as an authority in your niche. Make sure you focus on building natural, relevant links from reputable websites.
Guest posting is a great way to build authority and credibility in your niche. By writing high-quality guest posts for relevant sites, you can demonstrate your expertise and gain exposure to a wider audience.
Just make sure you follow the best practices for guest posting, including finding relevant sites, writing high-quality content, and adding a link back to your site.
Trustworthiness is an important part of E-E-A-T. Make sure you monitor your online reputation by regularly checking for negative comments or other feedback you receive. For that, you can use Google Alerts.
If you spot any negative feedback, address it promptly and professionally. Also, make sure to read our guide on reputation management SEO.
Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays, Christmas, Easter, and whatnot. For most of these holidays, vendors tend to launch special time-limited deals and discounts.
For you, as an affiliate marketer, it means easy commissions to grab, since, obviously, these special deals see doubled and tripled conversion rates. For instance, for SEO PowerSuite affiliates, these events mean three times the income of what they get on average.
So, by no means neglect to ask the vendor about upcoming deals and prepare your digital marketing campaigns accordingly.
You’ve just learned how to do SEO which is the prime way of driving traffic. But don’t forget about other ways of promoting your site. Otherwise, it won’t get noticed the way it should.
This is just a couple of tips:
Want more ideas? Find them all in our listicle of 23 ways to drive traffic to your website.
Since this article is geared towards affiliate marketing rather than SEO specifically, here is a list of material on various aspects of SEO you should take into account when building an affiliate website:
I suggest you take a look at a couple of successful affiliate sites. You can analyze their strategy and do something similar.
Overview: EmailToolTester is a convenient site to decide which tool is the best for one’s email marketing needs. There are lots of comparison guides, educational posts, and other resources on the site, whereas there are no ad banners at all.
Participation in affiliate programs is mentioned in Legal Notes on the site.
Overview: As with most physical products, this site features Amazon affiliate links. There are numerous compilations of best products, comparisons, and educational guides.
What’s peculiar, they decided not to use social media in their promotion. However, as you can see in the screenshot, the site is a part of Google's AdSense program – the TheGamingSetup team doesn’t lose the chance to monetize their resource.
Participation in an affiliate program is specified in the Affiliate Disclosure note.
Overview: GloboSurf is also an Amazon affiliate. They help people get the right gear for their favorite water sports. They educate users about the required skills for this or that sport through how-to guides and provide lists of the best products as well.
As you can see, they aren’t very active on social media, but they do have a decent and quite popular YouTube channel.
Traditionally, they have an Affiliate Disclosure page on their site.
Overview: Bloggingwizard is a site with tons of helpful content for beginner bloggers and content creators. They also provide compilations of tools that every content creator may need.
And yes, there is FTC Disclosure on their site as well.
Overview: Byrdie accumulates tons of information about health, wellness, fashion, and beauty. It includes both informational and commercial content.
What’s curious, the site obviously cares about E-E-A-T: they have a personal page for each author and often feature people who medically reviewed this or that content.
As a highly visual niche, they put stacks on social media platforms as a traffic-driving force.
Overview: Tom’s guide is also very diverse in topics. There are news, guides, reviews, product comparisons, compilations of best products and product coupons, etc.
They also monetize their site through Google ads placement.
Note: Most of the data is collected with SEO PowerSuite. If you want to analyze your competitors’ SEO metrics, that’s the best tool for the check. Plus, you can do it for free (no hidden fees, no credit card needed):Download SEO PowerSuite
Did the article sound a bit like I was promoting our affiliate program? Well, if only a little. We'd really love to see you among our affiliates and help the world learn about SEO PowerSuite.
You can read about all the affiliate program conditions here, but I recommend getting in touch with Olga Brich, our Partnerships Manager, who will help you get on board (and who's simply a pleasure to chat with):