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SEO For Affiliates:
Monetizing your website with a wise affiliate SEO strategy.

By: Katherine Stepanova
November 20th, 2018

Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular ways to monetize your website. It lets you both focus on the niche you're most passionate about and, unlike hanging some random AdSense banners around your site, promote the products you truly believe in.

And since affiliate marketing success depends hugely on SEO, today we'll look into how to blend your SEO and affiliate marketing strategies in the most efficient way, both when you:

— Plan to build an affiliate website from scratch;
— Or when you're looking for extra ways to monetize an existing site.

We'll start with a little intro for those of you who are new to affiliate marketing, and go on with specific affiliate SEO tips.

What's affiliate marketing?

Many companies who sell their products online (from clothing and education to web-hosting and software tools) look to partner with bloggers and other businesses in their niche via affiliate programs.

Basically, an affiliate helps the vendor promote their goods and gets a commission for every client referred.

In most cases, like with our own SEO PowerSuite affiliate program, you simply get a unique affiliate link to place it on your website. And when someone clicks your link and purchases SEO PowerSuite after that, you get your 33% affiliate commission.

Sometimes you do that by simply recommending the product to your current audience (blog readers, social media followers or current customers). And sometimes you launch special activities to attract new audiences (like build a dedicated website and bring SEO and PPC traffic to it, organize online and offline training courses, etc.). But the idea always remains the same: you refer new clients to a partner's website and get paid for that.

Is affiliate marketing safe for SEO?

You might have heard that Google frowns upon affiliate websites. And there is a grain of truth here in terms of how many affiliate websites Google has penalized.

But the reason for that is neither the affiliate nature of the sites nor the affiliate links placed on them. It's all about the low-quality, thin-content websites affiliates often resort to in chase of quick and easy cash.

Or, as Google's John Mueller puts it in a Google Webmaster Hangouts session,

…"Of course affiliate sites can be really useful. They 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 are basically just lazy people who 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 great, 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. And when treating SEO seriously, you can turn organic traffic into a key source of your affiliate earnings.

Picking an affiliate niche/focus

Picking something you're passionate about is a great way to start, especially if you already have a community you're going to market your affiliate products to.

However, there are 3 steps I recommend you to follow before settling down to a specific niche and product.

1. Move from general to specific

Say, you are running an SEO blog.

Disclaimer: I will frequently use SEO niche examples in the article, since quite a lot of our readers are in the SEO industry, and since this is the industry I know best. However, the very same principles will apply to any other niche you target.

So, you are running an SEO blog and the most obvious niche for your affiliate efforts is, surely, SEO.

But however promising the "SEO" niche seems, you won't be able to cover it in and out. You will be focusing on 1, 2 or even a couple more aspects of SEO, but not the whole industry. And before analyzing potential profitability, you need to split the wide topic into narrow sub-topics you might be focusing on:

2. Check traffic potential.

Now, to pick between the topics you've identified, you need to check if there's any interest in them across the Web. Or, in other words, whether the keywords related to them have substantial traffic volumes.

The most convenient way to do it is by using keyword groups in Rank Tracker.

How to

In Rank Tracker's Keyword Sandbox dashboard, you can split your keywords into semantic groups and analyze the traffic potential for each group:

  1. Start with Rank Tracker's automatic grouping option (you can even choose the level of semantic similarity to use):

  1. No machine learning algorithm can identify the meaning behind your keywords better than a human does. So you might need to look through your keyword groups and adjust some of them manually.
  2. Now check the total Number of Searches value (calculated for all keywords inside the group) and pick the most promising groups.

3. Check the severity of your competition.

You definitely don't want to compete with the brands you have absolutely no chance to outrank. So, not to end up fighting with windmills, we'll do our homework and check the severity of our niches' competition in advance.

You can do that in the very same dashboard in Rank Tracker. Simply update the stats and check the average Keyword Difficulty value across all the keywords in the group:

4. Pick the niches that are worth your effort.

Now, you surely shouldn't turn your back on each and every low-traffic niche. For some of them, creating your content and ranking it in SERPs is so easy you simply cannot afford missing the opportunity.

On the contrary, some of the sweetest niches might require the type of content that takes ages to create (say, courses and e-books), so they might not be worth it. This means you need to carefully weigh the pros and cons for every option, and pick the ones that fit your biz type and amount of resources best.

Choosing a domain name

This step fits in if you're planning to build your affiliate website from scratch. Here are a few things you might want to pay attention to.

1. A broad industry-related name vs exact/partial match domain for a specific keyword

This choice depends mostly on the long-term goals you set.

Sure thing, if you're planning to use the website to build your personal brand around it and to make it an authoritative industry resource, going for a keyword-specific domain somewhat limits your options.

However, if you simply plan to catch a trend and promote one specific product, an exact or partial match domain might be just enough. Or even produce faster results. Because even though Google's John Mueller keeps stressing that keywords in the domain lost influence as a ranking factor years ago, they at least keep playing a big role in the anchor text value of the links a website earns.

"…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."

2. Brand/product name in the domain name

In most cases, affiliate program rules clearly state that using the brand name in your domain name is strictly prohibited. So beware of purchasing a branded domain (unless you have an explicit permission from the company) not to face a lawsuit for infringing on a brand name.

3. Domain history

When acquiring a new domain, it's very important to check its history. Both because you don't want a domain that spammed Google with bad content or bad links. And because you don't mind having some nice backlinks already boosting the domains authority.

So, I'd recommend checking out:

1. The history of the domain in Archive.org

Just sniff-test what you see to make sure there're no obvious spam signs that immediately strike your eyes.

Psst, look what I've found! One of the first versions of this website back in 2006. Remember the times? I was actually a student back then:)

2. The history of the domain's backlinks.

You can do that with a backlink checker like SEO SpyGlass.

Here's an example of a domain name for sale (available as of November 19th) that already has 6,9K backlinks:

Sure thing, it's going to cost you way more than a younger and less authoritative domain name. But, depending on your goals and strategy, the game might be worth the candle.

Finding "low hanging fruits" keywords

"Hey, I've already analyzed my keyword niches. Wasn't that enough?" you might say. But now, after picking the best keyword niches to target, you need to also pick the exact keywords to create your content around.

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? Simply because the biggest SEO keywords are already occupied (or fought for) by the brands themselves. And I can guarantee they have more knowledge and resources than you to win that battle.

So, what you might want to look for are smaller keywords (~100-1000 searches/month) that the brands themselves simply don't pay attention to, and that thus have very poor search results served.

Sure, some of these keywords may not be the money keywords that immediately lead to purchases (like "buy seo software now", "best seo software", and so on). But most programs (including the SEO PowerSuite affiliate program) suggest 90+ days of cookies' duration. Which means you can refer visitors to the vendor's website on the early stages of the funnel. Let the vendor do the nurturing, and even if the traffic converts only in a couple of months, you will still get your commission.

How to
  1. Getting back to your Rank Tracker project, set the filter to only display keywords with < 1,000 searches/month.

  1. Check the search results for each keyword manually to see if they are currently underserved:

Why do we have to do that manually, instead of looking at the Keyword Difficulty score? Because quite often Keyword Difficulty might be misleading in this case.

The websites that currently rank for the keyword might be highly authoritative, but not optimized for and relevant to that keyword. They rank high simply because there's no better alternative to include into search results. And therefore outranking them might be much easier than it seems.

  1. When spotting the SERPs that c can read on about all the ould use some improvement, mark the keywords with a special tag in your project. These are the keywords I recommend focusing your attention on in the first place.

Picking the right internal linking structure

If the idea of targeting low-volume keywords came to your liking, you might want to support this strategy with an appropriate website architecture and internal linking.

I recommend reading our previous article to get a better idea of how an internal linking strategy corresponds to the type of keywords you target.

Yet, in a nutshell, 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 separate pages (blog posts) for them, instead of trying to target all of them on your homepage.

In this case, your site structure should support this approach, with most of your internal links pointing to these individual blog posts of yours:

Unlike, for instance, the case when most of your internal links serve to pass the ranking power to your homepage (works well when you target a single very competitive term with your homepage):

Also, make sure that the internal links you set use keywords in their anchors. This, as John Mueller says, will help both your visitors and Google understand what the pages are about:

"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 WebSite Auditor. In your project, go to Site Structure > Visualization and see how your pages are interlinked with each other.

Nofollowing your affiliate links

For Google, your affiliate links are a means of earning affiliate commission (or, in other words, a yet another type of paid links). And since paid links are far from being a natural authority signal, they'd like to be able to remove those links from calculating organic link authority. This is why one of the basic requirements for you is to nofollow all affiliate links.

Most likely, Google is able to automatically identify some affiliate links built via popular affiliate networks (like Amazon) and somehow "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 I believe 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."

Also, nofollowing spares you the concern of being penalized for doorway pages which pass all of their traffic to a different website.

To make sure that all of your affiliate links are nofollowed, simply switch to WebSite Auditor's Site Audit dashboard and check the list of your Dofollow external links:

Utilizing user-generated content

One of the biggest affiliate pains is content creation.

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 you, as a small business, simply have no resources for.

A solution? Try "delegating" some content creation to your users. In any form you can think of in your particular business niche.

Blog commenting, product reviews, testimonials or any other option for users to join discussions on your website can do a great job and charge your SEO campaign with extra content, unique and super-relevant.

More to that, enabling user ratings lets you earn those nice looking stars in your search engine snippet. Which, no doubt, makes you stand out in a crowded SERP.

Making use of the vendor's special deals

Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays, Christmas, Easter and what not. For most of these holidays, vendors tend to launch special time-limited deals and discounts.

For you, as an affiliate, it means easy commission to grab, since, obviously, these special deals see doubled and tripled conversion rates. For instance, for SEO PowerSuite affiliates, these events mean 3x the income they get on average.

So, by no means neglect asking the vendor about the upcoming deals and prepare your marketing campaigns accordingly.

P.S. Sticking to the common SEO best practices

The purpose of this article wasn't to teach you the basics of SEO, but rather to talk over the specifics. However, one of the key factors in your affiliate success is in…Well, a comprehensive SEO campaign.

So here's a list of extra reading for anyone, who'd like to get deeper into the SEO nitty-gritty.

  1. The definitive guide to SEO in 2018
  2. Technical SEO checklist: 9 steps to a technically perfect site in 2018
  3. SEO for WordPress: quick start guide
  4. Mobile SEO in 2018: 4-step optimization for any device
  5. SEO vs PPC: how to get most from SERPs without spending a fortune
  6. HTML tags for SEO: to use or not to use?
  7. 7 link building techniques that still work in 2018
  8. How to nail keyword research in 2018

P.P.S. Are you already on SEO PowerSuite affiliate program?

Did the article sound a bit like I was promoting our affiliate program?:) Here comes the confession. 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 Juliya Titova, our Partnerships Manager, who will help you get on board (and who's simply a pleasure to chat with):

Juliya Titova
Partnerships Manager

And I'm waiting for your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

Head of Marketing at SEO PowerSuite