“Avoid participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value.”
– from the Google webmaster guidelines 1
Affiliate programs provide ads, links, content, photos, etc. to place on your webpage. If someone clicks the ad and then buys something from the advertiser website, you receive a portion or percentage of the sale.
Many companies enjoy providing this type of ad because they do not pay anything except when they make a sale. Webmasters like affiliate programs because they can make a great deal of money from their webpages. Websites that primarily have affiliate ads on them are known as “affiliate websites”.
What is Value?
Value, at its simplest means you, the webmaster, are adding content that is useful to your users other than what is provided by the affiliate advertiser.
Let’s look at an all to common case of an affiliate site adding no value. This is also known as a thin affiliate page.
Even though the page looks like a complete page, it has a great photo of the product, it has a great description, and it has great links to other similar products too. The problem is that all of that information (content) was provided by the advertiser.
The info was not just provided to this website, but to tens of thousands of other sites as well. That means if you go to another website and look at the product page you will see the exact same photo and the exact same description.
Now Google has to look at all those pages with the exact same content and decide which one is valuable. One of the first ways it does this is to say “Okay, 10,000 webpages have the exact same content, let’s just remove the content that is the same and see what happens…
Now all the sites have no content! All there is left is the logo after we remove the advertiser provided information. Oh wait… there is one that has some info on it, let’s look at that…
The owner of this website took the time to know the product they are selling. They took photos and wrote an original description. The page is much more useful than
the others because all the others had the same info. By providing original information and content like photos or videos of the product they are giving users a better
idea of what the product is, allowing them to make a more informed decision about their purchase. In short…
They added value
Does Google hate affiliate sites or rank them differently than other sites?
No. Google does not hate affiliate sites. Google likes useful webpages.
Many affiliate websites are not useful and Google doesn’t rank webpages that are not useful. Google will rank a website according to the value it will give to a
searcher, not according to the type of advertising it promotes.
In fact I use affiliate programs on this site, learn about the WP Engine affiliate program and why I use it.
If you have an affiliate website that isn’t ranking well, it isn’t because you are an affiliate, it is because your webpages are not deemed useful or relevant. The
most common reason for this is that affiliate websites often do not add much value. The affiliate websites that do add value actually rank quite well. This is the
reason this Google webmaster guideline is worded the way it is.
It doesn’t say “do not use affiliate programs”, it says “if you are using them, add value”.