I’ve been doing affiliate marketing for over a decade now. Back then, creating an SEO strategy for your affiliate-based website was pretty cut and dried. Pick a market and buy a keyword-laden domain name. Next you’d do a search on the Overture keyword tool (I’m completely dating myself here) and pick the top 50 keywords in your niche.
Then you’d create pages for each with about 400 words of content on each one and then start working on your link development with some reciprocal linking. And if you were really advanced in your link development strategies, you’d also work on some one-way linking — attempting to get links from bookmark lists run by college students.
Next up, you’d sit and wait for the next Google Dance and deposit your commission checks into the bank.
[enter Edith and Archie Bunker singing "those were the days!"]
Nowadays, ranking is much harder, especially for an affiliate-oriented website. I’d imagine that if you could go back in time and explain to a 1998 affiliate marketer what goes into ranking in the 2011 SERPS, it would be the same kind of culture shock as showing Henry Ford a busy metropolitan freeway at rush hour.
Affiliate marketing has evolved. This evolution is not so much technology-based, nor is it really “fundamentals” based. It’s strategy based.
So how do you create an evolved affiliate strategy? The specifics will change from site to site, but some of the standards remain the same regardless of the topic or niche.
Brandable Domain Names
By all means, get a keyword in there if you can, but with today’s emphasis on brands in Google’s algorithm, you don’t want to be yet another keyword-laden domain. You need a more unique name if you expect to throw Google the branding signals they’re looking for.
Truly Unique Content
There is a difference between content being “technically” unique as far as a search engine is concerned and “conceptually unique” from a user perspective. Learn the difference and plant your content firmly on the conceptually unique side of the line. Social signals (more on that in future columns) pay off in the engines and no one wants to share your 400 words about “discount widgets” and 400 words about “cheap widgets.” They want to share “14 things you never knew you could do with widgets.”
User Generated Content (UGC)
The web is no longer a monologue. Adding the ability to for users to leave reviews goes a long way towards “value add” and offering up unique content that no other site has. Blog comments also serve as a way to engage users, thus creating the user-based signals of a popular website that Google loves.
There are plenty of sites out there willing to let users have a voice. You either need to be one of them or your users will eventually go somewhere that allows them to have one.
Create A Point Of Difference (POD)
A lot of people are under the misconception that Google doesn’t like affiliate sites. In my experience, that’s simply not true. Google merely hates crappy affiliate sites. By that I mean sites with no value add to the end user — affiliates that haven’t adjusted their site-building strategy since 1998.
You’ll need to spend time at the other sites marketing to your niche and ask yourself what they’re missing, what they’re not offering or how you can do what they’re doing better. You need to treat an affiliate site as if you’re actually the merchant. How do you make yourself stand out? That will be the key to having the link-building opportunities you’ll need to rank in the engines.
By working to create a brand that offers valuable content and gives consumers a voice — all from an “angle” that hasn’t been done three hundred times before is, in my opinion, the key to building an affiliate sites that not only survives the current (and future) search engine algorithms, but also thrives in them.
It gives you the opportunity to create link building opportunities and social strategies that wouldn’t be available with the affiliate sites of old. No games, no manipulation. Just a solid strategy that revolves around making your affiliate-based site a valuable resource to those looking for information, products and/or services in your niche.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.