Affiliate marketers are always wondering whether or not Google hates affiliate websites. They also wonder whether their affiliate websites are penalized in the algorithm. If so, could this explain a low page rank or not being in the top three pages of search results?
The answer is really quite simple. Google does not hate affiliate websites. In fact, Google does not even penalize affiliate websites. However, Google does hate the thin affiliate sits that have little trust, or even worse, no trust at all. If you really want to find out what Google is thinking, then you need to ask the right question. Can Google detect your affiliate sites? If they can, do they make it more difficult for your affiliate sites to rank?
Have you read the quality rater guide from 2009, the one that was leaked? If you have, then you know that Google has created a lot of hurdles for affiliate marketers to jump through. All of them are designed to make it even more difficult for affiliate marketers to have their sites pass the sniff test. The easiest and quickest way that Google can determine if your website is an affiliate site is simply to check for naked links that connect to the common affiliate programs such as Linkshare or Commission Junction. Now, you might be thinking - but how good could Google possibly be at finding those links?
There is a free tool that is now publicly available designed by Sitonomy that can help you determine if your affiliate sites might make Google frown. The tool can check what kinds of programming are used on a website. When you run the tool, you can see what blogging platform, in-text advertising, ads management, widgets, and yes, your affiliate networks. In fact, the tool will tell you that - for example - 4% of your links go to Commission Junction and another .9% to ShareASale.
If that tool can find that on your entire site, you can bet that Google can find it too. In fact, more than likely, Google can probably tell how high the percentage is on every single page, not just the links on the entire site. At some point, Google will look at your site and say it has to be an affiliate site. Maybe Google does this by a percentage or by a total number of links. Whatever that threshold is though, you can be sure that you will have to have a higher trust level in order to rank to be competitive. This might make a good reason for cloaking links.
So what can you do? First, use a tool like Sitonomy. You'll be able to see where you are in percentage of affiliate links. Check out link redirection tools that will mask your links and then hide them from search engines. You may even want to make some of your other links - even the not affiliate ones - obscure to keep people from picking up on what you're doing. Make sure that you comply with the FTC regulations for disclosure though. You can always use a non-machine-readable graphic that will help keep it from showing up as an affiliate site.
What do you think? Is the advice to cloak affiliate links good advice? Or should you never cloak them? What do you do on your affiliate sites?