In over a decade of working on websites I’ve see a lot of affiliate websites. Some were good but a lot were very bad. In this post, I’ll share my experiences about what I think Google is looking for and the common traits of things I’ve seen fail.
Single Offer Website
[pullquote]You need to build a website that has information people are looking for and sprinkle in affiliate links, not create affiliate links and sprinkle in content … [/pullquote]When I first started, this was the only kind of website I built. I found a great offer with a high affiliate payout and went to town. Maybe it was cell phones, satellite TV activations, dating, or ringtones: it didn’t matter as long as the payout was there. These sites have lots of problems right off the bat.
This approach is problematic because, instead of building a website with information people want, need, or that helps them solve a problem, it builds a website to create backfill and legitimize whatever is being sold. This is a textbook 101 example of putting the cart before the horse. You need to build a website that has information people are looking for and sprinkle in affiliate links, not create affiliate links and sprinkle in content.
Diversify Revenue Streams
The failure to build more than one source of income from a website has doomed more than one website and, in some cases, whole companies. Having a website that only earns money through Adsense, a single affiliate program, is extremely dangerous. If one thing changes, for any reason, you can find yourself driving off a cliff with no warning. Look for ways to add other streams and be creative. As an example, I was building up a new travel website and was looking for a way to add a “fresh” or “news” component to help keep the site looking like it was “alive.” I came up with a calendar of local events, but it wasn’t “enough,” so I expanded and added in nearby concerts (with affiliate links to ticket brokers). Within a few weeks I was making just as much from ticket sales as I was from travel reservations.
Bad Linking Policies
Lets be honest. Link building is one of those aspects of building a site that is really difficult. When you are building a website, it’s hard to get on the radar of other sites and get them to link to you. As a result, a lot of us get a chip on our shoulder and don’t link freely to other people … and that needs to stop.
First of all, when you do that, you are acting like a spoiled child who isn’t going to play anymore and is taking his toys home. When you act like that, you create a website that looks like a dead end for links. From Google’s perspective, a website like that looks odd and, unless you have A LOT of others factors going for you and are on par with Wikipedia, it’s just not going to work. Link to other people, not just government and informational websites. Link to related, non-competitive, commercial sites. Do it often and do it freely, especially where it makes sense, looks natural, and benefits the consumer.
Build a Community and Subscriber Base
One of the things people who have been in the space long enough will tell you is that you should build a source of traffic independent of Google. Build a forum, engage in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or build an email list (shudder). I’m going to fully admit I’m not the most social of people. Community building is something I hate. I’m also a zero inbox kind of guy. The thought of filling up other people’s inboxes makes me twitch. This is an area that I know is important, but it’s still something I struggle with.
Be Pressworthy and Noteworty
To whatever extent possible, do things that are pressworthy and noteworthy in your space. You don’t have to be the most noteworthy, but you don’t want to be the least noteworthy either. You need to do things that, to people and search engines, look like press events. DO NOT think like an SEO when doing it. Getting a link from a trade website is great, but getting your domain or product mentioned without a link is fine too. In reality, getting your domain mentioned without a link is MUCH better than not getting your domain mentioned at all.
Fresh Data and Structured Data
Whether its true or not, people make the assumption that something written in the past 12 months is better than something written 5 years ago. I’m not going to say Google penalizes old websites, but they have designed a system that gives preference to newer, fresh pages.
With that taken into account, it makes a lot of sense to use XML and other structured markup to make sure Google knows the date your content was published/updated. I know this is in opposition to the entire evergreen content concept, but Google makes the rules. We just play in their sandbox. My advice? Update & refresh using the living URL method. Just be sure to update the date.
Rich snippets are much more click enticing in the SERPS. Do everything you can to format your data in a microformat they can read. Especially try to take advantage of author markup and review markup.
While a lot of these points may seem like common sense, it took a lot of trial and error to get to this level of understanding. Here are the key takeaways in this post:
- Build websites that have information people are looking for and solve problems, then add affiliate links. Don’t do it the other way around
- Find multiple revenue streams for your websites. Don’t depend on one offer or product
- Create natural looking websites. Don’t create algorithmic anomalies with bad linking practices
- Build a base of customers who look for you that don’t come from search engines
- Be press worthy. Do everything to look more like a legitimate business and less like an SEO
- Keep your content updated, especially the key important pages
- Use XML and micro data tags to help Google understand your website better and get rich snippets in the SERPs