Can Google Detect an Affiliate Website

One of the questions that often comes up is does Google hate affiliate websites, and are they penalized in the algorithm?

I’m also quite sure Google has an idea at what point, whether by percentage or by total number of links, that a site becomes an affiliate website …

The answer to that is slightly nuanced but, for simplicity’s sake, they don’t hate affiliate websites. Nor have I seen any evidence that shows affiliate sites are penalized. What Google does hate is thin affiliate websites with little or no trust. However, a better question to ask is can Google detect affiliate websites, and can they make it harder  for affiliate websites to rank … ? But those are entirely different questions.

If you’ve read the leaked quality rater guide from 2009, you’ll see that Google has set up lot of hurdles specifically making it harder for affiliate websites to “pass” the sniff test. One of the quickest and easiest ways that Google can determine an affiliate website is through “naked” links to common affiliate programs like Linkshare, CJ, ShareASale, and others. But, really, how good can Google be at detecting those links? Well, here’s a publicly available free tool put out by Sitonomy that checks what types of programming tools are being used by a website.

Now if the folks at Sitonomy can detect that 4% of the* links on a page are from CJ, I’m positive that Google can as well. I’m sure Google can tell on page level throughout the site and the site as a whole. I’m also quite sure Google has an idea at what point, whether by percentage or by total number of links, that a site becomes an affiliate website. It would also be fairly easy to say, once you cross that threshold, you need a higher level of trust to rank for competitive terms. This is one of the reasons I strongly disagree with Lori Weiman, who says affiliates should never cloak links.

UPDATED: the % is total links scanned not just links on the page, my bad.

So what are the takeaways here:

  • Use a tool like Sitonomy to check your most important pages and see what they are able to find as far as affiliate links
  • Look into redirection tools that mask your links, and make sure you block them from search engine spiders
  • Obfuscate some of your other links as well even if they aren’t affiliate links: people should always be unsure of your intent
  • Always make sure you comply with FTC regulations for disclosure. If needed, use a nice non-machine-readable graphic for maximum stealthiness

photo credit: Aditya Rakhman

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