There are at least two things that an affiliate marketing program for your business is never bad for: expanding your audience and earning money. In most cases, an affiliate program is good for them, actually. Other aspects of an affiliate program are up for debate. For example, will an affiliate program hurt your brand’s image? Will it earn enough money to justify itself?
But here’s one of the most important questions in today’s online landscape: Is an affiliate program good or bad for your SEO? Some people say, “Yes! An affiliate program gives you lots of legitimate backlinks, so it’s good for SEO.” Others say, “No! It will give you a lot of low-quality and unnatural backlinks, so it’s bad.” Which camp is correct? Well, it depends.
When Affiliate Marketing is Good
Here is the best case scenario: The affiliates who sell your product have their own successful websites or blogs. Your product, which is related to their niche and exactly what their readers might want, piggybacks off of their substantial readership. Your affiliates know that making their readers happy is what earns – and keeps earning – their referrals. They know that their revenue is directly tied to your brand, and that it’s in their best interests to promote your brand in a positive, authentic way. In this best case scenario, it’s is clear that affiliate marketing is good for SEO.
When Affiliate Marketing is Bad
Here is the worst case scenario: The affiliates who sell your product have no concern other than making money from your product as quickly and easily as possible. They employ whatever tactics will get the most people to their site – a site that’s dedicated to nothing more than talking-up your product and providing their links to purchase it. Quality means nothing to them, and quantity is everything. If they had to throw your brand under the bus or even cheat a customer, they would if it earned them a profit. In this worst case scenario, it’s clear that affiliate marketing is bad for SEO.
The Truth About Affiliate Links and SEO
The above examples are obviously extreme, and your program could have a mixture of affiliates that are good, bad, and in between. It’s important to understand that your affiliates’ referral links are in themselves neither good nor bad – it’s where they’re posted that determines their quality. Respectable and relevant sites will give good links. Spam-ridden and meaningless sites will give bad links. The old theory that drove many businesses into affiliate marketing was that “no link is a bad link,” and that is no longer reality. Instead of ignoring unnatural (spam) links, Google now penalizes your website for having them by lowering your PageRank. The reverse still holds true – that high-quality links can raise your PageRank, but affiliate marketing is no longer a “nothing to lose” endeavor.
Making Affiliate Links Work for You
If improving SEO is one of the goals of your affiliate marketing program, then creating an open affiliate program is a bad idea, because it will be more difficult to screen your affiliates. A closed affiliate program, on the other hand, in which affiliates are carefully hand-selected by you based on their site quality, relevance, and selling potential can almost guarantee good SEO (and profit) for your business. If you retain tight control over your affiliate program, you can make sure it works.