Is SEO For Affiliate Product Sites Dead?

First I’ll say I have a smidgen of affiliate sites still doing ok in both Yahoo! and MSN (for the time being). Never have I done well in Google. With the latest Yahoo! update knocking out some of the power keyphrases I used to rank well in, I’ve been doing some investigating.

Going through some old bookmarks of affiliate product sites to watch (mainly datafeed and store link directory style sites), I see some interesting things.

One, an across the board drop on Alexa traffic charts. Alexa can’t be counted on for true traffic numbers, but it is a good indicator of traffic trends for a domain. I see big drops across the board starting at the beginning of this year (2006).

Two, smaller affiliate product domains being flipped over to monetized parked domains.

Three, not a lot of affiliate sites in the SERPs mix. If there are any, most of them are heavily built around content. Things like forums, articles, interviews and blogs. And with one of the below listed criteria (*).

Four, I see more ‘traffic creation’ techniques such as blog traffic pushing. Take the ‘Fashion’ category for example. A few fashion blogs that link to each other and then link to affiliate product domains. The fashion blogs appear to be duds though (no one linking to them but each other), with reader comments like: “Don’t you love shopping online! Better yet to go make your purchases at FatWallet so you get part of your money back!” or “My advice: Go try these on at the store first – they’re cut large” :roll:. I don’t see the affiliate sites the blogs are pushing traffic to or the blogs themselves anywhere in the SERPs, but it’s also impossible to come up with every possible keyword/phrase. Alexa traffic stats don’t register a heart beat, but that doesn’t mean anything either.

What I see in the SERPs (aside from merchant domains):

  • A lot of eBay
  • A lot of bizrate
  • A lot of nextag
  • Yahoo store
  • Google DMOZ
  • Amazon
  • Craigslist
  • shopzilla

(*) For the Affiliate sites that are working:

  • Attached blogs with lots of content & strong inbounds
  • Attached forums with lots of content & strong inbounds
  • Affiliate product pages on subdomains of domains that are strong & full of content and quite reputable (inbounds)
  • .edu, Wikipedia, Yahoo directory and DMOZ inbounds ==> !
  • .edu & established non-profit type domains filled with subdomains or pages of affiliate products (Shocked!)
  • Older domains (lots of 1997-2001)

MSN and to some degree – Yahoo! – are still viable options for traffic delivery, but MSN just doesn’t deliver high traffic levels. And Yahoo! seems determined to replicate the Goog–which means an eventual big boot to affiliate sites.

I’m not fond of PPC. I don’t think it’s a good long term strategy since I believe/perceive affiliate pages/sites will be pushed out of PPC by Google and eventually Yahoo! just like they’ve been pushed out of the SERPs. But…

I’m taking my anti-PPC rant off the sidebar. PPC might be the best option for strong levels of hungry, shopping traffic when the SERPs aren’t lovin your affiliate product sites. And I think the SERPs love has been dropping bit by bit, especially this past year.

To me the writing is on the wall that if you want to make money online with affiliate marketing using domains filled with datafeeds and page after page of affiliate products–you either need to relook at how you’re building your money pages/sites or understand you’ll be working with PPC to generate some good traffic.

Unless of course you’ve been in the game a long time and you have some good, juicy older domains at your disposal. If so, lucky-lucky you! ;).

What are you seeing? Do you think affiliate domains are SOL or soon to be SOL in the SERPs? Am I seeing too bleak a picture?


I've been trying to find my way online for more years than I care to admit.

4 thoughts to “Is SEO For Affiliate Product Sites Dead?”

  1. I agree with what your saying. Even though I haven’t had much experience with affiliate marketing, I did have one site that did well in google for about 2 weeks.

    I created it late last year and had about 40000 pages by early this year. Then in the space of 1 day, my hits from google went from about 10 / day to 600-700. That was great, I was making about $50 a day from the one site, but then, 2 weeks later, everything dropped off. Back to about 10 hits a day.

    I’m now working on relaunching the site, but with bucket loads more content for each page.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.

  2. I agree with quite a lot of what you say here. Very thought out and appreciate your point of view, love the research. I’ve been thinking for a while that affiliates who rely solely on the search engines for all their traffic and income need to do some hard thinking very quickly. I think any site that does not offer some value to the consumer, enough that the consumers eventually decide to come to them first, well it will be tough for that site to continue to produce.

    We have seen so many changed by the big G, and like you said Yahoo and others will follow most likely, and that will make it more difficult.

    But if an affiliate site has lots of original content, or some value add that other sites can’t offer, then you start to build a long term sustainable business. I think you hit the nail on the head seeing lots of content sites out there. Content is returning to its previous positions as king from the early and late ’90s.

    I think affiliates need to work hard at attracting and retaining thier customers, just like merchants do. I speak to many affiliates who have no plan on how to find out who is shopping through them, how to market to them directly or how to bring them back. A good CRM plan will go a long way.

    I also think affiliates need to branch out and go beyond just ppc marketing. There are many cost effective offline marketing available to attract customers. We don’t live in an only online or offline world, we operate in both and so should your marketing campaigns.

    Great blog and I really enjoy reading it!

  3. I am not as pessimistic about Google free search traffic as you are. Certainly, Google traffic is significantly more difficult to obtain than from other search engines. However, search results amount to a zero-sum game. Someone has to appear in the top 5 results. The question is how to crack the Google algorithm to appear there.

    As you pointed out, unique content + inbound links are critical to high page rank. Ensure you have enough interesting content and keep it updated.

    As someone in charge of the Amazon Associates program for a year, I have seen a large number of very successful content-based sites generating Google free search traffic.

    Good luck with the blog!

    Gene Kavner

  4. Good observation. SEO for affiliate sites is really becoming more involving esp. when targeting Google. I personally think this is due to the fact that affiliate sites contain similar information as they will be promoting the same product.

    The only way to get around this problem is to try and find your own unique benefits that are not mentioned by the affiliate program provider. In this way you can write your own content pages that are unique.

    The other thing that could be contributing to this is the nature of redirects that some affiliate site owners use. You probally know that spiders hate meta refresh redirects but yet a lot of affiliate marketers still use this technique to mask their links. If you are still using a meta refresh you can either block the spiders form the page or use a 301 permanent redirect.

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