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If you’re an affiliate marketer who depends on Google for traffic, you know the pain when an SEO algorithm update doesn’t go your way.
In one fell swoop, you can lose a huge chunk of your search traffic and thus, your affiliate income.
I’m no stranger to these major updates, which are termed ‘broad core updates’, during my 5 years in building affiliate marketing sites.
One of my sites was getting 10,000 visitors per month, prior to a major Google algorithm update in 2019. In an instance, keywords visibility fell drastically and it’s now chalking up just 3.7K visits.
That site was in the health niche, an industry where affiliate sites took the hardest beating.
Combined with other mistakes (bad site structure, no focus) I’ve made as a newbie affiliate marketer, it was too much pain to apply a ‘fix’.
Nevertheless, I went on to build 2 newer sites that are getting better results with Google. I can assure you that it wasn’t pure luck. I spend countless hours going through research by SEO experts like Marie Haynes and discussions in SEO groups.
I realized that in order to continue to enjoy Google’s traffic in 2020, you’ll have to get a few areas right.
But before that, let’s discuss an important concept that’s prevalent in recent Google algorithm updates.
First, you need to understand the E-A-T factor.
And it has nothing to do with satisfying your hunger.
Rather, E-A-T means Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. This concept is used by Google in its Search Quality Rating Guidelines to assist manual raters in determining the quality of webpages.
It is also the direction that Google’s search algorithm is heading to, as E-A-T serves the purpose of delivering better search experience to the users.
Based on Google’s guideline, a webpage should appear to be trustworthy, written in an authoritative manner, and builds trust from the users.
The E-A-T factor has great influences on how Google ranks YMYL (Your Money Your Live) websites. YMYL are sites that contain information that could influence the wealth and health of the users.
Here are some industries that are greatly affected by the E-A-T:
- Medical sites
- Finance sites.
- News portals.
These types of sites are also influenced by E-A-T to a certain extent:
- Tech sites.
- Sites that claim authority in a particular niche.
It’s easy to understand the reason behind Google’s E-A-T rating.
You’re more likely to trust a medical piece on treating cancer written by an experienced doctor, than one patched up by a fellow marketer.
The same goes for billions of users on the internet.
It is also the reason why it’s almost impossible to rank for certain keywords, particularly if you’re in the health/medical niche.
Therefore, if you want to build websites that rank in Google, you’ll need to prioritize E-A-T in your SEO strategies.
Here’s how I’m approaching SEO for my affiliate sites in 2020.
9 Actionable SEO Tips For Affiliate Marketers
1. Get keyword research done
As long as you’re depending on organic traffic, you need to kickstart your SEO strategy with keyword research.
Else, you’ll be producing content blindly and hoping that users stumbled on them on Google.
You’ll need to find out the search phrase that users are searching on Google and form your content strategy based on that.
By doing keyword research, you get to find out these metrics:
- Search volume
- Potential traffic.
- Competing pages.
- Keyword / SEO difficulty.
These are valuable information that allows you to focus on keywords that are more likely to rank in the shortest time.
Obviously, you’ll want to avoid short-tail keywords that are made of 1-2 words. For example, “coffee machine” has more than 7500+ searches a month, but it’s incredibly hard to rank for a new site.
Instead, you’ll want to target long-tail keywords, which are usually made up of 4-5 or more words.
Here’s one that is way easier to rank.
When you’re ranking for many long-tail keywords, the traffic eventually builds up to a significant amount. It will be more efficient than trying to rank for short-tail keywords, which takes a much longer time.
Interesting read: 11 keyword research mistakes to avoid.
There’s also another benefit of targeting long-tail keywords, which brings us to the next point.
2. Identify search intent
In general, search intent refers to the ultimate goal of the user, when he/she searches for a keyword on Google.
Google has gotten pretty smart in picking up the expectations of the users and provide content that matches their search intent.
Typically, search intent can be categorized as:
Informational search phrases often begin with a question. For example:
- How to choose a coffee machine.
- What is a coffee machine
Meanwhile, transactional phrases reflect the intention of buying, downloading, subscribing or getting a freebie.
These are transactional keywords.
- Coffee machines for sales.
- Buy coffee machines.
- Best coffee machines.
When users are keying in transactional keywords, they are often ready to take action.
Finally, you have navigational keywords, which often point to a brand, location, or a specific website.
For example, a user searching for “AeroPress Coffee Maker” is likely searching for the product on the brand’s website.
Therefore, Google will rank AeroPress on top of anything else.
As an affiliate marketer, it’s important to create content that fulfills the search intent. This brings us back to the importance of focusing on long-tail keywords.
It’s easier to identify search intent from long-tail keywords than short-tails.
Compare “where to buy coffee maker” with “coffee-maker”. It’s clear that the former shows that the user is looking to purchase a coffee-maker while you could only hope that the latter means that the user is searching for generic information.
3. Create ‘Expert’ Content
You may think that great content means one that’s well-written, error-free, non-plagiarized and Grammarly-checked.
While these are the basics of any content that are deemed worthy, they are missing one element to be considered ‘great by Google.
The content is where you demonstrate your ‘Expertise’ in the niche, as in the E-A-T championed by Google.
It means that if the content is not written by what Google considers an ‘expert’, it may be tougher to break into the top results.
This is even more so if you’re creating a medical, financial, or legal website. According to Google, these sites require ‘formal expertise’, which means the writer needs to be a doctor, financial adviser, lawyer, or someone with relevant official certifications.
If you Google ’best home remedies for blocked nose’, you’ll find that the top results are monopolized by authority medical sites like Healthline, Webmd and MedicalNewsToday. I bet that the topics are covered by thousands of bloggers and affiliate sites, but they aren’t showing up because Google favored those written by experts.
So, here’s a few other things you can do to convince Google that you’re an expert in your niche.
- Write a detailed About Us page, which includes your professional background or why readers should trust your content.
- Link to professional profiles on Linked in and mentions in professional publications.
- Get published on other authority websites with credits to your name and website.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t be creating content if you’re not an expert in the field?
You’ll just need to take a different approach. You shouldn’t be writing from an expert point-of-view. Instead, you can relate your own experience to the specific topic.
Here’s what Google has to say about it.
Bottom line: be transparent and genuine when creating the article.
4. Optimize Keywords
While the way Google ranks content has changed over the years, it is still dependent on keywords, or to be exact, keyphrases.
Forget about stuffing keywords all over the place, as it doesn’t work anymore. Yet, the article still needs to have the right keyword in important areas.
For a start, including the primary keyword at:
- Article title (H1).
- Meta title/description.
- The first 100 words of the article.
Also, include the primary or secondary keyword in one or more H2 subheadings. If you’re using WordPress, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin as a guideline.
Personally, I’ll recommend using SurferSEO to optimize your content. It’s a correlation SEO tool that analyzes the top pages and recommends the keywords to be used in the article.
Besides, SurferSEO also has a user-friendly content editor.
5. Establish Topical Authority
Topical authority is the concept of your site being perceived as the leading authority in a specific subject.
In other words, if the user requires additional information related to the subject, can he/she find them on your website.
Here’s a simple example.
Assuming that every other SEO factor remains equal, two sites (A and B) are competing for the keyword ‘best shavers for sensitive skin’.
Site A is a review site that focuses only on different types of razors. Meanwhile, site B is an authoritative site that covers topics like Health, Diet, and Skincare.
Guess which site ranks on the higher end?
The site that’s focusing on razors.
This is noticeable in almost every niche.
Here’s another example for ‘best vacuums for bed bugs’, where a vacuum cleaner review site is ranking higher than a high authority pest control website.
So, how do you increase topical authority, if you find that a lesser authority site is outranking yours?
Instead of only creating an article to target the keyword, you’ll need to create a few articles with related keywords.
For example, the ‘best vacuum for bed bugs’ article can be supported with:
- How to choose a vacuum for bed bugs.
- Are vacuum cleaners effective for bed bugs?
- How does a vacuum cleaner works?
Connect these pages with each other with internal links. Users can then find related information without leaving your site and Google will start perceiving as your site as having topical authority.
6. Build Backlinks
Much has been said about getting backlinks to boost rankings. As far as I’m concerned, backlinks are still a huge ranking factor for Google.
Backlinks are used by Google to determine if a webpage is deemed trustworthy and authoritative.
You may still rank on low-competitive keywords without backlinks, but if you’re trying to break into competitive keywords, it’s impossible without the boost of a healthy backlink profile.
With that said, you’ll need to tread carefully in your link building strategies.
Affiliate marketers are often warned that violating Google guidelines on link-building schemes may lead to penalties.
Some marketers may build links from PBN sites. PBNs are websites with low-quality content and are solely built as link farms. This is considered a Black Hat SEO technique that is frowned upon by Google.
Google is against any forms of manipulations to acquire backlinks, including guest posting. So, if you guest post on an external website, it is still considered against Google’s guideline.
According to Google, the only links that move the needle are those acquired naturally.
But here’s where reality sets in.
Unless you’re a well-known brand in the industry, it’s unlikely that you’ll gain tons of backlinks ‘naturally’.
It’s almost a catch-22 situation.
Think of the occasions where you’re linking to other articles from your content. How often do you link to a new and unknown website?
Because new websites rarely appear on the top of the search result.
Therefore, highly-ranked websites are those that often get linked ‘naturally’, but you need links to get to the top. That’s a catch-22.
In reality, you need to be proactive and pursue link-building as you publish content to your site. Don’t expect others to ‘naturally’ link to your content.
There are a few great articles that teach you how to build backlinks effectively.
However, there’s an open secret that was never mentioned in these popular guides. Link-building often comes at a cost.
Whether you’re using the broken link building technique or pitching for a guest post, you’re going to get a rather low success rate.
Brian Dean, a seasoned popular expert, reported 11% success rate from his Skyscraper technique. This means if you’re sending out 100 emails, you’ll only get 11 backlinks.
It takes enormous time and effort to build backlinks through ‘natural’ efforts.
The ugly truth about these ‘natural’ link building strategies is that sometimes, money does come into play. Quite often, the site owner will charge for a fee to publish your content with self-serving links.
Does that go against Google’s policy?
Yes, if you follow it strictly by the words.
Do the backlinks still work?
Yes, as far as I’m concerned.
What’s more important is that your backlink outreach should focus on websites that are properly managed. They should be either relevant or high authoritative sites or preferably both.
If you’re in a coffee-maker niche, you should try to get backlinks from sites like TechRadar (Authoritative) or a personal blog of a coffee-lover (Relevant).
Also, remember to spread over the link acquisition over a certain amount of period. Don’t only focus on getting backlinks, but also actively engage in forums and social media.
It helps to avoid ‘unnatural link patterns’ that could trigger Google’s spam detector.
7. Promote On Social Media
Wait, do you still need to be on social media when you’re banking on SEO?
Google seems to be giving conflicting views on this.
In 2010, Matt Cutts confirmed that social signals are a ranking factor.
Here’s the video.
Four years later, he backstepped from that confirmation. Instead, Matt suggested that if you happen to see a top-ranking article that has tons of ‘likes’ on Facebook, it’s probably correlation rather than causation.
Check it out.
Does this mean you should ignore social media?
You should continue to promote your content on social media. While ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ are doubtful ranking factors, sharing your content increases the number of clicks.
Google uses clicks as a ranking signal. The recent US Congress hearing in July 2020 for the tech giant has confirmed that.
Here’s a screenshot from the document submitted in the hearing. You can read the entire document here.
I once posted a newly-published article on Reddit, and it receives a large number of visits. It hit the first page within hours, before slipping back into the 2nd page as the traffic subside.
8. Ensure Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly
Nothing is more infuriating than having to zoom in to read tiny-fonts on the mobile screen. Or having to deal with the menus that are placed awkwardly close to each other.
Unlike desktop, mobile devices have smaller screens, different orientation, and use touch instead of mouse clicks.
It doesn’t matter if your website looks stunning on the desktop. If it isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re going to have problems with Google SEO.
Considering that more than half of internet searches are performed on a mobile device, it is important for your website to provide good mobile experience.
In 2015, Google has introduced mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal.
That sends signals for affiliate marketers and webmasters to update their themes and layout.
By September 2020 Google expects to rank all websites on the internet with its mobile-first indexing algorithm
If you’re unsure if your site is mobile-friendly, use this Google tool to check it out.
Here are some tips to optimize your site for mobile-friendliness.
- Use larger fonts.
- Space out menus, buttons, or navigational links.
- Avoid pop-ups blocking the screen.
- Use mobile-responsive themes.
9. Install SSL Certificate (HTTPS)
Even if you’re just sending traffic to affiliate networks, security is still a top priority. In 2014, Google has decided to include HTTPS as a ranking signal.
HTTPS stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure, which is an encrypted version of the protocol that a website uses for communication between the browser and the server.
In order to have your site running on HTTPS, you’ll need to install the SSL certificate. The SSL certificate contains the key to decipher the encrypted data.
Usually, you’ll need to get your hosting provider to do that.
Once installed and configured, you’ll find a lock icon that precedes the URL.
If you’re still running on the vulnerable HTTP, your site will struggle against others on the search results.
Like it or not, Google remains the largest search engine and it helps to stay on its good side. Affiliate marketing is more profitable when you have the right traffic driven to your site by Google.
I’ve been implementing and testing out all of the SEO tips mentioned for my affiliate marketing sites. I hope that they are as helpful to you as they are for me.