For quite a while now I’ve held the belief that affiliate links were viewed no differently than paid links in the eyes of the search engines. Sure, there are countless affiliate links that pass link juice (just like many paid links). It’s just that I assumed this was a little loophole that would be closed any minute now and considered risky behavior. I mean,… affiliate links are paid endorsements by default. Sure, plenty of niche paid links fly under the radar, but a free pass for all affiliate links? Really? During SMX East last week search engineers from Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft all answered questions posed by the audience and filtered by moderator, Danny Sullivan. Their response to how the search engines viewed affiliate links blew me away:
“Shockingly, when asked point blank if affiliate programs that employed juice-passing links (those not using nofollow) were against guidelines or if they would be discounted, the engineers all agreed with the position taken by Sean Suchter of Yahoo!. He said, in no uncertain terms, that if affiliate links came from valuable, relevant, trust-worthy sources – bloggers endorsing a product, affiliates of high quality, etc. – they would be counted in link algorithms. Aaron from Google and Nathan from Microsoft both agreed that good affiliate links would be counted by their engines and that it was not necessary to mark these with a nofollow or other method of blocking link value.”
This is going to radically change how the SEO community views paid… er, I mean affiliate links. I do see their point, however. There are plenty of affiliate sites that provide great value. It will be interesting how “high quality” will be defined by the search engines. Here’s a recap of the top six takeaways from this session courtesy of SEOmoz. It’s worth checking out.
I assume that this is only relevant to affiliate programs that track using their own domains like amazon. If they use a network, I assume there is no juice to pass since the tracking links are redirected through network owned domains.
Furthermore, some top affiliate sites use server side redirects before sending the traffic through the affiliate links – wouldn’t this prevent juice getting passed even through programs like amazon?
I’ve been trying to get a better handle of the details myself. I think it’s going to take more than a Q & A session to really get a qualified answer. However, I know a lot of people (myself included) and going to start looking at those links from a testing standpoint. Of the 68 comments so for on SEOmoz, about 15 are about the
affiliate link statement. There are also some good comments over at Search Engine Journal on the topic as well a more detailed look at the Amazon affiliate strategy you mentioned.