You’ve tried to ignore it, knowing that the whims of the Google gods change at a moment’s notice — but it’s halfway through the month, and you can’t fool yourself anymore; your affiliate sales are down, and you don’t know why. In this month’s featured article, I’d like to present a few suggestions that I’m hoping will help you diagnose why your affiliate website has suddenly stopped performing.
In reading this article, I want to stress one key piece of advice: if had a healthy website previously — you enjoyed strong traffic and a decent conversion rate — you shouldn’t go changing things randomly because you can easily make the problem worse. Research thoroughly, find the most likely cause of the problem and set about making changes in a methodical fashion until you find the solution.
One of my most successful websites is a product review website based on a theme called InReview. The theme converts like crazy but it lacks an option allowing users to see all of the reviews on one page. So, I created a nice table allowing people to sort through every review I’ve published, and linked to the chart in the website’s sidebar. A few weeks later, I noticed something odd; my individual reviews were getting a lot less traffic. When I searched for keywords exactly matching the titles of individual reviews, Google would show me my website’s “All Reviews” page. I added the “All Reviews” page as a service for people who wanted to browse my website’s content without clicking through a lot of pages, but I didn’t think that was the page people wanted to see if their search keywords indicated that they were looking for a specific review. Not only that, but I was losing search engine rankings because the “All Reviews” page wasn’t optimized for the multitude of keywords that the individual reviews were ranking for. It turned out that Google had interpreted the “All Reviews” page as a “View All” page, which they prioritize when indexing content.
If your affiliate sales are down because you have lost rankings and conversions due to an SEO problem, you need to audit your website carefully before making any changes. Remember that it can take weeks before you see how an SEO change on your website affects search engine performance, and if you start changing things willy-nilly you may find yourself worse off than when you started. Carefully think about every change you have made recently until you find what you believe could be the problem. Make one change and wait before you change anything else. In my case, I noindexed the “All Reviews” page and within a few weeks, Google started showing the correct results for my keywords again.
You can’t get conversions if you aren’t getting the traffic. If your affiliate sales are down, check Google Analytics to see if your website is getting less traffic than it did previously. If your traffic is down, it’s time to start looking at why. Did you receive a temporary boost by posting about a current event that now receives less search volume? Has the buzz began to cool off after a recent burst of social media activity?
If your affiliate sales are down because you’re no longer receiving a boost from a hot article or post, the good news is that you clearly know how to write for traffic. The bad news is, you’re going to have to do it again. Make the most of those temporary boosts as they happen. In the meantime, focus on writing evergreen content that will generate consistent traffic.
Google algorithm changes are scary — you may not know just how scary these changes can be until you’ve watched a website go from a big earner to a complete loser overnight. In the past few months, the Big G has been instituting a major crackdown on over-optimization of inbound links — particularly links excessively targeting specific anchor text. I recently saw an interesting article on SEOMoz about link penalties and how you can identify whether your website is affected. Generally speaking, though, it’s pretty simple — if you’re using a blog network such as Linkvana or building links in any way that allows you to select your own anchor text, Google is targeting you. Pull those links down before it’s too late.
The solution here is pretty simple; you don’t have to worry about Google algorithm changes bringing your affiliate sales down if you optimize your website for the best possible user experience. Write high-quality, engaging content that users will enjoy and want to share. One of the most interesting websites I found recently is called CopySean; the author frequently writes about his techniques for maximizing social media engagement to the point where he doesn’t need search engine traffic at all to earn money. Social media recommendations and shares are powerful votes of confidence, and search engines are only going to use it as a ranking signal more in the future.
I work with a merchant who drives me crazy sometimes. Every couple of months, they make small changes to their products and change the URLs of their product pages without redirecting the old URLs. This is a ShareASale merchant, and I’ve enjoyed great conversions by deep linking to their products. When they change their product URLs, though, my affiliate sales go down the tube because people who click through get a big old 404 error.
Periodically, you need to audit your affiliate links to make sure that they are active and go to products that are still available. I strongly recommend using a PHP jump script for your affiliate links, as it makes the process of auditing and correcting them much easier — especially if you have multiple websites. Correct one entry in the script and all of the links on the associated website are fixed instantly.
In competitive niches, people launch new websites constantly — and some of them may be more willing than you to break the rules. Some may use blog networks and comment spam to gather thousands of backlinks. Others may buy established domains and convert them to spammy affiliate sites. Some may even steal your content — it’s happened to me. All of these tactics may bring your affiliate sales down temporarily because these spammy websites may displace yours on SERPs.
When I see a new website pop up on Google’s first results page for keywords I usually rank well for, the first thing I do is load up SEO SpyGlass and see where the website’s backlinks are coming from. In most cases, I’ll find that the owner of the website has bought an established domain with plenty of inbound links and is riding a temporary wave of link juice. In this situation, your best bet is to wait; old links from unrelated websites provide little benefit in the long run. In other cases, I’ll find that the website’s owner is using link spam with exact match anchor text. Google provides a way for you to report spam in search results; you have to do this through your Webmaster Tools account, so make sure that your house is clean first. Alternatively, you could take a “wait and see” approach; I’ve never seen Google take action on a specific website reported as spam, but they information you provide could be used in a future algorithm change. If your content has been stolen, Google has a page allowing you to file a DMCA takedown notice, which will result in the removal of the content from SERPs. In the near future, I will be writing a DMCA takedown tutorial that will describe this process in greater detail.
Thanks to Flickr user Jerry Bunkers for providing this article’s lead photo.