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Improving a Thin Affiliate Site Part 1: Sanitize Your Outbound Affiliate Links

March 8th, 2013 by shawn · 5 Comments

An ever-present worry of affiliate site owners is to find ways to get out of being what’s called a “thin affiliate” site. A thin affiliate site is one that is thin on a lot of things – other than the product being sold. If an affiliate site looks like all the other affiliate sites selling the same product – it’s a thin affiliate site. It an affiliate site contains the exact same product descriptions and images as the merchant site – it’s a thin affiliate site.

Why should visitors go to a thin affiliate site, over the merchant site? Why should a search engine rank any thin affiliate site higher than another? Why is a thin affiliate site even necessary, if it offers nothing more than the merchant offers?

Hopefully you see why being a thin affiliate is something to be avoided. I’m here to tell you how to fix your affiliate site so that it isn’t quite so “thin”. In this first part, I will be looking at just one aspect of an affiliate site, and how to clean it up. We will begin with your site’s outbound affiliate links. You don’t want the links to your merchant to be either ugly or obvious. So you need to fix that, first of all. Here are a few ways to do so.

Cloak the Affiliate Links

Simply put, this means hide the fact that they are affiliate links, at least so that it’s not immediately obvious. This means that you cannot simply place the affiliate-network-provided link on your sales page or your product page as-is. You need to set things up so that the affiliate link is your visitors destination, but what they click on is a link on your domain. Anyone who does a bit of digging (i.e. a Google manual reviewer, a competitor, or a curious visitor to your site) will be able to figure out what’s up. But the average user won’t, and a search engine spider won’t care. So how do you do this?

Using htaccess and a redirect script is one way to do it. Low-overhead, low-maintenance – nice and clean. You set up a rewrite rule along with a small PHP script, and it takes care of the links. This works best when you don’t have a variety of different link formats (in my opinion). On one of my sites I have a variety of products from one merchant – so I really only need one rewrite rule.

The URL my visitors see are constructed in the following format: http://mysite.com/go/product-name.html

When they click on the URL, a rewrite rule sends the pertinent part of the URL – in this case, “product-name”, to a script called go.php. That script takes “product-name” and places it into the affiliate URL. (The merchant’s URLs all are formatted the same way, they just differ in the product-name portion.)

To the user, the redirect process is transparent and quick. Before they know it, they’re at the merchant’s product page and my affiliate ID has been placed in a cookie. If they buy from the merchant, I get credit with the affiliate network.

There are various plugins for different CMSs that do this same thing. If you use WordPress, you can use the Pretty Link plugin, SoftWarp’s WP Shorties, or a number of other plugins. The SEO Ultimate plugin even contains a Link Mask Generator feature if you want to use that.

No matter how you accomplish affiliate link cloaking, make sure to give the URLs a pathname that isn’t obviously for affiliate purposes (i.e. affiliate, or buy). (In fact, don’t even use “go” – it’s overused!)

Don’t Use Affiliate Links at All

If you’re making your site for human visitors, only they need to see your affiliate links, right? Right. As long as your potential buyers can see and click something that brings them to the merchant link it doesn’t matter what the bots see (or don’t see). In the past, some methods have been to use Javascript links or specifically to use a form and form submit link (with an onlick submit). I’m not sure how this will work now, since search engines can and do read both JS and forms – but it will probably prevent your affiliate links from being indexed.

Discount Your Affiliate Links

The way to tell the search engines you don’t value those links is to put rel=”nofollow” on them. There’s no reason you should have any of your affiliate links “followed”, cloaked or not. So put that on all of them!

These tips should improve your links on your affiliate site, if you haven’t already done these things. Next, we want to make your site less “thin” by beefing it up. We’ll pay attention to your sites content. Specifically, images, original content, and merchant content.

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    Comment by Darrel
    2013-03-20 13:55:16

    Amazing blog! Do уou hаve аny helpful hintѕ for aspіring writerѕ? I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on evегythіng. Would you ѕuggeѕt staгtіng wіth a fгee platfоrm like Woгdрress оr go foг a paіd optiοn? There arе so many choiceѕ out theгe thаt I’m totally confused .. Any ideas? Many thanks!

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    Comment by Shawn Plep
    2013-03-20 14:51:51

    I don’t have any tips for aspiring writers on how to write, but as far as which platform to use: always self-host with a quality shared host, and use WordPress.

    Comment by Lorenzo
    2013-03-30 09:25:45

    Take a look at the Redirection plugin. It can track 404 errors on a site which can be fixed with permanent redirects. Plus it can be used to mask or cloak referral links.

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    Comment by Webdesigner Brian
    2013-04-03 07:14:41

    Very nice and very accurate. I work as a front end web development and web designer and find this posed super useful. Find affiliate very exciting and trying to create some sites which can give a little profit. Therefore, I appreciate your post. ( All 3 of them ..:)…)

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    Comment by Shawn Plep
    2013-04-03 14:04:22

    I’m glad you found the posts useful, Brian. Look for more in the near future.


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