Affiliate marketing can be really powerful when SEO and affiliate goals all push in the same direction.
Yet it’s also painfully clear that many affiliate marketers are missing out on substantial, sustainable growth by ignoring SEO – or making mistakes that hurt the effectiveness of their affiliate campaigns.
With their help, I’ve compiled this list of the top 10 SEO mistakes affiliates make.
Mistake #1: Focusing on Keywords Instead of Solutions
A lot of affiliate sites plug keywords onto their landing pages without pausing to think about how their products benefit their customers. Riemer said this is the number 1 faux pas most affiliates make.
“The biggest mistake I see SEO wise is that they focus on keywords and not providing solutions,” Riemer said. “Keywords are important because they are what have traffic, so use them as a base, but create solutions where your affiliate relationships will provide value and help solve a problem.”
Riemer illustrates with an example:
“If you have a hardware or home repair site, don’t optimize for sub-pumps and drywall. Instead, optimize for how to fix a hole in drywall and incorporate the products in. With the sub-pump, think about the tools and the parts you’ll need to successfully solve the issue and use affiliate links for them.”
Bottom line: Don’t just list your product’s bells and whistles or rely too much on keywords. Show your potential customers how much better their life is going to be after they buy your product.
Mistake #2: Relying on Affiliate Marketing as Your Only Revenue Stream
Another common mistake affiliates make is treating affiliate marketing as a business model instead of a revenue channel, according to Polk.
“There is nothing wrong with self-labeling yourself as an affiliate — just do not treat your business in this manner,” Polk said. “Affiliate marketing is a revenue channel, if it’s the only channel you are using to monetize your traffic, then you may be doing it wrong.”
Bottom line: Diversify your revenue channels and don’t put all your eggs in the “affiliate marketing” basket.
Mistake #3: Not Producing Original Content
Too many affiliate sites are little more than content-less shells with lists of products. You can spur traffic to these sites with PPC ads, but what happens when your advertising dollars run out? Your site will sink.
“A real site has real value and unique content for your visitors,” Polk said. “Why would a search engine want to rank your site over a vendor or the originator of the content? Answer: they generally do not. Yes, there are examples of sites that do rank, but the vast majority of sites that duplicate content do not rank well. You have to add value in order for the search engine to want to rank your site.”
Bottom line: Turn your affiliate site into a hub of useful information that will help it earn organic backlinks and keep customers coming back for more information as they conduct research.
Mistake #4: Forgetting to Delete Inactive Plugins and Themes
You need to be extra careful today about cybersecurity and customer privacy, which means one of the worst mistakes you could make is forgetting to delete inactive themes and plugins.
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t update inactive themes sitting idly on your site. You also might not bother to delete them. Unfortunately, this poses a significant threat to your cybersecurity.
Themes and plugins that sit idly on your site are easy targets for hackers. Regular updates help keep hackers at bay; when you forget or don’t bother to update, they often find ways to exploit old code and create a backdoor to your site by hiding malicious code inside them. Hackers can also hide malicious code in your uploads directory, wp-config.php file, and your wp-includes directory.
So make sure you’re regularly combing your website for suspicious code, updating everything you use to the latest versions, and removing any inactive themes and plugins ASAP.
Bottom line: Make sure all of your themes and plugins are always up to date, and if you’re not using certain themes and plugins, delete them and make sure they’re gone.
Mistake #5: Missing or Duplicating Meta Descriptions
Here’s a simple recommendation that a lot of affiliate sites are missing out on: ensure your listings’ titles and meta descriptions are relevant and unique. These appear as snippets in the SERPs and go a long way toward setting you apart from your competitors.
If you don’t have the resources to write unique descriptions for every one of your products, here’s a simple hack: upload the first paragraph of each page. It may not be perfect or optimized, but it’s better than nothing.
You can also use popular plugins like Yoast SEO (the best WordPress plugin for basic on-site SEO) to create custom templates for your meta descriptions, which makes the whole process a lot easier, or you can try out a plugin that automatically generates meta descriptions, such as SmartCrawl.
Bottom line: Differentiating your products with unique meta descriptions will help your affiliate pages rise through SERPs and sets you apart from your competitors.
Mistake #6: Ignoring Mobile Optimization
Most affiliate sites look awful on mobile devices. This is unfortunate because they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to possibly edge out big brands in mobile SERPs.
“As far as mobile and SEO go, the biggest issues are site speed, especially because of images, plugins that aren’t being used and also forgetting to include ways to get to your website or landing page from an AMP version,” Riemer explained. “If you’re an affiliate and you’re competing against huge brands, they often have red tape which prevents them from using proper image sizes, and they can have tons of excessive scripts weighing their sites down. By creating a faster experience that also provides value, you may be able to outrank them because of their red tape.”
Bottom line: Prioritize mobile optimization. This is especially true since Google is switching to mobile-first indexing.
Mistake #7: Using Free Web Hosting Solutions
Riemer and Polk are generally in favor of WPEngine as a hosting solution, but they warn against free solutions.
“Do not use Wix or Squarespace or any other free web hosting solutions – this is not how you build a real site or business,” Polk said. “These services can change their TOS or even go out of business. You do not own the site design or architecture, and you have less control over elements that will assist with rankings. Own your site, content, and data – always.”
Bottom line: Affiliates need to treat hosting solutions seriously. Cheaping out on a hosting solution could compromise your control over your site – or, worse, endanger your customers.
Mistake #8: Highly-Irrelevant Backlinks
Backlinks are the bread and butter of affiliate sites, but irrelevant backlinks are liable to get you in trouble with Google – they may even be considered link schemes, which will do more harm than good.
The best way to avoid this? Ensure that your affiliate pages all add significant value to anyone who lands on them.
Try to get your affiliate links hosted on sites with a modicum of authority. You can use SEO tools to judge the quality of your backlinks and identify those that might be devaluing your affiliate site.
Bottom line: When reaching out to sites to host affiliate links make sure they’re relevant to your niche.
Mistake #9: Undefined Canonicals
Using canonical URLs will help you improve link and ranking signals for your content. It also makes life easier for your customers by syndicating your content which makes navigation simple and intuitive.
My best-practice advice when it comes to URL structure is to organize your site into silos. Introduce categories into your site structure and then clearly communicate those categories to your customers through the URLs they land on when they follow your affiliate links.
Check out the Google Search Console page for more information on using canonical URLs.
Bottom line: Canonical URLs are key for good content management on your affiliate site and improve your ranking signals.
Mistake #10: Pretending SEO Best Practices Don’t Apply to Affiliate SEO
You don’t get to ignore common SEO mistakes on your affiliate site. Broken links, 404 errors, duplicate content, thin content, and too many redirects are all issues that need to be weeded out.
Download a comprehensive suite of SEO tools that can check your site health for you. This will help you find and eliminate errors that impact your crawlability such as broken links, while also identifying and problematic content you need to correct.
SEO is a lot of work, but the rewards are well worth it — not only will you clean up your site internally, but you’ll also improve your crawl budget, make navigation easier for your customers, and possibly improve your site speed in the process!
“SEO for affiliates is not different than for a merchant or any other site,” Polk reminds us. “The search engines do not care – your site is valued on what you provide your users.”
Bottom line: Affiliate sites need SEO just as badly as other websites, so don’t neglect regular site maintenance and clean-up.
Don’t underestimate the impact SEO will have on affiliate marketing in the long run.
PPC ads are a great way to attract early leads and get some attention to your affiliate site, but if you want to supercharge your conversions, grow your affiliate site over the long-term and cultivate strong organic links, then there’s really no beating SEO.