How to make sure your affiliate program passes PageRank & SEO benefits

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  • December 12, 2008

Search engines are not quite decided on whether they class affiliate links as paid links or not. If you take the time to set up an affiliate program why not use it to generate thousands of high value links to your product pages?

This post will tell you everything you need to know about maximising the SEO value of your affiliate links.

Easy: Don’t go through a 3rd party

Search engines won’t count your affiliate links if they go via a third party affiliate network. Either go with a network that allows you to use your own links or run the program in house.

Easy: Allow deep links

Most people do this already but it’s important to make sure your affiliates are linking to your product pages not just the homepage.

Harder: Consolidate your links

Most affiliate programs have links like

This causes duplicate content problems – the way to fix the issue is to set an affiliate cookie and then redirect to the normal product page

Really clever: Don’t make it look like an affiliate program

Any URL with the parameter aff=123 clearly looks like an affiliate link. Amazon is smart and uses tag= as their parameter. Why not try some of the following as affiliate links?

Confuse Google by using a non-standard nomenclature for your parameters.

Really clever: Intelligent use of cookies

Do you name your affiliate cookies affid? Just because Google doesn’t accept cookies doesn’t mean it doesn’t see what cookies are being sent in the header information.

When Google sees an affid cookie being set followed by a 301 redirect to strip out parameters it’s a fair assumption the link is an affiliate link.

Try calling your cookie something random like “visitor” or even cloaking the cookie so that it isn’t sent to search engines.

Super clever: Don’t use URL parameters

A few sites have started tracking based on referrer headers, this gives a clean link and search engines have no way of knowing the links are affiliate links, unless you are stupidly telling everybody about it.

My favourite trick is to use links in the following format:

Search engines view urls with different # tags as the same page so you can have as many of these as you like without coming across duplicate content issues. The way to handle tracking is to use JavaScript to parse the # tag and use it to populate a hidden form field which is posted to your shopping cart when the “add to cart” button is pressed.

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • Rick

    Thanks for this Patrick, very helpful :)


    It was an awesome tip. But i will try it first.. Thank you.

  • Adi

    Superb post Patrick.

  • Adi

    Just out of interest, do any of the major UK networks offer this kind of flexibility regarding linking?

    • Patrick Altoft

      I doubt it. To be honest if somebody like CJ started it then Google could footprint everything very easily.

      The best way is to manage it in-house.

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  • MJ Ray

    “the way to fix the issue is to set an affiliate cookie” – which will then fail for all browsers who don’t accept random cookies. A small but significant number of lost sales.

    “use JavaScript to parse the # tag” – which will fail for everyone using script-blockers, which is a slightly larger number of lost sales.

    The “Don’t make it look like an affiliate program” approach, combined with server-based user tracking and an opportunity for people to enter an affiliate name or code at the checkout seems like the best approach to me.

    • Patrick Altoft

      There are plenty of merchants that use cookies to track things and nobody seems to complain.

  • Nick

    Thanks Patrick, some interesting tips here

  • Jim Gaudet

    I heard of a problem with cookies, maybe you can suggest a fix for me. The problem is that a lot of people have AV software that will clean out their cookies. I know of a few people who have definitely lost affiliate money because of this.

    What would be a good way to handle affiliates if I wanted to do it myself. I can code with PHP and MySQl pretty good. Java too.


  • Simon Peter Alciere

    How about affiliate solution provider fusionquest?
    They let you use naked links, and have a one pixel graphic that sets the cookie and makes an entry into the affiliate database.

  • prestige car hire

    great article.

  • Magazines

    Thanks Patrick, Deeplinks really help conversions as its save the customer time looking once again for the product.. Cookie system seems to me to be the best way. Cheers Mally

  • Lee

    number 11, don’t you have anything better to do than comment spam other peoples blogs?

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  • Wil Reynolds

    Good post, this is something people should be thinking of before they launch an affiliate program, going back to change the system for SEO purposes is nightmarish and rarely ever doable.

  • Shark SEO

    Something like 99% of affiliate merchants use cookies, it’s generally not something to complain about and you can’t worry too much about lost revenue from people that block cookies. It’s a bit like being worried about the traffic you’re losing to people with IE4.

  • MJ Ray

    That’s why 99% of affiliate programs are useless for the knowledgeable tech sector – they get broken by any moderately secure web browser.

    Even in the general browsing population, this problem is probably 10 times bigger than IE4 now – even IE5’s usage share is only 0.2% on some reports (AdTech). Some estimates put affiliate/ads cookie+script blocking nearly up to 40% (if you’re daft enough to be using a scheme that stuff like Norton blocks), although 10% seems a more widely-suggested estimate. Lopping 10% off the expected affiliate benefit makes most programmes look pretty poor for most sites, doesn’t it?

  • Outlety

    Dude, you are smart boy I will try your favourite trick :)

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  • Big Bear

    Really interesting post. I’m wanting to setup an affiliate program to promote the Joomla CMS templates we produce – Is there an out-of-the-box solution someone can recommend that doesn’t fall into the “useless” category MJ points out? or will we be building this from scratch?

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  • Matt Wutzke

    nice article, I plan on passing link value through your affiliate program, it seems I should transfer lots of obvious parameter names like “aff” to .Html or .php.

  • Misty

    A list of affiliate software solutions that provide these options would be extremely helpful.

  • Dom

    In the case of duplicate content issues craeted by URL tracking parameters, this sounds like a great approach:

    My favourite trick is to use links in the following format:

    But if you read this artile:

    it says:

    1. When we detect duplicate content, such as through variations caused by URL parameters, we group the duplicate URLs into one cluster.

    2. We select what we think is the “best” URL to represent the cluster in search results.

    3. We then consolidate properties of the URLs in the cluster, such as link popularity, to the representative URL.

    Soooo, does this mean that this approach is redundant for duplicate content issues craeted by URL tracking parameters?

  • Lukas

    I love the article full of good advices, thank you

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  • Internet Business

    Many thanks for sharing this invaluable information of affiliate program !It really give some useful pointers and benefit to those people who are in affiliate marketing.

  • Magazine subscriptions

    Hi Guys,

    Great article found this to be very interesting.


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  • Affiliate Marketing India

    really informative post

  • Rob

    Couldn’t you use the canonical tag to overcome the potential duplicate content problem of an in-house affiliate scheme with referrer ids?

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