Google algorithm updates, such as Panda and Penguin, are dreaded by most affiliate marketers and webmasters. Nothing feels worse than having put countless hours of effort into a website, only to have it struck down by an "algo" change. I have written about Google algorithm updates a number of times on this blog, but in this post I am going to do something a little different. I am going to give a number of pointers on how you can protect your website against future Google algorithm updates, whether they be Penguin/Panda refreshes or something entirely new. Consider the advice in this blog post a "bulletproof vest" for your website.
From the outset it is important to understand that nothing in this blog post is guaranteed to protect your website, and Affilorama cannot bear any responsibility if you do follow the advice in this blog post and still fall afoul of Google somehow. If Google algorithm changes have taught us one thing, it is that nothing is for certain, and that good sites can be downgraded in the SERPs for seemingly no reason. However, by following the advice in this blog post, you will put a stronger arsenal at your disposal for protecting your website(s) from algorithm updates and refreshes.
Focus on Unique Content
The main focus of Google's penalties and updates over the past few years has been on improving the quality of web search results (at least from the perspective of your average Google user). We could debate until kingdom come as to whether this has actually been achieved, but I'm sure you and I will agree that Google has declared a war on low-quality websites.
Of all the markers of low quality, duplicate content is probably the most harmful for your website. No matter how tempting it might be to buy a bunch of PLR articles and slap each one up on your site as is, don't do it. It's just going to end in disaster. To safeguard against Google updates, you must first focus on filling your website with unique content. Bear in mind that it is not simply good enough to arrange a pretty collection of words on your website; your content needs to be unique AND provide value to your readers.
The easiest way to ensure your content is up to scratch is by following this checklist:
- Is your content unique? Consider using a tool like Copyscape to check.
- Is it free from grammar and spelling errors?
- Does your content provide value? If you write an article on five ways to train a puppy, ensure it actually teaches five different puppy training methods.
- Can you incorporate other media elements to enhance the user experience? Consider embedding images, YouTube videos, and audio where appropriate to create a more compelling experience for your website users.
- Would you be happy to read your content? Imagine that you were a new visitor to your own website; if you read the content, would you leave feeling satisfied? If not, then you need to go back to the drawing board and tweak your content to make it more worthwhile.
Develop a Natural Link Profile
Google's Penguin update took to websites with "spammy" link profiles like Mike Tyson took to Evander Holyfield's ear. In both cases, the results weren't pretty! Therefore, the takeaway lesson from Penguin/Penguin 2.0 is that the backlinks pointing to your website can be used against you by Google. To counter this you need to focus on developing a natural link profile.
The difference between a spam link profile and a natural link profile is that the former deliberately targets exact anchor text most of the time, whereas the latter has a diverse range of anchor text options. Many sites penalized by Google for their link profile faced this penalty because they had very precise anchor text; every link was "dog training NYC" (if that was the keyword they targeted) or some variation on that.
Here's how you can develop a natural link profile going forward:
- Create relevant and engaging link bait on your website
- Use naked URLs (e.g. http://www.affilorama.com) liberally when building links
- Incorporate your website's brand name into a large proportion of your anchor text
- Use generic anchors, such as "click here" or "learn more"
- Only use exact-match anchor text on the highest-quality links
- Never use automated link-building software
- Ensure that some of your links are no-follow—avoid focusing solely on do-follow links
Incorporate Social Media into Your Campaigns
Most affiliate marketers already have some knowledge of social media, but I tend to find that social media is still underutilized by so many affiliates. You need to build an active social media presence for your website and encourage social sharing of your content. Social media marketing for affiliates is a very diverse subject, so I recommend that you check out the Affilorama social media / Web 2.0 lessons to get started.
At the very least you should have:
- Branded Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus accounts
- A branded Pinterest account if you have lots of unique images on your website
- Social sharing buttons installed on all of your content pages to encourage visitors to share your content with their own social networks
I strongly suggest that you dedicate plenty of time each week to enhancing your social media presence, as this can have a big impact on how Google views your website.
Reduce Your Bounce Rate
Once again I want to draw your attention to the focus Google is placing on quality as a determining factor for which sites benefit from its updates, and which sites are punished. Your website's bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who arrive on your site and then leave within a short period of time without taking any further action. It is seen by many as a reliable measurement of the quality and relevancy of a website; if you have a low bounce rate then people are arriving at your website and finding what they want in a manner they like. This is great news for your site quality. Conversely, a high bounce rate (especially anything over 80%) means that a great many visitors who arrive at your website are deciding that it isn't up to their standards, and then leaving immediately. Google may take this as a signal that your site doesn't deserve high search engine rankings.
The good news is that there are a number of easy steps you can take to reduce your bounce rate by a substantial amount. I actually wrote a detailed post about this last year, which you can read here. Inside that blog post you will learn everything you need to optimize your website for lower bounce rates.
"Cloak" Your Affiliate Promotions
There is a popular belief within the affiliate marketing community that Google dislikes affiliate marketers, especially those who try to hijack organic search traffic in an attempt to make money. Aaron Wall of SEO Book makes the interesting argument that Google has always disliked affiliate marketers—you can see his evidence here. Whether or not this is true remains open to debate, and I personally think that Google isn't as opposed to affiliate marketers as some argue. However, thin affiliate websites that offer little value to visitors and simply exist to extract cash from others will probably always remain in Google's crosshairs.
Therefore, you might want to consider "cloaking" your affiliate promotions by shifting as much as possible to selling through your email list. Presell and review pages are fine, but you will probably find your bottom line improves if your articles and main content pages are used to build your list. Google is likely to to consider your site as being of higher quality if the majority of your promotions are directed to prequalified leads on your email list, as opposed to cold leads on your content pages.
Build a List Now!
If you're sitting there scratching your head as to what a "list" is, then prepare to take action. One of the most effective ways to protect your website and livelihood from any future Google updates is to start building a targeted list of email subscribers. To build a list you will need an autoresponder / email marketing account. If you're new to the concept of list building, then try Fluttermail here for $1, as it is very newbie friendly compared to most autoresponders.
Once you have an autoresponder account you can work on building your list. The most common way affiliates do this is by offering some kind of free giveaway in exchange for a visitor's name and email address. If you have ever filled in a form like this, then you have subscribed to someone else's list:
Once someone has signed up to your list you can send them an automated series of emails, which is where the term "autoresponder" comes from. These emails can include promotions for your affiliate products, links to important content on your website, and more. All good autoresponder platforms allow you to send one-off emails to your list as well, which can be great for promoting new products or alerting your readers to a new blog post.
In terms of safeguarding yourself against Google updates, building a list is the equivalent of a military-grade flak jacket. With a quality list you can continue to make money from the same audience over and over again. Furthermore, if your site suddenly disappears from Google thanks to an ill-fated algorithm update, then you still have your own private cash-generating list to which you can promote.
List building is a very deep subject but it is crucial you start doing it now. I suggest you watch the Affilorama email marketing lessons immediately.
Your Google-Proofing Checklist
In order to make your life even easier, I have put together the following step-by-step checklist you can follow to ensure that your website is ready for the next time Google decides to strike:
- Remove all (if any) duplicate content from your site.
- Commit to adding at least one unique piece of content per week to your website going forward.
- Ensure every piece of content you create offers significant value for your readers.
- Build quality links using naked URLs, general anchor text, and brand name variations to balance your profile (very important if you have been focusing on traditional exact-match anchor text linking).
- Set up branded Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and Pinterest accounts to promote your site. Add fresh updates to these social media properties regularly.
- Ensure that your website/blog is configured to enable social sharing. At the very least you should have social sharing buttons installed.
- Work to reduce your website's bounce rate.
- Improve page load times.
- If possible, try to move more of your affiliate promotions to your list (this is largely optional).
- Build a list, now!
Google algorithm changes can be scary for even the most battle-hardened affiliate marketers. I have personally lost a few websites and profit streams to Google's updates and changes, but every time I have managed to come back with better campaigns than before. However, the best offense is a good defense, which means you should put effort into protecting your website from any future Google algorithm changes. Follow the methods outlined in this blog post and you will be leagues ahead of your competition.
If you have any algo-change battle scars to show off, feel free to share them in the comments. Don't hesitate to ask me questions, either—I'll be happy to help out!