SEO For Affiliate Sites: Where to Start

Posted by Emery Ross on Mar 16, 2020 10:30:00 AM

Notebook with tools and notes about Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate websites are often described as "passive income" opportunities, but anyone who has run an affiliate site knows it's far from passive. In the early days of affiliate marketing, markets were less saturated, fewer sites were going after the same niche, and many site owners were able to add content, include affiliate links, and set it and forget it. 

These days affiliate marketing is huge, so it takes a lot of work to stay ahead of the game. One crucial part of running an affiliate site is search engine optimization, or SEO. If you're new to affiliate marketing, are looking to join in on the fun, or are just trying to figure out how to make a living off your website, this guide is for you. We'll take a look at the basics of SEO and how to apply them to your website. Ready to dive in?

What is Affiliate Marketing?

In case you're still in the early stages of figuring things out, let's take a quick look at what we mean when we say affiliate marketing. 

Affiliate programs are opportunities for people to earn commissions when someone buys something. So, an affiliate website would have content with individualized links out to products. If someone clicks that link and buys the product, the website owner gets a small commission. 

Here's an example. 

Frank owns a website called Just Narwhal Things, where he writes about narwhal products. Frank is an Amazon affiliate, so his site includes an affiliate link to an Amazon product whenever he discusses a product that can be purchased there. Each time a visitor clicks his Amazon link and makes a purchase, Frank makes a commission. At the end of the month, Amazon deposits his commissions into his bank account. 

Obviously this is a very appealing model, but, as you might have guessed, it's a very competitive model as well. 

Why Does SEO Matter for Affiliates?

How does Frank get traffic to his narwhal site? There are only a few options, but the most important one for most affiliates is Search Engine Optimization. 

With SEO, affiliate sites have the ability to get a lot more traffic, which in turn can get them a lot more commissions, which ideally result in something resembling "passive" income -- and, at the very least, make the site sustainable long term. 

Without organic traffic coming from search engines, site owners are left with more expensive options, like ads, or more intensive processes, like making videos, running social media accounts, or paying influencers. 

SEO Tasks to Start Out With 

So you've identified your niche, bought a great domain name, your website is live… now what? Here are some of the primary SEO tasks you'll want to focus on from the beginning. 

Keyword Research

One of the most important parts of affiliate marketing is having a niche. While it's important to find a profitable niche, you also have to keep in mind how saturated it is, how much content you can create about it, and what's actually sustainable long-term. 

Once you have a niche, you can do some advanced keyword research within it. That means not just identifying the obvious, broad keywords (like 'cameras' or 'video games'), but drilling down to find long-tail keywords that searchers are looking for (like 'best point and shoot cameras' or 'video games for girls.')

There are many different strategies for keyword research. There are seemingly endless tools, both free and at various price points. Everyone has their favorite tool or method, so you'll want to spend some figuring out what works for you. Do some research on keyword research, try out different tools, and start writing content. 

Creating Content

Ideally, you'll use your keyword research to inform your content writing, and in fact, that should be your long-term strategy. But it's okay to write your initial content based on your niche and those obvious keywords, just to get some content up on your site. You can keep refining your content based on traffic analytics and future keyword research. 

Do remember, however, that the point of creating content on an affiliate website within a specific niche is to stay on topic. So if your niche is cameras, you won't want to include blog posts about video games. Affiliate marketing works best when you stick to your niche -- and your niche can be as specific as you want it to be. For example, DSLR cameras would be a more specific niche than simply "cameras;" Nikon DSLR cameras would be a hyper-specific one. Though it limits you on the amount of content you can write (and forces you to get pretty creative), it can be easier to build authority when you get super specific. 

Create content regularly, and make sure you're putting out well-written, well-researched, and lengthy posts. If you're outsourcing your content writing, be sure your contractors are good writers who have at least some knowledge of SEO. 

Content Elements

When it comes to SEO, there are some components of your content that are especially important. Let's take a look at some you'll want to prioritize:

  • Title: Your page title should be descriptive, relatively short (under 60 characters), and include a keyword. There's lots of info out there about creating compelling page titles, so do some homework on this.
  • Meta description: The meta description is what appears on the search engine results pages (SERPs). You should put time and effort into these, not because it will help with ranking (it won't), but because searchers rely on meta descriptions to decide on what to click. 
  • Images: Any images you use in your content should be optimized, should make sense in the context of your content, and should include a good image title as well as descriptive alt text. 
  • Headings: Headings, or h2, h3, etc., are magical things that every blog post should have. In addition to being helpful for readers (who, let's be honest, are most likely skimming your page), they offer great opportunities to help search engines understand what your page is about. 

If these elements are foreign to you, do some simple Google searches and I promise you'll find a wealth of information about each them. 

Competitor Research

If you're optimizing your site for search, you gotta know what you're up against. Regardless of your level of SEO knowledge, you can immediately get to know your competitors. Who is at the top of the SERP when you search something related to your niche? What's notable about their site? What are they doing well? What can you do better?

If you want to do a deep dive, find a tool that works for competitor analysis. Many will be paid options, but you may find some free or inexpensive SEO tools that you can use to understand your competitor's strategy. 

Site Audits

Site audits and error management are absolutely necessary for SEO. Essentially, you'll want to keep an eye on what's happening at a technical level on your website so that you can address anything that could negatively impact your site standing.  Common SEO errors include:

  • Broken links (404 errors)
  • Broken images
  • Images without alt text
  • Duplicate content
  • Page speed issues

I love SEMRush's site audit tool, but I use Google Search Console much more frequently. GSC gives you data about your site's health (including site speed issues and other errors Google has identified) plus you can get a ton of info about how your site appears in the SERPs (and when and for what queries). This is a perfect segue into my next point.

Google Tools

While you'll undoubtedly find SEO tools you love -- SEMRush, Ahrefs, Yoast for Wordpress, etc. -- Google's got free stuff for you to use. And, considering they are the entity you're most trying to impress, you'd do well to pay attention to what they're telling you. 

Both Search Console and Analytics should be set up on your site so that you can gain insight into what's working and what isn't, who is visiting your site, what you can improve, and so on. You'll also want to submit a sitemap to Google via Search Console and keep an eye on what pages Google indexes or ignores. 

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Advanced SEO for Affiliates

Since this is a beginner's guide, I won't go too much into advanced tactics, but I wanted to give you a few things to keep in mind as your affiliate site starts crushing it. 

SEO is not a one-time thing, and the basic stuff we discussed above will only get you so far. If you're serious about SEO and you want to be an affiliate marketing king or queen, consider these more advanced methods down the road. 

  • Technical SEO: This encompasses a lot of things, including site audits I discussed above, but it's worth it to dive into this sector of SEO for long-term success
  • Link Building: It's a pain and it's time consuming, but the benefit of link building to SEO success is undeniable. 
  • Link Structure: Once you have a fair amount of content, it's time to start thinking about how you're linking internally and externally and ensuring that your site is crawlable and useful for the end user. 
  • Featured Snippets: Those blurbs that appear when you ask something on Google? Those are featured snippets, and they are both a coveted position and a (sometimes) hated feature. You may not get a lot of clicks if you own a featured snippet, but it can be a great strategy as you're growing your site. 

Long Term Strategies

Okay, now that you're overwhelmed by all the Google things, let me leave you with some long-term strategies to keep in mind, as well as some non-SEO stuff you can do for your affiliate site to get some much-needed traffic. 

Keep These in Mind

Everything we've covered so far should be in your long-term strategy, but here are some broader tasks, too. 

  • Avoid black hat tactics: Here's the thing -- as soon as you start doing SEO for your site, you're going to read about "black hat" tactics and either A) how terrible they are or B) how great they work. My advice? Just don't do it. Why? Keep reading.
  • Avoid manual penalties: Manual penalties are devastating, and they can come from black hat tactics like toxic link building. Stay on Google's good side.
  • Regular content updates: Google loves fresh content. Update your pages and posts regularly to keep information up to date, to add new long tail keywords, and to add value for readers.
  • Ongoing learning: SEO changes every day. There's no way to know it all, and there's no way to be right about anything all the time. Keep up with the latest in the industry, and stay humble. 

What Else Besides SEO?

Organic traffic is the dream, but it'll take a while to get that to a sustainable level. In the meantime (and the future), affiliate marketing can use these to get traffic. 

  • Email marketing: Make it easy for your readers to sign up for your email list, and figure out an email marketing strategy that makes sense for your site. This is an excellent long-term option for repeat visitors, extra traffic, and higher conversions. 
  • Social media: Having a social presence is always a good idea, but you gotta be strategic about it. You'll want to make sure you're staying professional and on-brand, and you'll want to keep at it -- it's really easy to lose interest in social media for your site, and that means a lot of missed opportunities.
  • Paid Ads: If you have some extra cash and you want immediate results, consider running some ads. Google ads is one option, but don't discount social ads (depending on your niche). You'll need to figure out a budget that will balance your commissions, and you'll want to go into knowing it takes time for algorithms to learn how to best serve your ads. 

Need help with affiliate marketing SEO, email marketing, social media, or even PPC? We do it all, so contact us to learn more. 

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Emery Ross

Written by Emery Ross

Emery is an inbound marketing specialist in search engine optimization and content writing. She earned a Master of Arts in rhetoric and composition from Boise State University. In her free time she writes about birds (mostly geese).

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