Affiliate Links Counted in Search Algorithms?

A few days ago a colleague of mine, Ed Reese of SixthManMarketing, a Spokane SEO firm, Washington, wrote a recap of a session at SMX East.  Engineers from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft were on the panel and shared some very interesting bits of information.

From Ed’s SEO Blog:

For quite a while now I’ve held the belief that affiliate links were viewed no differently than paid links in the eyes of the search engines. Sure, there are countless affiliate links that pass link juice (just like many paid links). It’s just that I assumed this was a little loophole that would be closed any minute now and considered risky behavior.

I think we all have really held that belief.  Paid links need nofollow tags and affiliate links are no longer helping web sites in their natural search rankings, or at least we thought.  The nofollow debate has been lengthy and healthy, but here is what the panel participants had to say, again from Ed’s blog:

“Shockingly, when asked point blank if affiliate programs that employed juice-passing links (those not using nofollow) were against guidelines or if they would be discounted, the engineers all agreed with the position taken by Sean Suchter of Yahoo!. He said, in no uncertain terms, that if affiliate links came from valuable, relevant, trust-worthy sources – bloggers endorsing a product, affiliates of high quality, etc. – they would be counted in link algorithms. Aaron from Google and Nathan from Microsoft both agreed that good affiliate links would be counted by their engines and that it was not necessary to mark these with a nofollow or other method of blocking link value.”

“Good affiliates links will be counted by their engines and that it was not necessary to mark these with a nofollow or other method of blocking link value” – Did you read that?  I think this is pretty big news for the industry.  Some affiliates can provide link value.  I’m sure merchants running affiliate programs will be very glad to hear this.  But it brings with it many questions:

  • What do the search engines consider “valuable, relevant, trust-worthy sources” and affiliates of high quality?
  • Do affiliate program managers start request  “nofollow” links on some affiliates sites and not others?
  • How will affiliates change the way they do business?  Valuable and high quality affiliates’ links are now worth more than just the sale, right?
  • Are affiliates using nofollow?  If so will that change?
  • Will affiliates require more from a merchant to remove a nofollow link?

I always felt that just because a link is a paid link it shouldn’t be discounted on that fact alone.  There are very high quality affiliates out there and their links should be taken into account in the search algorithms.  I’ve also heard affiliates upset that they are not compensated for those links outside of a pay per sales arrangement, and maybe now that we have confirmation that those links, or some of them, are valued, affiliates will and should get some additional compensation.  But by getting additional compensation will they devalue their links?  It’s always great to hear from the search engines on things like this.  Laying out for us how affiliate links, or some affiliate links are judged in their eyes helps all of us.

What do you think?

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