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Affiliate links Outranking Official Links on Google

I’ve noticed in the past month a number of times when affiliate links in Google rank higher than official sites. The most prominent of these at present in the ProBlogging community (I get an email about it every day or two) is illustrated by when you do a search for Chitika in Google at present (in fact it’s the same story when you search for ‘eminimalls’ and ‘chitika eminimalls’).

Some Chitika affiliate with the id of ‘aglan’ is ranking first for the term so anyone who searches for Chitika hits their site and give this affiliate 10% of their earnings for 12 months not because he or she recommended it but because they have either been lucky or good at SEO.

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I first noticed this phenomenon about a month ago when a search for ‘chitika’ resulted in my own affiliate link being number 1 – something I was both perplexed and if I’m honest, a little excited by.

This is not an isolated incident. On my digital camera blog I have noticed a similar thing with some of the affiliate programs that I promote where I rank first in Google as an affiliate in front of the official sites. I’ve spoken to a few of the affiliate program owners and to say that they are not happy about this would be an understatement – to not rank 1st for your own site’s title is a frustrating thing.

This is one of the down sides of running an affiliate program. Few people ever link to your site using it’s actual address so Google tends to rank which ever affiliate link that is most powerful as the highest one. Of course the product owner still gets sales but they have to pay the commission to affiliates.

The interesting thing is that once you’re in the top position as an affiliate you can actually have it reinforced by other people using your affiliate link to link up to the official site.

Take for instance a recent post by Robert Scoble who uses the aglan affiliate link to link to Chitika (at the time of writing this it’s still that way). I presume what has happened here is that Robert has looked up ‘Chitika’ on Google and has simply copied and pasted the link that Google serves (complete with affiliate link) into his own link – thus sending the lucky ‘aglan’ quite a few potential 10% commission possibilities (quite ironic considering the nature of Robert’s post). The other thing that Robert’s link does is reinforce the ‘aglan’ link at the number 1 position in Google for that term.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Jenstar says:

    That is the affiliate link for the couple behind http://www.eminimalls.org

  2. Dhira says:

    “Hi Darren, I’ve noticed more & more affilliate links shopwing up on google either by accident or SEO. I dont know which. But what did you mean exactly by:

    “I presume what has happened here is that Robert has looked up ‘Chitika’ on Google and has simply copied and pasted the link that Google serves (complete with affiliate link) into his own link”

    And how would that help the affilliate link reach # 1 on google?

  3. Darren Rowse says:

    the more a link is linked to the higher it is generally ranked in Google. That’s one of the basics of search engine optimization.

  4. Dhira says:

    I got that part, but you said “into his own link”. Do you mean on his website? (do you have a URL example so I can see what you meant?)

  5. NIck W says:

    Google have had this problem for years. Although I don’t personally see it as a big issue so long as the Searcher gets where they want to go…

    4/5yrs ago it was much more noticeable than today.

  6. Indiblog says:

    Google has a lot of hype. While most of the time it does live up to all the hype, most of the time it also falls way behind. It is after all just a search engine with all its numerous flaws, and though Google Search is my fave, Yahoo is my favorite for everything else!

  7. Darren Rowse says:

    Sorry – should have included that link. Posting pre coffee again. Thanks for including it Mark – I’ve also added it to the post.

    hope that helps Dhira

  8. My pleasure. You should get a coffee drip so you can post without having to take the time to brew the pot ;-)

  9. Stuart says:

    Affiliates out-ranking the business they are promoting is definitely a problem and many companies have some fairly stringent rules about it written into their terms of service.

    Some prohibit the use of their brand names in the meta tags – many prohibit the use of their names or what they see as ‘their’ keywords in any adsense advertising that their affiliates might want to do and I’ve even seen one extreme case where the terms stated that as soon as an affiliate outranked the sponsor for various keywords the affiliate was to either remove their page from the net or hand the site over to the sponsor.

    It often pays to read the fine print but few of us every do.

  10. Paul says:

    Hi Darren , i t is sad to see that google seems to reward affiliate links that probably take 2secs to make, over great sites that take time to put together great articles about stuff, where is the quailty in this google search?

    Paul

  11. It seems like this shouldn’t be that hard for official sites to prevent. I’m sure they could arrange the code on their servers to somehow count the affiliate link and then send a 301 (or some other) HTTP status to the client. That way search engines would know not to index those affiliate links (and to use the official one instead).

  12. Stuart says:

    Jennifer would you really like someone else to interfere with the way your sites appear in Google SERPS?

    If somebody did that to me I would be looking to carry out some seriously painful surgery with a blunt knife on their very private parts.

  13. Felipe says:

    Paul, an affiliate link take 2s to make, right, but if the affiliate site is first ranked, it’s probably read and linked by many visitors and sites. It doesn’t mean there is quality in it but at least it is well known on the web.

    Google search has never been about quality, it’s more about fame and well-known(ness?). To evaluate in a quantitative manner, they use good algorithms but the flaw is in the concept, it can’t evaluate quality. There is a need for humans there (and it’s pretty tricky too, everybody has its own taste!).

  14. Jon says:

    It’s the same on MSN…the one in position 6 for the search Rich Dad is mine…mmmmm…yummy!

    http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=rich+dad&FORM=QBHP

  15. Jon says:

    The next gen. affiliate links may use something like this…called naked links that detect the affiliate based on where the click comes from rather than referral codes in url parameters.

    http://www.linkconnector.com/inc/press_nlt_072904.htm

  16. Karen Rani says:

    Well that is annoying. I doubt anyone would ever type in my entire blog title though. Interesting read. Thanks.

  17. Paul Short says:

    I just checked the word “chitika” in Google and the link to the site you are referring to is no longer at the top, in fact, I can’t find it in the top 30. The Chitika. com main site and their blog are #’s 1 and 2.

    Did the big G read your post?

  18. It often is not as easy as just creatng an affiliate link, as someone proposed earlier. Making money out of being an affiliate is hard work…

    In response to the suffering of sites when they see affiliates rank higher than them two issues:
    1. the affilaite has worked to do this – the name owner site needs to lift their game
    2. Increasingly the use of brand names is being banned by companies in affiliate advertising. many have implemented this for Google ads.

  19. duncan says:

    As Paul says, I checked and Chitika is at the top.

  20. Anthony says:

    The affliate link is live in natural search results via the Australian Google.

  21. Darren Rowse says:

    Interesting – it’s still giving the affiliate link here in Melbourne. Just talked to somone in the UK and they see it too. Data centres are obviously all different…

    Duncan you guys are probably closer to African Google or something than Aus :-)

  22. I don’t see that there’s much for the “official” site owner to be upset about. Sure, they have to pay the affiliate a commission, but they obviously didn’t spend the time and/or money to optimize their site for the search engines as well as that affiliate did. It’s a trade-off. They can venture into the minefield of “blackhats” and “whitehats” and hope their SEO efforts don’t result in a search engine ban after going to great expense with no guarantee of success. Or, they can offer an affiliate program that pays on a contingency basis – they don’t get results, the affiliate doesn’t get money. Bottom line is this: if they don’t like it, instead of complaining they should be doing the hard work of improving their ranking.

  23. It shows that there are still big payoffs for getting your site ranking #1, and also that being “the authoritative source” is not all that its cracked up to be.

  24. Stuart, I have no idea what you’re talking about and what it has to do with my comment.

    Here is an example of what I was saying. Say business xyz.com runs an affiliate program. Affiliates use links like http://xyz.com/?affId=123.

    To prevent this affiliate link showing up highest in the search results, xyz.com can set up its code to redirect it to http://xyz.com. Google will see the link to http://xyz.com/?affId=123, but once it hits that page, it will see that it should not index it.

    How is that messing with anyone else’s search results? Both URL’s are xyz.com’s URL’s. They have every right to redirect from one to another.

  25. Chris Biber says:

    Jennifer, a client of mine has implemented the redirect/disallow routine, but the affiliate links (even those in the disallowed directory!) still show up in the Google index (site:www.company.com ).

    Any clue why that is? I understand, of course, that some of the older http://www.comapny.com/index.asp?aff=1234 links still show up for a while, but the new restricted ones?? What gives?

  26. Well, I think the disallow is only disallowing Google from downloading the URL. And if Google can never download it, it won’t realize that you’re telling it to redirect to a different URL, and you’ll end up with the URL in their index (minus any description). I think you want to allow Google to spider it, while redirecting at the same time (making sure you’re sending the correct HTTP status code).

    If you want to get rid of URL’s immediately, there’s the Google URL removal tool. We had a site where Google was showing a bunch of old, bad URLs that must have been from before we owned the domain. They all were returning 404′s, so I’m not sure why they were in the index. We used the removal tool to get rid of most of them. However, there are a few different flavors of the removal tool – this one was just for dead pages returning 404. Not sure if you would want to use it for redirected pages.

  27. George says:

    Looks like the guy over at http://jackofallblogs.com cant tell a affiliate link from a main link. He’s using Darren’s Chitika affiliate link as a link to the site.

    Seems like alot of people for for those links.

  28. Steve Nyman says:

    Google sure has it wrapped up.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] did a search for “Chitika” earlier today. I blindly copied the URL it pointed to. And I see that that actually madesomeone some more money. I fixed the link, but this is an interesting problem. Thanks to Darren for pointing it out. Filed under: Blog Stuff @ 4:08 pm # [...]

  2. [...] Tonight’s Update: Darren Rowse is talking about Chitika again. Holy Roller ! Can’t anyone get him to stop? [...]

  3. [...] Sonntag, 13. Nov 2005 (13:21) gsyi document.write(”) Darren Browse beschreibt im problogger das Phänomen, dass Affiliate Links besser gerankt sind als die eigentlichen Programmbetreiber. Der Surfer findt zwar, wonach er sucht, der Programmbetreiber muss aber mehr Provision auszahlen. Das Ganze sieht man auch bei Google.de (z. B. TXTsense). Ich persönlich würde es nicht als Problem bezeichnen, solange die Qualität der Serps stimmt. Es gab schließlich Zeiten, die schlimmer waren… 1 x gelesen [...]

  4. [...] Affiliate “outranks” official link Darren van Problogger zag ook een trend op dit gebied. Links van affiliates (vergelijkers) komen hoger in Google dan de site zelf. Dit komt doordat er meer met de affiliate link naar een site wordt gelinked dan met de “echte” URL. De vergelijker is hier dus weer beter in zoekmachine optimalisatie dan de aanbieder… [...]