This post was originally featured on Search Engine Journal but has since been removed – I may update it at some point in the near future.
I’m an affiliate marketer at heart and I can appreciate the blood sweat and tears that goes into link building for affiliate sites. If like me, you stay awake at night, dreaming of new ways to acquire backlinks and conjuring up new strategies to get those all-important customers to your site, I’m hoping this post will be of some help to you.
Before We Start
As you probably know, Google has not been kind to affiliate marketers in recent years. With both Google Penguin and Google Panda targeting thin affiliate sites with poor back link profiles, it’s harder than ever to get your affiliate product of the ground.
My advice to you is to make sure your on-page SEO is perfect. Get some original content and genuine reviews on your site. If you’re copying content directly from the site you’re attempting to promote, you may not only find yourself ranking poorly due to duplicate content, but you could find your account terminated for compromising the SEO efforts of the original site. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste!
Some of the strategies below don’t necessarily fall within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, so use them at your own discretion. As affiliate marketers, you often need to bend a few rules to keep up with the competition as more often than not, you’ll have hundreds or thousands of sites contending for that same #1 spot that aren’t playing by the rules!
Link Building Strategies
Right let’s get down to the nitty gritty. I personally try to use a mixture of all the below strategies and highly recommend that you don’t stick to just one method of link building. Otherwise you’ll soon end up building a very unnatural looking link profile and some of your more malicious competitors could copy your entire strategy and outrank you with you doing all the hard work for them.
I’ve tried to avoid discussing out-dated linking strategies that have limited effect; including directory submissions, article submissions, blog commenting and commenting on guest-books. These have been covered numerous times and this post is an attempt to deliver something fresh to the community. The strategies below are loosely listed in order from white hat to black hat; however as with most subjects in SEO, this is open to debate.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building involves a bit of trial and error, in some instances, it can take a while, before we start find the right type sites to target and even once you’ve found sites that are worth contacting, they may not return your e-mails or may just not want to link to you.
Once you’ve found a few sites that you feel are worthy of checking, run them through your favourite link vetting program. One of the faster programs that I recommend for checking all the links on a single page is CheckMyLinks for Chrome. Alternatively you could scrape an entire site with Xenu Crawler and then use Scrapebox to extract your target metrics.
Once you’ve found a broken link, get in touch with the webmaster and inform him of the broken link. Of course you’ll have to have a site that’s just as good, if not better as a replacement to recommend.
There are a number of twists on this process, but this post by Jon Cooper on SEOBook.com covers a few great basics.
A Black Hat Twist
Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon a link that pointed to a recently expired domain. Register it and restore it to its former glory… but not without adding a link to your own site for your troubles. I cover abandoned domains in more detail below, but I’ve managed to pick-up domains with PR3+ with .edu backlinks for just the cost of a domain renewal.
If you stick to the white hat version of broken link building, your only real cost is time. Once you start investing in tools to help you do the job then your outlay is increased slightly, but this strategy is still incredibly cost effective.
Guest blogging is starting to get a bad reputation, as with all things in the SEO world, when a strategy starts returning results, everyone jumps on the bandwagon. We all know what happened to directories, blog commenting, articles etc. The strategy is outsourced and watered-down to the point that you start receiving outreach e-mails which make little or no sense (see point 5).
If you’ve got the time, or better yet, can afford to hire a professional writer to create inspiring piece of content, better still if it’s related to whatever product is you’re pushing. Then you’ve got a strategy that is scalable and will offer long-term benefit to your website in the form of referral traffic, brand awareness and an increase in organic visibility.
If you have a talent for writing, or a passion for what you’re promoting then it’s just a case of finding the time to engage in outreach and writing the content. Alternatively, you could pay a copywriter to develop a great piece of content for you. Depending on the difficultly of the target subject matter I find myself paying anywhere between $15-100 an article.
Are a great way to generate back links and acquire some additional SERP real estate. There is of course a right and a wrong way to create video reviews; it helps if you have the item you’re reviewing to hand and creating a real review of a product will do better than a 30 second video created with Animoto.com but that’s not to say both won’t work.
Once you’re done creating your review, publish it to your favourite video sites. YouTube being the most popular, but don’t forget that there are other video sites out there!
There are plenty of other sites including Facebook and MySpace that you can submit your video to as well, but these may not pass on as much of that all important link juice.
If you’re camera shy, or don’t have the equipment to do a proper review, then there’s always fiverr.
Depending on which avenue of reviews you go down, this strategy can cost nothing. I tend go for the Animoto or Fiverr version but have dabbled in voice overs. Do whatever you’re most comfortable with.
This works for most, if not all affiliate sites and it’s great because it’s not an obvious strategy for most. Odds are you probably don’t have any stock to hand, but what’s stopping you from buying one of the products you’re selling (with or without your affiliate link…) and then running a competition for it.
There are a few ways that you can execute the competition, one being running it from your site and then trying to generate a buzz around it by posting the competition on to popular forums, give-away sites, voucher sites etc you can even run it in tandem with a press release campaign to make it seem more legitimate.
Alternatively, you could find a site that specialises in giveaways. I find that “mommy blogs” are particularly great to target as they thrive off sponsorship and give-aways. You usually end up with a boatload of referral traffic, occasionally make a sale, and most of the blogs are in cahoots with each other so you end up building a handful of links rather than just the one.
But What If I’m Selling Products That Are Prohibitively Expensive?
I hate clichés, but think outside the box! You don’t have to give away the latest top of the range juicer, or reclining La-Z-Boy with built-in freezer. Donate an Amazon gift card with a hundred dollars on it, a holiday voucher, or play it safe with an iPad/Pod etc. You don’t need to offer the product you’re promoting, but it does help.
Ensure you make the most of social mediums as well, it seems that you can’t go a couple of minutes on Facebook nowadays without someone a page dedicated to winning “one of 100 ipads” or a care packet of sweets.
This is dependent on the product you’re promoting obviously, and whether you’re paying sponsorship fee or hosting the competition on your own site. But as a general rule, I tend to spend anywhere between $50-$250 on a competition campaign.
When you compare this to the cost of renting or purchasing links, I find that running a competition wins hands down. As you’ll find yourself with a number of natural links, rather than a handful of “high PR” spam links that have most likely been devalued anyway.
Take your affiliate project to the next level by submitting it to local directories. Register your affiliate project as a business at your home address and offer support, or you could always drop-ship your product!
Once you’ve registered your site as a business, make sure you have a gander at this post on Hubspot for a list of directories you can submit for citations and backlinks.
“I don’t want this site affiliated with my home address”
Virtual offices are a godsend! They cost less than your favourite large mocha latte with extra cream and double choc-chip muffin from your favourite coffee house and offer you the opportunity to register your business or affiliate site at a physical location.
You’ll be increasing the trust factor of your website by placing a location on your site and odds are you’ll increase conversions as well. Be warned, as this does go against Google Guidelines and multiple listings from the same address can be merged or removed.
A large cup of coffee + muffin.
Buying Niche Specific Abandoned Domains
This tactic works wonders, but is definitely on the darker side of black hat. You’re about 3 notches up from hacking, link injections, Xrumer and one or two away from blog networks and Web 2.0’s with tiered linking.
Matt Cutts spoke to Danny Sullivan back in 2009 covering the topic of expired domains and whether they work.
“It wouldn’t make sense to transfer the links from an expired or effectively expired domain”–Matt Cutts
Finding Expired Domains
Scrapebox + TDNAM
Quite possibly the fastest combination to finding expired domains that are niche relevant. The TDNAM plug-in is free to download for Scrapebox owners as well.
Let’s assume that I wanted to create an affiliate site that revolved around golf, within the space of about 1 minute I’ve managed to find a few expired domains with PR. Some extra sleuthing with the help of OSE & Ahrefs returns 2 usable domains from the list below with legitimate backlinks. At the time of search the PR2 domain worldofgolf.biz was going for just $10.
If you can’t afford Scrapebox then there are a few websites and plug-ins that do all the work for you. The only downside using these free services, is that there’s usually a delay on their results, so domains are frequently taken by the time you get around to registering them.
I highly recommend http://www.expireddomains.net/ or there’s a Godaddy PR Checker Plugin that’s selling for $27 on DigitalPoint.
Broken Link Building + Domain Hunter Plus
Finally, when I’m in the middle of a broken link building campaign, you’ll frequently come across domains that have expired.
Jon Cooper has a great post that covers how hunt for expired domains as well. So you don’t need to stumble across them by chance.
Speaking To An Industry Leader
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Michael Charalambous from RightCasinoMedia.com – he runs casino and gambling related websites, which are often considered amongst the most difficult verticals to compete in. When Google started returning an abnormal number of low quality results, from websites that have been registered 2 to 3 weeks ago, we started discussing link strategies both white and black. As there were a number of sites with link profiles that consisted of nothing but spam, but were ranking for incredibly competitive terms.
He had this to say about how difficult it is to find legitimate relative links within a niche that is dominated by companies that buy their way to the top:
“It’s a fun and exciting industry to be competing in, but I can’t stress how much of a headache all these changing SEO theories become. Unfortunately, for teams like mine we are constantly battling against huge brands that wrongly rank for our niche-specific terms as their authority hugely outweighs our own – even though we are the true niche-specific industry experts.
“At Right Casino Media we operate a number of websites including liveroulette.co.uk; which was recently on the losing end of Google updates. A positive note is that we are still page 1 along with big brands, and no competing affiliates – proving we are amongst the higher quality crowd. Though, ranking above us are pages less informative and relevant than ours… not cool Google.
“To keep up we must simply do things our competitors aren’t doing properly. We’ve utilised infographics to gain excellent links from a diverse range of websites outside of the standard infographic (poor) directory. We’ve run unique competitions with brands outside of the gaming sphere which still relate to our target market. And generally we aim to post our content, opinions, and offer value on websites outside of our relevancy. Sadly in gaming, there are very few websites to gain “good” or “natural” links from and link earning is nigh on impossible”
“Things like this have kept us in the game. Without innovative ideas, we’d be sitting at the bottom of the pile like most of our affiliate friends who just don’t make the first page of Google anymore.”
Citation of All Tools & Sites + Bonus Sites
TL;DR – don’t worry I’ve created a round-up of all the sites mentioned in this post today. If you’ve got any additional sites or tools that you feel may contribute to this post, please leave it in the comments section below!
Link Management & Prospecting
Broken Link Building
- SoloSEO link tool
- CheckMyLinks for Chrome
- LinkChecker for FireFox
- Citation Labs Broken Link Finder
- 9 Networks You Can Use for Guest Blogging and Blogger Outreach
- The Ultimate Guest Blogger’s Guide for 2013
- How to Use BuzzStream to Find Guest Blogging Opportunities
Guest Blogging Sites
Finding Sites to Sponsor
Running Your Own Competition