Warning: “Thin Affiliate Sites”

On our free webinar this week I mentioned "thin affiliate sites" and we also discussed it a bit on the latest IMTW Podcast (episode #11).

This is an important topic for those of you in Affiliate Marketing, so I wanted to expand on it a bit and explain exactly what it means and why you should avoid it...

Thin Affiliate Sites are basically doorway pages, or web pages/sites created solely for the purpose of being the go-between from the visitor to the merchant with no real other value added to the visitor experience.

Perry Marshall calls them an illegitimate businesses, Allan Gardyne talks about why "thin affiliate sites" are offensive to Google, and Michelle MacPhearson recently put out a video about a Social Media Slap. I put out a series last Fall on the Social Media Marketing Warning myself as well.

They're all worth a study, and they all go hand in hand for Affiliate Marketers.

Why?

Allan Gardyne explained it well in his article, discussing Google's perspective on Thin Affiliate Sites:

Google says: "We differentiate between affiliates that produce extra service, value, or content, and those that simply are duplicates of other sites, set up to boost traffic to other sites and earn a commission for it. The former ones are not Offensive and should be rated on the merits to the query. The latter ones are Offensive...

"Thin affiliate doorways are sites that usher people to a number of Affiliate programs, earning a commission for doing so, while providing little or no value-added content or service to the user. A site certainly has the right to try to earn income; we're attempting to identify sites that do nothing but act as a commission-earning middleman."

Google also says: "Do not call a page affiliate spam when an affiliation is only incidental to the message and purpose of a website. To determine whether participation in affiliate programs is central or incidental to the site's existence, ask yourself this question: Would this site remain a coherent whole if the pages leading to the affiliate (merchant) were taken away?"

That probably counts out most affiliate sites. -source

These quotes were pulled from an internal document that Google uses to train human agents they hire to evaluate their search results for accuracy. You can read more about that document at the source.

The bottom line is that to be a successful affiliate, you have to add value to the sales process - and for your target market. You have to bring something to the table to add to the buying experience, whether that be helping in the decision making process, product reviews, tips on how to use the product, unique applications of the product, etc.

Otherwise you're just throwing out affiliate links, or creating what is called "thin affiliate sites". If there's no added value, what reason would someone come through your link instead of just going straight to the source themselves?

And if there's no added value for human visitors, what reason would Google have to rank your affiliate pages well?

Look at ways that you can add value to the process. Make sure your affiliate sites, or even affiliate pages on your site, could stand on their own content-wise even without the affiliate links.

Best,

About Lynn Terry

Lynn Terry is a full-time Internet Marketer with over 17 years experience in online business. Subscribe to ClickNewz for the latest Internet Marketing trends & strategies, Lynn’s unique case studies, creative marketing ideas, and candid reviews…more»

Discussion

  1. Robert T Kiyosaki says:

    Always add value. In order to receive, one must first give.

  2. Thanks for the valuable information here. I've often wondered about the value of these types of sites as they seem to be gaining more popularity among the wannabe affiliate marketers.

    As you can see, good hard work pays off in the long run. People want good information and content.

  3. Scott Tousignant says:

    This is an excellent share Lynn.

    It's always been about adding value for me when it comes to what I share on my sites or blogs. I only promote products that I actually use and I love to share my experience using the products on my blog.

    I'm upfront and honest as well. If there's something that I don't like about it, I inform my reader about it.

    I do this for a few reasons. First of all to demonstrate to my readers that I only promote what I use and can say from first hand experience that it has worked for me. This helps build trust with my readers.

    Second I do it to help my readers make an informed decisions and overcome any skepticism that they may have with the product.

    Often times I will interview the product owner on how to make the most out of their program and share some additional tips that may not be included. I like to offer that as a bonus for anyone who purchases through my affiliate link.

    All in all, I like to think of my blog or website as an entertaining and educational experience. I want the reader to come back for more.

    I may like to be "thin" physically, but not when it comes to my websites 😉

    You ROCK Lynn! Thanks for the links to more great posts on the topic.

    Scott Tousignant
    http://www.UnstoppableFatLoss.com/blog

  4. Chuck Morgan says:

    I'm guilty of this on one of my sites, but didn't realize it, or how Google viewed it. I will make the proper modifications. Thanks for the tips.

  5. @TraciKnoppe says:

    It all comes back to 'content is king'.

  6. Scott Tousignant says:

    This is an excellent share Lynn.

    It's always been about adding value for me when it comes to what I share on my sites or blogs. I only promote products that I actually use and I love to share my experience using the products on my blog.

    I'm upfront and honest as well. If there's something that I don't like about it, I inform my reader about it.

    I do this for a few reasons. First of all to demonstrate to my readers that I only promote what I use and can say from first hand experience that it has worked for me. This helps build trust with my readers.

    Second I do it to help my readers make an informed decisions and overcome any skepticism that they may have with the product.

    Often times I will interview the product owner on how to make the most out of their program and share some additional tips that may not be included. I like to offer that as a bonus for anyone who purchases through my affiliate link.

    All in all, I like to think of my blog or website as an entertaining and educational experience. I want the reader to come back for more.

    I may like to be "thin" physically, but not when it comes to my websites 😉

    You ROCK Lynn! Thanks for the links to more great posts on the topic.

    Scott Tousignant

  7. and it all comes back to being real, relevant, and trustworthy.

  8. Carl Pruitt says:

    I agree with you and Google to a large extent. You have to agree with Google anyway in the end.

    However, the very origin of affiliate marketing sprung from product creators who wanted to be able to push their products without taking the risk of losing advertising money. So they offered affiliates a potentially greater fee in exchange for taking on the risk of advertising. The risk of losing the advertising expense is much less for the product creator or seller when the cost is spread out among many affiliates.

    I frequently search just to find the best price on something and buy it. I don't want to read comparisons or reviews, or find out anyone's opinion about what I'm buying. I just want to find it for sale. In those cases, all these sites with extra content detract from my user experience.

    I know some would say that the search should just direct me to the original product site, but I for one appreciate those who spend the time and money to promote the product and who often build sites that are easier to navigate, offer multiple brands of the same product in one location, and make it more convenient to locate what I want than sites belonging to the direct sellers.

  9. Cathy the Doggy Mom says:

    Ok, being kind of new to affiliate marketing, I'm kind of confused about how to go about this. I was just buying a domain name & having it redirected to the affiliate site.
    Then I was told I should have my own opt in page set up before I send the customer to the affiliate site to get their email info for future use.
    So is that page supposed to have lots of relevant info on it too or can it just be a simple opt in page?
    I'm so confused!

  10. Speaking just as a customer, I find value in sponsored search results that come up in response to my queries.
    It doesn't cost me any more to buy through an affiliate link, so as long as the ad that pops up is actually relevant to my search, I'm perfectly happy to be sent to a product that meets my needs via a re-direct or simple landing page.

  11. It's not that hard to create value.

    Write reviews of products you've used. Write a brief tutorial on some process and mention an affiliate products as a good example of what you're describing or as a worthwhile additional resource that takes the subject deeper than you're able to take it in a brief article.

    The point is: take the extra effort to create value. It's not that hard and it's far more effective than just pushing a product.

    I think that most of the thin affililates out there take the approach they do because they simply don't realize that ecommerce is not a zero-sum game where in order for them to truly "win" they must offer nothing in return.

    The most effective approach, though, is always one of win-win.

  12. It is sometimes hard when starting out to realize this. Luckily, I have been following marketers that stress quality content (like you Lynn!).

    Even so, as you travel along this learning curve, you don't always know or see how much you need to add and may unintentionally end up with a "thin affiliate" site.

    But, I figure you have to start somewhere and if you continue to do the best you can and follow the advice of the successful affiliate marketers, you too will be successful.

  13. Henrik Flensborg says:

    @Cathy the Doggy Mom - opt-in/redirect pages are meant to receive traffic from other sources than organic search results.

    Could be from PPC campaigns or sources you otherwise control (own website pages, resource boxes in articles submitted to article directories, mailout to existing lists you might have built up etc.)

  14. Cathy the Doggy Mom says:

    Ok, think I got it. So for organic results, you should have a site with relevant info (reviews, articles, etc.) along with the affiliate link. To drive traffic from other means (my case it would probably be ezine articles) you would have an opt in page first to capture their info and then try to send them to the affiliate site.
    Am I right?
    Does anyone have an example I can see of the second scenario (opt in and then direct to affiliate site)? I'm wondering how you get the customer to go for this.

  15. Boris A local SEO says:

    This is very useful information that should be read by many. It is so easy to set things up and hurt yourself in the process. Lynn, I am giving this a Stumble as I go to get this in front of more eyeballs.
    Keep up the good work.

  16. Panama offshore services says:

    As we know the content is always the KING in the marketing world. Reivew sites gain more traffic than the actual sites as far as i know. let me know if am wrong.

    Thanks,
    Sam

  17. Tom Mc Carrick says:

    Here's one I have been using - I linked directly to the opt-in page from the Adwords ad. No success with it yet though!

    Here's the URL:
    http://www.ideal-biz.com

    Tom

  18. Cathy the Doggy Mom says:

    Thanks Tom! That helps me understand that process better.

  19. DeAnna Troupe says:

    Great post, Lynn! I always focus on creating websites and blogs with interesting content. I pick affiliate programs that complement my content. I like to make sure that the affiliate programs I promote are things that will help my readers. Keep up the good work, Lynn. I love reading your blog.

  20. I say go with established sites... cj, clickbank to name a few...

    Have done well with both and no problems!

    Thanks for the post! great info!

    DBK

  21. It always surprises me when I see a site that is only meant to redirect people to some other site with no real content on it. I always think to myself - does that really work? I suppose if you have a killer URL it might be possible?

  22. I'm glad I've been keeping my nose clean...

  23. There are many ways one can market specific products without resulting to thin affiliate sites - gather forum resources, customer reviews, relevant blogs and the like. It just requires a bit more effort but is very doable indeed.

  24. What does this mean for products that teach exactly this method?
    Like:
    Commission BluePrint
    Arbitrage Conspiracy
    and the hundreds of others?
    Are all people that have purchased and utilize these tactics are doomed?

  25. Max Headroom says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us. It doesn't matter what we think. It only matters what Google thinks. We all have to subscribe to Google's mindset in order to succeed. If you decide to stray from the "Path", you will go broke.

  26. Kathy | Virtual Impax says:

    Google has ALWAYS defined their "customer" as those who search - which is why it's easy to see why "thin" affiliate sites would be offensive to the deities of search.

    Unfortunately, I guess there's a firm out there selling JUST this kind of site to the uneducated and desperate. I fielded a phone call from one of these "all day suckers" last week who wanted SEO help for their thin affiliate site.

    It BROKE my heart to hear the woman's story. Her son is suffering from kidney disease and he has 5 kids. They spent every dime they had left with this company on the hope that they could make back than money many times over with their new "set it and forget it" website.

    She's busily engaged in article marketing - but can't understand WHY her site won't show up in Google - even when you type in her URL.

    I couldn't say, "You've been screwed" so I suggested she begin creating articles on the site like reviews for the products.

    I've sent her an email to follow up and suggested she hang out here for while for some "real" good advice!

  27. Wendy Sizemore says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post. The concept becomes far more easier for me to understand as when the post says, affiliate page should have ths content to stand on its own.Great post.
    Wendy

  28. Anil Dewani says:

    Wonderful post. Atlast it comes to the point that, content is the main factor.

    Great tip.
    -Anil

  29. James Holmes says:

    Lynn - This is a brilliant topic and can really derail many affiliate marketers. Thank you for bringing this subject to the forefront with this post.

    I am working raise my affiliate promotions game starting with the quality score for my sites. I am going deep with pages of articles, I am implementing more complete keyword research and tying the results to my capture pages, I am making my sites much more sticky so that my visitors hang out because of the value.

    Really important topic!

    James
    http://www.Twitter.com/AskJamesHolmes

  30. Lee, Blogger's Workshop says:

    Well said. And bravo for posting the internal training docs from Google!

    Kathy's comment was quite indicative of why people use thin affiliate sites. It's usually not because they're trying to hose Google or get one over on the internet public... I think in many cases, it's because they don't know any better. They've bought into some "system" that promises quick and vast riches (out of desperation, frustration, etc.).

    I applaud you for spelling out the truth about these sites. I hope that your post will save at least a few people the heartache of finding out for themselves that this model simply doesn't work.

  31. Justice O. Omorodion says:

    Its true that many people pull out content from their merchant website and place it on their affiliate site for the sake of earning commission. Google see those pages as irrelevant content and they never include those pages in their search index.

    One day when I was reading Google blog about affiliates and their act of duplicating content from other website.

    Here's what the writer said that intrigued me, he said if you're trying to sell stuff from amazon.com as an affiliate and you pull all your content from amazon and slap it on your site in order to earn commission without adding real content of your own.

    The writer went ahead to explained that, if you think you could out rank amazon you pulled all your content from you better go think again because that's not going to possible.

  32. Internet Marketing Strategies says:

    Wow. Those quotes from Google were very powerful. The term 'offensive' was used a lot and felt strong; it gave a powerful feeling.

    How many times have I been taught by so many 'gurus' to create a doorway page to the affiliate site; wow I won't be doing that!

    Thanks for the great post,

    Daniel Tetreault.

  33. Being quite new to Affiliate Marketing I found you post on thin affiliate sites very interesting. Thanks for quoting from Allan Gardyne's article explaining Goggle's perspective on thin affiliate sites this really open my eyes to being aware when doing affiliate marketing.

  34. Lynne, Thanks for the mention. Much appreciated!

    Zupko, I'm not sure if your question was joking or serious, so I hope my reply won't offend you. I'm sure most of us know that affiliates earn money in many different ways. I recently wrote an article on 53 ways to make money with affiliate programs, and I certainly didn't list all of them.

    My article on "thin affiliates" was aimed at affiliates who aim to get their visitors free from search engines, from "organic search", as some people call it.

    In total contrast, the Arbitrage Conspiracy guys use PPC marketing and tools such as SpeedPPC, which is a totally different type of affiliate marketing.

  35. Peter - Rocket Spanish says:

    There are probably more affiliate sites on the net than there are pages of actual content. I don't see a problem with them as long as they provide some useful reviews. Keep in mind that affiliate sites are only there because of the sites that offer an affiliate program and that encourage this type of setup.
    Peter

  36. Thanks for great information.

  37. Thank you for sharing this info, this is very helpful for me.

  38. Paramita says:

    This is an excellent information for all of us. Thanking you for sharing with us. Its help me a lot. I will save it.

  39. Learn Internet Marketing says:

    Absolutely! Most affiliate websites lack original content.Instead of adding value through publishing personal unbiased reviews, tips or recommendations, they simply paraphrase infomercials and create false hype. You've read one, you've read them all! Too many fancy graphics with no unique/original experience-based content will destroy your brand.

  40. Traffic Matters says:

    How do site owners expect to get visitors if they don't post origional high quality content?

    I really do wonder sometimes

  41. Flash Design says:

    It was a great explanation of affiliate sites. It is widely known Google doesn't like pure affiliate sites and I believe many people do not clearly understand what that means.

    If your site does provide a high value to the visitor it is valuable in Google's eyes even if you have few affiliate links in there. I suggest you write great content. In fact, do not put any affiliate link on your site until you have at least 30 pure content pages. This will keep your mind thinking of ways to provide value to your visitors.

  42. I'm a little confused by this because there are many niche sites that are just product related that do not have articles and content. For instance Lynn.....you had a blog post a couple years back giving a link to a site you put up called "CorkItUp". It was a niche site that you shared with your readers to show I guess how you can use WordPress to make static niche sites instead of the blog format.

    It was a great site showing all the different dart products and they linked up to whatever vendor you were affiliating for (not sure if they were through Pepperjam)....but anyway.....it was just a product site with no articles, blog posts, content (that I remember).....just a shopping site. I would not call it a "thin" site because it was very well laid out (using datafeeds I believe), but there was no "content" per se.

    So, now I'm confused because I have both self-hosted WordPress "blogs" and a couple of "product" sites similar to "CorkItUp" except I have to do it manually without having datafeeds since most affiliate products I promote do not have that option.

    Also, I was always wondering how a site like your "CorkItUp" - if you still have it - can be optimized with SEO/keyword phrases since it was just links to the products (with pictures and descriptions)

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