The Art & Science of SEO for Affiliate Marketers


As an affiliate marketer, you know that SEO is an extremely important factor in your success. While there is a science to optimizing your site, the bigger picture of creating a site that delivers value to visitors consistently over time is also an art. While at BlogHer, one of the biggest conferences for online publishers, we got a chance to talk one-on-one with SEO expert Stephan Spencer, who’s been fascinated by search engine algorithms before Google even existed, and who co-wrote the book that’s widely considered the SEO bible: The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization.

Spencer has great advice for affiliate marketers, starting with the following highlights from our conversation. From insights into how to keep up with algorithms to common SEO mistakes and how to hire an SEO consultant, Spencer also shares the resources that he turns to for advice and insights, so keep reading after you view the video!

Why keeping up with algorithms is crucial

Spencer advises that the most important thing that affiliates who are concerned about algorithm updates like Fred, Panda or Penguin must know is that these updates happen all the time. And they're absolutely going to happen in the future.

Because it’s so hard to try and recover from a situation once you’ve been penalized, Spencer advises publishers to behave preventatively, and to be careful not to do things that are even “gray hat” – unethical moves that he says are, “things that you would be embarrassed to tell a Google engineer.” For example, spinning, paraphrasing or rewriting old posts or even other people’s articles. He goes on to add that anything you do that is not focused on adding massive value to the user is going to get sniffed out by AI as spam, and your rankings will suffer.

The top affiliate marketing SEO mistake

Spencer urges affiliates not to focus on revenue over users, as when you do, it’ll result in your site being full-on penalized or will, at the very least, hurt your engagement metrics. Over time, this will lead to a drop in your rankings because user engagement is a critical signal to Google, as they look at dwell time and click through rate from search results. This is why Spencer emphasizes delivering value to the user. (For more on this topic, check out our blog post based on Spencer’s BlogHer presentation, “7 SEO Mistakes You’re Probably Making (And How to Fix Them.”)

The most effective off-site techniques

As Spencer notes, off-site SEO tactics are about link building and content marketing; creating something that people can't resist to link to it. He calls this “remarkable content” deliberately, citing Seth Godin’s definition of “remarkable” as something worth remarking about. That doesn’t mean it’s the most fantastic piece of content out there -- just something worth remarking about. That’s a starting point, and from there you can start building your link authority by connecting with influencers and also by creating architecture that’s based on strategic use of your link authority. By being sure to link to critical product, service and/or article pages from your homepage, you’ll help build page rank for those important destinations, which supports your overall site optimization.

Don’t forget title tags

Title tags, according to Spencer, are the most important elements on any website page – they’re given the most weight by search engines. Be sure to incorporate your most important keyword for a given page early on in its title tag. And reinforce the keyword in the page copy, too, otherwise Google won’t believe that the title tag you stated is really what the page is about.

Why strategy is the best tool in your SEO arsenal

According to Spencer, the biggest shift in SEO today is the focus on machine learning. He points out that you’re not going to be able to outsmart AI – it knows a low-quality, spam-heavy site when it sees it. He advises to create something with long-term sustainability and not to worry about “little tactics and landmines each of the algorithms provide.” He notes that in the book, The Art of War, Sun Tzu said that tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat. Content marketers must think about SEO strategically.

How to hire an SEO specialist

Spencer’s advice for hiring an SEO consultant or specialist to join your team is to take necessary steps to ensure you find the right person or company – because if done wrong, you can end up getting penalized, banned or otherwise have a black mark on your record from Google. You need someone with a track record of being “pearly white hat” so that your SEO is done by the book. To help you ask the right questions when interviewing prospective candidates – including a few “trick” questions – Stephan Spencer has a download to help guide your hiring process.

Stephan Spencer’s recommended SEO resources

Recent articles by Stephan Spencer

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