Do affiliate links help SEO?

Affiliate programs are great at boosting the exposure of your brand and increasing the traffic to your website. But what does an affiliate program do for your SEO?
Traffic to your site and brand mentions can indeed help increase your visibility and rankings, as both are potential factors in rankings. However, the backlinks provided by most affiliate networks don’t show up on most backlink reports. Why is that?

The simple answer is that Google knows the value of those links. The reality is, you’re also paying for those links. But there is a workaround.

Vanity Codes

What is a Vanity Code?

A vanity code is a coupon code created specifically for an affiliate. In most instances, the vanity code is created on an affiliate network like Impact Radius or Share-A-Sale, along with a related affiliate link. These networks then track sales and traffic from your affiliate link. However, this method won’t boost your SEO because, as we already mentioned, network links are passed over by Google.

The key is only to track sales using the vanity code on the back end of your website. There are a couple of hurdles when implementing this strategy, however.
First, many affiliates can be skeptical of your reporting because they have no way to verify the conversions other than the report you send. That, in essence, is why third party affiliate networks were created in the first place. Second, it does require more work on your end to calculate sales and work through your analytics to determine if there are any scrubs. A scrub might result from another affiliate sending traffic to the site first, before the end-user input the code they found elsewhere after arriving.

In our opinion, the affiliate that drove the traffic to the site should be credited with the sale over the affiliate who just posted the vanity code in an accessible, probably SEO optimized location. This is a source of contention in the affiliate space because many advertisers have adopted last-click attribution, where the final affiliate to touch the sale often gets credited. We believe this makes sense for cart abandonment solutions and pop-ups, but not every instance in black-and-white.

Lastly, and probably most notable, is that by not providing a tracking link an affiliate may have sent the traffic to your site, but their code was not used. This might happen because another affiliate has a better code, or the on-site discount is higher than the affiliates discount. For this strategy to work, the promotional strategy has to be consistent across all platforms and affiliates.

With this type of affiliate tracking, affiliates in your program can link directly to your site. This direct linking will benefit your SEO campaign as an organic backlink in your portfolio. It may also increase click-through rates for affiliates, as the discerning end-user does not see the affiliate link before clicking through to your site. However, FTC disclosures are still necessary to avoid violations.

Not all affiliates will be comfortable with tracking this way, and, as an advertiser, you should be careful with what affiliates you allow to link to your site. Keeping your backlink portfolio in the right link neighborhood is just as important and gaining backlinks. For more information about affiliate traffic to your website or about SEO campaigns, contact Cardinal SEO for a free consultation and basic SEO or affiliate audit.