What Google Thinks About Affiliate Links.You'll Be Surprised
Does Google hate affiliate links? This is a question I see all the time. Actually, I don't see people asking this question as much as they should be. Most people just announce flat out that Google hates affiliate links, or worse, Google hates affiliates in general.
You'll see quotes about how Google hates having affiliates messing up their search engines, and how they're out to get sites that have affiliate links.
You'll see people citing the Panda algorithm (which is a "Site Quality" algorithm for those who don't know) as evidence that affiliate links should be hidden at all costs.
You'll even see people telling you that if you don't "cloak/mask/hide under a rug" your affiliate links, you'll have no chance of ranking.
Fortunately for us, those people don't know what they're talking about, or they're trying to sell you something like a crappy plugin for hiding links (Elf Links anyone?).
The Proof Is In The Pudding
I don't necessarily blame these people. There's a bit of an epidemic of "recite stuff you're not sure is true" online, so it's very easy for people to get confused or spread false news.
Whenever I'm not sure if something is true or not, I think about it logically, then I check Google.
I'm not saying I google the term "Does Google hate affiliate links?", I'm saying I look in Google for evidence of this. I'll teach you how...
Let's do some investigating!
Proof Pudding One (Wow Pudding! Yum!)
For the sake of proving what I already know, I'm going to get you guys to do some searches in Google.
1.) Head over to Google, and type "How to start a podcast?" and hit search. Position 1 is smartpassiveincome.com right?
That's odd though, his page is full of affiliate links! Amazon.com links galore! They're not even masked! Just out there in the open.
Weird. Must be a fluke :)
2.) Now search for "Best straight razor".
Oh look, affiliate links everywhere. One of those sites is mine, and it has comparison charts, affiliate links, call to actions, big CLICK HERE TO BUY NOW PLEASE buttons...Google hates that though right? How long has this post been top of Google? A year?
Weird. Must be a fluke :)
3.) Now perform any other search of your own. Choose anything you fancy. Let me know how many sites in the top 5 have affiliate links.
Weird. Must be a fluke :)
Proof Pudding Two - Empire Flippers
In case you were thinking, "Well, those sites are authority sites and they can get away with the odd affiliate link here and there", I've prepared some more dessert-like evidence.
There's a marketplace for buying established websites (One is empireflippers.com, but actually there are many), where the marketplace owners actually investigate and verify whether or not the earnings of those sites are real.
90% of the sites they sell are smaller niche sites, not authority sites, and every single one of those sites is making money from Google traffic, using affiliate links.
So not only do you get huge authority sites with affiliate links that are able to rank and make money, you also get small niche sites.
Proof Pudding Three - Matt Cutts
Someone once asked Matt Cutts (Google Webspam Team) if they should mark their affiliate links as "nofollow" (this means, they're telling Google not to count their affiliate link as a backlink to the site in question), and his reply was that they pretty much counted affiliate links as nofollow anyway.
More proof that Google has no issue with aff links.
Four - WA People
There are so many people in WA who don't cloak their affiliate links and still make a bunch of galleons, so I'm pretty sure we can count them as evidence. Especially Vitaliy, he's always reminded me of pudding ;)
Alright, one more slice...
Pudding Five - Logic (Gonna get fat if we keep eating all this pudding)
I'm pretty sure that Google could detect any cloaked link even if it was the most cloaked link in the world.
The bot clicks the link when it crawls your site, it detects the cookie. Oh look, an affiliate link. Don't quote me on this, but it seems pretty obvious to me.
Google Hates Low Quality Sites - Not Affiliates
All Google wants to do is put the best content at the top of the search results. If the best content has affiliate links and users seem to be enjoying the articles, then Google couldn't care less.
They're not stupid. They know most of the people who write the best content on the planet are doing it for a reason, so if they completely banned affiliate links, they'd end up with a bunch of weak blogs at the top of page 1 for almost every term. People would be jumping over to bing and yahoo like affiliate links jumping on a Panda (That was an SEO joke, it's not my first).
What About Pretty Link?
Prettylink is an awesome link cloaking plugin, but I've never used it to trick Google (I'm pretty sure Google can tell what it does anyway). It's used for User Experience and getting conversions.
If you're using Clickbank or some other affiliate program that gives you an ugly affiliate link like this:
(Not a real link) http://hop.c1829178yiohlkahelaiahoiehraiohioahoape...
Do you think many people will click it?
What if you change it to http://domain.com/clickhere ?
So the reason we use PrettyLink is for making your links PRETTIER. That's why it's called pretty link and not SEO link.
What We Just Learned
Obviously, the most important thing here is that we focus on making the content good. Does that mean only having one affiliate link on your page? No way! Get those people clicking your link already! 5 links? 10 links? Go for it.
Just don't make your page filled with a bunch of low quality spammy drivel with links interweaving like a snake on a knowledge tree, and you'll be fine.