When Google Attacks (Affiliates)
Being an affiliate marketer who heavily relies on Google--and what affiliate doesn't?--is a little like being a seal that made friends with a killer whale: at some point in this friendship, this giant beast might experience a momentary sensation of hunger, and decide to eat you.
Similar to a killer whale, it's not necessarily Google's fault that the colossus regularly contemplates destroying every affiliate on earth. Rather, Google's instinct is to make as much money as possible, at all times, and if that includes eating you, then hey, that's nature.
Can affiliate marketers who live in fear of Google achieve some degree of peaceful existence, or must we always be patiently waiting for a fiery Armageddon?
First, Affiliates Must Understand the Nature of the Google Threat
Don't get us wrong. We love Google. And we love killer whales. We just don't want Google (or killer whales) to be able to eat us easily.
But in order to combat the threat, we must first understand the threat.
Essentially, Google is a constant threat to every affiliate marketing business on the Internet because Google itself could decide one day to become an affiliate marketer.
Think about it for a second, or maybe you already have: as an affiliate who pursues organic search traffic, you are relying on Google to direct someone searching for, let's say, "cheap trips to Vietnam" to your well-built, informative, SEO-conscious website about traveling to Vietnam.
As of now, Google will send that searcher your way, so long as Google views your site as useful and relevant to the searcher's desires.
But in the future, Google could decide to cut you out of the equation, partner with Expedia, and present its own "cheap trips to Vietnam" pages as the number one Google result (and the number two and the number three and the number four results as well, if need be).
You can see a glimpse of this dark future if you input the search term "best refinance rates" into Google. At the top of the page, Google gives you its own "comparison ads," which are really just affiliate marketing offers from Google, where Google gets a kick back from the refi lenders.
Think about what this means for the blogger who has spent years building up SEO content related to the best refinance rates. It means that his or her business is close to deceased.
As of yet, Google has not implemented this strategy widely. But clearly becoming the #1 affiliate for every commercial search term in the dictionary is an idea that is being thrown around the halls of Google. Come on now, wouldn't you think of that, if you were Google?
One of these quarters, Google may be in danger of missing its numbers, and decide that becoming the world's biggest affiliate is a good way to make up the difference.
Death by a Thousand Changes to the Google Algorithm
But besides the overarching, existential threat, a.k.a. "The Nuclear Option," Google has a variety of other methods at its disposal through which it can hurt your affiliate marketing business.
For affiliates who rely heavily on Google for traffic--and again, who doesn't?--every change to the Google search algorithm is an opportunity for your business to slowly sink into total oblivion (we only dare speak this frankly because we are in the same boat as you).
In recent years, we have seen instances of this sinking. For example, when Google decided that sites would be penalized if they were populated with affiliate links, this hurt many affiliate marketers who had spent thousands of hours and dollars on SEOing their websites.
Granted this change to the Google algorithm was understandable--some affiliate marketers were really bastardizing and exploiting the SEO concept--but still, this change hurt some affiliate marketers, and changed SEO best practices across the affiliate marketing industry. Suddenly, smart affiliates were going through their pages taking out affiliate links.
Little changes that make big differences happen all the time. Can you keep up with them?
So What's the Solution? How Can You Be Safe from Google?
The short answers to the above questions are:
1. There is no solution.
2. You can't be safe from Google.
Sorry to break it to you, but all of us, every affiliate in the world, whether you're a megasite kingpin in New York City or a lady selling homemade shoes out of a Thailand basement, all of us face and will continue to face a constant, unrelenting, existential threat from Google.
Google is a part of the affiliate marketing ecosystem, and like any humongous, fearsome animal, it's great to have them around, they're very beautiful and powerful, and they also might eat you.
The only solution, then, and the only safety, is to make damn sure that you and your website are providing real value to visitors, no matter what Google thinks of you.
That may not be the prescriptive, actionable advice that you were looking for, but it's the truth. And best of all, it's doable if you forget about Google for a second, and do what you do.