One thing that keeps on cropping up since the Google Penguin updates, is merchants worrying that Affiliate links pointing to their site are harming their SEO.

Should They be Right to Worry?

A merchant does not need to worry about affiliate links negatively affecting their SEO, for the following reasons:

1). Affiliate Links are not Followed by Search Engine Bots

According to SEO best practice, publisher sites should add a ‘nofollow’ tag to their affiliate links, to ensure that it is clear to search engines that these are ‘monetised links’ rather than natural recommendations. So, the vast majority of affiliate links pointing to your website will have this ‘nofollow’ tag, explicitly stating to search engines not to follow or count these links.

In the case of Affiliate Networks, even the affiliate links which do not have this nofollow tag cannot harm your SEO, for the following reasons:

– Full Affiliate network link urls pass through a 302 redirect and shorthanded ( links pass through a 307 redirect. These are temporary redirects which are not followed by search engines and pass zero SEO value.

– Affiliate network links follow a set pattern. In the case of affiliate window, the affiliate link always contains Google and other search engines are intelligent enough to be able to determine that all links following this pattern are affiliate links. When a search engine knows that a link is an affiliate link, it will know not to count it for SEO purposes. Only ‘natural’ links that do not have any monetisation associated with them will pass on SEO value.

2). Search Engines Look at Your Backlink Profile as a Whole

Ignoring the fact that affiliate links will not be followed by search engines any way, even if they were followed, they only make up a percentage of your total links. Search engines look at the big picture of your backlink profile, and will take into consideration not only the number and quality of links pointing to your website, but also the variety and speed of growth of external links.  It is extremely unlikely that a few spammy links amongst an otherwise strong linking profile could damage your search engine rankings. 

3). If a Few Affiliate Backlinks  Were so Damaging to Your SEO, Then Why Don’t we all Point Affiliate Links From Bad Sites to our Competitors?

If it were true that a small percentage of affiliate links from spammy sites could damage a site’s SEO value, then the internet would be completely awash with a tactic known as ‘negative SEO’. Negative SEO is the use of bad SEO tactics in order to negatively affect another websites search engine rankings. If pointing a few bad links from some spammy websites negatively affected a site’s rankings, then it would be far too easy to damage competitors’ rankings. In fact, if you believe that some affiliate links are harming your site’s SEO, then why aren’t you redirecting them to your competitor?  

4). Sites Such as Have a Vast Quantity of Affiliate Links Pointing to Them, From a Mix of Good and Bad Websites

Think of the sites that are constantly showing up highly on Google for top search results. These sites undoubtedly have some horrible websites pointing to them, using both non-affiliate links and affiliate links. Do you think that they are sending out emails to websites asking them to remove these links? No, they are not. They are concentrating on creating a great business proposition and website, in order to gain the biggest variety of natural links possible.
If you have read all of the above, and still believe that affiliate links could be damaging your search engine rankings, then let’s consider the following:

Only Links From Low Quality or Spam Websites can Harm SEO

Unless a site only has spam sites on board its affiliate program, it is impossible that 100% of affiliate links to a site can be having a negative effect. 

This means that you cannot make sweeping statements about affiliate links, and need to properly isolate which links could be negatively affecting your site.

If you are still worried about links pointing to your site negatively impacting your SEO, then read my post “Penguin 2.0: Should Performance Marketers be Worried?” which should help you to fully analysis your back link profile. 


With the release of the Google Penguin update and a crackdown on spammy links, sites are right to be cautious about the types of links that they are obtaining and how they are obtaining them. However, it is important not to go overboard with this, and to ensure that we have a full understanding of exactly what type of links could be potentially harmful. Affiliate links do not fall in to this category, and hopefully this article will have assured those merchants which were previously worried about this.