As the dust starts to settle from the recent Penguin and Panda updates, site owners, in-house SEO’s and online marketing agencies alike, are re-gathering their thoughts and strategies moving forward.

But whilst we sit here licking our wounds, spare a thought for affiliate marketers!

For years they have earned their keep from building lots of low value links. And whilst some of their link building methods may be questionable, they do work damned hard to earn their money. They are not blessed with large marketing budgets and do the majority of their work themselves to keep overheads to a minimum.

In the first of a 2 part series on the impact Penguin will have on affiliate marketers, I talk to super-affiliate Paul Bryant. As well as being an affiliate marketer, Paul also offers an online conversion rate course to help clients improve their conversion rates. Paul is also due to speak at the upcoming Twist Affiliate Gathering, as is our very own Ian Lockwood.

Robert: What kind of impact has it had on both your traffic and revenue?

Paul: Unfortunately the update has had a pretty major, negative effect on my traffic. One of my sites that I bought recently has gone from almost 2,000 daily visitors down to around 20 a day! That site in particular perhaps shouldn’t be that much of a surprise given I only recently bought it and so have had little control over how the links were built.

However, even some of my sites that have been ranking for some major keywords for the last few years have been hit hard. These are 5+ year old sites that have quite a broad link profile so it’s hard to say whether it is the Penguin or the Panda update (or a mixture of both!) that has hit them.

What I have found is that it is my older, more established sites that seem to have been hit harder. Perhaps that’s simply because over the years they have had more time to pick more of the low quality links that Google seem to be targeting.

In terms of revenue it is still hard to say, some sites seem to still be making good money and the reduction in earnings is not proportional to the reduction in traffic.

This could be due to one of several reasons:

  1. Perhaps the keywords I lost traffic on where not converting as well as I thought
  2. Perhaps due to long cookie lengths, the true effect has yet to be seen.
  3. It could even be that for the keywords the sites ranked for, more buyers were coming from the likes of Yahoo and Bing rather than Google as traffic from these two search engines is still fairly constant on most of my sites.

Robert: What impact do you think this will have on affiliate marketing as a whole?

Paul: I think we shouldn’t underestimate this update as a complete game changer for affiliate marketers.

I know most of the bigger affiliates I spoke to have been hit hard by the updates and are busy planning a strategy for recovering their earnings.

Some are planning on cleaning up their links in the hope of regaining their rankings, some are looking to target other sources of traffic, some are starting again from scratch, and some are still just playing a waiting game to see how things develop.

Mr Boombastic - Link Spam

No matter what has happened either in the past or what will happen in the future, affiliates will find a way to prosper – they always have and probably always will. It just means affiliates once again have to look at what they are doing and work out a strategy that works for them within the new ‘rules’ that Google have written.

I don’t think there will ever be anything that kills off affiliate marketing but this will certainly not be the last thing to happen that forces affiliates to change tactics. The internet is one of the fastest moving technologies around and that also makes it one of the most challenging, not just for affiliates but for any business using online as a revenue generation tool.

Ultimately if you are willing to evolve and embrace these changes then you will not only survive but you will prosper because many of your competitors will not be willing to change.

Robert: Do you think affiliates will continue with targeting traffic from organic search?

Paul: The short answer to this is yes – affiliates will continue to target organic traffic and some will be very successful at it. However, the truth is that it is now much more difficult to do well than it ever was before.

If you look at affiliates, most of them built links in very similar ways from very similar sources. This is because of the nature of their sites made it hard to build links effectively in any other way.

Therefore it was only natural that eventually these methods would cease to be effective, I think the only shock is how quickly things changed and how many sites were affected.

Going forward I think affiliates will need a much broader range of traffic sources but then that has always been the case – good risk management dictates that you should be getting traffic from as many different sources as possible.

Robert: How do you think they will adapt? What methods will they use?

Paul: Whilst affiliates will still target organic search, I think both the increased difficulty and simply the direction in which the Web is going, will force more and more people to embrace other traffic generation methods, particularly social marketing.

Mr B Thinks About Strategies for AffiliatesWe have all heard about Facebook and their recent floatation and of course the question of how they will generate enough profit to satisfy investors. Well, no doubt we will see a much more commercialized Facebook going forward and this could be one of the opportunities that affiliates can use to generate traffic.

We will have to see how that pans out but certainly affiliates are going to have to get more social and try and interact with their visitors more in order to be successful. Depending on the product they are promoting, this could be quite a challenge for some affiliates but it is one that most will have to embrace.

People shouldn’t forget about email marketing either, most successful businesses use email in one way or another but in my experience, even a lot of the top affiliates are not using email marketing effectively.

Ultimately it may be that affiliates have to accept that they will get less traffic than they used to and therefore maximizing the return per visitor will become extremely important.

Email marketing is one way in which you can extend the relationship and return from a visitor but conversion rate optimization is going to be key to ensure every step of purchasing funnel is fully optimized to make maximum use of the traffic that is generated.

I am sure you will agree that Paul makes some really interesting and valid points. In part 2, I will be giving my thoughts on how affiliate marketers should adapt.