Many people still hold the mistaken belief that making money on the internet is easy, if you know the tricks. They believe that it is possible to make a fortune without considerable effort, time or experience. Millions of people start websites in this frame of mind and 99.9% of these people fail.
photo credit: Yodel Anecdotal
It is hard to say quite where these beliefs come from but it is fair to say that many people are exploiting this attitude in order to make a lot of money themselves.
There are so many training courses, auto website generators, traffic boosters, SEO tools, Auto Twitter tools etc. exploiting this attitude that it is hard to keep track. Generally their sales page promises instant results, gives examples of successful users and shows you how little time and effort it takes to execute.
Unfortunately these tools are almost always trying to outsmart the one company that you do not want to mess with – Google. The main aim is to try and exploit the free traffic you would get from being listed high in Google for a popular keyword.
No matter how many tools you try and how clever you think these ideas are, you will never outsmart Google in the long run. To avoid sending you to auto-generated websites, websites filled with advert or even websites with malicious intent Google use some of the most sophisticated technology in existence.
What does Google want in their listings? High quality, content rich and genuinely valuable websites.
Note – at this point it is worth mentioning that some people operate their online business this way, knowing that they will not overcome Google permanently. They work on a scattergun approach and make money while they can constantly changing, throwing away websites and trying new methods. This method may well be successful but I have no experience in it and don’t believe it is worth the effort. I also don’t believe in tricking users is in any way worth monetary compensation.
Google uses many methods to fight spam in the search engine results. Naturally, they do not want to recommend bad websites and your trust is fundamental to their success – if you find bad websites at Google you will use another search engine. In this article we explore the “Thin Affiliate” label Google has defined, how it is determined, the consequences of being one and how to recover from it if you are.
So, what is a “Thin Affiliate” and how does it relate to tricking Google?
Essentially Google does not want to send people to sites that do not offer valuable content. “Thin Affiliate” is a label applied when Google thinks you have created a site that is completely focused on affiliate links (PPC ads, paid adverts, links to other merchants etc.) and doesn’t offer anything else of value.
A good example of this would be a script that creates a website from eBay listings. It is focused on a certain group of products (e.g. Car Exhausts) and provides several category pages (e.g. Exhausts for different models). Each page lists the current eBay auction results with links, earning the website owner money for every click and/or sale.
Google doesn’t like this because the website is not offering anything new to the user. This model can be easily replicated and if they don’t take action, Googles search engine results would be littered with this type of website, pushing genuine Car Exhaust sellers down the listings.
Another example would be a blog that reviews laptops. The reviews are automatically generated from a mixture of Amazon reviews, other merchant sites and related information. The result is a jumbled mess and the content may even be “spun” (a process of replacing words automatically in order to create unique content) which makes the content unreadable. Not only is the site not offering anything new but it is not of benefit to the visitor in any way.
Unfortunately, the idea of a “Thin Affiliate” site is not always so black and white. You might create a website with a few unique articles and pages with links to eBay the same as our above example. Does the unique content mean Google will not penalise your site? What is the line that we must not cross?
How is your site determined to be Thin Affiliate?
There are many automatic methods that Google employ to penalise sites. If you have duplicate content, poor quality content, an unresponsive site, too much advertising, you are using cloaking etc. then it is likely that Google will recognise this programatically (i.e. without any human intervention) and you will be penalised automatically.
Being a Thin Affiliate is somewhat open to interpretation and not so easy to recognise using automatic methods. However, you could be penalised automatically for reasons like the following:
- No Content – if you have nothing at all on your site except adverts you will be penalised
- Duplicate or poor content – It is possible to tell the quality of your content automatically and Google are very likely to use this technology. Content spinning, duplicate content and badly written content will get you penalised
- Turnkey Solutions – Using a script that is known to generate thin affiliate sites can get you an automatic penalty. These scripts have a “footprint” i.e. something that gives away your site is using a particular script (e.g. html markup, particular file names/locations etc.)
- User Behaviour – it is possible that Google monitors its users behaviour to see how they react to a site. e.g. if the majority of users click back to Google, then it is safe to assume the site doesn’t offer anything of value for that keyword
While these types of automatic methods are no doubt in place, it appears that a lot of manual reviewing is being done by Google in this area. That is an actual person is taking a look at your site and deciding whether to cut off the traffic from Google or not. This is extremely important to remember – it is easy to circumvent filters and stay within a boundary, but a manual reviewer can always see your site for what it is.
Most likely your site will be flagged for review based on automatic detection, like the above. For example, if a lot of users are returning to Google straight after visiting your site then your site is added to a review list. Someone will then manually visit your site and make a decision on its value – is it a Thin Affiliate site or does it actually offer something useful?
It is possible that your site can escape a manual review for a long time or possibly even indefinitely, especially if your site is well established. However it can be reviewed at any time for many reasons – a competitor reporting you, visitors reporting you, change in Googles algorithm etc. so don’t assume it will not happen to you.
With all this considered, determining wether your site is Thin Affiliate or not becomes quite simple. If you were to review your site without bias, would you consider it useful?
How can I avoid being labelled a Thin Affiliate?
Back in 2007 Shoemoney posted a video with essentially the message don’t make google look stupid. The point is simple – Google is bigger than you, smarter than you, has more resources than you and will catch you out if you try and trick them. Don’t make them look stupid by putting useless sites in their index. According to Jeremy, Google use this video internally to educate their staff and help them understand more about this issue.
The only true way to avoid being labelled a Thin Affiliate is to make your site good. Add great, compelling, unique content. Provide a useful service. Offer reviews, advice, tips or even just a good way to compare products. Whatever you do, make sure its useful to visitors and you are proud to put your name to it.
What penalties can I get?
Typically you will receive a -50 penalty, which means you will be listed 50 places lower than you would have done previously for search terms. You may still get traffic from extremely unique keywords but expect your traffic from Google virtually disappear.
From my experience you won’t get banned outright and remember that other search engines behave differently – you may still get good traffic from Yahoo and Bing especially. Google will never contact you to tell you whats happened, nor will they give you any information whatsoever if you ask them. They keep all of this 100% secret to protect their methods so we can only maker educated guesses on what has happened.
My conclusion is that Google will not remove your site completely from the search engines because it is too clear a sign that you have done something wrong. By issuing the -50 penalty, many people will just assume that they have not got enough links or popularity and will continue to try and promote their site. This is my speculation, but I believe Google are happy for people to waste time like this instead of working on another way to get bad sites to the top of the search listings.
A complete ban is not likely for a Thin Affiliate site – this is usually reserved for Black Hat techniques (e.g. cloaking, blog farms etc.) and sites that are frequently unavailable.
How do I recover from a penalty?
It is the same as with any penalty from Google – fix the problem and apply to have your site reconsidered via Google Webmaster Tools.
Essentially if you have received this penalty, you need to add value to your site. Google deals with a lot of affiliate sites and as such they are not high in their priority if you are contesting a penalty – you will likely get ignored. Therefore you need to overcompensate and turn your site into something that they must pay attention to. Getting attention and links from other high authority sites will help, although it may still take a couple of months for Google to get round to reviewing your changes.
Some people may consider it a write off and start again with a new site and domain. This might be a better option, depending on how much time and money you put into the original site.
So we have looked at what Google defines as a Thin Affiliate site, how they spot it, how to avoid it and how to recover from it. Essentially I would recommend your philosophy is to create a great website. Initially don’t focus too much on what Google wants, conversion rates, the best affiliate networks etc. – simply create a great website that people want to visit, with great content and some innovative ideas. Create a website you are proud of and that you are happy to tell your friends about.
Do this and you will never have to worry about being a Thin Affiliate.
What do you think?
Have you any experience with being labelled a Thin Affiliate? Want some advice on your site? Have something you wish to say?