In the last two weeks, many affiliate review and comparison shopping sites have seen their traffic and their profits dramatically decrease as Google has downgraded its landing quality scores. Google has listed such sites on an “advertise with caution” list for some time, but there’s a recent shift in how strictly they’re applying the policy and the effects are widespread, given what we’re seeing and hearing on the frontlines.
Affiliate marketers and review sites were always targets
“Please be aware that there are some types of sites that we’ve found provide a consistently poor experience for our users.” That’s Google in their own words regarding landing pages in AdWords. So, what do they explicitly name on this caution list?
- eBook sites
- ‘Get rich quick’ sites
- Comparison shopping sites
- Travel aggregators
The caution list isn’t news, and comparison sites and affiliate marketing being on it isn’t news either (although business involved with these models are often surprised to see this in writing on Google’s help center when it’s pointed it out to them).
Google is now hitting review sites harder
What is news is just how hard Google is now applying that view to comparison shopping sites that review products or services, especially when an affiliate relationship is involved. They have clearly updated their enforcement policy.
Their intent? Shut you out of AdWords. If Google has its way sites that review several products and push traffic to affiliates are not going to be a sustainable business model for advertising with AdWords going forward.
Google’s very aware that a low landing page quality score isn’t a fine for doing business in a manner it doesn’t favor. It’s not something you can just pay and move on and consider it the cost of doing business. The quality score is meant to be exclusionary and push that business out of their system completely.
If you have a comparison review site running AdWords campaigns what can you do?
In a nutshell, you have to offer a relevant site that adds value to the greater web in Google’s eyes because Google is built on a relevancy-as-king philosophy. They want what they consider a positive experience for their users, so satisfied users come back again and again, using their search engines and tools for all of their information needs.
If you’re an affiliate running a review site, many of these suggestions may counter measures you’re using to maximize gains and conversion funnel efficiencies and keep your CPA low. I’m aware of that, but if you’re going to overcome Google’s negative judgment and play—you have to play on Google’s playing field according to their rules. In a big picture view, relevancy will be essential if you want traffic from AdWords.
- Remove bias. If you’re rating products and you’re giving the only five-star rating to a product you’re an affiliate for, that bias may cost you landing- page quality in Google’s eyes, especially if the relationship isn’t disclosed openly.
- Add value. If you’re paid to traffic users from AdWords to a site you’re affiliated with, you need to add extra value that the user cannot get from just going directly to the parent company’s landing page. The days of shuttling traffic from point A to point B without adding value in the interim is what Google plans to end. Examples of adding value include coupons, discounts or offering your own technology, expertise, insights, or complementary product.
- Be transparent. Detail your research process so that users understand why your reviews are relevant. Openly share information about your business. Disclose affiliate arrangements, even if discretely in an About Us.
- Contribute relevant content. Google wants you to have a site with genuinely useful content in addition to reviews
- Allow free navigation. Google values easy navigation free of constrictions. Navigation to original, valuable content elsewhere on your domain helps your case. Anecdotally, header navigation above the fold seems to be rewarded more than footer navigation. Google also cautions against use of pop-ups, pop-unders, or any other obtrusive element that interferes with navigation.
- Consult your AdWords rep. If you’re affected with a low quality score and want to salvage your domain, talk to your Google rep. Landing page quality scores are binary pass/fail grades, and once you’re graded low—only talking to a human at Google will instigate a review to fix the situation. No spider or automated search system will ever upgrade your ad site’s landing page quality without human intervention.
Posted by Rob Sieracki
Director of Paid Search