The PageRank Possibilities of an In-House Affiliate Program

July 4th, 2006 by Chris

If you run your own affiliate program there is an amazing potential you are missing out on. Tracking free affiliate URLs.

This is not a new concept, one I remember first hearing in 2001. However it isn’t commonly discussed and so many of you might not have thought of this before. I used to give this advice to people who sought help starting affiliate programs on SitePoint, but those posts were few and far between and not everyone would remember them.

So, the thing is, if you can setup your affiliate program so that you use a referrer check to do the tracking rather than tracking in the URL you will receive a multitude of benefits from doing this.

Obviously, one benefit is that search engines will have no idea that that is an affiliate link and they will give you credit for it as an incoming link. Imagine if you got PageRank for all the sites linking to you as part of your affiliate program?

Another benefit is that the link does not look at all like an affiliate link, so your affiliates will be able to better hide the commerciality of their site and the link will not turn off users who, for whatever reason, dislike clicking on affiliate links.

Finally, if your affiliates run forums, or anything with user submitted content, then they do not need any special code to make sure that all links from their site to yours get credited in your affiliate program. This makes your program extremely attractive to many webmasters.

I rarely run into programs doing this though, I’m not sure why. Of course you still need to provide tracking links for emails or PPC advertising, and you cannot do this if you use a network like CJ or Linkshare, but still many places out there run in house programs and they do not do this.

One place that does do this is Best of the Web a web directory like DMOZ/Yahoo. I discovered that when signing up for their affiliate program. For them this is an excellent benefit because they do not have a search engine partnership as far as I know, so the main benefit in paying for submission to their directory is the value of the link you are getting, and so they really need high PageRank, which they get from all their affiliates. That link just above here doesn’t look at all like an affiliate link, but if you clicked it and bought a listing I would get credit.

Referral tracking is the ultimate invisible way to run an affiliate program, there are a few pieces of obtuse software that for some idiotic reason block referral information with the browser, but not nearly as many as block third party cookies or affiliate links. If I ran an in-house program this is exactly what I would do.

12 Responses to “The PageRank Possibilities of an In-House Affiliate Program”

  1. Dennis Pallett  Says:

    Affiliates won’t like this though, because the referrer header is very unreliable, and in many cases it’s blocked by a firewall or some other software.

  2. Chris  Says:

    Only a few software programs do that, like Norton, and those ones block the other forms of tracking (like third party cookies) too.

    Seriously though, offer both.

  3. Jules  Says:

    Actually you wouldn’t get affiliate credit for that link you posted if I clicked it, because I read your blog from my RSS reader.

    This is the sort of thing, I imagine, is precisely why most affiliate programs don’t use referrers for tracking.

  4. Chris  Says:

    That is a downside to be sure… but only for blogs or other content that is syndicated. If your content isn’t syndicated that isn’t an issue.

  5. wesley  Says:

    If you just do a redirect after you read the affiliate code (?aff=123) to the main page, would it even matter to google? (Permanent redirect)

  6. Jules  Says:

    Chris – also consider people viewing content from caches, proxies, etc. May sound insignificant, but the innacuracy exhibited when using URL channels in Adsense shows you just how much traffic you receive is “cloaked” in that fashion.

    Another problem is people taking credit where it’s not due. Say, for example, if I entered in “” as one of my referrers in your affiliate system. I’d get credit for every link on their site.

    That’s a good point Wesley – I tend to agree.

  7. Chris  Says:

    The credit where it is not due issue is a valid point, but simple moderation and verification can prevent that.

    Still, the benefit of having all those thousands of affiliate links count is too huge to ignore. For a popular affiliate program it’d possibly be the difference between a PR of 5, or one of 7 or 8. It could very well propel you to the top of the search results for your keywords.

    Permanent redirects aren’t going to work as well as just vanilla links, the same is true for any kind of redirect.

    Obviously the method isn’t without it’s drawbacks, however it also has it’s benefits.

    The link avoids ad blockers set to automatically remove affiliate links.

    The link avoids the prejudice of affiliate monetized sites on behalf of directory editors and or other people who are considering linking to you.

    The link avoids generating distrust from users who have been conditioned against tracking URLs thanks to the prevalence of spam.

    You get oodles of PageRank, and most links should be on topically related pages.

    Affiliates can more easily promote your site since they can just link to any page on your site for credit, rather than generating complex links. This is especially true of ecommerce sites where affiliates like to promote individual products.

    If you own a site that allows user generated content (a forum) you can gain credit for that link even when a user makes it rather than you.

    A few software programs block the referrer field.

    The link would not give credit when viewed through Google’s cache, or any other cache.

    The link would not give credit when sent through a system to syndicate content (RSS).

    Some potential for abuse with users claiming ownership of sites that they do not own.

  8. Dan  Says:

    I wish there were a way I could take advantage of this. I run my program through Shareasale.

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    I think the main reason why sites don’t run their own affiliate programs is the cost of managing the program and paying affiliates.

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