How To Build Panda (And Penguin) Proof Affiliate Sites

pandaThe SEO world was in a tizzy again last week with the roll out of Panda 4.0. The usual horror stories from panicked webmasters of lost traffic, lost revenue and lost hope abounded.

What was I doing when Panda 4.0 hit? Well, I was up on Skye for a few days break with very little access to internet – in fact, my connection was so poor that I happened to miss the announcement altogether. I did manage to get an hour or so catch up work done each day from an internet cafe; checking my emails, replying to comments, checking my stats for my various affiliate sites and client sites.

What did I notice in the stats?


In fact, if anything I noticed a slight increase on several of my sites, but nothing that made me think that anything major was afoot. Here is a screen shot from the analytics of my niche case study site.


The truth is google updates have never bothered me and they needn’t bother you either. Your own affiliate sites can be completely Panda proof and Penguin safe, but first, you have to ask yourself a question.

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What Is Your Business Model?

There are two main models in affiliate marketing.

1. Burn and churn
2. Building for long term success

I am very much a practitioner of model 2, but I am not here to criticise those of you who follow model 1. What I will do is tell you why I personally choose to build for the long term and why I believe it is much more rewarding and (despite common misconceptions) actually involves less work.

Burn and churn

Let me first talk about burn and churn. Like I said, the purpose of this article is not to criticise and this might be the model that works for you.

At the moment, it is still completely possible to achieve short term rankings by using black hat SEO and link spam. The right distribution of links in the right volume can bludgeon a site into the SERPs for a short period (possibly 2-3 months) and this can, when timed correctly, be pretty lucrative.

For example, if you have an affiliate site that is promoting a seasonal product, then ranking in the top 10 during December might be all you need. If you crash out in January then who cares? A valentines gift site isn’t going to be much use come April is it?

Well actually, I believe this thinking is wrong as I will go on to explain below, but you get the idea.

Anyway, fundamentally, burn and churn is a process of running to stand still. You create a site (most probably multiple sites), it/they rank for a period, the whole thing burns down and 2-3 months down the line you build it all again. Rinse and repeat until the end of time (or at least until google closes the loopholes…).

In the virtual world of affiliate marketing, this might work for you and that is your prerogative. If you are using this for a physical business, or a client site, then stop now (particularly if you are managing the SEO for a law firm!).

So let’s get on to the long term model and how to make sure your affiliate site is Panda and Penguin proof. I’ll start by examining what it is that Panda and Penguin look for and what will get your affiliate site into trouble.

Google Panda

Google Panda is designed to filter out low quality, thin and duplicate content pages from the search results.

Before the first Panda rollout (early 2011) a thin page, for example a product category with no unique content would just be filtered out in isolation (normally ending up in supplemental results). After Panda, too many thin/duplicate pages will lead to a penalty being applied site wide and a significant loss in rankings.

Panda 4.0

Early indications appear to point to Panda 4.0 giving more weight to topical authority, so a site which has a clear focus, or a lot of quality content on one topic is perhaps likely to rank better than a site which has lots of articles covering different topics.

This is not an absolute rule of course and absolute authority sites (BBC, Forbes etc) are not likely to have to worry about this any time soon!

Why Panda Can Be Bad News For Affiliate Sites

There is a temptation from many affiliate marketers to automate and with product feeds freely available, it is a piece of cake to set up a website with thousands of dynamically generated pages. These kind of sites used to do well, but since Panda they will almost certainly be penalised and will not rank.

To clarify, I have nothing against automation for certain aspects of an affiliate site (i.e. price comparison), but to be a panda proof site the automated aspects have to be backed up by other content.


Penguin is the part of google’s algorithm that goes after manipulative SEO, both on-site and off.

Manipulative SEO includes: –

  • Over-optimisation (i.e. keyword stuffing)
  • Too many low quality links
  • Links from bad neighbourhoods
  • Links from blog networks
  • Too many exact match anchor text links

Basically, any sort of automated link building at scale will get your site penalised by Penguin… and no, tiered link building is not the answer!

Why Penguin Can Be Bad News For Affiliate Sites

Again, it basically comes down to the temptation to automate and many affiliate marketers use blog networks, comment spam etc to try and rank their site.

There is also a perception that other sites won’t link to affiliate sites and so they have to resort to black hat techniques for link building. This perception is of course wrong.


Building An Affiliate Site Which Panda And Penguin Will Love

So now we know why Panda and Penguin can be a problem for affiliate sites, let’s get on to how you can create an affiliate site that google will love.

Meat On The Bones

To avoid triggering Panda, there has to be some substance to your site. It has to have a purpose other than getting as many visitors as you can onto your site and then getting them off it again as quickly as possible through your affiliate link.

If your site is a price comparison site for example for a niche product range, then make your comparison pages the ultimate resources for the product on the net. Some ideas for what you might include are: –

  • Multiple product images
  • Product videos
  • The most detailed review available
  • Genuine customer reviews
  • And then… your price comparison table!

I put together a post on what I have found to be the best layout for a price comparison page on an affiliate site. You can read the full guide here, but I have included the basic layout below.


Not only will this ensure your page is ‘thick’ enough to avoid triggering Panda, it will also convert much better as you are effectively pre-selling.

If your site is a review site (with for example links through to amazon), then make sure they are the best, most detailed reviews on the web. Put in your personal experience of the product (where possible) and if you don’t have personal experience, then do your research and find out the real pros and cons from those who do – a bullet list of features won’t cut it.

Non Commercial Content

Back up your selling pages with non directly commercial content – how to guides, tutorials etc. These can of course link back to your money pages.

This will build up your topical authority (which as I have already mentioned appears to be important for Panda 4.0) and the pages are also likely to rank well for a broad spread of keywords.

Building Links

It can be hard to get people to link to your money pages, but that is where your non commercial content comes in. To create genuine, link worthy resources you have to think a little (and sorry for the cliche) outside the box and also sometimes outside of the niche (at least directly).

There is a time and place for ‘Top 5 tips for x’, ’10 reasons why…’ type posts, but to really get the links that will rank your site, then you have to be more creative.

Let’s say you have a site about kites, promoting different kites on amazon (believe it or not there’s 26,000 of them).


Well, kites are pretty boring right? So we need to make them interesting!

One idea would be to create a piece of content (could be an amazing article, an infographic, or video) around the popular sport of kitesurfing (no I hadn’t heard of it until about 20 minutes ago either).

A search on google uk gives over 12 million results for ‘kitesurfing’.That’s a huge outreach opportunity for the right content!


Beyond that you could also contact other ‘outdoor activity’ type blogs who would also be potentially interested in the content. Lots of them to choose from…


White hat link building is all about creating the right content and then getting it in front of the right people. If your content is good enough and you create the right list for your outreach, then you will get the penguin safe links you need to rank your site and make sure it stays ranked – affiliate site or not.

  • Send 10 emails… get one solid link to your content if you are lucky.
  • Send 100 emails… get 5/6 solid links to your content.
  • Send 500 emails… get 20/30 solid links to your content.

Takes time, but believe me, it’s worth it!

Hopefully goes without saying that the better quality and more focused the content is towards your outreach list, the higher your success rate will be.

For example, I recently sent out 12 outreach emails for a piece of content and picked up 7 links. Took me about an hour all in for the outreach, with each email tailored to the individual site/webmaster.

Some Quick Tips

Here are some quick tips (summarising the above, plus some other bits to look out for) for making sure your affiliate site is Panda and Penguin safe

  • Create high quality, ‘thick’ content
  • Create a genuinely useful resource
  • Provide non commercial content to backup your money pages
  • Don’t automate your link building
  • Never spin or steal content!
  • Focus on building high quality links to your high quality content
  • Make sure you add rel=”nofollow” to all your affiliate links as these are technically paid links
  • Link out to other authority sites in the niche
  • Make sure your content is well written
  • Interlink your content
  • Think beyond google – build your email list, promote the site on social media etc

Which Business Model Will You Choose For Your Affiliate Site?

Like I said, you have a choice. You can follow the burn and churn model and create throwaway sites that (may) rank for a period, or you can focus on creating high quality sites that will bring in traffic and revenue for years to come.

As an indicator of how this works in the wild, you might want to read the following articles that I put together about how I grew one of my own affiliate sites: –

If you have any questions or comments then please leave them below and for loads more affiliate marketing and SEO tips sign up for my newsletter below (it’s free!).


Oh, and if you have found this article helpful then please help me share it below!

About the Author

I'm a web developer, programmer, blogger and SEO expert from Glasgow, Scotland, with over 15 years experience in the industry. When I'm not writing about marketing and SEO you'll find me strumming the guitar in my band or listening to Revolver on repeat. Follow me on twitter, connect with me on google+ and add us on facebook to keep up with all the latest trends in SEO and online marketing.

Tung Tran - June 4, 2014

I absolutely love this post. I’ve been following you for a long time and am always amazed by your long term success with niche sites.

Thanks David 🙂

    David McSweeney - June 4, 2014

    Thanks Tung, glad for your support 🙂

Lewis Ogden - June 4, 2014

Hey David,

This is a great post for being “ahead of the curve” when it comes to building niche sites. I spoke a little about this at the start of the year on Chris Dysons blog about building a site for the future.

Some of the sites I have tracked over the last 12 months or so and are still doing well seem to follow your checklist exactly. The breakdown of time spent that you did here, really shows how the initial effort pays off and building a site that can stand the test of time takes more than a couple of hours and some automated tools

Interested to hear more about your content outreach promotion/emails as that is an area I need to improve upon.

– Lewis

    David McSweeney - June 4, 2014

    Thanks Lewis. It’s the only way to do it if you want long term success. I’ll look at putting together a post on outreach specifically in the near future.

Henry - June 4, 2014

Great stuff as usual Dave.

I’ve been hard at work building up a site over the last year. It’s been a slog and has taken much longer to start earning compared to the churn and burn model, but at least and I’ll be able to sleep well at night now that it’s started to rank haha!

    David McSweeney - June 4, 2014

    Hard work pays off (just like in the gym!)

Harish - June 9, 2014

Seems like I’m gonna have to make few changes on my affiliate site as the place of product picture and social sharing buttons are different.


Spencer Turner - June 10, 2014

Hey Lewis, awesome article! I really enjoyed reading through it all, website/blogger outreach for my niche sites is definitely something I’m going to be working on.

    Spencer Turner - June 10, 2014

    *David lol

    David McSweeney - June 11, 2014

    Thanks Spencer, it will be time well spent 🙂

Deepi - June 19, 2014

Hii David,

Thank you for wonderful article, really i learned many things form this article. i liked your explanation with examples. every one can easily understand this stuff. i’m new to blogging , your article helps me a lot. keep sharing useful info like this. Thank you..

    David McSweeney - June 19, 2014

    Thanks Deepi, glad you found my article useful. Any questions, just give me a shout!

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