Journalist Henk van Ess has caused a flurry of excitement on blogs and forums.
In his blog he revealed that Google uses teams of humans all over the world to evaluate the accuracy of Google's search results.
These "international agents", who are paid $10 to $20 an hour, were recruited mainly through universities. They're paid to check search results at Google every day.
Don't be distracted by the debate over whether Google should be doing this.
Of course it should. It's just a form of quality control.
Google can use the evaluators' findings to tweak its algorithms and reduce search engine spam.
What affiliates need to pay careful attention to is Google's "Spam Recognition Guide for Raters", which Henk revealed.
If you're a "thin affiliate," beware.
Although the report is a year old, about 80% of its contents are still being used by Google's evaluators, Henk says.
The confidential document gives us an unvarnished look at Google's attitude to affiliates.
If you're using any of the "manipulative techniques" Google describes, this report will probably encourage you to take a hard look at your website.
I hope you're not silly enough to be using hidden links or hidden text. Not surprisingly, Google teaches its "raters" how to detect them.
Are you creating pages without much content with the aim of collecting pay-per-click (PPC) revenue? Google's raters are taught to mark such pages as "Offensive", and gives examples.
Google secret guidelines spend some time discussing different ways in which some affiliates display results from pay-per-click search engines, so if you're doing that, you'll definitely want to study this report carefully.
Are you displaying ads disguised as search engine results?
Google finds them offensive.
Are you adding a dmoz.org feed to your site with the aim of
earning PPC revenue? That's "offensive", too.
"We differentiate between affiliates that produce
extra service, value, or content, and those that
simply are duplicates of other sites, set up to
boost traffic to other sites and earn a commission
for it. The former ones are not Offensive and
should be rated on the merits to the query. The
latter ones are Offensive...
"Thin affiliate doorways are sites that usher
people to a number of Affiliate programs, earning
a commission for doing so, while providing little
or no value-added content or service to the user.
A site certainly has the right to try to earn income;
we're attempting to identify sites that do nothing
but act as a commission-earning middleman."
To Google, affiliate links such as qksrv.net, bfast.com and myaffiliateprogram.com - on the page or in redirects - "strongly suggest" that the site is a thin affiliate.
Are you using an affiliate datafeed? To Google, that's another warning sign.
However, if you offer a comparison of prices between different online merchants, you're OK, you're not a thin affiliate.
Google provides an incredibly tough guideline, which hundreds of thousands of affiliate sites fail to meet.
"Do not call a page affiliate spam when an
affiliation is only incidental to the message
and purpose of a website. To determine whether
participation in affiliate programs is central
or incidental to the site's existence, ask
yourself this question: Would this site remain
a coherent whole if the pages leading to the
affiliate (merchant) were taken away?"
That probably counts out most affiliate sites.
In summary, if you want to be friends with Google, make sure you provide extra value or content.
I've quoted only parts of the report. Any serious affiliate will want to study the whole thing carefully.
You can read the full report on Henk's blog here...
Note: A Google employee broke a non-disclosure agreement by revealing this report. I don't know how long it will stay online. You may want to do what I did - save a copy of it on your hard drive.
Now we know what Google really thinks of affiliates. You've been warned.
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Written by: Allan Gardyne