As a “higher profile” affiliate marketer and SEO persona, I often have people sifting around trying to figure out what all of my sites and niches are.
They know I'm successful and that leads to both curiosity and duplication.
Unless you're an “industry hermit” you're likely involved in the world of Internet marketing via blogging, tweeting, networking, commenting, facebooking, posting on message boards – something.
What you may not realize is that making yourself “visible” and “helpful” also makes your niches and websites more open to identification and exploitation.
If you run one website branded to you, or a website in a no brainer niche, this might not be a big concern. For instance, I'm perfectly fine with the world knowing about my affiliate marketing blog. Additionally, my company, MFE Interactive, publishes several websites in what I call “no brainer niches” (meaning that the niches are well known as being “affiliate arenas” such as our BlackBerry or Android websites) and I have no problem advertising my ownership of those sites.
But I also run websites in a lot of niches where competition is low (and I'd like to keep it that way) or I simply don't want people rummaging around my sites within them. To keep those sites “protected” I usually follow a few simple steps (this is to protect them from people, not engines):
1. Use the disallow and noindex command on boiler plate pages
If you own and operate multiple affiliate websites, you probably use standard templates to create your privacy page, disclosure page, contact page, advertising page or other “standard” pages within your sites. This makes it easy for someone to find all of your sites by searching for an exact line of text, an address, a phone number or something else standard within them across all of your sites in Google, giving them a neat roadmap to your websites and niches. By telling the search engines to disallow and noindex these pages, you prevent them from being indexed and therefore, anyone being able to search a commonality within them.
To do so, you'd simply add the following to your robots.txt file:
The disallow command works across all major engines and tells them they are not allowed to index the content on those pages. The reason I also suggest that you add the noindex command is because Google will index the urls of disallowed pages, just not the content. The noindex command (currently, only recognized by Google) prevents the page content AND URL from being included in the Google index. It's more for “house-keeping” to keep your site results “clean.”
2. Remember that unseen code can be searched since the birth of Blekko
Blekko is the new engine on the scene and a unique feature it offers is being able to search unseen code (such as analytics tracking code or AdSense publisher IDs) on pages it indexes. It didn't take long for search marketers to realize you could identify all the websites of a publisher by searching this code.
So realize that if you use the same Crazyegg.com account across multiple websites or the same Adsense account across multiple websites, Blekko could allow someone to easily identify them. Your potential solutions are to ensure you use separate accounts for each site (or blocks of sites you don't mind being publicly associated with one another) with each service or to block Blekko from indexing your website entirely. You'll have to decide for yourself if your network/niche protection is worth losing out on Blekko traffic.
3. Private domain registration
I'm not a huge fan of private domain registration personally. I think its impact on SEO is a guess at this point and because I don't know one way or another, I try to avoid it unless I'm pretty damn paranoid about the domain. That said, you should know that without private domain registration, anyone on the planet can go to a website like domaintools.com and do a reverse Whois lookup for the name or email associated with public domain registration and then order a full report on the owner – for a fee.
What this means is that when someone does a whois on a domain name on the domaintools.com website, they can choose to buy a report that shows them all other domains associated with the name or email address on file as the registrant.
Luckily for site owners without private registration, the fees range from $49 dollars into the thousands depending on the amount of domains owned. I'd guess most affiliate marketers own between 20 to 200 domain names, making the report fee between $99-$199 dollars.
The good news is that most people are reluctant to spend cash at that level for what amounts to a storage shed auction (maybe there's value, maybe there's not). The bad news is that the most successful affiliates (who will be your toughest competition) will probably be the ones willing to “take a chance.”
The only way to fully protect yourself is with private registration. However, the cost limits the availability of the information and you may decide the potential few people who would care enough about your domains to spend that kind of money to find them aren't worth the cost and potential SEO impact (if any) of private registration.
4. Run all affiliate links through redirects
There are numerous reasons that I always suggest running your affiliate links through redirects. One reason I can add to those in that post? Privacy. If you are using the same generic link to an affiliate program across several sites, someone can easily find all sites linking to that URL. Much like I can tell what websites link to the BBGeeks Blackberry games article, I can also tell if multiple websites are linking to the same affiliate link. By running the links through a redirect in a folder that is disallowed and noindexed from search engines (see #1 above), I prevent that technique from being utilized.
Now, of course, the thought of someone using the same exact affiliate link across multiple websites without tracking codes to measure the performance of those links makes me cringe for lost profits and conversion intelligence. But that's a whole different blog post.