The Future Of Product Review And Other Affiliate Websites

Posted on March 1, 2011 
Filed Under SEO

Google has been waging a war against low quality sites (which may include duplicate content, shallow content, scraped content) since December 2010.

The first changes were not so drastic as only a few webmasters here and there got a shock when they checked their traffic stats. Some even returned to almost previous levels with their traffic after 3 months.

google traffic drop

The second wave of cleaning up their index came with the February 9th algorithm change and then the famous Farmer Update happened on February 24th. Many well known sites lost their rankings while some miraculously kept their rankings.

This is just a quick overview of the things currently going on around the Web and what Google is up to – in case you weren’t familiar with them.

The Product Review Websites

Product review websites became more and more popular in the last 3 years or so. When some of us started with a product review website in 2005 or 2006, we didn’t know the effectiveness of such sites.

I was definitely surprised at how well such a site earns relative to the amount of daily visitors.

But after a few years, the idea of product review websites as your own ATM machines became very popular. Bloggers, SEO guys, Clickbank sellers and others shared their views on how to make the most money with a product review website.

The “product review site” gold rush began.

Most webmasters looked for short-cuts – they simply copied the layout and site structure of successful websites, copied parts of text of those websites and just changed the product name (if they targeted a different product).

What those webmasters are not aware of is how easy it is for a search engine (Google at the moment) to identify such thefts of the content.

Here’s how Matt Cutts explains to a webmaster how Google finds copied content:

Matt Cutts: “If you read both articles, while the wording may not be exactly duplicate, there are very strong similarities.

First sentence from your site: “The Prince serenaded Leighton Meester during his concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (Jan. 18).”

First sentence from Just Jared: “Leighton Meester gets serenaded by the legendary Prince during his sold-out concert at New York Ctiy’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (January 18).”

Note these phrases: “serenaded,” “New York City’s Madison Square Garden,” “Tuesday night (Jan[uary] 18)”

You can read the whole discussion here.

Second, try this Google search based on a part of a sentence from a homepage on one of my websites:

http://www.google.com/search?q=%22You%27ll+find+lots+of+easy-to-follow+information+about%22+reviews&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

Funny, isn’t it? There are 973 results and the sites are remarkably similar – in fact, you could probably find many more parts of the sentences shared among those sites.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

And Google can see that too – except that in much more detail. And all those copied parts definitely raise red flags in Google’s ranking algorithm.

As Paul Kedrosky found out, “To a first approximation, the entire web is spam when it comes to appliance reviews”.

Those of you who are doing product review websites, keep in mind that Google knows about you. Take a look at only your niche and you’ll see that there are tens if not hundreds of sites based on the exact same system as yours.

The problem right now is that even though our content might be original, Google is getting harsher and harsher and the difference between really useful content and some outsourced articles for $5 per 500 words is not so clear to Google.

There have been tons of good sites taken down basically as collateral damage and it’s really hard to tell what the reason is.

So in order to survive with product review sites, I have only one advice: review the products.

Really review the products so that you’ll be a different kind of site compared to the rest.

Your content will not be comparable to the outsourced and rewritten content on gazillion other websites.

Keep in mind, that Google has also guidelines on sites that earn money with affiliate programs and their main advice is this: “Affiliate program content should form only a small part of the content of your site. “

Therefore your articles / review need to be fairly long – I’d aim for at least 1500 if not more words and very few affiliate links.

With lots of images, your own Youtube channel, Facebook page and a Twitter account you should be able to distinguish your site from millions of other crappy websites that have now clogged the web and are pulling all of us down in the same mess.

The game has become harder. In fact, don’t think of an internet business as a game where you’re going to make money, but think of it as a serious business in which you’re going to invest a significant amount of money, time and effort in order to benefit from passive income.

And if you’re considering a product review website but you’re not going to go all the way, then I personally advise you not to start such a site. It’s not going to work in the long term.

There are literally thousands of people thinking and doing exactly the same as you and sooner or later, Google is going to clean this up – perhaps in a similar way as Blekko did.


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The search will become more social and search engines will become smarter. If your site if crap, they’ll figure this out much sooner than they did in the past.

It’s not even worth trying.

Build a site based on your passion if you’re not willing to build a great online business on something else and that passion will most likely help you succeed online.

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Comments

25 Responses to “The Future Of Product Review And Other Affiliate Websites”

  1. Tristan Perry on March 1st, 2011 10:11 am

    Good post, and I agree entirely.

    Whilst it does seem some good sites have been caught up in the recent updates, overall the idea that Google are finally clamping down on low quality sites which offer no real value to the user is a good one.

    Firstly from a user perspective, but also because if you deliver quality content you’ve suddenly got less competition!

    The ideas you mention for an affiliate site makes sense. Have longer articles, use video, Twitter, Facebook, and don’t have too many affiliate links. In-short, offer real value and I do think that’s a better method into the long term.

    [Reply]

  2. John on March 1st, 2011 3:48 pm

    I think it’s farcical that someone as innovative and honest as yourself is collateral damage in googles fight against low quality. Some low life copies and/or paraphrases your content and YOU get penalised. That can’t be right, surely?

    I think it’s a measure of the man that despite being dealt a blow in your business that you’re still posting and leading from the front. Thank you for that.

    You had a post a couple of years back about “back engineering” successful sites. I asked then about duplication and you gave the same answer then as you do now — use your own words, do it yourself, do not copy. If you can’t look yourself in the mirror in the morning and say “all my own work” then don’t do it. (I’m paraphrasing, sorry!) That advice appears even more relevant now, does it not?

    Personally, I’m getting ready to start site number 3. I have a travel site and a product review site. I was torn between another product review site or a less lucrative information site. Looks like the info site is on the cards.

    I think it’s vital now that as well as diversifying monetisation that the same approach is taken when looking at niches.

    Hope it all works out for you Tomaz.

    Cheers, John

    [Reply]

  3. Kurt S. on March 1st, 2011 8:53 pm

    Very informative article Tomaz. Thank you for posting it.

    Kurt

    [Reply]

  4. Jerrick on March 1st, 2011 10:34 pm

    Hi Tomaz,

    How do you “really” review the products? I mean it’s quite impossible to buy all the products…

    Hmm…creating youtube channels, twitter and facebook? Not sure if there is a social media for product review sites…but it will be great if you can share how you do it for you sites for future posts. [I have never created any youtube videos before]

    Also, what do you think one should do when it comes to link building in the initial phrase before getting pagerank for links exchanges? It seems like submitting articles to squidoo, ezinearticles etc is quite useless to get to PR 1 or 2?

    [Reply]

  5. Tomaz on March 2nd, 2011 12:56 am

    Hi Jerrick,

    You can review products if the retailers, online stores or brands / companies send them to you. You need to make a few phone calls…

    As for link building, I’d still submit an article to each major article site – since they didn’t lose PR, only their rankings.

    Then you’d need to look for guest posts on related blogs. That could be the best alternative…

    By the way, Google is trying to fix things

    [Reply]

  6. Jerrick on March 2nd, 2011 2:23 am

    Thanks Tomaz. Seems like EzineArticles has been hit quite a fair bit.

    Anyway, for the past year or so, I have been learn what I can do to diversify from Google by building a list and creating more longer lasting income streams.

    It probably gives me a greater push to get this going now…

    [Reply]

  7. Wendy on March 2nd, 2011 10:28 am

    Dr. Ken from SBI has always said to Keep It Real…

    If you are building a blog/website for fun, great!

    If you are building an e-business, you need to put in the time and effort… providing quality website pages. It’s an absolute must!

    Great Article Tomaz!

    [Reply]

  8. Nancy U on March 2nd, 2011 2:44 pm

    Ah, back to the Simple Link Building System That Works – But It Sucks Doing It (see the Top Posts on this blog). Only I’m asking to do guest posts more now.

    In cases where getting evaluation product shipped to you, summarizing and consolidating buyer reviews and emphasizing benefits over features may be one of the only ways left to go.

    [Reply]

  9. Chris on March 3rd, 2011 4:52 am

    Hi Tomaz,

    I totally agree with your post. There are so many low quality product review sites that put a few sentences up and plaster the rest of the page with affiliate links.

    If they actually took a second and pretended to be a user visiting one of their sites, they would quickly realise how frustrating and useless their sites actually are – they just don’t deliver anything near what the user expects.

    Actually reviewing the product is something I have been edging to more and more, but I was wondering how you personally go about getting these “samples” to review? I wanted to get my traffic up first so when I made the call/emails to various companies I could perhaps use traffic stats to highlight the amount of exposure my review could bring to their product?

    I have thought about buying some of the lower end models available in the UK (£60-100) & then selling them on once I had done the review, but it doesn’t seem like I would get much back selling these products as second hand.

    thanks

    [Reply]

  10. Tomaz on March 3rd, 2011 7:56 am

    Chris,

    You’ve pointed out all the things I did – let them know of good traffic, link back to them, give them exposure.

    And I also bought cheaper models on ebay and then sold them back. The income from the site covers the difference of course – you pay once for the model and get paid repeatedly through that page.

    [Reply]

  11. Chris on March 3rd, 2011 12:45 pm

    Hi Tomaz,

    Thanks for the advice. With regards to linking out to the sites which provides the samples, if these are retail sites that sell the product themselves, does that have ano effect on your click through rate at all? Is this just a comprimise you have to make in order to get free samples?

    Thanks

    Chris

    [Reply]

  12. Marco on March 3rd, 2011 1:14 pm

    Tomaz,

    Interesting post! I remember an article a while ago that you were searching someone to actually do the reviews? Did you already got some results from this experiment?

    [Reply]

  13. Tomaz on March 3rd, 2011 1:49 pm

    @Chris,

    What CTR do you have in mind? All people leave my site, 90% do not take any action that would earn me money.

    Isn’t it nice that some of them go to the retail site and explore their ideas further?

    @Marco,

    Yes, I have two people review products for me. The reviews are excellent in my opinion – since they are real.

    [Reply]

  14. Chris on March 3rd, 2011 3:54 pm

    Tomaz,

    I meant the click through rate on your affiliate links (amazon program?)

    chris

    [Reply]

  15. Tomaz on March 4th, 2011 12:39 am

    Chris,

    Well, yes, the CTR of the affiliate links might go down decrease by 0,000124%. ;) But there is no real difference.

    DON’T be afraid to link out – there is no such thing as decreasing your CTR. People who are interested in buying will click the affiliate link and people who are interested in exploring more will click the company link.

    [Reply]

  16. Mark McKnight on March 4th, 2011 12:00 pm

    I only use Amazon.com as an affiliate so I can use their pictures on my website or else I would just survive with adsense. I am looking at the possibility of buying more products to review and selling them on after I take a few pictures of them myself. What I noticed with the algorithm change is that any of my pages with amazon affiliate links on them dropped like stones.

    [Reply]

  17. James on March 7th, 2011 7:56 am

    Tomaz, could this be an opening for new niche sites as the competitions in different markets has been cut off by half?

    Is this a good time to enter new niches. Cos i noticed a big change in the MKL data and a lot of sites that did not get hit are recording a big up in traffic.

    P.S i got hit badly and lost almost all my traffic.

    [Reply]

  18. Myriam on March 7th, 2011 2:54 pm

    Hey Tomaz – I see you mention you got products sent to you to review. Who and how do you go about doing that? I own quite a few of the products I review on my site, but there are only so many ice cream machines I can own! And they don’t resell well second hand.

    Did you contact the companies directly? At what point did you do so? Since I don’t live in the US, where many of the companies are located, why would they want to ship them to me (I ask this since I assume most vaccum cleaner makers aren’t located where you live either …)?

    Would appreciate any advice on this from anyone here who also has a product site.

    Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Tomaz Reply:

    Hi Myriam,

    I offered people from US to join me for the project. That way US companies need to ship the models in the US.

    We simply contacted other retail websites and major brands and offered to review the products and in return we would link back to their sites. Not all agree but if you persist you will get some on board.

    [Reply]

  19. Myriam on March 8th, 2011 2:58 am

    Hi Tomaz,

    Thank you for your smart advice – and for the link to your previous post. (I’d missed that one.)

    I guess I now have a new project to work on!

    Thanks.

    [Reply]

  20. Edgar on March 10th, 2011 3:31 am

    Tomaz,
    Thanks for posting. As usual, the post is accurate, informative and covers a topic from many aspects. Thanks!

    I got a product review site (I didn’t know that till I read this post, for me it was a SBI site on the thing I love the most – backpacking stoves…).
    I’m planning to start another site on a different product so I got two questions.

    1) I fully understand and agree that there is nothing better than writing on something you experience 1st hand. BUT, SInce it is not always an option, I want your opinion on a not-that-bad option – as an expert, that used many variants of the product, if I perform a profound research about a specific product I didn’t put my hands on (watch videos, read, ask folks etc) and then write a summary in my own words, all genuine.
    How bad is it?

    2) Visitors content. AKA reviews by visitors to the site. What tips can you give to attract it? How many should I expect i.e out of, say, 10000 visitors, how many reviews can I get if handled correctly?

    And another request. Do you have a post summarizing the best practices for building a product review site? Assuming I start nowadays… what are the do’s and dont’s? What guidelines to follow (other than the review itself, which you covered here)

    Thanks a lot, keep on writing!

    Edgar

    [Reply]

    Tomaz Reply:

    Hi Edgar,

    I can give you my opinion but it’s not something you can rely on. What Google will do in the future with the mass of product review websites online is anyone’s guess.

    Write very long pages, add tons of pictures, link to authority sites in between and be different than other sites in your niche.

    As for visitors to your site, simply offer them to share their reviews in many places. On your T3 articles, on your T2 pages, on your homepage…

    I don’t see that many people share reviews – perhaps 1 per 1000-3000 daily unique visitors. But other sites (non-product review) can get many more. It’s the topic that generates that and not necessarily how they invite visitors to share.

    And for a post about product review sites – I purposefully never encouraged building a product review site on this blog because very soon as I started, there were tons of sites copying my layout, navigation, third column and even copying parts of my text.

    And most of them really sucked. The advice on building any type of site is in 90% taken totally wrong – because most people look for shortcuts, copy stuff, lack any originality and think that it’s an easy thing.

    When I started my site, it was the only “wizard” site out there. Now look at how many wizard sites are out there – including yours.

    Is that the best you can come up with? Can’t you run a thesaurus on wizard and come up with something original? Or sit down and do some brainstorming and come up with something smart and unique?

    I hope Google does even more cleaning of these types of sites so that really good ones that actually share some useful content will survive.

    [Reply]

  21. Edgar on March 10th, 2011 4:42 am

    Tomaz,

    Thanks for the info.

    I understand your point on not guiding folks how to do a good product review site. On the other hand, no matter what guidance you’ll give, any new site must be genuine and different so clearly there is no point copying.

    As for my site, there is nothing on it from your original wizard. Layout, structure, text, voice, all original. I’m the last to look for shortcuts and high ways. One can’t walk SBI path looking for shortcuts. I put lots of effort on it, I’m not from the bad guys… Maybe I could come up with another name but I think we can agree that the site’s name doesn’t do much to how it perform.

    Cheers,

    Edgar

    [Reply]

  22. Reg Mann on March 22nd, 2011 8:08 am

    Well, I wish the new changes actually accomplished this, but in my industry, selling ecigs, the sites with the original content got hit hard in Feb while the one review site that actually just scrapes everyone elses reviews shot to the top.

    Every algo change shakes things up a bit, but sometimes its very hard to actually see Google accomplish it’s goals. It always seems those good sites get buried while the BS ones rise to the top all in the name of “providing better results”. Maybe it worked for some sites, but in my industry, which has seen a great influx of copy cats and low quality sites recently, it’s just hard to see what’s going on.

    [Reply]

    Tomaz Reply:

    Hey Reg Mann,

    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I’ve seen similar story in another product niche. It’s a mess and the Google guys will definitely have to earn their salaries with the algo refinements.

    [Reply]

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