Commerce Clout, Cash, and Catastrophe

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Exploring the fallout: Google’s impact on SEO, affiliate, and commerce content.

Written by Brook Schaaf

This is the second of what may turn into a four- or five-parter (with the DOJ suit) on Google and the affiliate space. Last week we covered Google’s announcement around site reputation abuse (bolt-on coupon and commerce content for sites like CNN and LA Times) and the since-passed May 5th implementation. Apparently dramatic changes were noticeable on the 6th, but let’s give this topic more time to settle before diving in again.

Today’s related(?) topic cropped up on my radar some months ago but I must admit I failed to give it proper heed because, frankly, I thought the posts were just clickbait, typified by headlines such as “How I am going bankrupt.” Such, however, was not the case and this issue has clearly come to a head. SEO Lily Ray posted a list of domains with estimated traffic drops between a whopping 68% and 95%, noting most are affiliate sites. Separately, an agency principal told me their commerce content affiliates were down by about 25%.

The poster child for this devastating reduction is HouseFresh, which provided a lengthy account and criticism of various players, not just Google. In particular, an SEO technique called “keyword swarming” has been fingered.

By this account it may seem like the little content guy is being pushed down, though on the Martech Record Slack workspace, Stephen Regenold, founder of GearJunkie, pointed out that HouseFresh is hardly an aw-shucks-I-just-blogged-what-I-loved site. It boasts a 17-person masthead and is owned by NeoMam, a sophisticated content and SEO shop.

This prompts the question: Who deserves the highest position and its accompanying traffic, which has commercial intent and is valuable? To be fair to HouseFresh, they explicitly stated that “Google doesn’t owe us anything.” Still, it’s hard to argue the site doesn’t have great content or for many to feel that this isn’t fair play or what’s best for the consumer.

Without fresh revenue, there may no longer be fresh content from dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of commerce content sites, some of which are quite good. This will, in all likelihood, further harm SERPs. For operators and employees, who have to move on to other projects, it may be that no good comes of this. For the affiliate channel, it at least gives testimony that this may be the optimal monetization strategy for certain kinds of content — provided, of course, that you can get traffic. 

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