Did Google Take Out the Wrong Guys?

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Written by Brook Schaaf

So many things have happened in the past 10 days it’s hard to choose what to write about! On top of everything else, I was at an entrepreneurs’ conference last week in Singapore. (Aside: If you are an owner/founder with an established business, reach out to me and I can connect you with this community, which includes a few affiliate marketers.)

Of all the developments, the one that seems most timely, if not significant, is Google’s recent inclusion of an anti-spam policy against “site reputation abuse,” including this specific example: “A news site hosting coupons provided by a third-party with little to no oversight or involvement from the hosting site, and where the main purpose is to manipulate search rankings.” 

Famed SEO Lily Ray asked on X/Twitter (doesn’t “ex-Twitter” make more sense than Twitter/X?) if enforcement of this would be manual or algorithmic, to which Google SearchLiaison responded, “Both,” indicating a serious level of intent. 

Forbes’ addition of a no-indexing tag to its coupon directory was cited over a week ago as an example of heading off a penalty, though multiple SEOs observed loss of SERP ranks and traffic for coupon and reviews pages. Ray contended there was a “double whammy” with the combination of no-indexing and algorithmic changes.

Since then, the coupon portion, managed by Upfeat Media, has apparently been shuttered entirely. (Forbes Vetted, which my sources indicate is operated separately, is still up.) The dramatic policy change and outcome merit some commentary. 

Upfeat Media, like its better known competitor, Global Savings Group, whose is still up, is a subdomain leasing affiliate. For the record, they are, at most, indirect competitors to FMTC, because our core customer is an enterprise affiliate with its own relationships and platform. While we do have our sub-affiliate network called FreshReach, its strategy is speed to market and long-tail monetization, not being a concierge turnkey solution offering merchant negotiations, content curation, display technology, and backend operations. Moreover, the merchant sets are typically much smaller — in the low hundreds as opposed to FMTC’s low tens of thousands.

Thus, as a relatively neutral observer, I can sincerely say this takedown misses the real villains: sites that post totally fake data. While the frustration over search engine manipulation is understandable, subdomain leasing affiliates, which may also operate their own properties, generally publish valid, updated content. This means consumers have a good experience. When clickbait codes don’t work, that means there is a bad experience. My guess is that many people stop shopping through coupon sites entirely, which means merchants miss out, especially long-tail merchants.

My hope is that Google’s next ruling will be to penalize sites with demonstrably bad data, which should improve the overall user experience and, I think, the success of the affiliate channel.

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