Here’s a podcast of this blog post
Or you can listen to it here:

(The audio is different than what I wrote below)

If you’re using Google Adwords, you’ve probably already seen or heard about the change that’s coming on April 1, 2008:

Warning Important Change to URL Policy Enforcement
Starting in April, display URLs for new ads will be required to match their destination / landing page URLs, without exception. Please adjust your URLs accordingly when creating new ads.

I’ve had a few people ask me about how to deal with this so here are a few thoughts:

1. For People Doing Direct Linking
I have 3 solutions for how to deal with this for people who are direct linking to affiliate programs.
First, get better at adwords than your competitors and out rank them. By out rank them, I mean write a better ad that gets a better CTR and hence a higher ranking ad in google’s results. If you do this, you can use the merchants display url with your affiliate link and your ad will be shown above all other affiliates.

If the merchant is advertising for themselves on your keyword…I don’t really have a solution for you. Very often if you outrank the merchant they’ll get really mad at you for being better than they are at selling their product and they’ll kick you out of their affiliate program.

However, if you’re just competing with other affiliates, writing a better ad will usually do the trick to get your ad shown.

One thing you need to realize in this is that while google doesn’t dislike affiliate marketing, it doesn’t help their core business. Affiliates usually fill an inefficiency in a marketplace. Google doesn’t like inefficiencies and if they can take care of them without having an affiliate in the mix, they’ll be more than happy to do so.

As a direct linking affiliate, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Not that it can’t be fought, but over the years google has shown a consistent pattern of making it more and more difficult to do direct linking as an affiliate.

Knowing this, you can either make the choice to continue doing it, fighting the uphill battle, or you can chose to evolve and do something that google isn’t fighting against.

At this point, it’s like the days when adsense died. Google had made it clear that they didn’t like sites that were made for adsense (MFA sites). At one point they made a change where it became very difficult to continue with the page generator/adsense business model. Smart people changed their model. Others continued doing it because it was the easiest path, and today they’re really struggling (at least…I don’t know anyone who is still succeeding with that model. If you do, I want to know them).

Second, set up your own domain. You have a few options in doing this. You can set up a simple iframe landing page where your domain just has a page with an iframe on it. The src= part of the iframe is your affiliate link. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t know how google is going to deal with it with their new rules. But, doing this, you can have your display URL be the same as the actual page where the person ends up (because they’re on your website).

Another option for your own landing page is to try and add value to the transaction you’re trying to create. As an affiliate, you’re trying to get person A (buyer) to buy product B. If all you’re doing is providing a link to product B, you’re not adding very much value to that transaction.

However, if you can give person A a reason to buy product B (You give this reason on your website), now you’re adding value to the transaction and now you’re starting to build a business for yourself.

In doing this, you leave the realm of people google is fighting against and join the side of people google likes…information providers.

Google knows that the first reason someone goes online is to find information. It’s always super simple to find someone who will sell you something, google knows that. They also know that it’s much more difficult to find someone who will give you good information without selling you something (or even someone who will give you good information before selling you something).

They also know that the first 2 steps in the buying process (browers and then shoppers) are looking for information. If you can be a voice that someone trusts in those first 2 steps, they’re very likely to trust you when they’re ready to whip out their credit card.

So how do you give a person a reason to buy?
Here are a few ideas:

  • Write reviews that tell the person which product is the best
  • Solve a problem the person has and give them the solution if they buy through your affiliate link
  • Give them a free something (report, mp3, video…) that partly solves their problem, and then tell them to buy product B to completely solve their problem
  • Write about your personal experience with product B and how it solved your problem and how it will solve their problem too

There are a ton of ways to add value to the transaction. I think most affiliates who are doing direct linking would be surprised to see their conversion rates go up after creating a good landing page.

Third, try cloaking.
You can set up a landing page that just has content on it that’s related to your keywords so that google will give you a high quality score, and then cloak that page (either by a redirect or a straight cloak…there’s software that will do this for you) to go to your affiliate link. This will allow you to pass that visitor on to the final landing page (not your own url) but will have google think that the person actually is landing on your url (so your destination URL is your domain, and google thinks the person is going to end up on your domain (so they’re ok with it for their new rules), but the person actually ends up on the final landing page through your affiliate url).

Just be warned. This can be tricky, it is considered black hat, Google doesn’t like it, and it can get you in trouble.

Lots of people do it.

That’s all I’m going to say about it.

2. For people using adwords for testing
Brian Todd wrote a good piece on how to split test url’s using Adwords even with google’s new rules.

Read it.

3. Go use Yahoo/MSN
Obviously this isn’t a way to deal with Google’s new rules, but I think that most affiliate just blatantly ignore Yahoo/MSN ppc.


While there isn’t as much traffic from either of those as there is from google, and both of their systems are more difficult to use, I consistently find that the traffic I get converts better. Less money spent + more conversions = higher ROI (Yes, I understand that it doesn’t always mean higher profits).

As far as I can tell, what they’ve said is that this will effect “NEW” ads that are created after April 1. It shouldn’t (not yet) affect things you’ve done in the past. But, if google is moving this direction, you better believe that at some point they’ll make this rule retroactive.

This is a good point for affiliate marketers using adwords to make a decision about what they’re going to do in the future with their businesses. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s time to evolve.

Let me know your thoughts.