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Google recently released an update targeting product review websites, which has sent Amazon Affiliates scrambling.
It makes sense. Amazon affiliates have been hit hard this last year, with Amazon cutting commission rates and making it even more challenging to make money with the program.
But is Google’s product review update the final nail in the coffin?
No, and in this article I’ll show you why it can actually be a good thing.
Let’s Be Honest. We Should Have Seen This Coming
I’ve been predicting an update like this would pop up for about a year now. Here’s why.
As time has gone on, I’ve seen more and more normal people (meaning non-marketers) complaining about product review articles in Google. First on Reddit, then elsewhere.
These people turn to Google for legitimate, unbiased information about products or services.
And what do they find?
Marketers everywhere. Endless comparison articles, buying guides, and reviews that all rehash the same old information from each other, pushing for a sale regardless of how good the product even is.
(Like the website owner would know. They almost have never used the product and rarely do any deep research into them.)
Even worse, many of these articles are written by freelancers that not only have no product-level expertise, they have no expertise at all about the entire market. They may write about guitars one day, and building homes the next.
Sure, good writers can develop good pieces on brand new topics. But with Amazon affiliate owners going as cheap as they can, let’s be honest – everyone is rehashing whatever posts were already ranking.
Marketers have gone too far, lied too much, and pissed too many people off.
So Google stepped in to take care of things. Although they say that they’re not penalizing sites that don’t meet their new criteria, they are rewarding sites that are, which in a way is quite similar.
The result? Some websites have taken a 20-40% (on average) dip in Google traffic.
Here’s Why This May Actually Be A Good Thing
First of all, if one of your sites was affected by this update, I apologize and sympathize with you. I have experienced previous Google updates that have crushed sites I had invested tens of thousands of dollars into. It’s a really terrible feeling, especially since these updates tend to come on suddenly, and there’s not a whole lot that you can really do about it.
Thankfully in this day and age, Google does not penalize entire sites as much as they used to. Not only can you recover from this update, it is actually possible to end up doing much better than you were previously.
Think about it this way. There are a ton of review websites out there that are no longer being worked on, that were also hit by this update. Many of those articles are dropping out of search.
Even for active sites, many of the owners will call it quits after this huge drop and not bother to work on their websites anymore, while even those that carry on might not make any changes to recover their positions.
This leaves a lot of opportunity for someone like you to swoop in and claim those spots.
How Affiliate Marketers Can Thrive Under The Product Review Update
Let’s take a look at what Google actually cares about – what prompted them to release this update in the first place.
- Always remember that Google’s priorities center around the users, not around you.
- Google wants users to have access to unbiased, accurate information.
- Google wants to avoid rehashed, recycled information dominating all of the top spots.
- Google wants to highlight people with unique experience or expertise, that make them qualified to give purchasing advice.
- Google wants users to have access to specific, tailored advice that helps users make ideal buying decisions.
In other words, the exact opposite of what many review sites were doing. For a full list of suggestions that Google thankfully provided, click here.
If your new article offers nothing of value over what already exists (or what is already provided by the manufacturer), you shouldn’t expect it to rank.
Fortunately, there are steps that we can take to provide Google with what they want, even if you are paying freelancers to develop your content.
Let’s look into them now.
1. When Possible, Actually Buy Your Product
This one’s probably obvious. And if there is a single thing you can do to differentiate yourself from the other review sites out there, it’s actually using the product.
I get it. It is difficult to scale this way. Many Amazon affiliate sites are built around expensive products in order to maximize commissions, and it just isn’t feasible to purchase every product you intend to review.
That being said, ask yourself – how much would you make if you ranked for the #1 spot? Is there any way you could borrow the product from someone else? Are you able to request a review unit from the manufacturer, even if you’ll have to mail it back? And finally if you did purchase it, how much would you be able to easily resell it for?
Even if you don’t intend to physically try out every product (and from an ethical standpoint, I certainly believe you should), asking yourself these questions may make it easier to justify the purchase for the most important products.
(I started a new site in the musical instrument space to help justify my expensive hobby!)
2. Take (Or Create) Unique Photos
It is obvious to Google when you ripped photos straight from the manufacturer. It is also obvious to Google when you take photos from elsewhere and reuse them.
If you are able to get the product in your hands, be sure to take lots of unique photos to use within your article, and to demonstrate important points.
If you’re unable to take unique photos, look for opportunities to embed relevant YouTube videos within your articles. Even if these videos themselves are affiliate reviews for those products, it will still benefit you and you shouldn’t fear losing the commission to this other marketer.
Finally, you can create unique photos yourself by editing manufacturer photos with Photoshop or other image editing tools. For example, adding text, or drawing arrows to different parts of the product.
3. Highlight Your Expertise
For years now, Google has been taking steps to make sure that credible people – with unique expertise or experience in their market, are rewarded accordingly.
Conveying real credibility to Google is difficult, but you should always look for opportunities to convey special knowledge about your market.
This may come in the form of personal stories involving the product, how it compares with other products that you have tried out, or deeper research that goes beyond what the manufacturer and other affiliate sites have shared.
It could even be something as simple as an analysis of their support response time. Sending a question to the manufacturer’s email and logging the result is something that only takes a few minutes, but instantly gives your article something that nobody else has.
Regarding the types of products you promote – I don’t yet have the data to validate this, but I am willing to bet that large-scale review sites – publishing reviews for random products got hit harder than relevant niche sites that focus around one core product category.
Surely lack of niche expertise played a part here.
4. Leverage Reviews And Real Discussions
Real research into a product goes beyond page 1 of Google.
It takes time, and you’ll have to read a lot in order to discover patterns.
In my opinion, there are two good places to look if you really want to learn about a product’s performance. Amazon reviews, and communities.
On Amazon, pay attention to 2-4 star reviews the most, as they are the most honest. Browse over the ‘questions and answers’ section – what questions are people asking?
For communities, Reddit along with niche forums will usually yield the best information.
Pay attention. What are their concerns? What do they legitimately like and dislike about the products? What other products are recommended in its place, and why? What use cases are people saying that they’re purchasing the product for?
Keeping all of this in mind will help you craft better articles, that actually address what people are really wanting to know.
As an added bonus, you’ll rank for more long-tail keywords too.
5. Authenticity Matters. Avoid The ‘Commission At All Costs’ Mindset
Your product review should never read like an extended sales pitch.
This was always true (consumers could see right through it,) but it’s even more true now.
Think about it this way. Google knows what ‘salesy’ buzz words are. They know what words or phrases often appear in copywriting or on sales pages.
Reviews will use entirely different sets of words if they’re doing a good job actually well, reviewing.
In fact, not only should you avoid being salesy, but you should go out of your way to illustrate who the product is not for. Why would somebody choose a competing product instead? What specific things are certain products better at?
Highlight these in your reviews. In fact, if you develop a review on the competing products, you can link the two together and earn more commissions, while still adhering to Google’s requests.
All-in-all though, be honest. Not every product is perfect, and you know it.
How To Ensure Writers Adhere To These Guidelines
As with all writers, the best thing you can do is to be specific with your instructions. Show them this article and explain why it’s important.
At the same time, understand that you can only expect so much from freelance writers, especially if you are ordering from content services.
Therefore, you’re left with two options:
1. Take the content you’re provided, and update it in accordance with the above tips before publishing. Personal stories, unique research, and so on. This will still save you 80-90% of the time developing the article yourself.
2. Hire someone with niche expertise. Personally, I recommend hiring from the Philippines, where quality writers (that either already have, or will grow to have niche expertise) can be found for as little as 1 cent per word.
Many people don’t know this, but the right Filipino writers can be just as good as native English speakers. And because you’ll be their sole employer, they can develop true expertise as they learn more about your brand and your market.
I’ve developed a course on outsourcing to the Philippines, because I consider it to be one of the biggest contributors to my success.
In the end, this update may be a blessing in disguise for many marketers.
Good, valuable content is being rewarded, and those that go above and beyond stand a better shot at ranking – even without building as many backlinks.
If you were hit hard by this update, I strongly encourage you to analyze your site. Then go back and update rather than replace old articles, and monitor the results.
Finally, if you want to learn more about building profitable Amazon affiliate sites, I strongly encourage you to purchase my Amazon Affiliate Blueprint.
It can be purchased on its own, or as part of my VIP club that also includes the outsourcing course mentioned previously.
To your success,
– James McAllister