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Complete Website Templates for Affiliates.

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Article by Carsten Cumbrowski, March, 6th 2006, Updated August 20th, 2006

Website templates are complete websites provided by merchants to their affiliates. The only thing the affiliate has to do with templates is take the provided static HTML pages or dynamic PHP scripts and find hosting space to dump the files. After a few modifications like site name, logo and style sheet the site is ready to go. The templates are often content rich and because of their simplicity became very popular with affiliates. This approach seemed to be working for merchants and their affiliates who used them. However, recent developments should cause merchants and affiliates to rethink this concept.

Websites based on templates are co-branded sites that offer little or no customization. This means that all sites created from the same template are virtually the same, no matter how content rich and well structured they are.

"BigDaddy" and "Jagger"
Recent changes to search engines like Google have made the creation of template sites not only useless to most affiliates, but also dangerous for merchants.

Templates are what search engines refer to as "doorway pages" which can cause a search engine to ban the merchant site if the templates are operated by the merchant. Templates worked in the past, because the sites were operated by the affiliate and not the merchant. The merchant site did not get banned, but nonetheless the search engines did not like template-based sites. They are duplicate content in the search engine index. The more affiliates who use the template, the more duplicates are created.

Google's most recent major update, dubbed "BigDaddy" (infrastructure) and "Jagger" (agorithm), specifically targeted this issue.

Google removed millions of pages and sometimes entire sites from its index if it considered the pages or site duplicates. It kept only one version in its index. Age was an important criterion, but Google stated that it keeps what it feels is the "best" version of a page. Chances were good that the original, the merchant's pages remained and the affiliate duplicates were removed (assuming that the template page had the same content as the page on the merchant's website). Some merchants might not have been that fortunate.

Yahoo!, MSN and
Yahoo! had already penalized duplicate content for quite a while; this is believed to be part of the algorithm that was inherited with the integration of Inktomi technology into Yahoo!'s own search engine. MSN is not mature enough to have dealt with this issue, but will certainly follow the example of its competitors. is in general more "picky" about the pages it includes in its index and probably ignored a lot of the template sites in the first place.

This is just a start. Google and other search engines will continue in this direction and site templates will become increasingly useless.

Trellian SEO Toolkit

Don't do it.
I would not recommend to any merchant to deploy completely finished template sites to affiliates, especially templates based on the same content that is used for the merchant site itself. Affiliates should also be careful with such templates - affiliates might spend money and time to set up a site that will generate virtually no money.

History repeats itself.
This problem is not a new one. A very similar problem in the past (which exists today to some extent) was the use of product data feeds in combination with tools like "Webmerge". Affiliates grabbed a datafeed, used a preconfigured template with "Webmerge" and spit out a whole website in minutes or hours, depending on the size of the feed. One could buy a keyword rich domain, get a feed, generate the site and submit it to search engines in a single day and just leave the rest up to the search engines. Easy money was earned via commissions from sites on autopilot exploiting available technology.

Search engines solved that problem a few years back and (Google's infamous "Florida" update) canned most of those sites. Commissions dried up for a lot of affiliates virtually overnight.

Unique content is what you need as an affiliate to succeed in the long run. "Unique" implies that nobody else has what you have. Visitors must benefit from your content and if you create the site in a way that is at least technically correct and search engine friendly (readable), then search engines will like it, too. There is no shortcut to such a site.

Merchants and AM's should provide the tools to make it easier for their affiliates to create a unique and content rich site, but not a complete site. Co-branding will still work if customization is possible to add unique content to each co-branded site.

Templates can be used as add-ons to existing affiliate content sites to sell products to their visitors via an online store add-on or something like that. They should not rely on the template to attract new customers from organic search results.

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©2006 Carsten Cumbrowski
Replication of the Article, in full or in parts, without written permission by Carsten Cumbrowski is prohibited.

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