rel=canonical tag and Affiliate links

by David Naylor
Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency

So here is my issue, I have a big web site with lots of pages indexed and we run an aggressive affiliate program in fact it was the affiliate program causing dupe content issues. We can’t redirect the ?afid=123  so we decided to test out the rel canonical.

But, on a quite few pages, we linked to the same page using a affiliate ID:

So I know I have canonical issues between the real URLs and my affiliate ID Url.

  • development team have a few issues 301ing the affiliate ID
  • we can stop linking to the affiliate ID  url’s unless we close the program.

So I opted for the rel=canonical tag and now I have a few months worth of data to look at.

Yahoo is the worst with over 75,000 affiliate ID indexed and ranking and growing !

Bing is just as bad 65,000 affiliate ID indexed and ranking

But Google bless them remove 45,000 indexed and ranking affiliate ID urls and replaced a high % of them with the correct  Url. It seemed that the rel=canonical tag  was working and working well, but then a side effect kicked in and it was awful we lost some rankings all together then started what seems to be a pattern..

Google keeps finding random affiliate ID urls and adds them to  index

We lose of rankings on the targeted  keywords on that  original page

Google returns both pages when unique content off the master page is searched for.

Google then removes affiliate ID url cache copy but not the listing so you get a uncrawled listing

Google bounces the rankings on the master page around

Google then removes the affiliate ID url all together and rankings stabilise..

it’s been driving me crazy I thought I was the only one till Rob Kerry tweeted me this : Doesn’t work well on Google either. URLs used in inbound links can temp hijack the main URL specified in the canonical tag.

so back to the drawing board !

Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency
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