I’ve had the following conversation with a client today (“M” stands for “merchant”, while “G” for “Geno”):
M.: When we have a new affiliate signing up and putting our banner on their web site, I get credit for it with the search engines as a one-way link, correct?
G.: No, your affiliate links give you no SEO benefit.
M.: One-way links incoming are very beneficial.
G.: They are, but not when they are routed through the affiliate network’s URL.
M.: Really? That’s a shame…
It may be “a shame” for the merchant, and there are ways to change things for the affiliate links to become beneficial to the merchant’s website. But just as it is always helpful to look at things through the affiliates’ eyes, so it is in this particular situation. Why would affiliates want to link to you in such a way (if they had a choice)? Yes, it will boost your search engine rankings. But will it help them earn their buck? Realistically, when search engine rankings are discussed, merchant’s and affiliate’s interests cross (just as they do when both are bidding on the same keyword, or target the same audience in any other way). Why would affiliates help the merchant outrank them on a key phrase that is making them money? That is the question that merchants often overlook.
Yes, affiliate links can help merchants with their SEO. Would affiliates agree to work with a program that dooms their own chances of competing on the SEO front? I seriously doubt it. At least, not the big fish that you’re after.