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If you use Google to search for a shopping voucher code or a product comparison, then you’ll often find that the top-ranked sites include publishers who have integrated white label solutions from large comparison or voucher platforms. This looks like a win-win for both parties – but criticism is growing, with doubts being cast over whether users are really being shown the best search results. Google has now announced that they want to release a Google Update to combat this trend. In this post, we’ll run through all the ins and outs of this online tactic, which, by the way, is Made in Germany. Who are the biggest websites involved in white labelling? How does it work? Which publishers take part? How is the upcoming Google Update likely to impact the publishing and voucher industries?

White labelling for vouchers and product comparison: What’s it all about?

Voucher and product comparison sites are a big deal in Germany, which is home to numerous companies that operate across the globe. The business model is built on offering either online voucher codes or providing product comparison information. Any user who clicks on a link to a shop and completes a transaction will trigger an affiliate commission payment to the voucher/comparison site.

A large proportion of the traffic gained by these voucher and comparison websites comes via organic search. They do also make some use of Google Ads, but the paid ad model is not always profitable given the low-percentage margins that voucher sites work with.

For this reason, cooperating with large publishers represents a lucrative opportunity for voucher and comparison portals: The publishers set up a subdomain or subdirectory for the voucher sites, including an editorial disclaimer in the fine print, and they are paid for doing so by the voucher or product comparison site. In turn, the portals can present their own voucher and comparison content as a white label solution on the publisher’s subdomain. This enables them to profit from the enormous level of trust that Google assigns to publishers, which helps the white label landing pages to rank extremely well in the search results. A voucher or product comparison portal can rank multiple times with publisher white label landing pages in the top Google results – even though they are pushing near-identical content to various white label subdomains hosted by different publishers.

Could this be considered a weakness in the Google algorithm, one that lets publishers with a high level of trust rank high up in the search results for transactional search queries, just for integrating a white label solution for an online marketing platform with voucher and comparison topics, and without providing any unique content?

This trend was first brought into the public consciousness by “Loish”, who has already published several articles on medium.com and also discussed the topic at length on Twitter.

malte-landwehr_01_sw“Visibility in the Google search results that has been well-earned through journalism cannot be allowed to sift through to subdomains. In the past, Google used to be well on top of this but now they are being unbelievably sloppy. For AdWords, Google intervenes if a company tries to run 4 ads using subsidiaries. But the organic results are supposed to be less important? For me, it’s scandalous – they’re defrauding consumers!” – Malte Landwehr, VP Product at Searchmetrics

Business model Made in Germany: How German voucher portals white label the global publishing elite

The world leader in this online business is Germany, home to the headquarters of many of the leading voucher and comparison portals. The companies behind the voucher sites range from medium-sized Heidorn up to the Rocket-backed Global Savings Group. Sparwelt is based in Hamburg, and cooperates with websites belonging to the RTL Media Group. Savings United is also based in Hamburg, while Webgears and MenschDanke operate from Berlin.

As Germany is the global leader in terms of white label solutions on publisher sites, many other white label operators in other markets can also be traced back to Germany. Several of the UK’s largest publishers work with German white label solutions provided by Savings United (Hamburg) or the Global Savings Group (Berlin). Our analysis shows that many big UK publishers have already jumped on the white label bandwagon.

Overview UK: Publisher and voucher white labels

Publisher Subdomain or Subdirectory SEO Visibility (11.8.2019) Voucher Portal
Daily Mail discountcode.dailymail.co.uk 75,242 Global Savings Group
The Independent independent.co.uk/vouchercodes 71,768 Savings United
The Telegraph telegraph.co.uk/vouchercodes 25,886 Savings United
NME nme.com/discount-codes 14,217 Upfeat Media
Metro discountcode.metro.co.uk 10,661 Global Savings Group
The Sun thesun.co.uk/vouchercodes/ 9,835 The Global Voucher Group
Mirror discountcode.mirror.co.uk 6,412 Invitation Digital Limited
Marie Claire marieclaire.co.uk/vouchers 4,951 Upfeat Media
The Guardian discountcode.theguardian.com/uk 3,248 Invitation Digital Limited

While in the UK white labelling is already widespread, there appear to be a few major publishers on the other side of the Atlantic who are investing in this trend. It is quite extraordinary for an online trend to be Made in Germany and make it over to the USA. However, we see with CNN, Business Insider and the NY Post, that where US publisher subdomains do present white label vouchers, the operators of these voucher sites come from Germany.

Overview US: Publishers und voucher white labels

Publisher Subdomain or Subdirectory SEO Visibility (11.8.2019) Voucher Portal
CNN vouchers.cnn.com 169,979 Global Savings Group
Business Insider vouchers.businessinsider.com 289,420 Global Savings Group
PC World pcworld.com/vouchercodes 34,075 Savings United
Wired wired.com/vouchers 28,117 Savings United
NY Post vouchers.nypost.com 9,861 Savings United

Who ranks for „Walmart voucher code?“

Here, we will take a closer look at who ranks for a specific search query, in this example where a user is looking for a voucher code for Walmart:

At first glance, there would appear to be great diversity amongst the top results. However, if we look at the voucher portals behind the publishers who appear on the first search results page, we see a couple of familiar names.

Search results for “Walmart voucher code”: Ranking domains and, where applicable, the portal providing the voucher content

Position Ranking Domain Voucher Portal
P1 businessinsider.com Global Savings Group
P2 cnn.com Global Savings Group
P3 groupon.com
P4 pcworld.com Savings United
P5 retailmenot.com
P6 slickdealz.net
P7 wired.com Savings United
P8 couponcabin.com
P9 offers.com

This shows that, although there would appear to be a range of different publishers amongst the top 10 whose brands command considerable trust, it is the voucher portals ranking with multiple pages under the guise of these publishers. In fact, the top two ranking positions are both occupied by the Global Savings Group, ahead of any voucher portals ranking with their own domains.

From a voucher provider to complete customer consultation service

You could argue that it isn’t necessarily a problem if online marketing companies offering voucher codes, who primarily rely on affiliate commission, take advantage of publishers’ trust with their white label solutions.

There is, however, a new take on this trend. We are now witnessing new white label subdomains and/or directories being set up on publisher domains that offer not just voucher codes, but a complete customer consultation service or product comparison information, including links to Amazon and other online retailers. The basic principle stays the same: The voucher or comparison portals generate vast quantities of similar content on a topic that is then presented (with small changes) as a white label solution on the publisher domains. Again, these landing pages benefit from the extremely high level of trust that news publishers enjoy as this helps them gain a huge amount of organic SEO traffic via top rankings in Google search. The publishers themselves have nothing to do with the content and the white label sections of the website have their own imprint/legal notice.

This trend was noticed in Germany only, but it is a huge step in terms of using Google’s trust in publishers. One reason for the emergence of this new trend could be that the SEO Visibility of voucher white label solutions has seen a decline of late, whilst product comparison white labels have been gaining significant traction. The following example shows the SEO Visibility curve for two subdomains situated at the German newspaper bild.de, demonstrating the contrasting fortunes of the voucher subdomain, gutscheine.bild.de, and the more recent product comparison subdomain, vergleich.bild.de:

Here are some German examples of publishers and their whitelabel vendors. This shows that the product comparison areas on the publisher’s websites did not appear until 2018 or 2019.

Overview in Germany: Publisher und product comparison white labels

Publisher Publication

topic

White label directory or subdomain SEO Visibility Visible since Comparison portal
Stern Current affairs stern.de/vergleich 166,900 March 2018 Heidorn
Bild News vergleich.bild.de 13,100 March 2018 Vergleich.org
Brigitte Women’s brigitte.de/vergleich 8,473 November 2018 Heidorn
Süddeutsche News sueddeutsche.de/vergleich 6,394 July 2019 Heidorn
Focus Current affairs vergleich.focus.de 4,873 March 2019 Netzsieger

 

The following shows an overview of transactional product keywords that brigitte.de ranks for. It’s a magazine for women featuring topics like relationship, gardening, health, clothing or nutrition. The keywords include topics like fitness equipment, washing machines and kitchenware.

keywords-brigitte-DE

Keywords like this aren’t necessarily a problem. The situation becomes more critical, when we see that brigitte.de also ranks for YMYL keywords – these are keywords that relate to long-term, high-impact consumer decisions. According to Brigitte’s own description, the magazine deals with „Fashion, beauty, diets and recipes…the topics that women are interested in”, and yet the white label comparison pages are also ranking for credit keywords, like “instant credit online comparison”, “credit fast” and “cheap credit application”.

keywords-brigitte-kredit-DE

Google announces algorithm changes

Since this phenomenon emerged, Google has announced changes to its algorithm that could mean that this practice could be set to stop (or be stopped) in the near future. Google’s webmasters have made it clear on Twitter that the practice of white labelling does not strictly contradict Google’s guidelines, but they still advise against it. Google now intends to make changes to its ranking algorithm that will more appropriately evaluate this content that has nothing to do with the publisher website. Here’s the tweet from the Google webmasters:

This could be a major headache for big publishers. Many of them don’t only have voucher and comparison portals on subdomains or subdirectories, but also offer information on a whole range of consumer topics as a white label solution, as they look to monetize the trust of their news website. If we look at the example of focus.de, a popular German current affairs magazine, we see dozens of subdomains for all kinds of consumer topics, where the subdomains provide third-party content as a white label solution or partner offer, each with their own imprint/legal notice.

Overview focus.de: Subdomains with SEO Visibility > 1,000

Focus Subdomain Topic Visibility
kleinanzeige.focus.de Classifieds 121,726
praxistipps.focus.de Life hacks 74,234
gutscheine.focus.de Vouchers 49,175
downloads.focus.de Downloads 40,685
kuendigen.focus.de Contract cancellation 16,266
games.focus.de Games 16,101
girokonto.focus.de Current accounts 13,428
tagesgeld.focus.de Savings accounts 7,745
vergleich.focus.de Comparison 5,053
krankenkassen.focus.de Health insurance 4,879
tarife.focus.de Subscriptions (energy, phones) 4,231
service.focus.de Service 3,616
heizoelpreise.focus.de Energy prices 3,343
unternehmen.focus.de Business 1,999
hypotheken.focus.de Mortgages 1,536
partnersuche.focus.de Dating 1,466
online-broker-vergleich.focus.de Investments 1,284

 

Focus and other websites could be set for considerable upheaval if Google’s announced update is implemented. Similarly, voucher and product comparison portals should brace themselves for a stormy autumn season, if the traffic they’ve been getting via publisher sites is going to be cut off.

A few weeks ago, John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, addressed this topic following a question from “LoisH” in a Google Webmaster Hangout Session. John Mueller’s position was that this wasn’t necessarily spam, but that it could be an indicator of low quality: “They’re just kind of sales pages, affiliate pages, that are hosted within another website“, he said. “Maybe the right approach is to find a way to figure out like what is the primary topic of this website and focus more on that and then kind of leave these other things on the side.” However, he is not in favor of downgrading all pages of this kind. You can watch his complete answer here:

What do you think? Do you agree with John Mueller? Are voucher and affiliate pages spam? Is this an abuse of the Google’s algorithm’s trust in news publishers? Should Google do something? Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

Original Source

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