How the Largest Media Companies are Scaling Parasite SEO to Make Millions & You Can Too [White Label Affiliate Strategy]

The idea of “Parasite SEO” has been around for a while and has been a well known tactic in the spammier side of the SEO community.

Hundreds of threads on BlackHatWorld discussing Parasite SEO

The basic approach is:

  1. You find a high DA site that allows user generated content to be added and indexed. (the host)

2. You upload your content containing affiliate links/coupons codes/phone number that you are trying to rank. (the parasite)

3. By leveraging the authority and trust of the host domain, this allows you to have a shot a ranking for more competitive terms in a much shorter timeframe than if you were to start a site from scratch.

4. Sometimes people will then build links very aggressively to their page as the cost to create the parasite was very low so the downside is limited and the host site has enough authority to not be affected.

Common parasites include Medium, Amazon s3, Github, Linkedin, Quora, Youtube, ect.

Here are a few live (for now) examples of pages ranking for competitive terms using this approach.

“hostgator coupon”

Monthly Volume: 2600

Value Per Conversion: $150+

“toronto seo”

Monthly Volume: 300

Value Per Conversion: $500+

“bluehost coupon”

Monthly Volume: 900

Value Per Conversion: $150+

For over a decade now, people having using this tactic to make a quick buck through affiliate links, lead gen, and other methods.

Usually these gains are short lived before Google catches on and they have to either rebuild or move towards something more sustainable.

Here’s where things get interesting…

Around 5 years ago a trend started in non-US SERPS, where coupon sites would partner with existing high DA media sites (the host) to create a coupon site clone (parasite) on a subdomain or subfolder of the host’s site. Generally these were rev share agreements where the coupon site provider would charge nothing up front and just share in the revenue the subdomain generated.

Because coupons sites are generally very thin, feature little unique content, and have one of the highest revenue per view of any any content type (~.35 based on RetailMeNot filings when they were public), they were the lowest hanging fruit for this strategy to be applied to.

The trend first came to our attention in a revealing Medium post by an pseudonymous writer. At the time, there was no US examples to point to and it was dismissed by many as an example of how foreign SERP’s are less regulated and likely use less sophisticated versions of the search algorithm. (interesting to that there was a similar trend in the 2010-2013 area)

This all changed in the last year, as the largest media sites in the US have embraced this tactic in a major way.

Here are some examples of parasites on US domains you will definitely recognize:

Coupons.Cnn.com

When it Was Launched: November 2018

White Label Partner: Global Savings Group

Current Traffic/mo: 3,900,000

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: ~$6- 12mm

Coupons.BusinessInsider.com

When it Was Launched: July 2018

White Label Partner: Global Savings Group

Current Traffic/mo: 7,100,000

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: $13.2 – 25mm

Wired.com/Coupons

When it Was Launched: February 2019

White Label Partner: Savings United

Current Traffic/mo: 328,000

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: $390,000 – $1mm

PCWorld.com/CouponCodes

When it Was Launched: November 2018

White Label Partner: Savings United

Current Traffic/mo: 429,000

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: $1 – 2mm

Coupons.HuffPost.com

When it Was Launched: May 2019

White Label Partner: Groupon

Current Traffic/mo: 1000

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: a few thousand

Coupons.Today.com

When it Was Launched: July 2019

White Label Partner: Groupon

Current Traffic/mo: 1600

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: a few thousand

DiscountCode.TheGuardian.com/us/

When it Was Launched: March 2019

White Label Partner: Vouchercloud

Current Traffic/mo: 350

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: few thousand

Coupons.ChicagoTribune.com

When it Was Launched: July 2019

White Label Partner: RetailMeNot

Current Traffic/mo: 180

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: insignificant

Coupons.TheDailyBeast.com

When it Was Launched: August 2019

White Label Partner: Webgears

Current Traffic/mo: 2300

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: insignificant

DiscountCodes.TrustedReviews.com

When it Was Launched: March 2019

White Label Partner: Upfeat

Current Traffic/mo: 253,000

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: $315k – $500k

Coupons.nypost.com

When it Was Launched: December 2018

White Label Partner: Savings United

Current Traffic/mo: 12,500

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: insignificant

Accuweather.com/Coupons

When it Was Launched: February 2019

White Label Partner: Savings United

Current Traffic/mo: 3500

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: insignificant

Who are the White Labelers (Parasites) Behind These Implementations?

Global Savings Group

Rocket Internet (full blog post coming soon on them) portfolio company

Savings United

Starting as a German pure play coupon project, they quickly recognized and jumped on the opportunity to create white label coupon offerings for large media publishers initially in foreign markets, but have recently infiltrated the US market in a big way with Wired, PCWorld, & Accuweather.

Groupon

Once a Silicon valley fairy tale valued in the billions, currently trading at it’s lowest point ever with ~$1B market cap. We suspect Groupon’s move into the white label provider area is more of a defensive play once they noticed the success of German white label players in the US coupon market.

RetailMeNot

Well known company that was once backed by VC’s (including Google) to rollup the organic coupon space. Successful IPO, but them was taken private at a fraction of the initial offering price.

Our guess is these guys were “forced” into the white label game as too much of their market share was quickly being taken by GSG and Savings United.

Upfeat Media

Canadian media company with a small portfolio of affiliate sites, that offer affiliate management for other publishers (looks like skimlinks or viglink) as well as white label coupon implementations.

WebGears

On of the larger white label coupon providers in foreign market.s

Tons of Other Foreign Players

Detailed map of the foreign white labelers, host sites, and investors. Credit to Loish

Host Site DA and Traffic Requirements for Implementation

Out of curiously we reached out to one of the providers on this list to learn more about their white label integration capabilities and potentially get revenue estimates for a site we consulted for with 3 million uniques and had a Domain Rating of 90+.

Seems like a strong domain and candidate, right? We thought so.

We had a laugh when the company replied stating that the minimum site size that qualified was 100 million uniques/mo.

This severely limits the list of potential prospects who are able to compete for the limited number of coupon/promo code SERPs.

So while the coupon opportunity is substantial, it’s out of reach for most.

However being affiliates at heart we looked to see if anyone was doing the same strategy in the affiliate review/lead gen space.

We discovered that while this approach was less mature than the coupon implementations, we have started to see some examples sprout up in the past few months. If you are active in the affiliate space or looked closely at our post about the 1000 most successful affiliate sites, you will likely recognize many of these integrators.

msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/rf-buying-guides

When it Was Launched: January 2019

White Label Partner: BestReviews.Guide

Current Traffic/mo: 191,000

Total Estimated Lifetime Earnings: $75k, but growing quickly

best.chicagotribune.com

When it Was Launched: June 2019

White Label Partner: Best Reviews

Current Traffic/mo: insignificant

reviews.chicagotribune.com

When it Was Launched: December 2019

White Label Partner: BestReviews

Current Traffic/mo: insignificant organic, playing with PPC

deals.chicagotribune.com

When it Was Launched: June 2019

White Label Partner: BestReviews

seniorhousingguide.chicagotribune.com

When it Was Launched: July 2019

White Label Partner: BestReviews

Current Traffic/mo: insignificant

best.nydailynews.com

When it Was Launched: January 2019

White Label Partner: BestReviews

Current Traffic/mo: insignificant

products.nydailynews.com

When it Was Launched: January 2019

White Label Partner: BestReviews.com

Current Traffic/mo: insignificant

creditcards.usnews.com

When it Was Launched: June 2017

White Label Partner: In-House

Current Traffic/mo: 417,000

bestlawfirms.usnews.com

When it Was Launched: 2010

White Label Partner: In-House

Current Traffic/mo: 158,000

money.usnews.com

When it Was Launched: June 2010

White Label Partner: In-House

Current Traffic/mo: 3,000,000

realestate.usnews.com

When it Was Launched: June 2015

White Label Partner: In-House

Current Traffic/mo: 826,000

lawyers.usnews.com

When it Was Launched: May 2018

White Label Partner: In-House

Current Traffic/mo: 5500

loans.usnews.com

When it Was Launched: Jan 2018

White Label Partner: In-House

Current Traffic/mo: 200,000

Who’s Powering These Early Affiliate White Labels?

BestReviews.com (Tribune Publishing)

Started by a couple of Harvard MBA’s and a very well respected investor and eventually sold to Tribune Publishing (great outcome ~$100mm cash/stock/incentives). They now leverage the entire network of Tribune’s high DA news sites as essentially a glorified PBN to pass link equity to bestreviews.com.

And what better place to implement white label affiliate than on some of their own high DA properties.

Currently we see implementations on:

NYdailynews.com in the forms of Best.NYDailyNews.com, Reviews.NYDailyNews.com, Products.NYDailyNews.com

ChicagoTribune.com in the forms of Best.ChicagoTribune.com, Reviews.ChicagoTribune.com, SeniorHousingGuide.ChicagoTribune.com, Deals.ChicagoTribune.com

And if successful, why won’t they continue to scale this same approach across other sites in the portfolio?

Bestreviews.guide

Reminds us of Findthebest.com, scraped and spun with no real value add. While this is a negative on the search side, it makes it extremely cost effective to white label and scale to target thousands of long tail terms on high DA properties. If you’re played in the Amazon affiliate site space at all you are definitely familiar with this site. Very thin, autogenerated site that played the PPC arbitrage game for a while until recently gaining significant organic traction and beginning to add unique content to pages.

ConsumerAffairs.com

Originally an unbiased consumer advocacy resource that was acquired and transformed into a very successful ($30mm/yr) affiliate site. Interestingly backed by the same investor that cofounded BestReviews.com. Seems to be targeting local lead gen content on local news sites subdomains with moderate success so far.

USnews.com

This is an interesting case because they appear to have create the subdomains in-house and are only working with other publishers for monetization of the traffic.

This is part of a larger trend we are seeing with sections like:

  • buzzfeed.com’/reviews
  • nymag.com/strategist
  • fool.com/the-ascent/

Expect more and more media companies to incorporate affiliate content into their existing sites. Affiliate content used to have a stigma that has now been removed as NYT has embraced it and media companies are feeling pressure from shrinking display ad dollars and are desperate to diversify and increase revenue.

Who Should Be Concerned About this Trend?

All pure play coupon and affiliate sites have the potential to be negatively effected by this tactic unless they develop a partnership/white label strategy on their own as they will lose potential SERP real estate.

Opportunities for the Little Guy

While this trend may seem like doom and gloom to the smaller affiliates and agencies who don’t have access to these top 1000 Alexa high DA sites. We think this presents a tremendous opportunity.

If you can’t beat them – join ’em.

The opportunities to replicate what Global Saving Group has done with Businessinsider, CNN, and some of the largest sites in the world may be unachievable for many, however this same concept can be applied on a more niche scale with slightly less efficiency.

Working with high DA existing legacy sites to create affiliate subfolders/subdomains on their properties. This can either be done through a pure rev share, consulting/project, or by paying upfront to “lease” a subdomain.

As with any SEO tactic that is viewed as shady or potentially underhanded within the community, those who ignore critics and “play to win” by aggressively chasing the opportunity see the best financial outcome.

Even if Google deindexes these subdomains tomorrow, tens of millions of dollars have been made in a 1 year time period from this tactic alone.

Know Your Worth (Focus on Upside)

Many companies may want to hire a “content strategist” role or similar for this. We recommend you avoid these and focus on partnership opportunities where you are exposed to the upside in a meaningful way.

If you have been a solo affiliate, or even just read some SEO forums and cases studies you will be shocked at how little of an understanding many large media organizations have in regards to creating affiliate content.

Just knowing how to perform keyword research, basic internal linking from supporting pages/homepage/footer, which verticals are the most lucrative, content structure, evaluating competition, ect will put you ahead of the curve.

In may cases external linkbuilding may not even been necessary as you are leveraging the topical relevance, history, and link profile of the host site so it makes your job even easier.

Opportunity Example #1: Credit Card/Savings Account Affiliate

Potential Hosts: TheStreet.com, SeekingAlpha.com, WSJ.com, Finance.Yahoo.com, Barrons.com, FinancialSamurai.com, Barrons.com, Marketwatch.com, Investors.com, InvestorPlace.com, MarketRealist.com

Parasite Content: 50 – 100 long form affiliate articles + supporting internal links

Revenue Potential: $1 – $3mm (minimum)

Opportunity Example #2: SMB Software Affiliate

Potential Hosts: SmallBizTrends.com,

Parasite Content: ~100 long form affiliate articles + supporting internal links

Revenue Potential: $500k -$2mm

Opportunity Example #3: Footwear Affiliate

Potential Hosts: FootwearNews.com, SoleCollector.com, SneakerBarDetroit.com, SneakerNews.com, Greatist.com

Parasite Content: ~300 long form affiliate articles + supporting internal links

Revenue Potential: $100k – $500k

If BestReviews.Guide can get a deal with MSN.com, don’t assume any legacy sites are off the table.

Google’s Response to This Tactic

(starts at 3:58)

Seems to be a mixed answer, based on this video Google doesn’t seem to consider this practice outright spam or a flagrant violation of their terms.

From a user perspective, in the coupon space at least, the content is largely an undifferentiated commodity so what difference does it make to the visitor if they access it from a CNN.com subdomain or a solely coupon oriented site.

In the following Tweet they appear more forthcoming that is not an approach they suggest. They will likely reduce the weight given to these coupon sections of the sites, but aggressive manual actions or deindexing initiatives seem unlikely at this time. And each day that goes by means hundreds of thousands of dollar in profit for these white labelers and hosting media partners.

Our Predictions

Google will adjust the algorithm to nerf the most obvious offenders of this in the next 6 to 12 months. Especially in the cases where the white label content is unrelated to the topical authority of the main site.

Although they may not view the content as spam, if they allowed this practice to continue unfettered, then eventually every high DA site would lease a subdomain for every lucrative affiliate and lead gen vertical. Think jobs.cnn.com, flights.cnn.com, hotels.cnn.com, insurance.cnn.com, creditcards.cnn.com, ect. The amount of redundant, slightly spun/altered content would be ridiculous.

We do however think that topically relavant affiliate content added to existing high DA media company’s sites will continue to become more prevalent and continue to perform well for years to come.

Credit to https://medium.com/@loish for providing insights into this topic.

Here’s a Google doc that he keeps updating with examples of sites engaging in white label programs, search performance, as well as the operators of the programs.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1W3TI9WjP7Xe8yMEazu6BqAk7ae9YLBzyGdm6SDuUPa8/edit#gid=0

4 thoughts on “How the Largest Media Companies are Scaling Parasite SEO to Make Millions & You Can Too [White Label Affiliate Strategy]

  1. The fact that Google hasn’t slapped these sites down to page 10 – most of them are still in top 3 – gives me as a black hat SEO guy a green light to continue spamming the SERPS. If Google are too scared to act on this flagrant abuse simply because these are “big brands”, then I don’t see why I should abide by their rules either as a small brand.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Darren!

      I completely understand where you are coming from. Unfortunately things that big brands do regularly may result in penalties for small, lesser known players. For example Hearst and Tribune linking at scale to their affiliate sites from their other properties has been going on for years, but small sites with PBNs or aggressive paid guest posting campaigns get penalized frequently.

      So while your logic is sound, the risk profile of the same tactics are different for bing and small players.

      Instead of thinking in terms of “black” or “white” hat, we try to think in terms of opportunity and business risk, as at the end of the day the P&L of your project is what truly matters.

      But you are right in the fact that typically first movers who take advantage of tricks or tactics are the ones with the greatest financial outcome. Ex. CNN and BI on this list. 10Beasts.com with scholarship links, TripAdvisor with paid links back in the day, ect.

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