Clone Sites – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As the name implies, clone sites are duplicate sites. Basically, you can purchase a clone and have the rights to install it on your own site. It depends on the rights that you purchase as to whether you can install the clone more than once and whether you can flip the site.

The Good

Clones sites already contain content. For instance, the clone for contained over 11,000 products with links to videos, product descriptions, and links to Amazon to buy the products. The site also came with niche specific articles. As with most clones, the product was uploaded to the site, databases were created, and the install file was run to populate the databases. The clone even came with PSD files so that the site name could be changed in the header. Considering the amount of work that it usually takes to populate a site with relevant content, installing a site that was already populated with products was really tantalizing. If you look at the site, you can see that it is well designed, attractive, and contains more than enough niche content to attract customers. What could go wrong?

The Bad

Google is really hard on affiliate sites. Google is especially hard on what they call "thin affiliates."  The following is how Google defines a thin affiliate:

    • Pages with product affiliate links on which the product descriptions and reviews are copied directly from the original merchant without any original content or added value.

Google's stance is that it is a better user experience for the user to be directed to the store that sells the product. This means that Google tends to try to rank the store that actually sells the product higher. Unfortunately, comes too close to Google's description of a thin affiliate site. Even if your site isn't a clone, Google will consider it a thin affiliate if "the product descriptions and reviews are copied directly from the original merchant without any original content or added value." This means that you should also be careful when using plugins that copy content directly from the original merchant, i.e. Google doesn't just target clones.

The Ugly

Google is not only hard on affiliate sites, it is almost as if they are on a vendetta against affiliate sites. We have deployed over fifty affiliate sites and until installing, never experienced Google's rath. In the beginning, everything looked great. Google had indexed the site, traffic was flowing, and we saw a few sales. We were elated. Within two weeks of installing however, Google deindexed the site. Yep, the site disappeared completely from search results. The day that we discovered that the site had been deindexed, we received an email from Google. The contents of the email are below:

Google Webmaster Tools: Quality Issues on

Dear site owner or webmaster of,

We've detected that some of your site's pages may be using techniques that are outside Google's Webmaster Guidelines. If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.


Google Search Quality Team

There wasn't anything in the message to let us know that the site had been deindexed nor did the message explain what Google specifically thought was wrong with the site. It took some digging to find Google's general guideline for affiliate programs. Be sure to read these guidelines thoroughly. Here are the most important points:

    • Affiliate program content should form only a small part of the content of your site.
    • Ask yourself why a user would want to visit your site first rather than visiting the original merchant directly. Make sure your site adds substantial value beyond simply republishing content available from the original merchant.

Learn from Our Mistakes

So, what did we do wrong regarding Some might say, buying a clone in the first place and that might be the answer for many, but remember, Google targets sites that aren't clones, too. The fact is that we installed four websites with the clone and Google has deindexed only two of them. By the way, the email from Webmaster Tools about also contained a warning about the other site that was deindexed. About a week after the first email, we received an email about the other clone sites but Google didn't deindex those sites. Evidently, it depends on the person reviewing the site to determine whether the site deseves to be deindexed or not.


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