Thanks to the emergence of link popularity as a cornerstone of search engine algorithms a whole industry of the buying and selling of text links has developed. This has bearings on both website revenue and search engine optimization as Dan Thies recently discussed.
Its actually a pretty controversial issue, on one hand text link advertising has existed longer than Google, but obviously Google (and link popularity algorithms in general) have made it much more prevalent. The search engines of course don’t like people trying to manipulate their algorithm, but what about if the text link is simply bought for the traffic it provides? It seems that whether or not buying or selling text links is “black hat” or not depends on the motivation of the buyer, but the opinion that really matters is the search engine representative reviewing your site trying to decide to penalize you or not.
Yes, people have been penalized and banned for selling text links, this is especially true of people who publicize the fact that they are selling text links. The most publicized such case to date was Google’s banning of Search King. Google won that lawsuit but they seem to have changed their tune anyways. Now they do not need to ban or penalize a site that sells text links, they can simply make sure that the site no longer passes PageRank through it’s links. This of course has the side effect of blocking PR from being passed through all your non-sold links as well, and so is obviously not a good thing to have happen to you.
So now you have text link brokering services that allow you to advertise that your site is available for text links without you actually naming your site. So, other than natural human intuition, the search engine police have no way of knowing if certain links on your site were bought or not. All in all it makes it safer to engage in this practice.
Now I’ve bought text links, I find them a very cost effective way to promote a website, especially a new one. I’ve never sold one though. I’m pretty picky about who I link to, I refuse to do most link exchanges, and in fact you will not find a “links” page on a single website I run. Any exchanges I agree to must be with related sites, and the links must be useful to my visitors, usually put in a “related links” or equivalent section at the end of an article. Suffice it to say that considering the potential search engine ramifications and my natural selectiveness in regards to links it took a lot for me to even considering selling text links, but I thought I’d test the waters and find out.
I contacted TextLinkBrokers.com, as they seemed to be the largest and or most popular site. There is also Linkadage.com, and dozens of others, most of which are small with less than a couple dozen listings.
I told the folks at TextLinkBrokers that I was looking to sell a site wide link on every page of a 30,000+ page site. I told them that the homepage was a PR of 7, that some subpages were a PR of 7, that hundreds of subpages were a PR of 6, and that thousands of subpages were a PR of 5. I know for a fact that such a link can move a brand new page all the way up to a PR of 7 in a single Google update, I know this because I’ve done it with my own sites. I also wished to sell just a single link, I was not going to crowd my site with dozens of links, so the advertiser would have pretty good exclusivity.
They offered me $80 a month, needless to say I passed. A generic Amazon.com affiliate link would earn more per month than that. If that is truly the going rate for being able to go from a PR of 0 to a PR of 7 then I really cannot recommend selling text links as a good source of income for your website.
If you know your visitors well and you know what keywords they are interested in then you could try a program like RevenuePilot or SearchFeed instead. These programs allow you to serve PPC search results, but what’s great about them is that you’re allowed to pre-populate the search field, or in fact link directly to a result set using a text link. I’ve found no better way to monetize a simple text link, or even just a single word within a paragraph, than this. I don’t have exact figures, but based on my considerable experience I estimate that putting a link such as I just described would earn me around $30 a day with SearchFeed (whom I use on the site elsewhere). That’s 10x more per month than TextLinkBrokers was offering, and I think I’m being conservative. Plus, this way, I wouldn’t have to worry about Google hitting me with a ban hammer.