Text Link Ads: Buy Your Way to the Top?
Why get involved in heavy search engine optimization when you can get the same results with text link advertising? Many site owners face this conundrum right now. The truth is that if you do both, your site may be unbeatable. Or, you may enjoy no benefit whatsoever, as the search engines strive to avoid counting paid text links in ranking any given site. Text link ads are, therefore, a very hot topic.
Yes, text links taint results, and the search engines haven’t quite found a way to deal with them as yet. Until that happens, text links will continue to be the ranking technique of choice for many site owners. Why? Because text links can work to increase a site’s rankings with the search engines.
The ethics of this decision deserve your consideration. So, rather than try to encourage you to use, or avoid, buying text links, I’ll simply state the facts and let you make up your own mind about this particular practice.
The Evolution of the Text Link
When search engines such as Google began to rank Websites based upon the number and quality of sites that linked to them, those search engines created a digital cottage industry called link placement. Emailing for link swaps was wildly popular with some, while others placed banner ads containing direct links to their own sites. Both solutions fit well with search engine’s immature algorithms.
Since then, search engines have vastly improved their systems for the filtering or removal of paid advertising links. Some of these steps have turned out to be unfair to many smaller Websites that are not connected to the larger Web publishers. As Google changes its algorithm, so the shape of the Web changes with it.
However, text link ads, or sponsorships as some call them (excluding Google Adwords ads, which Google can screen automatically), fit into the Web page less obtrusively than other ad units, and are often less easily identified as advertisements by the search engines. To this day, the search players have real difficulty distinguishing between a purchased link and a normal hyperlink. This will undoubtedly change in time, though, as the search engines’ objective is to produce relevant search results that aren’t influenced by advertisers’ money.
Link Popularity and Link Reputation
Although search engines do assess the number of inbound links to a Web page when ranking that page, the quality of the link is seen as more important than the quantity of links. Although your link may be placed on every page of a sponsored site, don’t expect Google and Yahoo! to give merit to this plethora of links. Some site owners are now varying the wording of the links they place on other sites, but this tactic will probably be filtered out soon.
The phenomenon of link buying has occurred because Google has tightened its algorithm to weed out links between topically unrelated sites, and within link exchanges. Unfortunately, most Websites have these types of links. This fact means that millions of Websites have been put out in the cold by Google’s action. Sites that belong to big corporations or publishing empires are more likely to be topically-related, and they may be able to garner links from authority sites that are on-topic and have high Pagerank. The only way in which smaller Websites could compete is to buy links on these major sites.
One other recent phenomenon has given the minor sites a boost, though: blogs. The success of blogs may actually be due, in part, to Google’s new algorithm â€“ they’re currently dealing with this problem in unison with Yahoo! and MSN. But in the meantime, comment links on blogs have become the spammer’s tool of choice. Once the search engines devise a way to ignore this form of spam, spammers will most likely turn to text link ads.
Text Link Ads Get Clicks Too!
Text links have a surprisingly high clickthrough rate compared to graphic banner advertising. Advertisers know this and many have abandoned banners in favor of text link ads. Although buying links to your site isn’t in the spirit of organic search engine indexes, the purchase of text links is revolutionizing search engine optimization.
Buying search engine rankings certainly doesn’t sound ethical, yet those who don’t buy links, and who don’t set aside a good part of their budget to the acquisition of paid text link ads, can find themselves at a decided disadvantage. A quick look at the top ranking sites will reveal that most gain their rankings through paid text link ads. These text links, though small and seemingly insignificant, are in fact very powerful.
So, you’re aware of the pitfalls and the potential benefits. If you feel buying text links is unethical, or a waste of your time (after all, the search engines will likely find a way to avoid attributing any value to them), then it’s one less task to put on your SEO to-do list. Great! You might want to skip down to the last section, "Text Link Ads and the Google Sandbox" for the wrap-up.
If you’re curious as to how the purchasing and link placement systems work, however, we’ll consider this next.
What Advertisers Seek in a Host Site
Websites that are ranked for the same keyword topic as the advertiser’s site, or offer material that relates to the keyword topic of the advertiser’s Website, are the most valuable places to place a text link ad. If the advertiser’s site is about pet supplies, for instance, they’d look for sites that deal with pet supplies, veterinary services, pet shops, kennels, pet care magazines, animal training, or dog shows.
It’s best for the advertiser to stick with the exact keywords for which they’d like to rank, but related words and synonyms can also be helpful. If they’re placing a lot of text links, the advertiser might consider varying the copy to help prevent their being filtered due to duplication. The keyword supplies is related to suppliers, distributors, and manufacturers. The advertiser would make sure they got a link from their supplier or distributor, and even from the manufacturer in their product category.
Optimizing Text Links
The advertiser’s text link ad will use their targeted words in the title area. They might also use stemmed variations of those words, and related words, in the description. Some text link ads use keywords only within the anchor text, as in the following examples:
The second example uses keywords, related words and synonyms. It may even sound awkward, but the advertiser’s goal is a search engine ranking boost, not ad copy awards.
The second example above is more powerful because search engines analyze the text near hyperlinks to better understand a link’s true meaning. It’s a complicated process. Advertisers may also use the link title tag, however, if their link is out of place with the rest of the links on that page, as this may tip off the search engine that the advertiser’s is not a regular link.
To acquire text link ad placements, many advertisers contact site owners directly, or use any one of a growing list of text link ad brokers. These businesses act as a go-between, matching seller to buyer — a quick search online turns up numerous such services. Generally, the services allow advertisers either to bid on a link or to buy them outright on a monthly or yearly basis. Most times, though, advertisers aren’t able to see the host site before they buy, so they ask a few key questions before they purchase:
- They make sure the site doesn’t use tracking code on the link, since tracking code identifies it as a commercial link.
- They research whether the site has their targeted keywords.
- They identify whether the pagerank is on the low end or high end of the stated PR level.
- They identify the keywords for which the site has rankings, and what those rankings are. If it ranks 450th for its keywords, it will be unable to pass on much, if any, value to the advertiser.
Obviously, link buying can be perilous in the sense that advertisers may not get much of a return on their investment. However, companies with huge advertising budgets may buy so many text link ads that even if just half of them produce, they’re going to do well.
Text Link Ads and the Google Sandbox
One of the reasons Google had to delay the appearance of Web pages and sites in its index is because of paid text links. The impact of this approach began with the infamous Florida update, in which some sites had to wait up to eight months for Google to recognize new links to their site. Google couldn’t distinguish between illegitimate and paid links, so it just put all new links on hold to thwart link buyers. If you were paying $1000 a month for links, and you didn’t see any rank increases for 8 months, you’d be deterred from link buying in the future!
One downside to Google’s filtering of paid links is that innocent links can also be deleted along the way. There are many appropriate and naturally occurring links that aren’t counted by Google because of the keyword topic, they’re position within a page, or their appearance within the link patterns between a certain range of Websites. If your link is the only one on the page, Google may not count it. So, the last word on paid text link ads is that they might not work for you.
Google, Yahoo! and MSN all have the resources to study the paid link issue and develop effective screening solutions within their search algorithms. Since it isn’t easy to detect paid links, and because text link ads are so pervasive on the Web, there is plenty of room for some strategically developed and placed text link ads to squeak through the filters and help the advertiser rank highly — but for how long?