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SEO Website Audit

Publishing Text Ads

June 10, 2009
++Publishing Text Ads++

Hi Jill,

We are being contacted more and more by companies asking if we will add to our websites and/or clients' websites a short paragraph of text that includes a link to one of their clients' sites – i.e., a text advertisement. These companies are offering a monthly payment for this text and link. So this seems like a good deal for the host/publishing site.

Is there any likely negative impact on the publishing site's SE rankings, Google ranking, etc., from doing this? We have not been able to find any info on forums that indicates this but just thought you might be able to reassure us.

Obviously we would be selective as to which of these text advertisements we accepted and would prefer sites that have a similar content focus to the host site.

Many thanks for your help and for all of the great info in your newsletters.

Kind regards,

Sue

++Jill's Response++

Hi Sue,

Great question! It's been a few years since I've discussed paid links, and it was previously from the point of view of the advertiser rather than the publisher. Before you read further, I suggest you read these articles as they provide historical context of the text ad situation.
Now that you've read those, you understand that Google (and all the search engines, really) don't care for text link purchases because they mess with their notion that links are votes, not ads. When they can't distinguish the votes from the ads, it messes with how they determine the relevancy of pages.

While Google can determine some paid links from non-paid ones, they certainly can't tell them all apart. They will probably know a link is paid for if there's some special code you have on your website that automates the linking process, but if you hand-code a link into a page and don't mention its paid status, they probably won't know. (As a side note, disguising ads as editorial content is considered unethical by many.)

As an online publisher who wants to make money accepting ads on your site, you have some issues to consider and be aware of. It is my understanding that, as long as you somehow mark or distinguish the ads on your site as being paid for or sponsored, you won't run afoul of any search engine guidelines. While Google would prefer that you take it a step further and add a nofollow attribute to your links, you shouldn't have to do this in my opinion, because not everyone who has a website has ever heard about the non-standard, nofollow attribute. Of course, if you nofollow the link or even just mark it as paid, the company may no longer be interested in advertising with you, so you'll need to keep that in mind as well.

Whether you use the nofollow attribute and/or mark the links as sponsor ads or do nothing at all to the links, the worst that *should* happen with the search engines is that the page that those links are on may not pass link juice (or PageRank). Notice that I said "should," not "could." I chose that word because I'm only providing my opinion. I'm not Google, nor do I have any insider info from them – in reality they can do whatever they want. However, my feeling is that they would prefer to err on the side of counting links rather than not counting them.

This all assumes that Google even knows or figures out that the links on your site have been bought. If you're simply making a deal with another company to advertise their site on yours, and you don't state that it's an ad, it's unlikely that Google would have any way knowing that money exchanged hands.

The main thing I would make sure of, if I were going to sell space on my site, is that the sites I'm linking to are ones that I would truly recommend to my readers whether or not I was receiving payment. That's the key with any link. As long as it's a real recommendation, you shouldn't have much to worry about. (Once again, notice I said "shouldn't.")

As an interesting twist to this subject, there are some who believe there's a double standard where SEOs are involved. The thinking goes that if you're a known SEO, your sites may be put under more scrutiny in terms of the links that are contained within it. While I believe that's probably a good idea on Google's part, because you really can't trust SEOs as far as you can throw them (kiddin'!), there is some additional paranoia about this issue that I'm not sure I agree with. See Michael Gray's (aka "graywolf") blog post here: How Google Profiles SEOs.

Michael believes that Google is "profiling" SEOs so that they can't publish any paid links, while allowing others to accept money for links without any consequences. There's also a Sphinn thread related to Michael's theory where you can post comments. (There are a few comments and questions from me in there.)

All in all, I believe that it is every webmaster's right to sell links on their website if they are so inclined, and it's not Google's intention to stop that. They just don't want to count them as votes, which is their right as well.

Jill
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Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Services company.

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Post Comment

 Brent Champagne said:
Thanks for the great article, written in a language that would help both beginners and experts.
I have been ignoring the issue for too long but it isn't going away.

I like how you look at the issue objectively from both sides.

Brent
 W.J. Rayment said:
I sold links for about two years and did pretty well by it. About October of last year I noticed that any pages that had a link to an insurance company or a casino seemed to suffer loss of Page Rank. And this seemed to effect not only the page, but the whole site. I believe that any links to Insurance pages or casino pages are probably penalized as linking to a bad neighborhood, and this is how Google deals with it.

I have also sold links to other sites, and felt no penalty. I now refuse to sell any links whatever, as the possible risk to my reputation visa vi Google is too great. They send me most of my traffic, and I like that traffic. I suppose it is not too much to ask that I conform with their policies. So I do. It is actually a relief to no longer have to worry about tracking the pages in question and wondering if Google is going to cut the site out of their search engine.
 Jill Whalen said:
@W.J. Rayment but did that loss of PageRank actually cause a drop in traffic or conversions?

I wouldn't categorize loss of toolbar PR as a penalty if that's all it is.
 W.J. Rayment said:
Hi Jill,
It is hard for me to tell. I must say that I felt a mild surge in traffic about three months after the bulk of the links had been eliminated. Admittedly, this was after the first of the year when Google had also made an algorithm change.

Still, I see selling links as a risky business. I think it hurts the seller in several ways. First, the evident loss in tool bar rank is a reflection of the site's reputation if not necessarily its traffic. Getting other advertising becomes more difficult.

Second, it leaves the site open to possible future algorithm changes. It is well known that Google identifies bad neighborhoods. It would be very simple to figure out who is selling links simply by identifying the website of common link buyers and then "triangulating" from there and identifying the seller as a "bad neighbor". I would hate to see the work of years be wiped out with touch of a key at Google HQ just because I took $50.00 per month for a link.

Third, there is the usual link juice drain because of the link.

And finally, though my assumptions have not been scientifically tested, I believe there is an effect on a seller site's position in the SERPs. It may be subtle, but it is enough to deter me. I have seen what difference just one or two positions can make.

All I can say is that I am glad I quit.

Thanks ,

Will