|Part of the
You Can Learn Web Success Techniques series.
By Jill Whalen
Updated: February 19, 2006
Buying text links. It's all the rage.
Is it evil? Is it good? Will it help your search engine rankings? Will it get
you banned? Will it increase your PageRank? Will it increase your link
popularity? Will it bring targeted traffic to your site? Should you do it?
Should you hire a broker to do it?
These are the questions on webmasters' and search marketers' minds. What
follows is my take on buying text links.
There's nothing wrong with purchasing an ad on a website that links back to
your website. Advertising your site is good. Advertising it on popular sites
where your target market hangs out is even better. After all, the name of the
game is to bring in targeted traffic. Your advertisements on other people's
sites are none of the search engines' business and will not get your site
banned or penalized. They will not hurt your site in any way. How you market
your site is completely up to you, and you don't need to worry about the search
engines if you decide to purchase text link ads.
So what's the big deal?
Here's where it gets tricky. A good portion of ads that are bought on websites
are not purchased for the targeted traffic they will bring, but as an attempt
to artificially inflate the link popularity of the site being advertised. No
big news to you, I'm sure, and no big news to the search engines. Since having
a popular site can often help with natural search engine rankings, people have
been looking for cheap and efficient ways to boost their site's popularity for
Ya gotta do what ya gotta do -- but so do search engines.
To the search engines, a link is supposed to mean that someone found a site
useful and wanted to tell others about it. This may very well have been true at
one point in time many, many years ago. But today a link could mean something
completely different. A link might be a simple trade between webmasters, or an
ad, or even a vote *against* another site. With no way for a search engine to
really know the intent of a link, things have really gotten complicated for
You might as well get the possible link popularity credit
Ads used to have tracking links so that webmasters could measure their return
on investment; however, today's text linkers often prefer to keep the tracking
codes off because their web analytics software no longer needs them. And
besides, if you're going to buy an ad, you might as well get the possible link
popularity credit that comes with it. That's more likely to happen with a plain
old, stripped-down href link.
Unfortunately, this is wreaking havoc with search engine algorithms. On the one
hand, they know it's not their place to tell people whether they should or
should not advertise on other sites -- especially since most of the engines are
advertising companies in their own right. On the other hand, without any way to
figure out which links are truly a vote for a site, and which are simply a paid
ad, the relevancy of the search results for any given keyword phrase can be
skewed towards those who are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
The good news for search engines (and I guess the bad news for link brokers) is
that most text link ads and the sites that sell them tend to leave noticeable
"footprints" behind in the code. It would be no trouble at all for a search
engine to do a little digging into what the latest footprints are, seek out all
pages that have them, and simply not allow them to pass any link popularity.
This is not a penalty, mind you. It would just be a way for the search engines
to count only votes and not ads. Your ads would still be worthwhile for the
exposure and direct traffic they bring, but not for providing you with link
popularity. So although your site wouldn't technically be penalized, its
rankings could drop if it was dependent upon the link popularity of paid links.
It's no big deal if you're getting real traffic from your ads
For those of you who don't believe the search engines can or would do this, you
obviously haven't been paying attention over the years. What do you think every
major update at Google has been about? They haven't been specifically about
purchased link ads, but they have been about finding a subset of pages that all
have similar characteristics and no longer allowing them to count the way they
used to count towards rankings. Which means every page using the technique in
question suddenly finds their rankings have dropped like a rock.
It's not a matter of *if* this will happen with paid text link ads, but *when*.
It could be next week, next month, or next year. Regardless of when the engines
decide to lower the boom, you can bet we're going to hear a lot of crying in
the forums about it! For now, if you're buying text link ads, or have been
thinking about it, I wouldn't really worry about it. Just make a mental note to
yourself that whatever boost to your rankings they may provide now could vanish
at any time. It's no big deal if you're getting real traffic from your ads, or
if you're simply using them to jumpstart your SEO campaign. It's going to be a
problem only if your livelihood depends on buying or selling text link ads to
boost link popularity.
Jill Whalen of High Rankings® is an
internationally recognized search engine
optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings®
engine marketing newsletter. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of
Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place
relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users
and gain high rankings in the major search engines.
Jill specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, site
analysis reports, SEM seminars and is the co-founder of the new
search marketing and website design company, Search Creative, LLC.
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