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Paid Text Ads – A Bigger Threat Than Blogs?

Gord Collins
Expert Author
Published: 2004-05-21

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Paid links or "sponsorships" are a hot trend right now and one that has important implications for all SEO practitioners, professional or amateur. Numerous commercial brokers have launched Web sites that facilitate the sale of links on a wide array of Web sites with high PageRank.

These text-link selling sites have been around a long time now, however most site owners didn't realize how effective they could be in boosting search engine rankings. If it does work, then consider the latest Google-bombing success.

There are two versions of these types of link selling businesses: the first type is a firm such as a web design firm, SEO or Web hosting service which offers to link together hundreds of unrelated sites. It may just be their clients or they have established a huge network of sites on their own. Simple, poorly planned link networks like this were easy for Google to detect through link pattern analysis. That's when these firms realized they had to be a little more sneaky about which site linked to another. They had to ensure there was no predictable pattern amongst them that revealed a closed network of interlinked sites. Since link swaps between two sites doesn't work well, they learned to arrange their linking using multiple sites where there is no link-back to any one site.

This ability to build "obfuscated" link networks is a key task for any SEO that does link swapping.

This is how free-for-all link farms started, but didn't evolve as search engines got wise. Google eventually managed to detect and delete them. Some of the new hybrid linking schemes have a much more natural pattern. You might want to stay away from web hosting firms that get involved in this activity because your site could be guilty by association particularly when they're all hosted on the same IP.

The second type of link selling is an auction type service that sells high PR text ads to the highest bidder. Both these forms of paid links still exist and both can be effective because the search engines have no way of detecting them.

That's why paid links are such a threat not only to Google but to the entire SEO industry and will far surpass anything blogs were capable of. That's because blogs were too unorganized and there wasn't any big money behind their use. With paid ads, you have the potential of the entire Internet advertising money getting involved.

What they Do

Some link buy services arrange to place your ad on thousands of Web pages on hundreds or thousands of Web sites. If you look at any of the top consumer product Web sites and check their backlinks, you'll notice they have hundreds to as many as 10,000+ links pointing to their site. Some of these sites have not been around very long so forget the idea that thousands of people just decided to link to them naturally. It takes a long time to build 10,000 links.

If you can outright buy the top ranks through this method, why bother with relevant, optimized content? The problem for Google, is that they won't receive any of this ad money and will actually lose demand for their Adwords service.

It is a difficult trend for any SEO specialist or webmaster to ignore and it may be impossible to avoid doing if Google can't improve its algorithm. It was reported that Google has recently hired a University of Toronto mathematician who specializes in link-based algorithms. Google has also implemented a recent change in their algorithm to detect and delete temporary or paid links. But relevant links can also be purchased, so Google is only one step of a tidal wave of trouble.

The "keyword relevance" and hilltop algorithm, doesn't detect those who are doing long term link buys. They appear legitimate, are not link swaps and have great position on good Web sites. That's advertising, not SEO and it's ad money Google will never see. Rather than pay ridiculously high bid prices for Adwords and Adsense, buyers can select from hundreds of sites that will get their site into the top ten ranks of the free search listings.

Can your Site Be Banned?

Sites could be banned for some link building techniques and it is suggested that Google is more likely to nullify the outbound PR of the suspect pages. This supposition may not be accurate, because Google has put all web links through a temporary holding period. Textlinkbrokers offers a list of things you should avoid doing:

(1) having links on too many of your pages leading to a site not on your keyword topics.

(2) too many footer links.

(3) having links to unrelated sites, in particular, gambling, pharmacy and adult sites.

(4) linking to high risk sites that use spam techniques

(5) advertising that you sell text links for the purpose of boosting search engine rankings.

Since Google's method of detection has not matured, many Web sites might be penalized without even knowing it. The best choice is to avoid sites that sell the above link arrangements.

Text Link Auctions

Textlinkbrokers.com, Linkauctions.com and Linkadage.com are just some of the more popular destinations for those who wish circumnavigate Google's PageRank and Hilltop ranking system.
Google (and other search engines for that matter) ranks sites based on the nature of the links leading to them. PageRank assumes that linking is done naturally and with thought, but link buying is determined by cold, hard cash. You can buy links that have the PR and link reputation you require. If Google drops the major directories in favor of a decentralized "authority sites" system, these new anchors of the search index can also sell links on their sites. The problem is wired right into Google's own solutions.


If companies can buy links instead of earning their search engine rankings through good relevant content, search engine results will become as useless as spam e-mail and the search engines will find the revenue of their ad placements will sink.

Google's recent algorithm changes may be in response to this and other threat. For instance, sites with lower PageRank were factored out of the Google results and PageRank was either frozen, delayed, or detached from the rest of their algorithm. Some suggest the detachment of PageRank was just a delay to prevent the effect of paid links on a site and even to filter out advertising.

Since a purchase transaction takes place behind the scenes, there is no way Google or any search engine can determine if a newly added link was free or paid for. By delaying the effect of that link on rankings though, they can raise the frustration level of those selling the PR their site possesses.

Ironically, it is primarily Google who contributed to the monetization of links in the first place. It's like their tsunami has rolled across the world and is coming back around unseen to drown us all.

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About the Author:
Gord Collins has been offering top notch search engine optimization services since 1999 and has authored two books on SEO techniques. Gord is a frequent reader of Web Pro News.

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