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Link Ads: Legitimate Advertising?

Posted: 2012-06-20
From: Mathaba
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Webmasters of sites with a high Google Page rank will often receive requests for paid `link ads`: resist the temptation for money, consider the big picture first


Webmaster

I have no affiliation with Google, nor with any company mentioned in this article. I write this article with two objectives in mind: one, to expose a relentless group of Chinese link ads cowboys going under the name "GoldLink", and two, to give some general advice on how I think link ads should be handled: with care.

Over the past years, I have gathered some data by interacting with various of the incoming requests for "link ads". I've engaged these persons at various levels, and sorted out those who are genuine and to some degree semi-professional from those that are amateurs, out for a fast buck, such as GoldLink.

Background

Anyone with a product or service to sell and having a web site, would like people to visit their web site. They have a number of means to achieve this via paid services. Some, such as deltas.com.au which is an Australian company, have resorted to low-cost outsourcing which has tarnished their reputation.

While the company denies that it has done so, our own investigation has shown that it paid for services which were handled by people in India spamming bulletin boards with links to the web site. The wording used was culturally insensitive, even racist.

The art of online advertising is not something to be handled on the cheap, or by trusting the plethora of "SEO experts" who spam your email inbox with their service offers.

Forms of advertising

There are basically a few ways to drive potential clients to your web site, and to then hopefully make use of your product or service. One type of advertising which is quite legitimate is commonly known as banner advertising, but it could also be text or even video. This is conducted via an advertising agency.

Such advertisements state what is on offer, and any reader clicking on the advert will land on your site, via the tracking code of the advertising agency. This brings you visitors who felt addressed by your ad, and who may be in the geographical or other demographic targeted by the campaign via the ad agency software code which is placed on relevant web sites.

This form of advertising is typically paid for on a results basis, with revenue split between the web advertising agency and the sites on which the ads have appeared. The advertiser pays for the campaign, which then expires after a certain time, or after an agreed number of views, or number of clicks, until and unless the advertiser pays again.

Another form of advertising can be via the publication of review articles, or "advertorials" or "informertials", which inform potential clients of the benefits of the product or service on offer. This form is less common although can be much more effective, if carried out by professionals and for the right products and services. The Internet is full of cheap and crass attempts, but it is on well established media channels that such advertising is more effective.

Sadly, in a lot of "news" media these days, such articles sponsored by e.g. chemotherapy companies or big pharma etc are not labelled, even in small print, as "sponsored ad", or "infomertial", but passed off as actual news or journalistic articles. Any review that is accepted and paid for, should be labelled, disclosed, or otherwise must be honest, objective and realistic.

When such advertising or Internet promotion is carried out by a Quality Advertising Agency, it typically remains on the web "forever", and if published on popular and high ranking news sites such as this one I am publishing on, it reaches a great many people and appears in web search results for relevant keywords, e.g. Quality Advertising and Link Ads.

Link ads

A third type, which is the main subject of this article today, are the so-called "Link ads." Link ads typically these days, do not mean the text advertising which falls under the first group mentioned above, but, the financial inducement of web sites with a high "page rank" (search this term to research it in further detail, as it is beyond the scope of this article) to place links to their site, or usually their "clients" site(s).

The effect of such links, which must be direct (not via ad tracking software) is that some of the Page Rank of the site containing the link, is transferred over to the site at the end of the link, i.e. the one paying for it. The result is that these web sites will then after some weeks or months appear high up in web search engines results, such as Google.

By way of example. If you search google.com for Independent News Agency, mathaba.net comes out on top. However, that is not the result of any link ads campaign. It is the result of Google itself analysing all the web pages on the web, and the natural links between them, and the content of those sites and pages, and then determining that this is a valid result and should be ranked top of the list.

Handle With Care

There are many reasons why most requests for link ads should be turned down by reputable advertising networks, and why those seeking to boost their sites, if they are legitimate businesses targeting a realistic key phrase (see below), should seek only professional help.

What link ads tend to do, is upset that balance of reality: by receiving payment, links are placed that are not natural or crowd-driven, but driven by financial incentive, and may also be inaccurate or erroneous. If you search Google for anything you will see that there are paid ads that appear at the top or side of the search results, but they care clearly marked as ads. What should not happen is that ads appear in the search results.

Also what should not happen, is that the search results are themselves inaccurate. Therefore, Google, according to statements over the years, certainly at best frowns upon and at worst penalizes web sites which place paid link ads, because it skews search results, and makes it harder to adjust the algorithms to obtain accurate output from the search engine.

One way that Google has found to get around this problem, other than advising web masters not to place paid link ads if they want to avoid the risk, is to penalize any sites that are found to be "link farms" or containing inaccurate links, and this in turn then demotes the search positions of all those linked to from those sites. This is why, anyone trying to use link ads to promote their site, had better be careful.

If you end up paying a little money to the huge range of unprofessional non-corporate or outsourced offers that are out there, such as GoldLink to name but one (they usually can be identified by using yahoo, gmail or hotmail emails, but some more clues follow below), then you will end up having the very opposite of the desired effect you paid for: instead of increasing your search engine ranking, you will decrease it.

Can I buy or sell links?

So, the question is, are there any circumstances under which I can buy or sell links to boost my position within search engines?

In my opinion the answer is yes, and on occasion we do it, but with our own strict rules. I'll give some examples in order to explain why, as well as the care you will need to take. Like all things, bear in mind a common wisdom: you get what you pay for.

If you take your old Volkswagon down to a garage, and ask them to fit a racing car engine, wide tires, and the garage accepts your money and does as you says, what is the result? You will be breaking the laws which are in place to protect road users and pedestrian traffic, safety. You'll have a super fast car, that over takes the mercedes, but is unsafe, to you and others on the road.

This is the equivalent of accepting money to put a small car at the front of big cars. If you were to take payment to place a link to a site selling IP cameras in Sydney, and this site is a small back shop working part time out of a garage selling IP cameras, and push that in the search engines to be in front of the big IP camera dealers in Sydney, then you are certainly breaking the rules.

If however one of the real IP camera dealers, with a long established presence, a good reputation, but which has a poorly designed web site or only recently decided on a professional web presence, were to approach you and ask for a link at with anchor text "IP Cameras in Sydney" leading to their site, this I believe would be legitimate, providing a service to the search engines, their users, the company, and you could take some payment in exchange for using some of the real estate of your web site.

In our case, we offer a full advertising campaign, which usually included banner advertising and articles published on the Internet, and a consultation with the advertiser and a review to find out what their site, business, product and/or service is all about. If we accept the advertising campaign, as we accept only Quality Advertising, then all is well.

However, in some cases, we can also throw in links from our popular news network, to help promote the clients site, provided those links are useful to our readers and accurate in their description. In this way, we avoid the problem of being paid for link ads: instead we ask ourselves, can we give this client a bonus, without falling foul of our readers and the search engines? If the answer is a positive for all players, then we oblige.

However, if you are approached by those seeking to place Link Ads on your site, there are some ways that you can find out if they are genuine or not, and how you can easily spot the link spammers, those middle men who operate on a commission, and are in a rush to find high ranked web sites run by either greedy, or inexperienced web masters.

* Typically they use free web based email for example gmail or yahoo and are not representing a reputable agency.
* Typically they use very brief emails asking a very simple question: "How much will it cost to have a link ad on your site"?
* Typically they want a very short, brief answer, the price, they do not like you asking any questions about the link.
* If you have multiple pricing for different types of advertisement, and try to find out which is suitable, they won't like it.
* These are rushed individuals, who need to send hundreds of emails a day, to make their money by obtaining the suckers.

That is not to say that all inquiries are dud. If you own a popular or high ranking web site, and if you already have some paid advertising on your site, you are likely to receive the occasional genuine inquiry. However, if you are dealing with the middle men as is usually going to be the case, and they usually operate out of China or India or their IPs can be traced to web hosting companies, then you are going to be dealing with very small money, hardly worth your while. These people need to get as much as they can for as little as they can.

So, what else should you consider before making a decision?

Decision

Consider your reputation, consider your audience, consider the penalties. A mistake in any of these areas is not easy to undo. Resits temptation to "make a quick buck", instead, if you wish to consider the potential inquiry, engage in some correspondence. Find out what the person writing to you is really after, and ask them a few questions, show them that you are willing to entertain a genuine offer for assisting with a genuine product or service promotion, provided it is not going to fall foul of search engines.

Remember that search engines such as Google, no matter the criticism we level at them for invasions of privacy, are currently providing a service that most of us use for free, and that we highly benefit from. We are able to find what we are looking for, and in many cases this actually saves lives. Putting nonsense into those results, or skewing them, by promoting sites beyond their deserved position, status and/or description, is not only cheating those search engines but also a billion users like you and me.

The general rule of thumb once you know what link and text that they want, is to check it out and ask yourself: if this was on the top 30 of Google search, would that be a valid result, or would it be a skewed, inaccurate, or misleading result? If I owned Google, who would I think about that? If I were the company, how much would an accurate result be worth to me? If I was conducting a search with those key words and this came out on top, would I be served and happy, or would I be cheated or delayed?

In the light of the above answers, you may be in a better position to decide if it is worth pursuing, and assisting with, and at what price, depending upon your time, web real estate, and any other factors.

Conclusion

If you are looking to make money on your web site, or to pay money to promote your site, service or product, you are generally much better off dealing with the professional established web advertising and/or promotion agencies, rather than risk damages to your reputation by the million cowboys out there.

When checking out an agency, do not go by the look of their web site: professional companies sometimes have badly designed sites, and the one-man-con-man-bands often have flashy sexy-looking sites. Check out instead how many years has the domain been in existence via a WHOIS check (again, if you don't know what this is, Google is your friend, do a search).

[Our own agencies that we use (full disclosure) is HeyU! Ads (www.heyu.net) and they can be contacted by email at: web at heyu dot net. They've been in business since January 2000 and have an international presence in Europe and the Far East.]

Also read what they say, and ask about their existing clients if they can disclose or give some examples of happy customers. Also check if they allow low-quality or misleading advertising, if they are more interested in making money, or maintaining reputation. Any reputable business in it for the long haul, will be aiming for the latter, and not only the former.

Be aware however that those who are based in some western capitalist societies that are in rapid decline on all fronts (such as the USA), may have dropped their standards over the years, as they gained market, increased profits, and then may be unprepared to accept the decline. Instead of cutting back on staff and pay rises to their executives, they maintain while squeezing more out of clients, often with lower quality service.

I believe that the entire area of advertising has become so discredited by over-kill, misuses and abuses by capitalist greed, that this now opens up new future possibilities for new types of companies based upon sound core "green" principles, to come to the fore.

I hope this article has helped some of you in making the right decisions, or at least being forewarned of the pitfalls of online advertising, and your comments and feedback are welcome.
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