To Buy or Not To Buy Text Link Ads

August 31st, 2005


A few weeks back I blogged some advice here for business bloggers who might want to consider text link advertising as part of their blog marketing mix.

Well, there’s been a lot of controversy as of late about buying text links. Blogger Phil Ringnalder published a scathing post accusing publishing house O’Reilly of being a search engine spammer. O’Reilly’s founder, Tim O’Reilly, responded to the accusations on his own blog. Google engineer Matt Cutts posted a comment to Tim’s post admitting that Google has decreased the voting power of sites like and and downgraded the reputation of some of their outbound links. Ouch!

Matt’s (and presumably Google’s) position was loud and clear:

If you don’t want your own site to suffer the same fate as O’Reilly, you better tag your link ads with a rel=nofollow attribute so that you don’t pass any PageRank score to your advertisers.

In my mind, that doesn’t seem quite fair. Website owners and bloggers work hard to build a content-rich site with good PageRank score. Google’s black-or-white stance on this equates to a diminished earning ability for these websites by insisting webmasters cut off the flow of PageRank to their advertisers. This of course decreases the value of the link ads to those advertisers, and consequently the revenue likely to be realized from them. Granted, no savvy advertiser is going to buy a text link ad solely based on PageRank score, but PageRank does factor into the equation.

This makes me wonder what Google’s position is on is, which is part banner ad, part text link ad. A good blog ad contains useful content. Why shouldn’t the blogger be allowed to “vouch for” (by not tagging the link with nofollow) the links contained within that ad if they so choose?

Most “white hat” SEOs such as Christine Churchill believe text link advertising is a legitimate practice. I agree with her.

I wonder what Google would do if all the websites across the Internet decided to take all their banner ad inventory they have and bypass the click-tracker redirect that counts all the clickthroughs. Suddenly all these new votes would start counting all over the Internet for commercial advertisers and sponsors. Wouldn’t that throw Google for a loop!

So what is the bottom line here for bloggers who are looking to advertise? It’s basically this: be discriminating in your link buying. Text link advertisements are not inherently evil. Just don’t buy ads on sites where any of the other advertisers on the site are misleading, deceptive or misrepresentative. By that, I mean things like the following:

  1. Setting the ad’s link text to some keyword-rich phrase that doesn’t accurately reflect the page that is linked to.
    e.g. An ad on proclaims “The North Face” but that isn’t The North Face!
  2. Linking the ad text to a landing page that is built for search engines and not for people.
    e.g. the “Discount Vacations” ad on points to one of Orbitz’s many “doorway pages”.
  3. Hiding or obscuring the link so human visitors can’t see it, only search engines.
    e.g. Doing a “View Source” on the home page of reveals these hidden links:

    <a href="">Search Engine Marketing</a>
    <a href="">Search Engine News Release Optimization</a>

And it goes without saying that you should refrain from such practices yourself when you advertise.

This post is based on material taken from on my own blog across three separate posts: Link buying – ethical or unethical?, Buying links – Google’s perspective, and Buying link ads – the ethical debate rages.

One Comment

  1. Zeeshan Parvez says:

    I would have to disagree with those who claim that link buying is legitimate and here is why. Google is a search engine trying itâ??s best to provide people with unadulterated search results. Google judges your websiteâ??s page rank and allots you a rating. Now how can you use a rating allotted to you buy a company to allow others to increase their SERP position? It is the company that allotted you the page rank and they do not want you to use it allow others to get a better Search Engine Rank. Without the page rank you would never have been able to sell links. How many people buy links to a website with a zero page rank? So you see you are put in the position by Google in the first place. So if they do not want you to use something they have given you â?? and for a good reason which is to provide unadulterated search results â?? then how can you complain? I am baffled at why people are complaining. As a webmaster I whole heartedly agree with Google.

  2. by Zeeshan Parvez — February 28, 2007 @ 8:11 am