The New Age of Advertising, Part 1

You can call text link advertising a black hat SEO tactic, or you can embrace it as the future of Internet advertising. Either way, the topic is generating a lot of interest. In this first of two articles, Hugo Guzman interviews one of the leading lights in this field: John Lessnau, owner and chief operating officer of LinkAdage.com.

A lot of Internet advertising fads have come and gone. From banners, to e-mail, to pay-per-click, etc…each new wave of advertising promises to be the be-all and end-all. At the same time, countless SEO fads have risen to prominence only to sink back down into obscurity or outright extinction. There was keyword stuffing, then hidden text, then redirects, then guest book signatures, then reciprocal linking, and so forth. Now there is a new form of Internet advertising that is half advertising and half SEO, and it promises to blow the lid off of how we conceptualize the Internet, search engines, and advertising in general.

Text link advertising has always been a controversial topic. Some believe that it belongs in the black hat category along with the other usual suspects, while others believe that it is the only “pure” form of Internet advertising and can only help to improve the relevance of search engines in general.

I decided that it was time to get the record straight by asking for some feedback from John Lessnau, the owner and chief operating officer of the leading text link advertising market place, Linkadage.com (http://www.linkadage.com). I also decided to get some perspective from one the newcomers and potential trailblazers in the industry, Wesley Thomas. He is the creator of Linksmile.com (http://www.linksmile.com).

Before getting into the meat and potatoes of the interviews, I want to take a moment to address the Text Link Broker sites. In my humble opinion, text link brokerage sites may be heading towards extinction. Why? Because as webmasters and medium to large Web entities become more aware of the nature of text link advertising, they will take steps to manage and sell their own inventory, just as they often do with CPM and Newsletter advertising. Also, the large monthly commissions (sometimes as high as 50 percent) that link brokers demand for managing advertiser inventory inflate the pricing of said text links, so as the buyer becomes more educated they will shy away from these overpriced “brokered” links.

Now on to the meat and potatoes! We will start with John Lessnau from Linkadage.

Question: What was the premise behind LinkAdage? Why did you create the site?

John Lessnau: First of all, before LinkAdage, the text link ad market was pretty much underground and the prices were nearly triple what they are now. My hope was that by creating an open market prices would float down to a more reasonable level, so that the small webmaster could afford to advertise, not just the big SEOs.

Secondly, I wanted to create a marketplace where people could find highly relevant text link ads quickly so they could spend time on building solid content rather the link begging. Before my LinkAdage days, I found that I spent most of my time scavenging for links rather than working on the nuts and bolts of my websites. I would brag to my Internet friends that I spent the day getting two great sites to link to me rather than talk about the new features or content that I added to my site. It didn’t take me long to see that there is something wrong with that picture. Now our motto is “Spend Time Building Content, Not Links Pages.”

Third, I found banner ads and other network advertising was increasingly being blocked by the ad-blockers that everyone seems to have. However, there is one type of advertising the ad-blockers will never be able to block –- the simple text link ad. I wanted to promote a form of advertising that would get through to its targeted audience no matter how many ad blockers they were using.

Question: A lot of webmasters still believe that static advertising, whether in text link or banner form, would somehow violate Google’s terms of service. However, it is a common practice for directories to charge a fee for inclusion (Yahoo for example). What is the difference, if any, between those types of “paid inclusions” and text link advertising?

John Lessnau: I have great respect for Google and the idea that some people treat them like Big Brother boggles my mind. I tend to look at things from a common sense point of view. I don’t see how or why charging to place a simple text link ads on a private website could be against anyone’s terms of service. We’re all pretty much in this business to make money or at least break even, so if a webmaster wants to make a few extra bucks off of their hard work I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Question: Are there a lot of scam artists lurking around in Linkadage? What steps have you taken to make sure that your buyers and sellers do not get swindled?

John Lessnau: When you’re dealing with strangers on the Internet one should always be careful. Overall, we have had very few problems with sellers on the site. The problems that do arise are often interpretation of what was offered and what was sold, and 99 out of 100 times the buyer and seller will resolve the issue on their own and we don’t need to get involved. However, if they can’t resolve the issue on there own, LinkAdage will mediate a solution and ban or suspend the seller if they were posting a fraudulent auction.

We recommend, not just with LinkAdage, but with any Internet purchase, to pay with credit card or PayPal so you can do a charge back if the item purchased did not meet expectations. Also, like most other auction sites, we have a feedback system that will give buyers some insight into the integrity of the seller. Since we have been around for a while, there are quite a few sellers with lots of feedback. If there ever is an issue, it is usually the other way around. It’s buyers that purchase and then disappear. I think sometimes a buyer’s eyes get bigger than their pocket books. While no one loses any money, some time is lost by us chasing down a phantom buyer.

Question: Please talk a little bit about some of the new features on you site such as the discussion forum. Also, are there any additional features that you plan on unveiling in the near future?

John: As you mentioned, we have started a forum so that members can trade buying and selling tips related to text link advertising. This type of advertising is in its infancy and people have a lot of questions. However, our latest addition to the site is the LinkAdage Monitor. It is a free service for text link ad buyers that helps them track their ad’s renewal date, anchor text and key metrics. It will actually send out renewal reminders and notify the buyer if their link was taken down or if one of their advertising partner’s website’s key metrics moves up or down.

The LinkAdage “Brand” puts us in an excellent position to expand both vertically and horizontally into other areas related to search if not search itself. As of now, we have a few things on the slate for early this year that will begin to change the face of LinkAdage while continuing to increase our presence in the search industry.

I want to personally thank John for taking some time out of his busy schedule to speak with me. It was very gracious of him to do this. I would like to follow up on this interview by expanding upon some of the points that we touched on.

Regarding the question about paid inclusion text link ads that are offered by Yahoo and many other directories and their relation to non-directory text link ads, it is important to note that text link ads are, in essence, no different from a reciprocal link. The reciprocal link was initially intended to drive traffic from website to website (bypassing search engines altogether), but the secondary effect was to improve organic search positions for relevant search terms. Text link ads work in the same manner. The main difference is that instead of paying for the incoming link by reciprocating with a link from your site, you pay for the incoming link with money. Just as with reciprocal linking, this medium can be abused by unscrupulous webmasters who will acquire links from any and all sites in an effort to “artificially” influence search engine positions, but if used properly text link advertising can be utilized to drive targeted traffic and acquire relevant themed backlinks.

In part two of this article, I will discuss the newest trend in text link advertising. Linksmile.com is attempting to depart from the established models for text link ad commerce. Wesley Thomas, the creator of Linksmile, has built a portal that allows webmasters to create and manage their own text link ad inventory (eliminating the need for brokers) and offer set pricing for specific ad packages (a complete departure from the auction-based approach offered by LinkAdage). Linksmile.com also serves as a directory and search engine that webmasters can use to locate relevant ads that they can purchase to promote their own sites.

In my opinion, these two contrasting and unique forms of text link ad commerce (the auction approach championed Linkadage.com and the non-brokered directory approach championed by Linksmile.com) will emerge as the most viable vehicles for expanding the text link ad industry. Stay tuned!

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