Text Advertising 101: Understanding the Phenomenon

For one reason or another, text advertising, also referred to as text link advertising, has been suffering from “The Boogie Man” syndrome. I have seen countless forum posts and blog commentaries attacking this form of advertising. My mission here will be to expose some of the common misconceptions associated with text advertising and to lay down a rudimentary approach to managing a text advertising campaign. I’m sure that I’ll get tons of negative feedback in response to the assertions that I will make in this article, but I can take solace in the fact that it won’t be the first time!

Let’s start with some of the common misconceptions:

Misconception #1

Text advertising violates the terms of service for the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN).

Answer

Here is the official word regarding incoming text links (taken from Google’s “Information For Webmasters” section):

Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank…

This ruling can apply to reciprocal links, links that are solicited by webmasters via email, links that are solicited via a “Link to Us” button, and text ads. The key here is that acquiring a backlink via a text ad is not explicitly forbidden.

In response to the overwhelming growth of the SEO industry, search engines such as Google have outlined the do’s and don’ts associated with “naturally” optimizing a site for their search engine. Take a moment to browse through the following link:

http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html

Familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t acceptable. There is some really valuable information in there.

Misconception #2

If you acquire a text ad for your site, you will be banned from the major search engines.

Answer

Search engines do not ban sites based on inbound links from other domains, because webmasters cannot control who links to them and how. I know I know–this is a bold statement. But if search engines decided to ban sites based on inbound links (such as text ads) pointing to that site, then unscrupulous webmasters would purposely point spammy or questionable inbound links at their competitors’ sites. If I were an unscrupulous guy, and I wanted to rank in the top 10 for the term “widgets,” I could easily point some spammy backlinks at the top 10 sites in order to have those sites banned. That is simply not the case.

Here’s another perspective: A paid directory listing is a form of text advertising, but Internet giants such as Yahoo! sell them ($300/year). If Yahoo! doesn’t see a problem with selling relevant backlinks, then you shouldn’t either.

Misconception #3

Backlinks acquired through text advertising won’t be counted by the major search engines.

Answer

This is a tricky one. The answer to this one is yes and no; it depends on the situation. The proper way to engage in text advertising is to only purchase ads on sites with relevant content, or on sites that cater to a demographic that would benefit from the product, service, or information that your site offers. If you do not follow this guideline there is a good chance that your site will not benefit in any significant way in terms of search engine ranking for your target search terms.

The major search engines have assigned added “weight” to backlinks from relevant websites. If your site is about horses and you advertise on a site that deals with molecular physics there is a good chance that those backlinks aren’t going to boost rankings for your “horse” related search terms.

Now let’s say that your site offers tickets to various events. You can advertise on sports sites or entertainment sites even though your site is technically not related to sports or advertising. Why? Because your product caters to that audience. While you may not receive the same benefit from these types of ads as you would from an ad on a fully relevant site, they are still valuable, especially if the site is a high traffic site that will bring real visitors to your site.

Just remember to look for sites with relevant content or serving your target demographic and you’ll be fine.

Misconception #4

Text advertising makes search engine results worse (less relevant, more spammy, etc…)

Answer

If the text ads are purchased on relevant sites with relevant content it will actually improve search engine results. The problem is that this industry (Text Ads) does not regulate itself properly at this point. If webmasters that were serving these ads would make sure not to offer advertising to “non-relevant” or “spammy” sites then there would be no problem, because a text ad in essence is similar to a reciprocal link.
The reciprocal link is a form of “advertising/promotion” whose utmost intention (in its purest form) is to improve search engine positions. Although some reciprocals do drive traffic, that is rarely the focus of such links.

When you acquire a reciprocal link you are paying for the link with another link. In the case of text ads, you are paying for the link with money. Both are webmaster to webmaster transactions intended (in part) to improve search engine rankings.

Just as with reciprocal linking, some webmasters are willing to accept links for any site regardless of relevancy or spam issues. This is why you will occasionally come across a site that has 40 “text ads” on the footer of a page pointing to sites that are absolutely unrelated to the theme/topic of the site selling the ads.

Not everyone engages in this spammy type of text advertising. (Most of these individuals reside in the results pages of Ebay.) Many responsible webmasters offer static text ads only to sites that have legitimate content and are related to the site selling the ads. If text advertising is conducted in this manner then it actually helps to improve search engine results, because sites will be linking to other relevant sites with legitimate content.

Misconception #5

If you engage in text advertising you will probably be duped by unscrupulous shysters that are waiting for you in the dark corners of the Internet.

Answer

Text advertising was born in the back alleys and darkly lit corners of the Internet. Webmasters that were hard up for money began selling backinks to other webmasters as a means of staying afloat. Nowadays we’ve got an abundance of sites offering a variety of text ads in all sizes and colors. Here’s my personal list of the most reputable and accountable entities in this brand new and virtual “Wild West” pioneer industry. It’s a short list, because I’m only going to endorse the best of the best:

  1. Linkadage: This is an auction site. Great selection, fair prices, and the owner/operator will ban webmasters that don’t follow through on the sale or purchase of a particular item.

  2. TextLinkBrokers: This is a brokerage site. Great selection though the prices are bit high. They are very reliable and are willing to go the extra mile to make their customers happy. Just make sure to speak with one of the owner/operators if you run into a specific problem. The lower level employees may drop the ball from time to time.

  3. BuySellLinks: This is an auction site. They are a bit small, so there aren’t too many auctions available at one time, but the pricing is great and the owner/operator is available if any disputes arise.

  4. TexLinkBrokerage: This is a brokerage site, similar to the other brokerage site in terms of price and selection. This site offers a high level of accountability and valuable resources.

Now that I’ve covered some of the general misconceptions let’s get into the nuts and bolts of selecting an appropriate text ad for your site:

  1. Single page ads: This refers to a text ad that appears on only one page (or just a few pages) of a domain. Typically these links are on the homepage, but they can be interior pages as well. This is the most “natural” form of text advertising because it mimics a natural unsolicited backlink.

  2. Run of site ads: This refers to a text ad that appears on all pages of a domain. There are varying opinions on this type of ad. My main issue is that although run-of-site ads rarely impact your search rankings more than single page ads, webmasters tend to over inflate the pricing based on the (false) principle that those run of site ads are somehow exponentially more beneficial than their single page counterparts. Here’s a great discussion thread (http://www.seoproject.com/forum/index.php?board=9;action=display;threadid=30;start=0) that includes input from the owner/operator for TextLinkBrokerage.

  3. Number of backlinks: Make sure that you factor the amount of indexed backlinks for the site that you are considering. I personally disregard Google backlink info because Google purposely offers incomplete results using their backlink command.  Use Yahoo! backlink info instead.

  4. DMOZ listing: Is the site in question listed in DMOZ? If it is, that is a definite positive.

  5. Yahoo! directory listing: Is the site in question listed in the Yahoo! Directory? If it is, that is a definite positive.

  6. Search Engine Ranking: Try to ask the webmaster for the site in question what their main target search terms are and determine how well they rank in the major search engines. If the webmaster is uncooperative it usually means that the site does not rank very well, and obviously, if the site doesn’t rank well for its target search terms then it probably won’t do much for your site.

Conclusion

In closing, remember that any search engine boost associated with text advertising should be secondary to the amount of real traffic that your site receives. A truly valuable text ad will drive new visitors to your site, and that should always be the main goal of any Internet advertising campaign. If you focus on acquiring relevant advertising that drives traffic you will be just fine. There’s no need to worry; the text ad “boogie man” ain’t gonna get ya!

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