The New Age of Advertising, Part 2

In the second of two articles covering the leading lights in the growing and somewhat controversial field of text link advertising, Hugo Guzman interviews Wesley Thomas, creator of the versatile LinkSmile.com.

Spurred on by the success of Linkadage and the various brokerage sites, it seems as if a new text link ad portal springs up every day. Most of them attempt to copy the formula used by the already established portals, but one individual had the foresight to develop a site that would provide a platform where the individual webmaster or even large Web entities can list and manage their own inventory, while at the same time serving as a Web directory of available advertising space.

Linksmile.com is a unique site that performs several functions. It acts as an ad server that actually publishes ads on a website (similar to Adwords and other leading ad servers). However, unlike most ad servers, the ad spots that are delivered by LinkSmile can be configured to appear as static HTML instead of redirect links or JavaScript. Linksmile also acts as an inventory manager that allows extensive customization of the ads that are being served.

The customization and activation of ads can be a bit cumbersome and intimidating at first, but there are various tutorials and interactive support features that will help guide you along until you get the hang of it. There are a lot of other functions associated with LinkSmile’s ad serving product, but this isn’t an infomercial, so I’m going to get onto the meat and potatoes of my interview with Wesley Thomas, the creator of the site.

Question: Tell me something about yourself and your website. How did the idea for this site come about?


Wesley Thomas: The site was launched on November 30th, 2004. However, we have been marketing online very successfully for years. Our parent company is PuraVida Holdings, S.A. and some of our properties include mvalue.com, 1site.net, smoothlinks.com and a bunch of others.

Question: In your own words, tell me why a webmaster would want to use your site to manage his/her website ad inventory and/or purchase advertising for his/her website?

Wesley Thomas: Well for one, the webmaster has total control of their inventory. Also, I can’t really speak for link sellers who use Linkadage or other auction formats, but when compared to text link brokers the decision should be simple. Why would anyone want to pay a big commission just to have someone sell your inventory? As for the buying ad space, text link ads are much better than pay-per-click. With pay-per-click you have to deal with click fraud. There’s no click fraud when you’re dealing with static HTML links!

Question: What kind of support do you offer to webmasters that are selling advertising slots on your site?

Wesley Thomas: We’re a self-service advertising marketplace. However, buyers with a $500/month budget can request a dedicated account manager, and sellers may request sites to be added to the system on their behalf, provided that they give us temporary access to the site.

Question: Can I buy or manage non-static links on your site?

Wesley Thomas: We offer several options. Buyers can search inventory for banner ads, non-SEO-friendly Text Link Ads, or –- of course — SEO-friendly Text Links. LinkSmile’s focus is on traffic with any search boost as a side benefit. We feel that traffic is the ultimate goal and it is better to have a measurable and accountable source of traffic in addition to potential search engine traffic -– in the case of SEO-friendly Text Links.

Question: Are there any fees whatsoever for listing sites or for buying ads? How do you make money?

Wesley Thomas: There are no fees for buyers. The business model lies in earning a commission from publishers on sales. The commission is a default of 40 percent (returning 60 percent to the publisher) which covers extensive marketing costs, system development and maintenance, personnel, resources, etc. This is negotiable for authority sites, very high quality sites, and in some other cases. In comparison, some link brokers keep a whopping 60 percent commission. Also, there are no signup fees and no listing fees. We make nothing unless a publisher makes a sale.


Question: What sets you apart from the established text link marketplace formats (auctions and brokers)?

Wesley Thomas: In order of importance:

  1. We are focusing on fostering a new mindset of buying/selling quality text link placements (not just “footer” link spam). See: http://www.linksmile.com/text-link-advertising.htm for details.

  2. We allow anyone to fully automate banner and text link management (still retaining full control) –- even on HTML pages (not using FTP). 

  3. Our system is built so that even the novice-level webmasters can buy/sell advertising (banners/links) in a do-it-yourself format.

  4. Our commissions are much less than auctions/brokers AND reduce overhead costs considerably.

  5. For large buyer commitments, we do offer account managers that will handle all purchases and choose (like a broker service) ad spots that meet the defined goal of the buyer.

 

Question: Are there any new features that are being implemented or potential bugs that you are working out?

Wesley Thomas: At the moment, we are working on implementing our new program for “LinkSmile Approved” sites that offer quality text link placements and will eventually keep most of the business, repeat business, and have justifiably higher pricing (not based on pagerank!).
There have only been two requests for a new feature and they are listed first below. The rest are on the books:  

  1. A slight modification to the customize-ability of the text link output (Hugo’s request).

  2. FTP-based management for those that cannot use our proprietary technology/software for whatever reason.

  3. Ability to accept 2checkout payments.

  4. Ability to allow manual pricing adjustments after a sale (to accommodate side-deals for renewals). 

There are others, but they won’t be announced for awhile.

We have not found any “bugs” in the system that haven’t already been ironed out. However, we are just now approaching (on Feb. 5th) our first round of publisher payouts, and we may find a few hiccups in that area. However, the link management technology has been rolled out much more smoothly than anticipated –- which has been very nice for us and the publishers.

I want to personally thank Wesley for taking some time out of his busy schedule to speak with me. I also would like to mention that the best way to investigate this new site is to visit it and sign up (instead of just taking my word for it). It’s free and it only takes a few minutes to figure out whether or not the services that are being offered are worth your while.

Keep in mind that the value or feasibility of these different text link advertising models (auction, brokerage, self- managed directory, etc…) will change depending on who you ask. Some prefer the full service model offered by brokerages. Some will prefer the auction dynamic offered by Linkadage. Still others will prefer the self service directory model offered by Linksmile.

Regardless of which model you choose, understand that text link advertising is one of the most effective ways of developing your site’s search engine presence. Other ways of building your link popularity, such as reciprocal link exchanges, still have some value in helping your site rank well in the major search engines, but their value is limited. In fact, a handful of SEO insiders have mentioned at recent industry conferences that the reciprocal link may soon become as ineffective as guest book entries.

I spoke with a colleague of mine named Tom Forrest. He’s fairly well versed on the recent trends relating to text link advertising. He mentioned to me that he has noticed a convergence of the major search engines yielding similar results, based heavily on text link advertisements that have been acquired by the top ranking sites for a particular search term. According to Tom, text links, in addition to increasing traffic, appear to be helping sites compete for top 10 positions in Google and the other major search engines. 

Note that this seems to happen with more frequency when webmasters acquire text link ads from sites that are relevant to the content and/or theme of the site itself. It is not as successful when webmasters simply acquire any text link ad based solely on the PR of the link. There are other factors to consider as well (content, on-page factors, “natural” backlinks, etc…) but the impact of relevant text link ads on SERPs seems to be significant.

Please, do not take my word as truth. Take some time to research this topic. Visit the sites that I have mentioned. Visit the major industry forums and ask questions about this relatively new advertising medium. Make your own decision about whether or not to engage in this form of advertising, and if you decide to use it, make sure to develop your own strategy for going about it. Don’t take mine or any one else’s word for it without doing your own research.

Text link advertising will continue to be a “hot topic” in the SEO community, so make sure that you know where you stand and why you stand there. I hope this helps.

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