Text Link Advertising Moves Forward, Without a Blip!

By now everyone's heard about the O'Reilly network's paid text link "controversy", courtesy of this guy. Indeed it was all a bit ridiculous, but in light of the attention in garnered I believe I should repond to it (since I work for a text link ad broker).

Plain Text Link Ads Are Both Ethical And Effective; They Are NOT Going Away

There are many, many reasons we believe text links are both ethical and effective. Without boring you with a long essay, I'll try to put a few of these reasons in a succinct unordered list ;-)

  • Putting your link on a relevant Web site is a tried-and-true, old-fashioned advertising method (and would be even if search engines didn't exist).
  • Plain text link advertising works for SEO purposes.
  • Plain text link advertising works for getting targetted traffic, leads and sales.
  • There is a strong and growing demand for plain text link advertising.
  • in re to nofollow: Search engines are not standards bodies, nor are they the government. I will stick with the W3C for hints on how to markup my pages.
  • Plain text link ads have been around since the earliest days of the Internet. Just because a for-profit enterprise decides to use link analysis combined with keyword-based ad serving as a way to make money does not mean Joe webmaster has an obligation to build Web pages to help that third party make money. (Again, that third party is a for-profit company whose founders and original employees probably make 1000x what I do; it's not a charity).
  • A Webmaster can do whatever they want with their Web site; this includes them being able to monetize it in whatever way they want (provided it is legal). Text link ads are indeed legal... everywhere (Reminder: Search engines are not the government).
  • Paid text link ads work.
  • Paid text link ads work.
  • Paid text link ads work.

Other Quotes

  • Danny Sullivan: "People have bought and sold links before search engines made much use of them for ranking purposes. Just having a link on a page can send traffic, even if it's an "off-topic" link. Heck, just imagine the number of "off-topic" ads you've seen on or offline in various situations." [link]
  • Tim O'Reilly: "I do recognize that Google's preferred form of advertising -- context-relevant ads via Adwords -- is a real advance in making ads useful and targeted. However, at least so far, our experience has been that Adwords revenue will not even remotely make up for the other forms of advertising we carry on our sites. So our alternatives are to: a) convert the sites from advertising to subscription, b) continue to support them via advertising, or c) shut them down." [link]
  • Barry Schwartz: "Does Google feel that some paid links are not worthy link weight? We all know that AdSense links do not factor in to the link popularity equation at Google. We also know that Google hates link spam (comment spam, guestbook spam, trackback spam, link farms, link exchanges, etc.). But buying relevant text ads on high trafficked sites, is that worth any less?" [link]
  • webprofessor: "The reality of it is they are trying to force us into viewing the web as they do. They do this making us view our websites through their eyes every time we want to add content to our site. Personally I am tired of having to look over my shoulder every time I link to something." [link]

And now you know... the rest of the story.

Andy Hagans works for Text Link Ads.

Comments

That's the flaw in the model.....

I know how the AdWords links work. Obviously I didn't bring my point home, never mind, the message was 'I agree'. Google handling ads differently and penalizing sites with foreign ads just because the algo is not yet able to weight page fragments like ad blocks properly shoves Google's homemade problem into our throats and that's not the right thing to do.

Banner adverts which

Banner adverts which redirect via an adserver don't help a site in Algorithmic listings. Sebastian, have a look at how the Adwords links work.

As I said - The Google conundrum is that although Google doesn't count it's own paid advertising text links for anchor/ inbound link benefit in its algorithmic results - Google does count everyone elses text advertising links.... and they affect the algorithmic results.

In my opinion - that's the flaw in the model.....

Chris

I know Google doesn't spider its ads. But Googlebot starting to behave like a client sided user agent, reading and rendering JS, means the client sided links which were 'invisible' to Google for a long time are suddenly considerable. In this context the Google ads count in for the current debate, coz the technique is the same, even if Google will continue to ignore everything looking like an ad, especially its own stuff. The point Danny made targeted Google's penalties applied to a whole network of sites (NOT only a few sections of their templates) triggered by unreleated ads. If Google ignores its own unrelated ads [although they are technically spiderable] but penalizes others, that seems not to be fairly balanced. The same goes for Danny's Yahoo example. I think his point is valid. If Google would just ignore the ads, this would be fine. But Google devalues all links from [some | few | selected | popular | ...?] sites selling links (ads), that's the issue.

Good post Andy Hagans

At the risk of just saying "me too" I completely agree with SSite:

Quote:
There is no battle here, and not even anything interesting. If the site in question has some of the sections of their pages ignored by the Google algorithm, then that's it. Google is clearly saying the practice is not "spam", but rather just something they they will sometimes ignore. That's exactly what they should do. The only question is how long it will take for them to get better at it.

The advertising links that

The advertising links that Google sells aren't spidered by Googlebot - Google sells adverts designed to NOT impact on its own algorithmic search engine result rankings.

Everyone else selling spiderable links DOES impact on the Google algorithmic results -- as Google spiders the links.

The Google conundrum is that although Google doesn't count it's own paid advertising text links for anchor/ inbound link benefit in its algorithmic results - Google does count everyone elses text advertising links.... and they affect the algorithmic results.

In my opinion - that's the flaw in the model.....

Knocking Back the Jack...

The fact is O’Reilly was displaying ads that had nothing whatsoever to with its subject matter. Tell me, when programming in Python has has anything to do with some hotel network, XML with Jack Daniels, AJAX with re-financing and so on…
There were a couple of directories involved in the advertising which has hit some members of the SE community a bit harder because of the sudden removal from Google’s index.
What if one of these directories had, instead of advertising their home page had instead placed an ad to an inner page, let’s say the section on web development and put the ad on O’Reilly for this. Would this have been more acceptable? I think so. Would Google still have kicked this directory? Possibly not, and not for being off-topic, though maybe for potentially dragging in page rank.
We could all be wrong, there may be some developer sat in a hotel room working away on his laptop while knocking back a bottle of Jack Daniels, realising how broke he is decides to re-finance his house and take an online degree to increase his chance of work… what better place to look for this on the O’Reilly Network ;-)

Related Links Only Bull

Google makes a big plea for 'build your site for humans' yet they show a remarkable lack of understanding about how humans operate. I think their calculations are fine in a controlled test tube environment where they can control all the variables.

I have two companies bookmarked I still buy from since back in 1998 - I found both of them on the old LinkExchange banner exchange. I clicked on their banner on a totally unrelated sites.

Google, put the pocket protectors aside and look at the human web not the machine web. Humans, flora and fauna learn from their environment and adapt in order to gain advantage and survive. They constantly game the system. It's Natural Law. Machines will play by whatever rules you program them to, humans won't.

Google's way of linking is not natural.

Serendipity

Sometimes unrelated links take me to interesting places that I would never, ever have thought to look for on my own. In one way the logic of focusing on related links makes good sense, but on the other hand, having everything tooooo related means that one could spend a long time thinking inside the same box. Serendipitous new knowledge is more likely to be found by poking into areas that one doesn't already know about, or reading things that one doesn't already agree with.

Walking on eggs

Q1: What is unrelated in Googles eyes? In which granularity does Google rate topic/theme relations? Where is the threshold of too much unrelated promotional linking?

Q2: If we would know the answer to Q1, can we assume that related paid ads are "safe", meaning they don't decrease the linkage-trust factor?

Q3: How gets Google alerted to "unrelated paid links"? Algorithmically, hand jobs, both? (most probably both)

Q4: If a site's trust status is zero, are just the outgoing links PR dead ends, or are internal links devaluated (in terms of passable PR, anchor text) too? (most probably the dampening factor is equal or similar)

Q5: If a site decides to go the nofollow route, how will Google honor the change? Gets the trust status raised/reinstated automatically, or is there kinda reinclusion procedure (emailing/calling Matt or post a comment at mattcutts.com ...)?

I can think of more unanswered questions. IMHO the discussion across the boards is partly based on speculations (Google can identify all sorts of affiliate links) and misinterpretations (Google penalizes all paid links coz Google thinks they are spammy).

Questions like "What's with probably spiderable client sided links in ads?" are somewhat guessable, coz Matt talked about links in general. My guess is that he meant any link executable by user agents. Then read Danny's notes on unrelated AdSense links. Google won't penalize its own ads, but OTOH that'll be a two-face-policy and they don't do evil things at the 'Plex.

From the information available to the public, the whole thing seems not thought out on Google's side. That does not mean that their master plan isn't well thought out, we just don't have all facts as usual.

From a technical POV, I pretty much dislike the rel=nofollow thingie applied to ads. rev=advertiser or rel=affiliate would allow Google to handle the ranking properly on a per link basis, without the need of site wide distrust ratings applied to popular sites carrying ads in general.

We don't talk about spam here. As Google appeared, the net was full of paid links already and there is nothing wrong with them, related or not. I've found tons of pretty darn useful things following totally unrelated links (and ads!), and so did every Googler. IMO the current policy is not really evil, it's just not the right thing to do, especially not over years without a warning. I call it Google's egg dance.

strange hypocrisy

Seems oddly hypocritical that a Google employee is criticizing sites for monetizing their own content with paid links when Google monetizes everyone else's content with paid links.

Underlined...

Seems oddly hypocritical that a Google employee is criticizing sites for monetizing their own content with paid links when Google monetizes everyone else's content with paid links.

Something to be underlined...

I disagree

The controversy is that Matts statement's infer that if you don't use nofollow and you link to something they feel is inappropriate then you are a spammer.

Since the penalties for being a spammer can be mild to severe and an algorithm can not make accurate judgements on what my users are interested in that is a serious issue.

// edit..

thank you for the compliment :)

longevity

IMHO algorthmically sorting out which links are paid would be very, very hard. Block level analysis, for instance, could make it easy to devalue *sidebar* links-- but those aren't always paid links. Even if an algo could sort out paid siderbar links from unpaid sidebar links, paid links would just move into content (because that's where the buyer demand would be).

Paid links will *never* go away. And the only way they will become less important for SEO is when the SEs move away from link-based algos.

Meanwhile even if they do move away from link-based algos, paid links will live on, since they're an effective advertising method.

What have they lost?

What "controversy" is here? Matt stated the obvious, that paid links makes his job harder. So what? One response they have is to ignore sections of sites, types of html, etc. That is a reasonable thing for them to do in doing their job of trying to accurately judge the value of a web page or site.

There is no battle here, and not even anything interesting. If the site in question has some of the sections of their pages ignored by the Google algorithm, then that's it. Google is clearly saying the practice is not "spam", but rather just something they they will sometimes ignore. That's exactly what they should do. The only question is how long it will take for them to get better at it.

Good post. webprofessors

Good post. webprofessors comments ring of the truth to me and I think Google has already lost this one, they just don't know it.

Well we signed up

Very nice job!!