Feature Article (Pub: September 05) Text Link Advertising - the basics by Paul Rudman
Over the last few years a new phenomenon has arisen in the area of search engine marketing, it's called 'text link advertising'. As the penny dropped that Google and the other major search engines were placing ever-increasing emphasis on the value of inbound links to a website with regard to ranking, people realised that they could start selling text link adverts on their websites as a way of generating extra revenue.
An example of how this works is that a text link is placed on a themed page of a website or one with high PR that points to your site, with some relevant linking text. So for example if you domain was www.ilikeshoes.com and your business area was selling shows and footwear online then the link to your website would be as follows:-
<linked text>Buy Shoes Online
</end of linked text>
Now at first this system worked brilliantly, SEO companies and marketers were buying up links left, right, and centre to improve the ranking placements of their sites and that of their clients. The way this worked is that Googlebot (for example) would measure the value of the pages that your link was on, and then determine that your website must be important if you had so many links from other websites that it also deemed important. It's difficult to define what we mean by 'important' at this stage, suffice to say this means high Google ranking for relevant phrases, frequent google caching (every 1-2 days), and a high number of inbound links to their site in the first place.
After a while the search engines 'cottoned-on' to this new money making scheme, and have recently cracked down somewhat, by weighting more value on links that are highly themed and don't appear to been 'artificial' links. This has not stamped out the text link advertising system, but it has meant that as a potential client you have to be far more choosy about which sites you purchase links from if you want to see the value you would have seen 12 months ago when buying links from just about any site with high PR.
What can you expect for your money?
Shop around: I have found the biggest problem in the text link advertising industry that the lack of accountability from them. The assumption is that you buy a link from them, you get results, goodbye. Not one of the established brokering firms will provide you with reporting on how your rankings are affected once you have begun a links campaign. They will not offer refunds if your rankings do not improve, and they are not in the position to offer the on-site optimisation that is still so essential to getting high ranking placements.
So make sure that when you look at buying links that you have some placements reports of your site's history before any campaign begins. This baseline statistic can be invaluable in monitoring which links appear to be working and which ones don't. Don't put all your eggs in one basket, buying 5000 links from a single site is a big no-no, spread your linking budget around so making sure that you purchase links from different sites on different IP ranges, as Googlebot will know if all your links are from the same location and while you may not be penalised you certainly won't see any benefit.
Don't be fooled by big talking salesmen from broker companies and equally by næive marketing people from big sites trying to sell links. Think beyond "must buy links, must buy links", and take your time investigating the various prices and offers available. You will find a massive difference in text link prices from vendor to vendor, as some are US-based and charge brokering fee + link, others charge just for links if you can go direct, and if you are lucky you can find a real gem and buy links from a site run by a company in Eastern Europe or Asia for example, as these tend of charge lower prices but obviously still make very good money when paid in US Dollars or British Sterling.
Just to give you an indication of how prevalent text link advertising is, check out the sub-sections of www.newscientist.com to see how even market-leading, not-short-of-a-bob-or-two respected companies and publications are selling text link adverts on their websites.
When you've purchased your links don't expect to see results immediately, as common opinion holds that a link should appear in the same location on the same website for at least 3 months before it "beds-in" and you start to see your website move up the rankings as a result.
This is just a taster of an introduction to text link ads, there is far more to discuss about this area, so sit back, buy a few links and I'll reveal more next month!
Paul Rudman is the director and head of optimisation at CommerceTuned, he's been involved in developing search strategies and search engine optimisation for 7 years.