Link Selling: A Case Study

From time to time advertisers pop up over at Boing Boing who want to do nothing but buy a hard coded text link. The advertisers are not in any way interested in conversing with BB readers, all they want is to grab some Googlejuice by having a link on…

From time to time advertisers pop up over at Boing Boing who want to do nothing but buy a hard coded text link. The advertisers are not in any way interested in conversing with BB readers, all they want is to grab some Googlejuice by having a link on a high PageRank site. We always say no, as the intent is so evident. But here is an interesting case (at publisher O’Reilly, which is a partner of mine in Web 2) where a more sophisticated approach – via Google ads – to basically the same idea was not caught, at least initially. BB and SEW have good overviews.

From Tim’s post:

So there’s the heart of the question: is it appropriate for a site to monetize its page rank as well as its page impressions?

It’s pretty clear that the practice of “cloaking” — that is, hiding links so that you’re selling only the page rank — is illegitimate. But what if someone pays you for a real ad, even if you know that they are paying you primarily because of your page rank rather than your targeted audience? As long as there’s no deception as to the nature of the sponsored link, and a legitimate opportunity for click through, isn’t this still an ad?

That leads to a whole nest of hard questions: Where are the boundaries between legitimate “search engine optimization” to help people find stuff that they will appreciate, and “search engine gaming”, to inflate the rank of sites that are less useful? Whose responsibility is it to solve this problem? Should web sites turn away advertisers just because they are performing arbitrage on Google and other search engines? Or is it the search engine’s responsibility to adjust their heuristics to counteract any attempts to game the system? Or both? Is it legitimate for a site to improve its own user experience by hosting small, well-paid and relatively inobtrusive text ads rather than the large banners and popups demanded by many advertisers if those ads lead to a worse user experience on search engines?

Long term, I’m pretty sure that supporting people who game search engines is not a good thing.

Author: John Battelle

A founder of NewCo (current CEO), sovrn (Chair), Federated Media, Web 2 Summit, The Industry Standard, Wired. Author, investor, board member (Acxiom, Sovrn, NewCo), bike rider, yoga practitioner.

6 thoughts on “Link Selling: A Case Study”

  1. Yes, you’re right, but Tim noticed the ads and thought that it was part of it. Sorry about the confusion. As Tim wrote: “(Question: if Google is opposed to this type of site, as many of those commenting on the issue claim, why is Google providing these ads?))”

  2. Funny Danny Sullivan should comment since he is one of the worst offenders of page rank selling on the internet today. Just mouse over sullivans ads and sew. It is clear that many are there for the singular purpose of passing page rank. He should be kicked out of Google for it asap.

  3. Yah, I mentioned in the comments on Tim’s post that Google has known about these links since at least 9/3/2003, and that parts of perl.com, xml.com, etc. have not been trusted in terms of linkage for months and months. Selling links dilutes the value of linkage on the web, and makes it harder for every search engine that relies on links to judge the reputation of a site.

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