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Selling Text Links

It seems that more and more bloggers are being approached via email by companies seeking to buy text link ads on their blogs. For example one of my readers forwarded me this email yesterday (names have been removed):

Greetings – I am looking to purchase 5 text link ads on your site www.xxxxx.com

I would be willing to pay upfront for 3 months for these ads

Our links could be placed anywhere on your website

Looking forward to your response,

xxxxx

I’ve seen many different variations on this email but most contain pretty similar requests.

The question that I’m getting from many readers are:

  • ‘how do I respond?’
  • ‘have you heard of XXXX company’ (ie the people sending the email)
  • ‘are they legitimate?’
  • ‘how much should I charge for a link?’

Here’s a few reflections on how I’d suggest you move forward in responding to these types of requests.

1. Ask Yourself some Questions – Think some of these questions through first:

  • Do I want ads on my site? – It’s quite legit to have a blog with no intention of making money? The interesting thing is that many of these emails are being sent to bloggers with no current ads on their blogs – so while for many readers of a blog like this the question is a no brainer with a ‘yes’ answer – it’s something to think through if this is your first entry into blogging for money. There are implications of putting ads on your blog that you will want to have a think about. What impact will it have upon your design, how will your regular readers respond etc
  • Do I want MORE ads on my site? – If you already have ads, what impact will more have? Are you in danger of clutter? There comes a time when enough is enough.
  • Am I willing to administer the logistics of ads? – Adding multiple revenue streams to your blog is a good thing from the income side of things but there are some costs in terms of your own time. Most of these ad requests are like the above – for a longer period of time and paid every month or quarter but I have heard of a few that have been a little more involved and have required bloggers to chop and change the links every now and again. Also be aware that you’ll need a simple system to keep track of when payments are due. This is simple if you have one blog with one text link running on it but becomes more complicated when you have multiple blogs with a number of campaigns running on each. Keeping track of who has paid can become a bit messy unless you have a system.

2. Ask for more Information – If after asking yourself questions you decided that you are interested switch into investigation mode and begin to ask some questions of the person who has sent the email. Without committing to anything you might like to ask some of these questions:

  • What type of ads would you be wanting to run? – this is very important and you might find the ads they have in mind are either totally irrelevant to your content (something to carefully consider as it impacts the look and quality of your blog) or that they might actually be on topics you have some ethical problem with (ie adult, gambling etc).
  • What are you willing to pay for these ads? – you’ll notice in the above email that specific amounts were not mentioned. Some other emails I’ve seen have named figures up front and others have requested that the blogger themselves come up with a figure. Deciding how much to charge is always a tricky thing and I tend to ask the advertiser for a budget/figure to begin negotiating from.
  • What happens if my blog’s Page Rank changes? – my experience of these types of deals is that the buyer is generally wanting the ad for Search Engine Optimization reasons. ie They want the links on your blog because it will help them rank higher in Google and other SE’s. In most cases when I’ve dug a little the main criteria that they use to work out how valuable your blog is to them is to look at your blog’s Google Page Rank (PR). While there is much debate about the accuracy and worth of PR it seems that text link brokers do use it and are willing to pay more for blogs with higher rankings. This has implications for you in selling text links as your link might become more (or less) valuable over time. It’s worth clarifying what happens in this case up front. Be aware that longer periods of time between payments are good as they are less admin but they might lock you into rates of pay that are below what your links are worth over time.
  • How will payment be made? - I find PayPal is fairly normal but have heard of other methods?
  • How many links do you wish to place on my site? – As they usually pay per link you might be tempted to get a lot, but more will also clutter your blog and could have implications upon your own SEO (see below).
  • How Long will the Campaign Go? – In many cases these seem to be long term campaigns (indefinate in some cases) as advertisers are looking for boosts in Search Engine ranking and to add your link and take it down a month later is unlikely to help sustain a ranking. Having said this it’s worth clarifying up front how long they expect to pay you for the links.
  • Do I have any control over what ads appear? - If they want to run an ad that you don’t want to appear on your site what say do you have in it?
  • What happens at the end of the first time period? - Will they pay in automatic periodic payments or do you need to bill them? Will prices change depending upon any factors (see above)? Will text links change at any time?
  • Do you have a website that I can read about your company on? – While having a website doesn’t make you a good operator you can get a feel for their level of professionalism and their terms and conditions this way.

You will want to be careful with not wanting to overload them with questions as you might freak them out a little, but you do need to enter into such an agreement with open eyes and knowing all the details. You might want to ask these questions over a couple of emails.

3. Investigate their reputation - It seems every one of these emails that I get or see are from a different company and so it is difficult to work out who is good and who isn’t. I’ve heard a few stories of dubious operators but lots of positive ones too so it’s probably worth doing a little digging. Search on Google for their name and see what others have written about them. If they are targeting bloggers then there is every chance that someone else already has found out if they are good or not.

4. Consider the SEO costs – Armed with this information you might like to consider other costs to your blog of adding the links – particularly the impact that they might have on your own SEO.

There is quite a bit of debate over text links among SEO experts but a commonly held belief is that Google don’t look too favorably on sold links in the way they rank sites and are getting pretty good at spotting them. Some believe they penalize the person buying the link, some say they penalize the seller of the link and some say they penalize both (others think it’s all rubbish and to go for it). I’m not an SEO expert but I’d say if you go with selling text links that you should go into it knowing that there could be some risks.

Particularly risky is when you have too many outbound links and when you have links that have little or no relevance to your site. They also seem to look less favorably on site wide links these days.

5. Investigate other options – There are many companies that buy text links from web publishers and it might be worth shopping around before committing to anything. This might help you negotiate the best price (don’t be afraid to try this – you’ve got nothing to loose) and might help you find a more professional set up. I’m sure if you look around the web you’ll find plenty of text link advertiser options to compare the offerings of.

One such service that I’ve been testing this past week has been Text Link Ads (affiliate link) which I’ve added to a few of my blogs in the last few days. So far the results are very promising on my sites. We’ve also used them quite a bit on some of the b5media blogs – in fact on a couple of them they are earning more than any other income stream. The advantages of them in going directly with directing with people who email you is that you’re dealing with a reputable company, that they have a large number of contacts with advertisers already and that the service is very automated. The only downside of them that I can see so far is that they take 50% which sounds a lot. However the people that email you offering text links are (I suspect) brokers who represent advertisers and are no doubt taking their own cut. I’ll write a fuller review on Text Link Ads in the coming week once I’ve had a bit more of an experience with them – but so far so good.

There are other text link brokers out there that you might like to check out also. Two that I know have been used by others I respect include Adzaar and Text Link Brokers.

6. Implement and with Care - If after all your investigation you decide to go ahead with selling text links do so with care and knowing that with any advertising deal there is likely to be some risk. Go in with your eyes wide open, evaluate it as you go and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if something doesn’t go right.

Text Link ads might not pay you much individually but I’m finding more and more bloggers who are selling them with the realization that if you are able to sell multiple links on an ongoing basis on multiple blogs that they can actually supplement other income streams like contextual ad systems and affiliate programs quite well.

I’d love to hear the experiences and advice of others on selling Text Links.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Aaress says:

    Thanks Darren for the helpful tips – I’m looking forward to reading your post on Text Link Ads as I was considering using them on one of my sites, http://tennisgear.onthebaseline.com

  2. jim says:

    Darren – These are very good questions that you bring up and anyone who runs a blog and reads here should, at the very least, open up a dialogue with the site just to see where it could go. I only recently started selling footer text link ads on my own and found that the hardest thing was pricing and understanding the agreements I was entering in to, you get a better feel for them as you talk with other sites more. And don’t sell yourself short. :)

  3. Paul says:

    Hey Darren,

    Would text Link ads go against Adsense TOS?

  4. Stuart says:

    Darren you mentioned that people may want to buy advertising for ads that were out of context with someone’s blog.

    I think that bloggers may see more and more of that in the future because recent research has shown that contextual ads are often missed by readers because they are in tune with the theme of the site or blog.

    On the other hand advertising that is out of context with the theme of the site is more likely to be noticed and more likely to be clicked on by people who are visiting the site.

    One of the most clicked on ads on any of my sites is an ad for an electronics firm here in Australia and the ad appears on a hobby site that has nothing to do with electronics.

    If anyone is interested in the research they can find mention of it Advertising Out of Context

  5. Arun Kumar says:

    I doubt it.. Since they are not contextual ads, that wouldn’t be violating Goggle’s TOS. The links under “Money Making Tools and Resources” are the type of direct links to other websites Darren is talking about here.

  6. Kates says:

    Text Links are good for sites that do not have enough traffic volume to convert to adsense clicks. Filling up your text links inventory gives a steady source of income even if you have less traffic. You don’t even have to optimize your site for SERPs. All you have to do is to Protect that PageRank.

  7. Bill Ferris says:

    Selling text links is pretty common practice (and has been) for sports blogs with the vast majority of advertisers being ticket brokers. I’ve found them to be pretty lucrative and one of my best revenue streams. A couple other things to consider when negotiating:

    1. Be pretty specific about placement. Where on the page will they be displayed? Will it be on every page, or just the main page? Also, you could sell the first spot (assuming that you’d have several in the sidebar) at a premium for the added exposure.

    2. In the agreement I’ve started reserving the right to suspend the arrangement if I get reports from my readers about problems – where I agree to refund to the advertiser a pro-rated portion of the the fee. I haven’t had a problem yet, but I don’t want to be advocating services that are garbage to my readers.

    3. Think about how much space you want to devote to these links, and use that when negotiating. On one of my sites I’ve capped the number of ads from any given industry at 5. Because space is at a premium, I get to charge a little bit more. Now I don’t get nearly as much as if I’d accepted all ads, but I get a little extra while controlling clutter and providing more value to each advertiser.

    As for penalizing the sites, my understanding (and this was from Matt Cutts) is that if Google figures out you’re selling links, the site itself doesn’t get punished in terms of SERPs or PR. However, it prevents that site from giving PR to other sites.

  8. Darren Rowse says:

    Paul – Adsense don’t allow ads of two types:

    1. That are contextual – (these are not usually)
    2. That mimic AdSense ads. I think this is the key one – you need to make these ads look different to AdSense ads – this is a bit of a challenge I guess – the main thing though is probably not to run these ads into Adsense ads and make them all look the same. When in doubt I’d contact AdSense though.

  9. gary says:

    Is there a web resource that lists a range of fees collected for ads placed on web sites, i.e. a banner ad vs. a small 80×120 graphic, vs. text ads? I’ve got zero ads on my site, but if I can find sponsers, I’d like to be able to give them a rate table grounded in reality instead of just saying, “what’s your budget?” – Maybe I should ask this on your newbie questions thread?

    Thanks in advance for any pointers.

  10. M Freitas says:

    I always discard these kind of unsolicited emails thinking that what these people are looking for is actually some PR – and this is not something I can give for a few bucks – I give it freely to sites I like, through my articles.

  11. I’ve had text links for sale on my blog for a few months and no one has yet to advertise with me. Even at 7 cents a day! I am surprised. I use AdBrite and have advertised on other blogs with okay results….just click throughs–no sales. :(

    Since I have no ranking with google, how can I make my blog more attractive for someone to advertise on?

  12. Marty Weil says:

    This is very helpful information, but I have a slightly different take on the topic. Instead of reacting to an email requesting the purchase of a text link on your blog, what if you want to approach prospective advertisers about buying links. What are the best strategies for proactively soliciting text ads from sponsors?

  13. Bumeral says:

    Last month I saw that google started to penalize all sites which try to sell links.You can by ads but only if are they with “nonfollow” link.

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