Google Penalizes Paid Links
Last fall, Google started cracking down on paid links. To understand what this means, you first have to understand that Google lists sites in its search results in part by examining who the site links to and who links to it. Some websites pay money to other websites so that they will link to them, and this improves the buyer’s standing in the search listings. Google felt this distorted the value of its listings, and so it started penalizing sites that were buying links by reducing their Page Rank. Page Rank (named after one of the founders of Google) is Google’s way of assigning a value to websites for the purpose of determining who gets listed higher in search results. It seemed to most people that primarily those taking advantage of Text-Link Ads’ paid links were being targeted. At the time, and up until recently, I was running Text-Link Ads on my gardening site.
Ads, or Google Juice?
I don’t want to be a slave to any search engine’s rankings, but Google’s crack-down made me realize that Text-Link Ads had misrepresented their services to me. During the publisher sign-up process, the links that will be placed on your site are referred to as ads. But really what they are selling to their customers is an opportunity to raise their Page Rank by being linked from my higher ranking page. Unwittingly, I wasn’t really selling advertising space, but “Google juice.”
And although I chose the option to approve all ads before they started running, several ads got placed on my site that I never had a chance to approve–or disapprove. I don’t know whether this was a bug in their system, lost email notifications, or deliberate deception. On one occasion I did find that my option had been reset to automatic approval, and I had to change it back. More recently, I had received an email notification and had rejected the ad because it wasn’t related to gardening. Shortly thereafter, two other non-gardening ads showed up in my sidebar, and I never got the email requesting my approval. This time, when I checked, my options were still set correctly.
A New Source of Income is Needed
These things disturbed me, as I had thought I was signing up to place garden-related ads on my site, and it turns out I was selling Page Rank to anyone willing to plunk down the money. However, there was no denying I was earning more per month with this program than I earned, on average, with Google Adsense, and I like to be compensated for the considerable time I put into writing and maintaining my gardening website. For this reason I wanted to come up with an alternate source of income before ditching Text-Link Ads. My plan was to upgrade my software, refine the website’s design, and then approach my favorite garden vendors directly about advertising on my site.
But I was too busy to upgrade the site, and not looking forward to cold calling my favorite garden merchants, and so I was letting the whole thing slide. Then last week I got an email from Text-Link Ads requesting me to update my service with them by switching from pasted-in code to their WordPress plugin. The plugin needed to be configured before it was installed, and I was asked to provide a title for this section of my sidebar, and was specifically requested not to use any language to indicate the links were paid. That was the final straw. Income or no income, if I can’t state openly that the “ad” is being paid for, I don’t want the ad on my site. It was one thing for them to deceive me; it was quite another when they asked me to deceive my readers. I was not crossing that line.
I gave them notice that I would no longer be participating in their service and took the ad code off my site. I’ve emailed one merchant about the possibility of advertising on my site but haven’t heard back, and I’m trying to work up the courage to approach other gardening businesses. I’ve started upgrading my site design in anticipation of upgrading the software, but it’s the type of thing where you need a nice block of time to really make some progress. Long story short: this was the kick in the pants I needed to finally break with Text-Link Ads, but I’m not going to replace that income any time soon.
I started out blogging for love but sure enjoyed blogging for money. I could probably make more money if I spent the time I now spend blogging on freelance writing, but then I have to write what the market wants to buy–not what I want to write. I’ve always had trouble doing that. Marketing–figuring out what the other guy wants to buy, or making him want to buy what I’ve got to sell–has never been my strong point.
So, what’s next? I’m not sure.