A Brave New World: the Current and Future Status of Text Link Advertising

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Text link advertising has gotten a bad name thanks to its early history. But there is a new wave of text link ad companies now, and Google is finally weighing in on the issue. What does this mean for you?

It wasn't too long ago that text link advertising was little more than an underground network of webmasters that chose to exchange cash for links as opposed to the more conventional swapping of a link for a link.

Then along came SearchKing.com.

This portal was the first to openly sell text link ads specifically to improve PageRank and search engine results. Owner Bob Massa launched the "PR ad network" within SearchKing.com in August of 2002, offering to broker text link ad deals between potential buyers and sellers. The site quickly gained steam (and notoriety) within the SEO community, but was promptly penalized by Google in September of 2002. SearchKing.com lost its PR 7 ranking and its favorable rankings for specific search terms with in Google.

One month later, Massa sued Google Inc. and asked for restoration of his PageRank and search engine positions as well as damages of no less than $75,000. After just a few months of legal haggling, a U.S. district court dismissed the lawsuit and SearchKing.com was officially sunk.

Many thought that this would be the final death blow for mainstream text link advertising efforts, but in fact, it marked the birth of what is now a thriving industry. In October of 2003, John Lessnau launched his portal, LinkAdage.com, which mimicked the eBay auction model, but applied it to text link advertising. Around the same time, two text link ad brokerages, textlinkbrokers.com and text-link-ads.com, begin to offer their services to enterprising webmasters.

Initially, many in the SEO community were sure that these maverick portals would meet the same end as SearchKing.com, but that was not to be the case. Since none of these sites explicitly promoted improvement of PageRank as the basis for advertising, Google apparently chose to spare them the wrath visited upon their more famous predecessor. All three portals have grown significantly, in terms of both scope and revenue, and a fourth major portal, LinkWorth.com, has entered the fray.

What has ensued is a nearly four-year-long argument among webmasters concerning the legitimacy of text link advertising and whether it is a white-hat or black-hat SEO technique.

And for the most part, Google has remained mum on the subject. Sure, there were several mentions of text link advertising lumped in with reciprocal linking within some of Google's various patent applications, but the search engine titan had no official stance on the subject. But that's all changed now.

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A Brave New World: the Current and Future Status of Text Link Advertising
Contributed by Hugo Guzman
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