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Google now has an official stance on text link advertising, which can be found within their "Webmaster Guidelines" section at the following URL: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=66736&topic=8524
Essentially, the search engine giant still lumps text link ads together with link exchanges as "links intended to manipulate search engine results." This is a tremendous step for Google, because it essentially outlaws the vast majority of existing text link ad agreements. Mind you, Google explicitly mentions that text ads are acceptable as long as they include a "No Follow" attribute, which essentially blocks search engine spiders from passing through the link, but the reality is that very few existing text links include this piece of code.
Clearly, Google is stating that they are committed to stamping out text link advertising as a means for increasing PageRank or keyword rankings in organic search. So does this official stance signal the end of text link advertising as we know it? Will text ad pioneers like LinkAdage go the way of the dodo bird?
For starters, Google's own guidelines state they are planning on simply discounting specific text link ads, not penalizing or banning sites for buying or selling them. The reason for this is fairly simple; if Google penalizes sites that have text link ads pointing to them, then competitors will purposely buy text link ads and point them at their competitors in order to sabotage their rankings. Sites that are deemed to be selling text link ads may have their ability to pass PR compromised, but that won't necessarily prevent site owners from selling those types of ads to unsuspecting buyers.
Another factor worth considering is that Google implicitly states that their algorithm used to detect text link ads is still far from refined. This means that it is still virtually impossible to detect all text link ads in existence, meaning that many link buyers and sellers will continue to go about business without being detected for some time.
In addition, there are a new breed of text link ads that will make Google's job of detection all the more difficult. This new breed is called the "contextual link." Essentially, link sellers are packaging text link ads within the actual written content of their sites either as tag lines at the end of an article or blog post or as a seamless mention within the actual content. The second of these two options is virtually undetectable because they are essentially natural citations that are virtually identical to unsolicited inbound links form the basis of Google's citation ranking system.
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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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