Recently, a Third Tribe forum thread by Matt of Health Blog Helper caught my eye. A company had offered him $80 to put a link to a running-related website in one of his old posts. Most people in the forum warned him that if Google figures out you are selling links, they will penalize you by lowering your page rank. Yet Third Tribe founder Darren Rowse wrote, “I understand some people need the money and are willing to take that risk.”
So, if you’re looking to make money with your blog, should you sell links or not?Understanding the Terminology
Before discussing the pros and cons to selling links, let’s go over some definitions:
Sponsored in-text links: These are paid links that seem to appear “organically” (naturally) in your content. For example, you post a story about receiving flowers for Mother’s Day. Then a company offers you a fee to have you link the word “flowers” to their florist website.
Note: If this is done as advertising, the link needs to be disclosed per the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Guidelines for Endorsements and Testimonials.
Text link ads: These appear in the side bar along with other graphic advertising and clearly look like advertising.
Page rank: The authority search engines give to your blog and content. The more authority your site has, the higher up your content will appear in searches. To check your page rank, use an online tool like PRChecker or install the page rank button to your Google Toolbar.Why Do Companies Buy Links?
Many companies purchase links to improve the page rank of their blog or website. For example, if you have a page rank of 5 and their site has a page rank of 2, they’ll purchase a link to grab some “Google juice” or authority from your higher-ranking blog to give to their lower-ranking website.
Frankly, it’s a cheap and quick way for them to build authority without having to do the hard work of building online relationships and creating great content to naturally earn incoming links.
Should you sell links?
Third Tribe member Paul Cunningham of Blogging Teacher wrote that you may be “pimping out your blog for a pittance” if you sell links. Yet $80 for a few minutes of time may help you pay the electricity bill this month.
However, don’t let the money persuade you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Is the website you’re linking to something you would recommend to a friend? Also, does it fit the subject matter of your blog? For example, if you have a food blog, is it linking to a food- or cooking-related site?
Also, what would happen if your page rank went down? It could mean a loss of search engine traffic, which in turn means less ad network revenue, fewer people buying ads on your site, and fewer PR pitches and opportunities. (Well, maybe fewer pitches is a good thing.)
I’ve seen bloggers freak out when their page rank goes down and immediately take down text links. Then again, John Chow admits to selling links and makes a good living doing so. However, he has been saddled with a zero page rank in the past (he now has a page rank of five) and said low page rank never affected his traffic. Then again, he’s one of the biggest Internet gurus out there, so no matter what his page rank is, people will seek out his blog.What Works for You and Your Readers?
As Third Tribe founder Sonia Simone wrote in the forums, “Why link to anything on your site you aren't proud of? How does that benefit your readers? How does that build your credibility, get your audience to know, like, and trust you?”
What would your readers think if you sold text link ads? Would they care and if so, could it hurt your relationship with them?
Bottom line, decide what’s right for you and your blog. Also, seriously think about your personal ethics. You may decide that in-text links are a no-no since the buyer may not want them identified as sponsored links. However, having a “Sponsored Links” column in your side bar could be OK with you, since it’s disclosed. Remember it’s your blog and you get to decide how you’re going to monetize it.
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