Are text link ads spam?

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ValleyWag calls out TechCrunch for another fishy advertiser.

Michael may be against spam on principle, but hey, a blogger’s gotta pay the bills. So he had no problem taking sponsorship from Text Link Ads, a company that violates Google’s terms of service by selling links for higher search ranks.

Duncan Riley (great blog design, Duncan) doesn’t understand why Text Link Ads are spammy, saying:

You’ll see them over most b5media blogs under “marketplace”, because it’s a cost effective way for advertisers to advertise with us, and yes, they do result in links and traffic to these sites directly from the blogs.

And Arrington (presumably—the comment came from "TechCrunch") says

TLA sells link ads...where’s the spam?

I’ll explain it to you guys (I left much of this as a comment on Duncan’s site).

If all that Text Link Ads and their advertisers cared about, the ads would be inserted using Javascript. It’s easier, has a larger pool of potential publishers (more peole can insert javascript than PHP/Perl/ASP/etc), and can provide exactly the same look and traffic to the end user. The only reason for using a server-side language is to make the ad links appear to be an organic part of the web page and therefore influence search rankings.

At Pheedo we had a number of potential advertisers request that we serve non-Javascript ads. We balked at this. And when we suggested it might be considered with a nofollow link, the advertisers lost interest.

In fact, the number one reason that Text Link Ads lists as a reason to advertise with them is, "Text Link Ads are served as static links that can help your natural (organic) search engine rankings."

The only difference between this and blog comment spamming is that Text Link Ads is paying the bloggers for polluting their space.

Not all people wanting to buy text links are looking to spam blogs. When Jeremy Zawodny tested out text links he found that some advertisers would be fine with a nofollow and in fact one advertiser asked Jeremy for it. And an engineer in Yahoo’s search division suggests that while plain link ads do gum up the works for a search engine, that shouldn’t be the concern of the advertisers and publishers...

Anyway, selling linkage does make life harder for search engines, but maybe that’s our problem not yours. (By "our", I mean people who actually work on the search engines themselves.)

(And no, I’m not linking to this because Arrington hasn’t written about Tagyu. Back when Tagyu launched, I was getting too much traffic and asked him not to write about it.)

June 22, 2006 5:12 PM

Just wanted to let you know that your blog is messed up in IE 6.0 on Win XP. I use both IE and Firefox. Just happened to be in IE when I hopped a link to your buttonmaker and then backed up to see what the rest of your website looks like. Looks ok in Firefox but all the stuff that's on the right hand side in FF is below the blog text in IE. Plus the blog text itself is being cut off on the left margin. The first 4-5 letters of each line are cut off. Also the line that is the left margin of blockquotes appears within the text of the blockquote. Have fun!

July 21, 2006 1:39 PM

Hrm. Good point: The main value prop for advertisers here seems to be not eyeballs or clickthroughs (the ads are so short as to have little function that way); they're primarily designed to be able to 'buy' pagerank. However, their appeal for publishers goes beyond just money: There's none of the screen-flicker or latency that come with Flash-based ads or Google Adwords. And you can approve individual ads rather than accepting anything Google sees fit to serve up and then playing post-hoc catchup by blocking offensive ads. And where's the moral indignation over blog networks, group blogrolls, etc.? These 'game' the search engines just as much as Text Link Ads. The only difference is that the perpetrators are bloggers rather than commercial advertisers. No?

September 24, 2006 5:06 AM

Could you please site where TLA publishing is against Google Adsense TOS? In addition, what is your definition of spam, is it advertiser that's interested in more than just traffic? ie PR In terms of spammy, I dont consider it any worse than advertisers purchasing cheap clicks from Google. Although I suppose you were just going after the shock value..controversey to gain readership. Doesn't look like it turned out very well for you. ;) Best regards.

Adam Kalsey
September 24, 2006 8:51 AM

> Could you please site (sic) where TLA publishing is against Google Adsense TOS? In addition, It doesn't, and I didn't say that it is. In fact, I didn't mention AdSense at all. What I did say was that *Valleywag*, another blog, says TLA is a violation of Google's TOS. Not the AdSense TOS, but the one for the search engine. That's not entirely accurate. What TLA is actually in violation of is Google's "Webmaster guidelines" at This isn't a legal document that you agree to in order to use Google. The quality guidelines are in place to tell site owners what actions that Google considers acceptable SEO and conversely what actions will get your site banned from the search index. Matt Cutts, a de facto Google spokesman, says on his blog that TLA is something Google considers buying links to get PR unacceptable. See where is says "we consider it outside our guidelines to get PageRank via buying links" and that "link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext)." He goes on to suggest using nofollow links if all you really want is the traffic. > what is your definition of spam, is it advertiser > that's interested in more than just traffic? ie PR If the primary purpose of the advertising is to game a search engine, it's probably spam. If you are deliberately trying to hide your link, it's probably spam. If it's not useful to the people looking at the site, it's probably spam. If the advertising is used in great numbers by casinos, mortgages, discount drug retailers, and get rich quick schemes, it's probably spam. > In terms of spammy, I dont consider it any worse than advertisers purchasing cheap clicks from Google. And the people who send me thousands of comments a day for various medical miracles have ways of justifying it to themselves, too, but ultimately Google and the blogging public both consider it spam. Google considers buying plain text links to be a violation of their policies. They aren't yet docking sites for selling text ads, but if they can't contain the problem they likely will. > Although I suppose you were just > going after the shock value..controversey (sic) to gain readership. I suppose you're just going after readers by flaming high traffic bloggers in their comments. In article I explore the issue from the standpoint of a large advertising network, show why Google doesn't like the practice, and present an alternative viewpoint from a Yahoo engineer. Nothing terribly controversial here. With 15k daily readers I don't find it necessary or even interesting to boost readership temporarily by saying something stupid. In the future, you'll appear less ignorant if you bother read the blog before firing of a flame comment.

September 27, 2006 9:22 PM

I am not sure if I follow you guys.... Text Link Ads has never hidden the fact that using their services you can increase link popularity of your website. So how is it illegal?..... Let me ask you this. If I wnated to place a link my website on yours, would that be legal? You own this website and it's up to you how you intened to use it. You sell space to AdSense other people sell it to TLA. If Google says that having TLA and Adsense links on one page vioates Adsense TOS, it does not make TLA illegal. I just can not follow the logic sorry.

Adam Kalsey
September 27, 2006 10:24 PM

Vlad: Where did anyone say that TLA was illegal? Or anything about AdSense? Here's the thing. Search engines, including Google, consider selling links to be gaming the search index. Just like participating in link farms or FFA link schemes, it's unethical. Gaming search engines hurts overall search quality and is bad for the interwebs. TLA is black-hat SEO, plain and simple. It's no different than the keyword stuffing and invisiblle text that was widely used when search was young. And if I can't appeal to your sense of morals, perhaps I can appear to your sense of commerce. Search engines, especially Google, have shown an eagerness in the past to de-list sites who choose to particpate in link gaming. The coin that you're making for TLA now won't seem nearly as attractive once Google knocks you from their listings. And you'll have no room to complain. Google told you they don't like it, that it doesn't play by their rules. And you chose to ignore that. Google is well within their rights to set rules and knock down sites that don't follow along.

September 28, 2006 2:51 PM

Adam, Sorry, I may not made my poit clearly. Tehre was a comment made by some one on, suggesting that TLA is illegal with a reference to your site. The comment was for "Feedvertising" post.

EQ2 Gold
December 29, 2006 6:06 PM

Good point. definitely agreeed with it.

This discussion has been closed.

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