You may be seeing more requests and inquiries about text link ads on your travel blog, and now that you know how to handle requests and sales, you can dive into the nitty-gritty details of putting it all together. Text link ad requests come in different forms and advertisers are always looking for a leg up on bloggers who might not know what “normal” is.
There are several guidelines you can follow to make the most out of each text link ad you sell (if you sell them) and standardize how you process each request.
How Much To Charge?
You should have a set list of prices for your pages based on a combination of Google Pagerank, monthly page views, and unique traffic. You’ll save much time and be consistent with every advertiser by doing this.
- There is a great guide of rates in Nomadic Matt‘s popular eBook, How To Make Money With Your Travel Blog. I’ve reviewed it several times across my blogs and think it’s well worth the $17 price.
- Your rates should be monthly or yearly since you don’t benefit at all from selling permanent links.
Matt’s eBook breaks down prices by Pagerank and is a great guide to follow. Most advertisers will pay those rates – don’t be discouraged by the ones that walk. Become accustomed to many advertising options falling through. There are quality advertisers willing to pay for room on quality travel blogs so don’t low ball yourself for just any sale.
- Add Incentives – Along with a rate sheet and pricing structure, it’s a good idea to build in a series of discounts for multiple link sales as well as long term sales as well. I’ve found that this helps those people who aren’t as comfortable with bargaining and also saves some time with much of the back and forth that goes on in negotiating.
Remember, don’t give away advertising for too little – you’ll get many more offers than sales in the long term and you can bet for each email you get, the same message has gone out to other blogs of similar size. Many advertisers are simply trying to get whatever they can for any price, whereas the quality companies will pay for quality sites.
Don’t Sell Too Many Ads Per Page
Many bloggers chase money so much that they over-sell on their blogs blatantly and don’t diversify ad placement. This hurts your travel blog and monetizing efforts in several ways.
- You Jeopardize Your Pagerank – The higher the Pagerank on your homepage, individual pages, or posts, the more leverage you have with advertisers. Selling excessive links for next to nothing when your site is a common Pagerank 1, 2, or 3 hurts you in the long run.
- Harder To Negotiate – As I mentioned above, when your Pagerank and traffic numbers are low, you’ve got more competition. There’s always some other travel blog that will sell links for less than you – so instead of chasing people down, think up. Less competition and higher rates if you are practice good SEO (I highly recommend DIY SEO Guide to learn a lot about search engine optimization).
You might not be aware though just how much space on your travel blog there is to sell text links. There is a lot of space to sell and advertisers will try and get more out of every sale unless you know how to leverage your site.
How To Diversify Your Selling Space
Let me be clear – selling links can violate Google’s policy on the matter, but if you do sell them you’ve got more space than you think. Using the plugin Widget Logic or Widget Context you can have your sidebar widgets appear only on specific pages or posts. This can not only help clean up your site but also lets you sell text links on your homepage without them appearing elsewhere.
- Many of your blog posts and individual pages (i.e. category or blog pages) may have Pagerank. (You can check using the Search Status Firefox plugin.)
By having widgets for individual pages you can sell more total ads without having them clutter up any given page. Keep in mind that advertisers are generally concerned with Pagerank, so a spot on a single page is a single sale – you can still tack on additional pages though – a good way make use of your discount program and get more compound sales.
Understanding Contextual Links
These are links that sit within existing posts or can be hidden in new posts. Advertises go after these links for a number of SEO reasons and while you can’t charge much for them (depends on the Pagerank of that page) you’ve got many posts and pages to sell on. Contextual links are basically placed inconspicuously into posts and look natural in the text.
- Sponsored Posts – Before you read on, be sure you’re not giving away free advertising by reading the post, Dealing With Corporate Guest Posts. Many bloggers earn quite a bit of money by using services like ReviewMe or allowing advertisers to submit posts with several links in the body. The pay is usually much higher than for traditional text link ads but sponsored posts aren’t usually the best written or very interesting to your readers. On top of that, the advertiser typically inserts 3-4 links in a post for a one-time fee (which amounts to selling a few permanent links). Personally, I don’t think the trade is worth it for these primary reasons but a decision many are happy with.
- Contextual Option – You can always offer to sell contextual links in place of sponsored posts. The advertiser gets the same “link juice” and pays less (but by month or year). Start with your ranked pages and give advertisers the option of non-ranked (but much cheaper) contextual spots.
Part of the way your travel blog will build an audience and Pagerank is by having people read and link back to your stories. Most people won’t read or link back to sponsored posts so it can hurt your site if you overdo it.
Keep Track Of It All
One mistake people make in the beginning is focusing on the monetary numbers but not tracking where they place ads – and more importantly don’t note when they expire! Keep a spreadsheet or use a calendar program that will email you 10 days before an ad is to expire. Then you can email the advertiser to see if they’re interested in renewing and update your rates based on any new traffic or higher Pagerank.
Much of this post had text link ads in mind but a lot of it can apply to banner ads as well. It’s important to be firm and standardize your rates and policies – updating them internally if you feel something isn’t working. Don’t change how much you charge based on one lost advertiser, but rather stick to something for at least 3 months and connect with your peers to evaluate your policies from time to time. You can also supplement your private sales with these 4 simple ways to earn and make money with your travel blog.
[photos by: padraic (man juggling), Hkkuchera (text), jimmiehomesschoolmom (unfolding book), Steve Kay (camouflage), duncan (phew)]
Great information ~ thank you!
I was wondering if you could advise on noting these links as “no follow.” My web designer says I should do that and that the people who pay for the links get what they need without my site losing SEO juice. Is this true?
When you do no-follow links, Google, Bing, and most search engines won’t use them for ranking purposes. Google also does not penalize site who sell no-follow links. Many advertisers aren’t going to go for no follow links though – since they purchase them specifically to increase their own pagerank.
I would say if the links are going to be no-follow, you’d need to make this clear to the advertiser before the purchase. No-follow is better for your site (in terms of Google penalties) but not nearly as valuable to advertisers.
Thanks for the advice Anil.
Can advertisers tell if you make a link “no follow?”
You’re welcome JoAnna 🙂
Yes, they can tell easily by looking at the page code (in Firefox > View >Page Source).
Excellent resource Anil. I’ve been wondering about the option of selling text links on specific, ranked pages. Good to know there is a widget to make that possible. I’ll look into it.
I’m talking with a hostel chain about the possibility of a sponsored post. I was honest and explained to them I’d never considered it as an option, yet would consider it based on the content of the post and the price they were willing to pay. I see what you mean – it’s essentially a permanent link sale. The price would have to be pretty high to agree I think.
I’d look at what their offer is, divided by 12 and consider the monthly rate over a year. Typically with sponsored posts I’ve seen they’ll pay about double what your homepage (yearly) rate is.
So how many text link ads on a page is too many? This is something I’ve been wondering since I’ve been getting an increasing amount of inquiries about text links and while I could use the money I definitely don’t want to over do it.
I wouldn’t do more than 4-8 on given page. Looks like several of your pages are individually ranked so you’ve got options 😉
Only the front page of my blog is ranked. Is that because it is a blog format and not a “magazine” style? How would I get other pages or specific posts ranked by Google?
A lot of it has to do with how SEO friendly your theme is and how well is “passes” rank throughout your pages. Magazine style doesn’t factor into it very much at all. When did you change you theme (last few months as I remember). Also, have you used All-In-One SEO on any of you individual posts?
I changed my theme the first week in April, so it’s only been a few months. I use all-in-one SEO on every single post I write. That said, my actual text probably isn’t SEO friendly as I write like I speak, and that’s definitely not in SEO garb.
Since April there has been 1 ranking update, I’m guess another one will happen this month (in August at the latest). Check your pages after Google releases their updated rankings and hopefully you’ll have a few more with pagerank and know how well your theme is passing along rank between pages.
Nice post, thanks for making things nice and clear. Very timely as well since I have recently been getting a lot of inquiries. Where do you typically find your sales? Do you wait to be contact or do you search for them as well?
I had good inspiration!! 🙂
The vast majority of advertisers come to me but I have reached out to them as well.
thanks anil for such great tips. we always got contact directly by the advertisers especially for getting text links, I guess that’s because we got a good google rank of 5/10 but as you suggested most of them are after follow links. hence at this stage we stop selling them as we don’t want to overcrowd our homepage with ads and get penalize by google but we never thought on contexual links. we can’t really install that widget logic since we are running on blogger but do you think we could carry on selling follow contexual text links without being penalized?
You need to spread them out (max. 2-4 on a given ranked page) and make them look natural in the text.
Great information as usual, Anil 🙂
I wasn’t aware that some pages have individual ranking! Is thre a quick way to find out which ones they are?
It seems a bit of a Catch 22 with advertisers, Google rank, Adsense (if you have it) and what you want to do for your site. I’m not sure what a happy medium is now…
You know I’ve been looking for one for some time and can’t find anything. It would certainly make things easier – although I did come across this:
I’ll keep my eye and and let you know if I can turn anything else up.
Thanks 🙂 I used http://pagerank.bthomson.com/ and it worked. I didn’t realise I had ranked pages!
That’s a very useful tool. Thanks for sharing.
I’ll never sell Text Link Ads on any of my sites. The risk far outweighs the reward. I’ve always considered it bad practise, and the fact that fellow web users can report you for it makes it much too risky.
MUCH better to concentrate on creating good, relevant SEO content and earning a good reputation, which in turn attracts quality advertisers.
See this post from Matt Cutts (a Google employee) http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/how-to-report-paid-links/ who makes it pretty clear.
Remember, even if your site isn’t the one reported for it, you can still be burned. Google will punish sites linking to ‘bad’ websites, so if the seller of Text Link Ads e.g. Monaco Hostels is reported for malpractice, everyone displaying their link gets a knock in the SERPs.
Plus, as liberated travel bloggers, if you want to use that white space for some good, why not give it up to a good cause and consider it a donation-in-kind instead of selling $20 ad links which devalue the work of so many honest companies.
Very thoughtful counterpoint to selling text link ads. The spectrum of quality vs. otherwise advertisers is wide, but they’re definitely out there. Some of the points you made above is why I personally don’t do sponsored posts but I think it’s becoming a popular way to get paid links back.
After reading Ant’s comment, is one right in assuming that image ads get around the issues raised? Appreciate both your thoughts 🙂
I *think* (and I’m fully open to being shot down) that banner ads *should* be ‘nofollow’ whereas text ad links by their very design (using anchor text) are required (by the vendor) to be ‘rel=”follow”‘.
For those that have no idea what I just said: NoFollow links will be ignored by Google’s search engine spiders, whereas Follow links will be indexed. Therefore NoFollow links (like most comment threads) will receive no immediate search engine benefit, but Follow links will.
The fact is, most people don’t know that banner ads should be ‘nofollow’, and continue regardless (and those businesses that do know it, don’t advertise it because it won’t be them that’s punished). For this reason, I doubt Google is too heavy on it.
It’s really a Catch22. The higher your PageRank, the greater the number of Text Link advertisers will propose buying a Text Ad Link on your travel blog. They want to ‘feed’ off your Google love.
If and when Google uncover this, your PageRank could be ‘fined’ and therefore the companies which leached off your good PageRank will scarper, leaving you with a damaged PageRank, and where you were once being financially compensated, suddenly you’re not. No money. No Google love. Back to square one.
It’s worth realising, that I’m taking a very conservative point of view. Many bloggers and site owners pooh-pooh the idea as mere scare tactics by Google. Theorising that if Google are going to punish anyone, they’ll go after the sharks as oppose to the minnows.
For me, I’m looking to build on my strengths not feed off other peoples weaknesses.
I agree with Ant’s point about follow and nofollow links and banner ads (or text ads) that are nofollow are OK by Google. They don’t like people gaming the system and for the most part that’s what (follow) text links do. You can try selling nofollow text link ads for less, I know some people who’ve been successful with it. While each ad would probably sell for less, you could sell more of them to even things out.
I think in the case of Google, if one limits the amount of ads per page and doesn’t sell to spammy sites (there are quality advertisers out there), then they aren’t likely to come after a site in my opinion. Of course though, it is always a risk.
Ant, a conservative view is often a good one to have as it often grounded in facts. If advertisers pay for an image ad with a No Follow, they’re still getting the exposure and subsequently the click-through, so it’s still a win-win in my view. But I’m not sure they would see it this way.
Anil, that’s a good point. Offering them a discounted rate with a no follow and dealing with quality sites. Spam sites are easy to spot.
I can see this being a touchy and divisive subject, so thank you gentlemen for the discussion 🙂
Nice counter arguments Ant. Personally, I think it is a matter of what you want from your site. Just because it is against Google’s rules to sell Follow text links I don’t think it is necessarily exploiting or feeding off of other people’s weaknesses. There is a huge difference in selling a link to ANYONE and selling a link to a quality advertiser that I think my readers would benefit from. It is basically an endorsement. If I only deal with quality sites I am still following the principle set by Google that links should infer some type of endorsement.
Sure there are people who abuse this, but I think my readers and potential future readers will be able to tell the difference. I think there is enough gray area to accommodate different risk tolerances. Having text links does pose a risk, it’s up to you to know what you want out of your site and if links will help or hinder that. There is also plenty of room on a blog to do good and help our charities etc that I don’t think its as simple as saying use the text link space for something “better.”
I’m enjoying the discussion. Thanks for the fodder Anil.
Thanks Todd, it’s certainly a conversation worth having. I think the influence Google has on the Internet is incredible, it’s almost like they’re the only ones making the rules that matter.
Yes, very true Todd. Reputable companies mean a lot in this game.
Looking at the bigger picture, I guess I’m leaning on my experience of seeing the types of companies that use paid text link tactics. To use a travel metaphor, I see it like this:
We’re in India, and we want to do the right thing by the locals. We buy a cup of chai from the local chai wallah; he’s been there for years, working hard to accrue a customer base, promote himself in the neighbourhood and generally do the right thing by everyone.
Suddenly. Café Coffee Day (a massive coffee chain), opens up right behind his stall. They start handing out vouchers for cheap coffee to passers-by, and suddenly people start not noticing the hard-working wallah. The Mighty Dollar (or, Super Rupee) has obliterated years of good service, and his customers have all been bought out in a flash.
Sure: Café Coffee Day makes a good coffee; they pay their staff a fair wage and by all accounts they’re a decent, and reputable company. But was it fair?
Metaphor over. I just don’t think it’s fair practise to manipulate SERPs for financial gain. We should be allowing the cream to rise to the top organically, not forcing it up there. I dare say 90% of the people selling text ad links have had no experience of the link’s recipient, therefore how could they possibly endorse them? Though the same could go for “legitimate” banner ads.
In a world where consumers are becoming more aware of practises such as Fair Trade, and a world where we travellers are urged to integrate and interact; isn’t there a certain amount of hypocrisy in promoting the flawed, paid link techniques?
I don’t know the answer.
I actually see a lot of loopholes. Perhaps the aggressive link vendor is the wallah, trying to outstrip the corporate? Imagine that: I’d be putting down the underdog. God forbid!
Disclaimer: I do see some similarities in the structure of travel blog lists and/or directories, and I heavily promote one. I wonder if people can tie this in? I wonder if Google will start to really lean on this?
But again, isn’t that what we all do anyway: wonder what will happen.
Take it from someone who got burnt in 2007 for selling text link ads. Around the time when Google brought out their ‘report text link ads’ form, I had a number of links in the footer of Travel Rants. Someone, I am 99% convinced reported me for selling, and I received a Google PageRank “penalty” it dived from PR6 to PR3. Then PR2.
The penalty didn’t bother me because, well it’s only a few green pixels on a toolbar, right? 😉
Then about six months later, I started to see my rankings tank out of the 1st page, traffic, reduced 50% overnight. There could have been some other reason for this, but what convinced me it was to do with selling links, is that I put a ‘nofollow’ on these ads (and spoke with each advertiser, refunded some money, got a bit of grief etc.) I then contacted the big G via the webmaster centre, and literally within 24 hours, my PR jumped back up to PR5, the rankings came back, the traffic came back.
So, yes, I earnt a good amount of money from it, a lot of money to be honest, in the long run it wasn’t worth it. Now, my ads were in the footer, they could be easily seen as text link ads, they were obvious.
I keep well away from selling text link ads, of any form, and have never sold ads within the content, that’s just a massive NO NO for me. BUT It would be more difficult for them to find text link ads in the content, I mean, you link to sites because they are useful for the reader.
Bear in mind that Google want to stop anyone from manipulating the search results, and selling text link ads, your doing exactly that.
Thanks for sharing your story Darren, I think it speaks loads to the potential risks of selling text link ads.
Point in motion, that’s text book stuff Darren thanks for sharing. It’s good for people to hear this. The report paid links thing is a pretty horrible thing in my opinion. It promotes snakes in the grass and I believe Google is big enough, and savvy enough to hunt the offenders out themselves.
(Being English, does it not remind you of the system employed to shop drink drivers! I remember when they brought that in, it split communities. No one agrees with drink drivers, but no one likes a grass either.)
You raised the point: “BUT It would be more difficult for them to find text link ads in the content.” I agree, it would be more difficult, but the report links method asks for the seller, and buyer of the text link. Therefore I would guess, they could look at all incoming links to the ‘bad*’ URL. In theory, most of the incoming links will have been bought.
*Bad in the sense that they’re breaking Google’s rules, not necessarily a bad company.
Idea: If people want to earn money from paid links, but protect their prized blog, consider setting up a small hobby website. It doesn’t have to be travel related. Build it up, sell some text link ads and ride the wave. When you sink, do some testing. Don’t risk your showstopper.
The reporting tool I think is questionable as well, since there’s no way to prove a link was ever paid for. Despite how much something looks like a text link ad, there’s no way to tell if funds were ever transferred.
Also, in the US, if you put paid contextual links in content, legally you need to disclose this according to the new FTC regulations.
I didn’t know about the FTC rule. Do have any examples or a link to the rule change?
A representative from the FTC told us this at TBEX. I’ll see if I can hunt down a link or find her contact information for you.
Thanks Anil. I can search for it as well. I guess I should have made the trip to TBEX after all. Maybe next year.
Here’s the video (actually it’s mostly audio). Scroll to about the 46 minute mark, the talk is about 30 minutes or so:
Btw, looks like TBEX11 tickets just went on sale:
I haven’t had a chance to watch the videos yet so maybe I will take some time today. I got the pre-registration email today and have already bought my ticket. I was hoping for Europe but Vancouver is nice too as I’ve never been there 😉
I’m terrible with planning in advance but just got my ticket as well. Hopefully I’ll see you there 🙂
Google is quite clear on rel=nofollow and paid links, as explained here:
When you sell text links you’re selling advertising and potential traffic, not backlinks, and it’s a very important distinction. I would also cite yet another Matt Cutt post on the topic for further explanation (slightly out of date due to pagerank changes but still useful insight):
The FTC getting involved lately ads more complexity, I wish they were a bit more concrete and clear about their desires–but that’s government for you.
I think it’s also tough for the government to regulate (and understand) much of what’s going on in the blogging world – although it seems they might be catching up. As for Google, you’re right, they are clear in their policy. A policy they can enforce as well since their Pagerank is such and important metric for websites these days.
Wow, I think I just spent an hour reading through this post and the comments. I need to make notes! Great post!!!
Thank you very much Andi 🙂
The division between banner ads and links is a little blurred – if you are selling a banner in your sidebar it looks like an ad but in fact the sponsor is just buying it for the link and unless it’s a follow one they are unlikely to want it. Also many people now will put widgets in the same space which may have more than one link.
The widgets often offer up many links for the price of one – not usually a good deal for the blogger!
This was a very poignant article and I have a story similar to Darren’s. My website had a PR5 in 2009 when predictably several advertisers approached for text links. At the highest point I had 6 text links. Then in 2010, I didn’t post much and maybe that’s why, or maybe due to the links (most probably, although 6 is not a huge number is it?), my PR dropped to 3 (with several pages reporting 2). I got terrified and removed all outgoing links (including to blog friends like you. :P) Now I am very skeptical about this text link business. I assumed advertisers won’t like no-follows anyway so I didn’t ask, but since it doesn’t hurt, maybe I will in the future. But now I’m not convinced all this is worth the money.
Typically 6 text ads isn’t enough to draw the ire of Google, although I do think some links/companies are on their special “bad” list. Having one of those might do some extra damage. Google has definitely made a change in the PR algorithm, I’ve noticed some wild swings (good and bad) on several sites in the past few months.
Right now I see a shift more into sponsored posts and having links there. Asking for no-follow is still worth a shot although I think many advertisers are now set on appearing in posts themselves.