Linking and Online Reputation: Should I Sell Viagra and Casino Links?
By: Aaron Wall
An Expensive Hobby:
Websites can be made on the cheap, but even if you do not spend a ton of money on advertising it is exceptionally time consuming to create a quality original site.
Eventually we will all die so we must place some value on that time. Some webmasters gain enough enjoyment from creating a site to where building their site is well worth its cost. Other people will gain enjoyment from speaking their mind or knowing they are helping others. If your website becomes a bit more than a hobby and starts eating most of your free time you may want to get a bit of compensation for your efforts.
Many sites are created as hobby sites which earn no direct revenue. To make money one could:
- Join Google AdSense;
- Add Amazon affiliate products;
- Join other affiliate programs;
- Create information products; or
- Directly sell advertising space.
AdSense works surprisingly well for some sites and affiliate programs work better for others. The only way to know what will work well for you is to test it out. A few of the larger affiliate program networks are CJ, LinkShare, Performics, and Clickbank (Clickbank sells electronic downloadable type products).
The Value of Reputation
The two biggest currencies on the web are reputation and link popularity. Once you build up enough reputation suddenly your words become "more true" or "more important" than they otherwise would be.
When you know thousands of people see what you have to say, but may not have to directly answer to anyone for your words it becomes a bit easy to forget how precious that reputation is. Once you abuse it or lose your reputation it is probably going to be much harder to reacquire than it was to initially acquire.
With enough money you can buy whatever you want. New webmasters who are seeking to make small profits from their site probably do not have an infinite income stream and do not realize the value of their reputation or link popularity. Many poor webmasters have built up an unbelievably large amount of social currency.
Social currency and link popularity to some extent parallel one another. While most sites do not have profitable business models many of them do have something which is desired by thousands and thousands of webmasters: link popularity.
Enter the Commercial Web:
When you write quality information in a non commercial setting people will naturally reference it. I was referenced in some paper a person wrote about Islam (though I know little about Islam) just because I once posted about a guy who called me from Kuwait asking for promotional help.
Most commercial sites usually do not naturally pick up links in that manner. Without giving away any unique useful and interesting information acquiring links becomes much harder.
The same commercial sites must compete against each other to attain top search engine placement in search algorithms which are primarily driven by linkage data.
Instead of trying to create anything original or citation worthy most websites participate in various linking schemes to build whatever link popularity they can (and I perhaps am just as guilty as the next guy).
Selling Relevant Advertising:
In one way or another most non commercial sites are related to commercial ideas. There is absolutely nothing wrong with selling on topic relevant advertising. Most large companies that are deeply involved in the web either buy and / or sell ads.
Selling ads only to related sites will mean that you will shrink down your potential target link buying market (and that may mean smaller short term profits), but most visitors are not going to be annoyed by a small amount of relevant on topic advertising.
Selling Off Topic or Otherwise Annoying Ads:
Sometimes we sell ourselves short in the long run to make a buck now. Online casino, debt related, pornography, or pharmacy sites can afford to pay a ton for advertising.
If you view some of the larger more reputable link brokers (Text Link Ads or Text Link Brokers) you will see what the going rate is for text link ads.
It takes a ton of effort to match on topic supply and demand, and it may even require deeply discounting your initial ad price. In the long run selling on topic ads will likely pay off more than selling off topic ads. There are a few major problems with selling off topic advertisements.
- Your site can get penalized by search engines. This is usually rare, but it is something which should be considered. Many of the other lasting effects of selling many off topic links are more likely and eventually end up being much worse.
- You could lose credibility with your readers.
- You could make your site less desirable to link to. Either indirectly from search engines or directly from following links people will cross your site. If you sell lots of off topic high margin links some people may be less likely to link at your site. With less inbound links you will end up with less readers and you may not grow as fast as the web does.
- You could corner yourself into an area where you can only sell links to high margin sites. Your advertising space has some finite value. With each additional link you add to your advertising space it leaves less link popularity to parse off to other advertisers. More importantly though, your early ads set the tone for your later ads. If you are selling to exceptionally off topic links then webmasters with on topic sites may not want to advertise on your site.
When I was newer to the web I placed many off topic links on many of my sites doing link exchanges and other schemes, but over time I moved away from doing that so as to not harm my credibility.
When you go off topic it eats away at your reputation and credibility. Any site that you intend to run long term probably should not advertise extremely off topic websites without first considering some of the potential side effects of said advertisements.