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Open Letter To Patrick Gavin – Text Link Ads President

November 29th, 2007 · 8 Comments

UPDATE 21 DEC: Patrick has responded to the points raised in this post. His response can be found in the comments section

Dear Patrick,

I’ve been a vocal supporter of Text Link Ads for some time now. I love the fact that you offer an alternative to AdSense, that you don’t put in place any kind of minimum commission thresholds and that you pay out via PayPal each and every month. For a lot of smaller bloggers or webmasters, Text Link Ads provides a regular monthly income that is far in excess of what they could earn using AdSense.

However, as you are more than aware, the Big G has been clamping down on paid linking programs over the last few months. The repercussions from the PageRank bitch slapping sessions of last month are still being felt even now. Whether you and I agree with what Google are doing is irrelevant, the fact is that they are gunning for you.

As I pointed out back in June, Google have been quite clear about paid links which pass PageRank for some time. Some sites have reported this as being new news but Google have been straight(ish) down the line on the subject for a while. I say straightish because Matt Cutts has muddied the line in the past by suggesting that paid links would only affect the ability to pass PageRank but that’s another matter…

Patrick, I’m going to be honest with you here and say I’m a bit disappointed. You have known for some time that Google were likely to penalise both your advertisers and your publishers and yet you’ve done nothing about it. Why not? After I published my post defending TLA and I emailed you for a response, all your reply said was you were working on “a number of initiatives”. Well where are they? Implementing TinyURLs for affiliate links and renaming WordPress plugins isn’t really the answer, is it?

I don’t know how many of your advertisers used TLA for a boost in PageRank but I’m guessing that the majority of them were probably looking for brand reinforcement rather than any kind of TBPR manipulation. Regardless, the fact that Big G are clamping down on this suggests to me that you need to readdress your business model and remove the section in your promotional material that suggests that using TLA can “help your link popularity which is a top factor in organic search engine rankings“.

The way I see it is simple. TLA need to revisit the way they market the service for advertisers and they need to do it pretty darned quick because I keep reading about sites dropping your service like a hot potato. The answer is pretty simple and it’s contained within the Google guidelines:

Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

    • Adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the tag
    • Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

TLA need to adopt the nofollow link condom on their ads, implement a JavaScript solution or widgetize the ads. Whichever of these methods you use, your publishers will remain within the Google guidelines and avoid any kind of long term penalty. TLA still have some traction in the marketplace and are still considered as a viable alternative to AdSense. However the longer you continue to skirt around the issue, the less likely you are to maintain that position.

Like it or not, and I certainly don’t, Google currently have web publishers by the short and curlies.

They own search. If you don’t play by their rules, you might as well go out into the garden and eat worms.

Longer term, I still believe that social media is the new search but that’s a long way off. Until that happens, Google are King of the castle and they will destroy your current business model. Losing PageRank is one thing. Using a service that can “negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results” is something altogether different.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Big G will implement any SERPs penalties until Q1 2008. I think they’ve made their point via the TBPR reductions and they will sit back and see what reaction they get. However how many of your publishers are prepared to play Russian roulette?

I still believe that TLA has a valid place in the market. The service you offer is outstanding and I’m proud to endorse you on this site but I really do believe that you need to make a public statement about your intentions for Text Link Ads in the immediate future otherwise all of the goodwill will evaporate and you’ll end up with a product that could have been a contender.


Mike Busson

Tags: Making Money Online

8 responses so far ↓

  • James - DigitalKeyToInfo // Nov 29, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    I would agree very much with you.
    I think TLA is missing out by at least not offering a no-follow option. They already have a marketplace, why not offer a no-follow ad? Especially with the post level ads.

  • Mike // Nov 30, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Well Patrick dropped me an email saying he’s on vacation at the moment but will come back to me so let’s see what they propose.

    It would be a shame for them to lose their place in the market by dragging their heels or, worse still, doing nothing at all.

  • Mike // Nov 30, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    As an aside, Google have actually changed the wording of their guidelines despite what I thought.

    Original wording:
    Buying links in order to improve a site’s ranking is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results

    New wording (my emphasis):
    Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results

    The sneaky little devils, eh?

    Thanks to Gabriel, a commenter over at Court’s Internet Marketing School, and Jennifer Laycock for pointing out the extra two words which Google snuck past me.

  • Mike // Dec 2, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    Google have also written a lengthy article on the Webmaster Central Blog regarding the subject:

    Information about buying and selling links that pass PageRank

    Matt Cutts has also posted on his personal blog.

    Selling links that pass PageRank

    I’m not sure quite how I feel about the examples Matt uses but there you go…

  • // Dec 15, 2007 at 6:23 am

    I definitely agree that TLA needs to rethink their business model. Google is getting smarter by the day, and thus it is becoming increasingly difficult to manipulate its algorithms using paid links. I read an article the other day about how TNX, another more secretive paid link service, got their whole network figured out by Google.

    The fact of the matter is that if you want to play online, you need to adhere to the rules. Build links naturally and buy nofollow ones with intentions of recieving referrer traffic.

  • Mike // Dec 15, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    TNX got busted fairly early in their development, as far as I understand. I also read that they weren’t actually that great but haven’t had any direct experience. Have you given them a whirl?

    Big G in fairness have now spelt out the rules pretty clearly to everyone so I’m surprised that TLA still haven’t made any kind of official response. Pat must be having a mighty loooong vacation :(

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  • Mike // Dec 21, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Patrick has responded to the post via email. With his permission, here is what he has to say:

    Hey Mike,

    I thought it was a great post.

    I understand and share your concerns over Google’s stance on paid links but we have no plans to change our core TLA product.

    That being said we are actively building additional products for publishers to make money such as,,, and a few more coming soon!


    Patrick Gavin


    Whilst I’m grateful that Patrick took the time out to respond to the issues, I’m a little concerned that TLA will not be changing the way they operate. The way I see it is that they have a duty to protect both their advertisers and their publishers and by not following the Big G guidelines they are leaving folks open to a penalty.

    I’m going to spend the Christmas break thinking about whether or not I’ll continue to use TLA.


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