It’s only been a few days since John Scott and Jeff Behrendt opened the new V7N contextual links to publishers and already the frenzy has begun with bloggers unable to sign up fast enough for the program. On the surface there’s a lot to like about the new V7N system for both advertisers and publishers. Yet I still have reservations about the system in general for both those buying and selling links.
Why the Program is Good
The system is pretty simple and could described as a cross between Text Link Ads and Pay Per Post. An advertiser pays $20 for a link and a blogger gets paid half of that to place the link on their blog. Advertisers get the benefit of the link being a contextual link and bloggers get paid for simply adding a link to a post.
Some of the advantages of the system to advertisers according to v7n:
- Contextual Links @ V7N provides contextual links
- Contextual Links @ V7N are undetectable to search engines
- Contextual Links @ V7N are purchased, not rented – the links are permanent
All good things and at $20 a pop the kind of links being offered are certainly a good seo spend. These are the kind of links we all want. They display many of the signs of a quality link. Most site owners are aware of the difficulty of find links and now for a reasonable cost you can have as many as you want.
v7n seems in no danger of running out of buyers or sellers, something that programs like Pay Per Post and ReviewMe are reportedly having trouble with. With the numbers of potential advertisers and bloggers v7n has access to they should be able to match links with posts for maximum benefit.
The main advantage for bloggers would seem to be a very easy way to monetize a blog. You sign up for the program get contacted when an advertiser fits your blog and shortly after publishing the link are paid. Nice and easy and certainly why people are lining up to be included as evidenced by these threads on Digital Point and V7N.
Look through the DP thread and you’ll even see publishers being paid within minutes of adding the link.
John and Jeff are two bright guys and know a lot about what makes for a good link. They seem to have set up a program that can bring many quality links to a site for a reasonable cost.
Why All isn’t Good
So if the system seems to be so advantageous to both advertisers and publishers why do I have reservations about it?
From the perspective of an advertiser I’d like more control over where my links end up. $20 is not a lot of money to spend for a link, but still I’d like to have the option of being able to say no to certain sites. For now you pay for your links and they end up where V7N decides. You have to trust their quality control in choosing bloggers.
The V7N response to this question is on the faq page for the contextual links program.
Only high quality web sites are accepted into the V7 Contextual Links program. Our staff review publisher web sites for number of outbound links, types of outbound links, PageRank and search engine saturation. If a site is selling links to bad neighborhoods, we do not accept that web site into the program.
I do question that only high quality sites will be accepted. I’m sure many will be great blogs, but I’m also sure there will be less than quality blogs that find their way in. There will be a good deal of disparity between the highest and lowest quality blog that is accepted yet the price of links on all sites is still $20. And while V7N can sell the links as permanent there’s absolutely no control over the permanence of the links. Nothing could stop a blogger from selling thousands of links over the next few months and then closing shop.
From the perspective of the publisher $10 isn’t exactly a huge payout. It sounds like a lot compared to contextual advertising where payouts per click are often under 50 cents, but getting $10 for a post with a link is not a lot of money. Create a new post every day of the month and you’re talking 30 posts or $300. That’s good money to some, but hardly the stuff of a successful business model. A well trafficked blog could more easily sell space in a sidebar and get paid $300 or more per month.
Another thing I can think of is having it discovered you are selling links where it had been assumed you were giving honest recommendations. For some that could break the trust a site has worked hard to build with its visitors. You could say who’s ever going to know and you may very well be right, but read on.
Dare I Mention Ethics?
Talking about ethics in the context of seo has become a touchy subject. There are some who think unless you’re squeaky clean and wear a sparkling white hat you’ve broken rules of ethics. There’s an opposite camp who now wants to attack anyone who even raises the issue of ethics in the context of seo at all.
However, V7N itself raises the issue by stating:
Contextual Links @ V7N is ethical. By selling link placement instead of paid endorsements, we sidestep the moral issues and bad publicity that follows with paid blog posting.
Methinks the fact that V7N feels the need to tell us the program is ethical and that they sidestep moral issues might be an indication that they themselves question how ethical and moral it might be.
Questions of seo ethics often revolve around the idea of doing something against what Google would like us to do. Google does not own or control the web and no one is bound to do what Google would have us do. There’s is nothing wrong with buying or selling links. It’s certainly not any more or less ethical than paying for a full page ad in a newspaper or buying time for your commercial on one of the tv networks.
Google does however, have every right to determine what will or won’t carry weight in their algorithm and like it or not Google will continue to be part of the discussion over paid contextual links. Jeff Behrendt himself is billing the new system in part as a Google Killer and almost seems to be saying that taking Google down is one reason we should all sign up for the contextual links program.
We all know the Google stance on paid links. They don’t like them. Google has been recommending for some time that site owners add a nofollow to paid links on their sites. If it weren’t for Google would there be a reason to hide who is and isn’t in the program? I could argue that the entire worth of the V7N system hinges on the non disclosure agreement that advertisers and publishers enter into. One does have to call into question the ethics of a program where you can’t ever admit to being a participant. Nondisclosure doesn’t automatically make something wrong, but it does allow for the questions to be raised.
V7N says the links will be undetectable as being paid links. I’d say they’ll be virtually undetectable.
How hard will it be for a search engine to find out if the links are paid links? Very difficult. How can a search engine tell that an ordinary link is there only because someone paid for it to be there? It’s just a link after all no different than most other links they’ll encounter.
Difficult does not mean impossible, though it can probably never be determined with 100% accuracy if a link is paid. However pretend for a moment that a site is found to be part of the program and is selling links. A search engine might decide that all links leaving that site are to come into question. It could de-weight every link out of the site.
And even with a nondisclosure agreement it won’t be all that hard to find sites participating. Again I call into question how high quality the sites accepted as publishers really will be. People can’t figure out not to click on their own AdSense ads, you think they’ll get the concept of not letting it be known they’re selling links? Most will keep the secret and many others will be scared by the $1,000,000 penalty for letting the cat out of the bag. But people have done much stupider things and how about the first angry publisher who feels John and Jeff aren’t getting them enough links. Will that $1,000,000 threat hold up in court?
Search engines collect a lot of linkage data. With a few seed sites they can probably track many of the sites on both the selling and buying side. And both the V7N and Digital Point threads where people are lining up to get in are already giving hints at the seeds. True the specific URLs aren’t being mentioned, but how many of those same people will have the blogs in their forum signatures?
NDA or not in time some of the publishers participating will be found out and once they are so will some of the advertisers. The larger the network of advertisers and bloggers the harder it will be to find most, but harder does not mean impossible. Sites that link to each other do begin to form neighborhoods that can be detected.
You might think after the last few paragraphs that I’m against this program. You’d be wrong if you do though. I think John and Jeff have launched what will prove to be a highly successful system for buying and selling links. V7N Contextual Links is a brand new system and as with all new systems has some bugs that will need to be worked out. In time they may very well give advertisers a little more control over where their links end up. They’ve already hinted that they will raise prices and thus the payout to publishers.
I also won’t judge this system based on an ethical debate. I think it’s fair to raise the issue, but there’s nothing wrong with buying or selling links in spite of what a certain Mountain View search engine would like us to believe. People were buying and selling links before Google and they will continue after Google. It’s a very natural part of marketing a site.
But again though Google may be misguided in thinking the practice ethical, they do have every right not to place value on links that are purchased. It does go against the idea of considering a link as a citation or vote. And Google has been pretty good and discovering most linking schemes that have come before. They may not be able to tell right away whether a contextual link is being bought and sold, but I see no reason to think they never will. As much as V7N is going to try not to leave one there will be some kind of footprint with the system.
My guess is this system will work for a few years which is more than enough to make it worthwhile to anyone joining. In time it may not work as effectively or even at all, but by then someone will have developed another system that will. One thing is already certain. People can’t seem to sign up as bloggers fast enough and V7N has already raised a lot of money from advertisers wanting to participate. Time will tell how effective the program is, but it’s off to a good start. And since I happen to like both John and Jeff I wish them good luck with it.
Links to More Thoughts on V7N Contextual Links
Announcing Contextual Links @ V7N
V7N Contextual Links : Link Buying Service for SEO & Bloggers
V7N launches Contextual Link Ad Network
The New Contextual Links @ V7N
V7N Enters the Link Buying Business
V7 boasting ethical paid links
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.