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Determining the Value of Links from Link Renting

February 16, 2004

What is Link Renting?

Link renting is a means to ‘rent’ the popularity and traffic flow of another site – you pay a monthly fee in return for a text link pointing to your site. In doing so, you can directly and indirectly drive more targeted traffic toward your website.

Many industries such as travel, pharmacy, pornography, and gaming have search results which are hyper competitive and require heavy advertising or aggressive SEO techniques. Some niche websites may see an even greater ROI on smart link rentals since many of their competitors may not include link renting in their online marketing budgets.

Some rented links provide great value in direct targeted traffic, whereas some other links provide greater value from the effect they have on search relevancy.

Most links are rented on a monthly basis with an option to renew at the end of the month. Some link prices can be as low as a few dollars a month whereas some can cost thousands per month.

There is no singular one-size-fits-all way to directly assume the value of a link. Most effective marketing has risks associated with it, but you can minimize the risks and maximize your return by breaking the value of the link down into its elements:

  1. Direct traffic from link renting
  2. Viral effect of advertising
  3. Effects of link rentals on search relevancy.

1. Direct Traffic from Link Renting:

Link renting can drive significant direct traffic. The first things you need to know are:

  • what is the quality level of the traffic?
  • how related is this audience to my product?
  • how much traffic does the site receive?

What is the Quality Level of the Traffic:

  • Where does the bulk of their traffic come from? Someone recently asked about ePilot, the pay per click search engine, at Search Engine Watch forums. Andrew Goodman replied "The first question I would ask myself would be: 'where does ePilot's traffic come from?' Answer isn't clear? Then it would be no surprise that the so-called traffic doesn't convert to anything."

    This same concept holds true with any site. If you do not see any quality inbound links that could indicate a problem: or they could get most of their traffic from pay-per-click ads. Whatever the case, if you are going to spend money renting links for traffic, make sure you know where their traffic comes from.

How Related is the Audience:

It will be somewhat of a guesstimate as to how exactly how related the traffic will be, but generally it is fairly obvious when something is on theme or off theme. Some things you may want to consider when determining traffic quality:

  • What is the mood / mind set of their traffic? Related traffic may not be traffic that converts. At the 2004 Webmaster World Las Vegas Conference a speaker mentioned that a website about prom hairstyles may not be a good place to advertise prom dresses since girls do not usually look at prom hairdos until after they have already purchased their prom dresses.
  • What product should I advertise? Sometimes it makes sense to send traffic to your home page while other times it is more logical to advertise a specific product because it is hot or more related to that particular audience.

How Much Traffic Does the Site Receive:

Most honest webmasters who sell ad space understand that the traffic they receive is a large part of their ad value and should have no problems giving you that information.

Some systems such as Alexa also track traffic, but their statistics can be inaccurate due to their limited distribution.. The best way to use such systems is not for traffic estimates but for comparisons between sites. Note that Alexa has a heavy bias toward webmaster resource type sites. Additionally other companies such as Hitwise may provide more accurate traffic statistics.

From the base traffic level there is a bunch more research you can do to determine how much traffic the site may bring:

  • Who currently advertises on the site? You may want to ask them about their advertising experience. Some ad networks such as AdBright show past advertisers average cost per click and ad renewal rates.
  • How many ads are on the page? Each additional ad will split up some of the traffic.
  • Where does your ad sit? Ads that are tucked away in the footer or in common ad space may get less exposure and drive less traffic. Ads near the content may gain additional exposure and drive more traffic.
  • What ad formats can be used? Certain ad creatives may provide greater value than other ads.
  • What is the ad turnover rate? Advertisers tend to stay with a site that delivers traffic. A high turnover rate may indicate other problems.
  • Have advertisers made any suggestions? Ask if any of their past advertisers made any suggestions or stated that they found any particular setup as being especially helpful.
  • Is the traffic seasonal? Some sites have large shifts in traffic volume due to seasonal factors.

2. Viral Effect of Advertising:

Some ads go through click tracking systems which may prevent them from being indexed by search engines. This means that the only value of those particular links would come from direct traffic. Sometimes ads lead to additional exposure though.

I made a few posts and placed an ad on The Search Engine Journal. From that exposure I was contacted by Gary Stein, a lead researcher at Jupiter Research. Gary asked to review my ebook and later recommended my ebook on his blog - a recommendation I could never have paid for.

3. Effect of Link Rentals on Search Relevancy:

Many links have a greater indirect value than direct value.

When someone links to your site it is seen by search engines as a vote of quality. The anchor text and other page elements such as the page title and headers may also help search engines further classify the link. On image links the image alt text plays the roll of the anchor text.

On the commercial web many links are bought and sold, and thus for search engines to remain relevant they must find ways to regulate link purchasing.

Some of the things you may want to look for when buying links to help maximize your ROI and minimize your risks:

  • Are the links direct links? Links that go through an ad server usually do not help build your link popularity.
  • Is the page on theme? On topic links from industry hubs are given significantly more weighting in clustering or community based algorithms such as Teoma's topic distillation and Google's Hilltop. If the site allows off topic links then it has a greater chance of having its link popularity blocked or devalued.
  • How many links are on the page? If a page sells an unlimited number of ads then the outbound link popularity is split up many ways, and that also could look a bit unnatural to search engines. If there are hundreds of internal links on a page then each additional link will be getting an exceptionally small share of link popularity.
  • What anchor text can I use? If you can use descriptive anchor text then the value of the link is greater since the link text helps search engines understand what your site is about.
  • What is the cost difference between site wide and individual page links? Generally site wide links may drive significantly more direct traffic, but likely they do not provide much additional weight beyond a single link from the best page on the site.
  • What is the PageRank of the page? Generally many people place too much value on PageRank, but a higher PageRank does equate to greater connectivity and slightly additional value.
  • Who links to the page and to the site? If the page or site is well connected within your topical community then search engines will likely consider links from it as being far more important than links from pages which are not as well connected.

Summary:

To best determine the value of a link you need to consider both its direct and indirect effects. Generally it is best to buy on topic links since they provide both direct and indirect value.

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