Was Text Link Ads Privvy to the PageRank Penalties?

Text Link AdsIn case you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you can’t have failed to notice that Google has been swinging the hatchet recently, slicing the Page Rank of certain notable blogs and websites. At first it appeared, and this has been confirmed by Darren over at Pro Blogger, that the sites punished were targeted because they sold links. This got me thinking, who has the most to lost from this, and what could they do to save themselves. Oddly, it seems as if they have been putting into place measures to save themselves for some time, so did they see this coming.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Text Link Ads. The people who broker Text Link Sales between advertisers and publishers. A big part of selling Text Links is passing on Page Rank to the people who buy said links. This is confirmed by Text Link Ads themselves who basicaly require a Page Rank of 4 or above to get listed as a publisher. Google, obviously, sees this as diluting the quality of their algorithm. And lets remember, Page Rank was initially the one tool that really set Google apart from the other search engines, the one thing that made it what it is today.

If we agree that Google is out there trying to punish those selling links, we have to hypothesise as to how they will track down those who are selling links, after all, the Text Link Ads code is server-side, which means they appear as normal links to those viewing the page, including Google’s spider. So how does Google do it? Well they could, in theory sign up to link brokerage services, such as Text Link Ads, and go through the sites selling links. This is highly unlikely, and could be a bit hit and miss. What I think they would have done, and this takes a stretch of logic, is look for those sites that link to Text Link Ads with a referral code.

I know, I know, this is a very imprecise method of identifying sites selling links, but it makes sense. I would guess that a large proportion of sites that sell links also use the referral program, after all, $25 per sign up is a pretty good deal (I make more through referrals than I do selling links). The real clincher, however, and the reason I think there’s some truth behind this is the recent change Text Link Ads made to their referral system. No longer do you link to www.text-link-ads.com with a referral ID but rather a TinyURL address. Effectively masking the fact that you are part of the Text Link Ads referral program. They rolled this out a few months ago and I wondered why at the time. I couldn’t see any benefit and, if anything, it seemed to be contradictory to their goal of selling Page Rank. After all, why wouldn’t they want to feed off the Page Rank of those who participate in their affiliate program. Unless they knew, or at least suspected, what was coming.

If you want to see the full extent of the punishment Google is passing out, try searching on Google for “text link ads”, notice anything missing?

Google results for Text Link Ads

Not only does the Text Link Ads website not appear above the fold, but not even on the first page. In fact, apart from sponsored links (oh the irony), it doesn’t appear until page 6. In fact, the Text Link Ads blog ranks higher. Notably, Text Link Ads haven’t yet commented on this recent situation.