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Friday, June 23, 2006

Valleywag vs TextLinkAds, or: Should Bloggers "Nofollow" Text Ads?

TextLinkAds, an advertiser for this blog (on and off) is being called a “Google spammer” by Valleywag, so as I think Nick Douglas of Valleywag is cool and I think Patrick Gavin of TextLinkAds is cool, this started a bit of a loop in my brain.

So, my opinion is that there is a very subtle issue here, but it’s not about TextLinkAds – it’s about whether or not bloggers like me ought to “nofollow” their text ads. Because TextLinkAds merely mentions that normal links may increase a site’s ranking, which is actually a truism as long as bloggers don’t use or demand to use “nofollow”. (“Nofollow” is the initiative of the big search engines to give bloggers and webmasters a way to distinguish between “unknown links,” and links they approve of or at least know of; this helps search engines adjust their search result rankings.) Text ad networks have a business model outside of PageRank – yes, there’s more than Google AdSense – unless PageRank is the only thing they promote themselves with.

I had self-organized text ads in 2005, and I didn’t use nofollow, and the issue of whether or not that’s cool did erupt in 2005, at that time with Yahoo’s Jeremy Zawodny being the blogger in the line of fire. But the issue is much broader than that, of course. Myself, I always researched the advertiser to make sure it’s not spam as I didn’t use the nofollow “link condom.” But it took me longer and longer to do these background checks for new advertisers; in the end, I didn’t even accept directories, and I never accepted e.g. web hosting links. So, I get the feeling maybe the situation would be easier for bloggers if we’d switch to “nofollow” in ad links. The simple reasoning behind that being; if an advertiser doesn’t accept the link in its “nofollow” variant, she may be out for PageRank only after all, which would be gaming the search engines.

But it’s probably an issue that for now, every blogger has to decide on on their own. I still see a couple of problems with nofollowing ads (nofollow was a strategy created outside the W3C, it’s no official recommendation yet; if you’re associating yourself with an ad as blogger, you always increase its visibility, follow or nofollow; nofollowing a link can be perceived as a sign of disrespect), and I don’t think it’s a clear-cut case at all. But maybe a clear-cut solution erases potential doubt.


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