Sponsored Links: What you need to know and whether they work for SEO

At Embarque, we get asked a lot about Google’s new sponsored links, their benefits for businesses, and how they differ from links with follow and nofollow attributes.

Simply put, Google’s new sponsored links are links that are being promoted through paid means. The goal in using sponsored links is to increase brand awareness, reach more clients, and boost conversion.

Note, that much like nofollow links, sponsored links normally don’t help you increase your search rankings. For ranking purposes, editorial links are still the best way to gain SEO traction. Businesses should have this clearly in mind when paying for links. And even when they’re masking sponsored links as editorial links, these links will most likely still not give you SEO juice.

So what’s the benefit of using them?

Sponsored links are paid links or listings allowed to either feature on the search engine result page or refer visitors to another website. They are sometimes referred to as paid ads or partner links.

For example, when you enter a phrase or term into the search engine box, at the top or middle of the list you’ll find some results having the ads inscription, those are paid ads.

On the other hand, an advertisement or paid links on a web page leading to another web page are also categorized as sponsored links.

They work in 2 main ways:

  • Paid search
  • Sponsored placements

Sponsored links through Google Adwords are focused around keyword targeting.

Advertisers simply choose a list of keywords that are relevant to their business and the ones their customers are using to search for their product or service.

Afterward, they bid on these keywords based on how much they are willing to pay for each click. The bid combined with their quality score will determine their position on the search result page whenever users search using the keywords.

On the other hand, companies and websites reach out to authority website owners and offer to pay money in exchange for advertisement on their web pages. As such, paid ad placements or sponsored articles need to have the sponsored links attribute attached to them. Otherwise, these domains risk getting penalized by Google. And Google can detect unnatural linking patterns quite effectively.

These sponsored placements can also be affiliate links, whereby the sponsor gets paid for succesful conversions (e.g. website clicks, commission from purchases, etc.)

Sponsored links do have some benefits in an overall marketing strategy:

  • Building brand awareness: Think about it, every brand wants to be recognized so they can attract qualified visitors and gain brand exposure and that’s what motivates them to run paid ads and use sponsored posts. The sponsor can be a big-name brand that can generate a lot of buzz for the sponsor.
  • To drive more traffic: when a user clicks on a link it automatically directs them to another web page which eventually results in more traffic at the receiving end. To do this, they sponsor relevant publications in their niche to attract quality customers.
  • To create an affiliate process. This can incentivize people to market a product and get a commission from them on a per click or per purchase basis.

Link attribute is an important aspect of SEO, as it helps Google understand your web pages.

Over the years, publishers continue to use nofollow and dofollow links to distinguish sponsored links from editorial links until Google recently stated new changes to how publishers should mark these links.

Usually editorial links or follow links are supposed to include the attribute “Dofollow” while every other untrusted links should have the “nofollow” attributes included on their web pages. But a recent modification from Google has rendered some of these rules as outdated and new set of attributes has been introduced.

Some of these new rules goes like this:

  • Google announced that all nofollow attributes will be treated as “hints” which simply means they may be used for crawling and indexing purposes, depending on their purpose. This hint model may change the way nofollow links work in the future.
  • Sponsored links must either contain nofollow or sponsored attribute or a combination of both to avoid penalty.
  • User-generated content should be spilled out using the attribute “Ugc”
  • Describing paid links as UGC links can lead to a penalty.

So yeah don’t try to cheat your way to top search engine rankings through creative link schemes. It most porbably won’t work.

  • Paid or sponsored links - rel=”sponsored”
  • Editorial links or follow links – rel=”Dofollow” (nothing changed)
  • Spam or shady links from user-generated content - rel=”ugc”
  • All nofollow links - rel=”nofollow”

Don’t pay for sponsored links on Fiverr. For many different reasons:

  • If your paid link has been included in their website in the press release section, this most probably won’t get indexed by Google if the whole page has been blocked for indexing. Yes, they can still make your links dofollow but not get indexed or crawled by Google.
  • Website owners can also block sections of websites from Google with these sponsored links to not get penalized.
  • If your paid link has a sponsored attribute, then you most probably won’t get SEO benefits for the reasons stated above.
  • Google has a way of sniffing out spammy UGC content or links that may seem too commercial to be an editorial one through language processing. This goes the same for unnatural links.

There are certain types of sponsored links depending on their usage and relevance

Many websites with high domain scores, credibility, and a greater number of monthly visitors help other companies to run adverts on their websites in exchange for paychecks.

Basically, the companies or websites that need exposure and more conversion reach out to the authority website to request a link back to their website.

The publishers (authority website) will simply mark these links as either nofollow or sponsored so search engines can understand their intentions.

The sponsored links in Google Adwords allow you to reach new customers just at the precise moment they are looking for the products or services you sell.

You choose the keywords in whose searches you want your sponsored link to appear, then create your ads and analyze the return or ROI of your investment.

sponsored links in Google search

You will only pay per click when a user clicks on your ad and there is a real visit to your website. Advertising links on Google Adwords and marketing in other search engines suits businesses of any size, sector, and any budget.

To determine which ads should be displayed on the search result for a particular search query Google uses an auction.

sponsored links auction

This auction is performed millions of times per day and takes place every time someone searches Google or visits a site that displays ads.

The primary factors in the ad auction that determines the order and position of the ad are:

  • Your Bid: publishers will need to set an amount they are willing to pay for a click on their ads. The amount is often lesser and the bid can be modified at any time.
  • The quality score of the ads: the relevance of your ad to the website it links to and to the person who is seeing it is summarized in the quality score. The higher your quality score, the higher your ad positioning. You can always work to improve your quality score.
  • Ads extension and formats: the ad extensions which involve your phone number, specific links, and the additional information along with your format can significantly determine the placement and performance of your ads.

Google ads cost varies depending on your industry, business, and a lot of other factors, so it’s not a fixed amount.

On the Google search network, for example, the average cost per click is around $1-$2, while you’ll find the price to be below $1 for the display network.

However, competitive keywords in industries such as law and insurance will attract a higher cost per click because of their high customer lifetime values.

The average small business using AdWords spends around $9,000 while big organizations may lavishly spend over $60 million in a bit to strengthen their business.

On the other hand, publishers are being offered varying amounts of money, from $50 to $5000 depending on many different patterns.

As mentioned above, every sponsored or paid link should be treated as nofollow to avoid the risk of being penalized.

Using a no-follow link is a way of telling the search engine spider not to follow any untrusted or paid links found on your site. It also helps increase crawl budget, the number of times Google goes through your website daily.

Before this time, publishers are required to add nofollow to any links that are either the result of user-generated content, spam, or paid adverts.

However, a recent change in March 2020 implies that all no-follow links will be treated as “Hints” which simply means Google may decide to crawl or index no-follow links whilst still devaluing them.

Also, all sponsored or paid links should be marked with the “sponsored” and “no follow” attribute to help search engines understand that you’ve been paid to put the link on your site.

While you may decide to use the “sponsored” attribute alone, it’s advisable to add a nofollow to avoid any unfortunate consequences.

You should simply use:

<a href=”https://www.example.com” rel=”nofollow sponsored”>example link</a>.

As you continue providing your readers with high-quality content your monthly and weekly estimated visit will skyrocket, your domain score will increase, people will want to link to your web pages and most likely want to pay you to place adverts on your website or even recommend their products.

While this may sound like a great idea and reasonable, not all these people willing to pay you for ads placed on your site will come with reasonable and honest reasons.

In other words, they might be link spammers with harmful links. So how do you them?

First off, you should understand that any company who is coming out blatantly to request a do-follow link on your website comes with hidden motives and may want to bring a downfall to your blogging business.

Understand this, a legal organization will never ask you to break any search engine rule.

Other indicators about spammy links could be:

  • Inaccurate research about your website: anyone with legitimate reasons will carry out appropriate research about you and your blog. They may even go to the extent of knowing your name when you started your blog and your recent posts.
  • Offering to pay without even engaging you in a conversation: when a company reaches out to ask if you could help them post a piece of content on your site in exchange for a payment without following the appropriate order, please run, they are all for spamming.

Can I find anyone with a legitimate pitch?

Yes of course, if that’s what you long for.

Companies who reach out to add more value to your website are those I think you should consider fit for a link.

For instance, anyone who reaches out to you with these lines are probably not going to spam your website:

“…I thought it would also make an excellent addition to your article and a great reference for your readers”

That said, these are not sponsored links, if they’re added to a well-ranking listicle.

Editorial links, links are quite prioritized by search engines over sponsored links. They’re the best backlinks for SEO and will lead you to rank up.

The reason behind this lies in the fact these editorial links as backlinks are organically attracted and are the result of producing high-quality content that is shared on various social platforms.

If people link to you to cite or reference your high-quality content, then Google can trust your website and in turn increase your ranking on search results.

More so, editorial links are often attributed with the “Dofollow” backlinks which often tell search engines that your website is offering unique value to users.

On the other hand, paying for sponsored links on other article distribution portals or through paid advertisement is not a legitimate method of earning links and may sometimes lead to unfortunate circumstances.

Create high-quality content with Embarque

You now have everything that there is to know about sponsored links, when to buy them, and about other types of link attributes!

As we’ve indicated, ultimately, if your goal is to increase your search engine rankings, purchasing sponsored and nofollow links is not the way to go. Scratch that, purchasing cheap links from Fiverr or other websites may have no effect or adversely lead to you getting penalized by Google.

Ultimately, for SEO, you need to create content that is just darn good to acquire links in the long run. If you need help on that, Embarque offers SEO content creation services at unrivalled prices.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If you have any questions, feel free to email the founder: julian@embarque.io.

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