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I'm afraid this section is rather negative. At first glance they both seem to be great ideas and everyone is doing it, so why not? Well, I've taken a long, hard look at it and come up with some conclusions that you might disagree with -- if so, let me know.

Go to: Link Exchanges | Paid Banner Advertising | Awards

Link Exchange Banners

Link exchanges are not to be confused with paid banner campaigns which are a whole different kettle of fish. Paid banners will get you very highly targeted traffic which will do a lot of good for your sales, unlike free link exchanges...

At first glance it's free and everybody's doing it so it must be a good idea. Well, I'm telling you that it won't build any extra traffic for you. In fact, it could even be bad for you.

Example A: You've worked really hard to get a good listing on Yahoo! A user finds you there and clicks on your link. So there you have it, the fruits of your labour, a visitor to your site. And what's the first thing they see? A banner advert inviting them to leave your page!!

Example B: A user is browsing another site on the subject of computer software. They click on the link exchange banner on that site and end up at your page. Good. The trouble is, your page is on the subject of hotels. So, the user is unhappy because they're not interested in hotels, you're unhappy because although you have a visitor he's not interested in your subject, and what about the poor original guy who may have lost a software sale?

Philip Nickerson agrees with me:

"My wife put her first web page up a few months ago. It had pictures of our son and had cute little stories about the things the little guy was doing. I thought that it would be really cool to surprise her by adding a Link Exchange banner to her page. I put it at the very bottom. When she arrived I wanted to show it to her and there it was at the bottom- two girls hugging with the words advertising Bi-Fem Chat!"

Hang on, I'm not finished yet! Most banner services work on a rating system. You get categorised as to the amount of traffic you generate. If you get 1000 hits you get put into category B and your banner gets put onto 5 sites; 2000 for 10 sites etc. What this means is that in order to receive more traffic, you first have to generate more traffic - by conventional means. You see, they're not doing you any favours.

"So what's the point in even having links then, smart arse?"

There are two major differences between link exchange banners and your links page:

  1. Links to and from your site should always be on the same topic as your subject matter. I mean, you wouldn't link to a scientific glassblowing page from your exotic pets site, would you? A link exchange banner would (and you've just read about Philip's experience). Some link exchanges are categorised, but they're very loose categories and users tend to "spam" their URL throughout multiple, unrelated categories which defeats the whole object.

  2. Your links page is located somewhere on your site where the user ends up after they've read everything on your site, correct? If not, it should be! Link exchange services insist that you display the banner right on your index.html page, right at the top more often than not.

Paid Banner Campaigns

Paid banners can be a good idea for two reasons:

You get what you pay for

Most sites offering to advertise your banner will charge you either per impression or per click-through.

A banner at the top of a page will usually "rotate" through several ads, so the first user to load the page will see a banner ad for "Acme Lawnmowers", the next time the page loads it'll be "Neon Cyber Systems" and the third time will be your ad, then it'll cycle back to "Acme Lawnmowers, and so on. Each time your banner loads, that's called an "impression" for which you'll pay 1 cent, or whatever the advertiser is charging you per impression. If he's charging you per clickthrough, the rate will be a lot higher, since maybe only one person in ten will actually click on your banner.

The most common charge is per impression, so in order to make the most of the money you've paid you have to make your banner scream at the user "CLICK ME!!!" There are many ingenious methods of doing this, dreamed up by people who study user activity for a living. Eyescream have an outstanding tutorial on designing banners (that link will open in a new browser). If you're thinking of running a serious banner campaign you'll need a budget in excess of $1,000 - I asked Eyescream, out of curiosity, how much they would charge for the design of a banner "to take away" without any advertising costs... $750 for designing one banner. It's probably well worth it, and I believe that if something's worth doing, it's worth doing properly, so if I ever decide to launch a campaign I'll be taking them up on their offer.

Yahoo! is noteworthy because they don't charge per impression, they simply host your banner for a set amount of time. I've heard from clients that their reports on the number of clickthroughs is very general and my people suspect that they don't monitor it at all. However, everybody knows that a Yahoo! banner ad will generate a lot of traffic whichever way you look at it. If you want to find out how much they charge you can request access to their rates page.

You Choose (Target) Where Your Banner Appears

This is the major difference between Link Exchanges and paid banners. You can choose a page where your banner will appear. This page should always be on a topic very close to, or exactly the same as yours, so that whenever somebody clicks through to your page you know the person is already interested in what you have to offer so they're far more likely to buy your product. For example, if you have a real estate site, you can advertise at the top of the real estate category on Yahoo! so your traffic will be 100% targeted.

If you're advertising on a search engine, you can "buy keywords" so, for example, if you "reserve" the keyword 'lawnmowers' on Alta Vista, your banner will appear at the top of the results page whenever somebody enters the word 'lawnmowers'. The cost will depend on how popular your keyword is. If you wanted to reserve the keyword 'sex' you'd better be rich and prepared to be put on a long waiting list.


Whoever dreamed this up must have a degree in crowd psychology. It's crazy. Once upon a time you'd have to request a link from another person's Web site. These days, all you have to do is design a graphic and then pompously allow webmasters to link you - not just a text link, mind you, a big in-yer-face graphic!. Many award givers won't even bother to give you a link from their site. Eh?!

I recently applied for several awards for research purposes, to see if it would bring me any extra traffic. It didn't, but what it did bring me was extra spam in my mailbox. I used a unique email address to apply for the awards, so I know the award sites sold my email address to spammers. Very naughty.

There are possible advantages in applying for awards:

  • If you're a site designer it might impress potential customers, but I reckon they're more likely to hire you on the strength of the previous work you're displaying. What do you think?

  • To generate traffic to your site which would depend on how popular the award giver's site is, and how prominently your link is displayed on their site. Note the fact that whether or not you display their graphic plays no part in this, unless they insist that you display it.

  • To make your page look pretty. Fair enough, but this is nothing to do with traffic or promotion.

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