It seems so straightforward: if you want to advertise your online business simply pay a fee to a popular website for advertising to have a banner ad appear which, when clicked, leads to your own website.

For maximum advantage pay for a banner that runs on every page of that popular site, right in the header where everybody can see it. At least that’s what the advertising salesman is going to tell you. And you’ll probably get a great deal for having “run of site“, or an ad that is everywhere on the site.

But are you shooting yourself in the foot with this type of advertising?

Very probably!

But advertising banners are good

Of course they are.  And it isn’t just the advertising salesman who says that, he would wouldn’t he? Banners do have genuine advantages and a place in online marketing.  They are good for:

  • Branding
  • Clicks
  • Traffic
  • and maybe even sales

They are great for getting seasonal promotions in front of as many appropriate people as possible.  Whether you are buying them directly from websites who sell ads, often online versions of newspapers such as the SCMP or The Standard, or whether you are doing it via a network such as the Google Display Network or Facebook Native Ads.

However, there is one situation when they can cause you problems.

So advertising banners are bad

Lets back up a minute and remember how Google works.  And remember Google is the only Search Engine that matters for most of the world.

Google decides websites are good because other websites link to them.  Every link to a website is a “vote” in favour of that website.  So Google counts links, and grades them as valuable or not according to whether they come from powerful sites.  That is their original PageRank concept and it still lies at the heart of their concept, though there are many modifiers to it today, more than 200 in fact.

It would not work though if webmasters get more links to their website than they “deserve”.  The whole idea is that websites which are “good” in some way will naturally get more links, because other webmasters like them and link to them.

That whole concept goes out the window when people try to influence Google by buying links.  Google can’t tell if a link has been paid for or occurs naturally.  Good likes are ones that are “editorial” in intent, meaning a writer or editor is linking to a site because they think it has value.

So Google has done two things in order to control this threat to their basic concept. One is psychological while the other is technical.

  1. Firstly: They have forbidden webmasters from buying, or in any way artificially gaining, links. This is part of the Google Webmaster Guidelines, which is a written but unsigned contract between Google and webmasters which every webmaster needs to follow to remain on the good side of Google.
  2. Secondly: Google technically checks for links that seem unnatural, and marks them as not earned and ignores them or in the most severe cases, penalises the website.

It is that last part which is the risk.

Here is how things might turn out when you buy an advertising banner.

  1. You buy a banner with a hyperlink to your website from a newspaper website, it goes on every page.
  2. Google as part of its regular indexing finds that some pages on the newspaper website links to yours.
  3. At first Google things “Ah, maybe your website is good – a newspaper links to it”.
  4. But after a while, it finds that 100s of pages link to the same site and it decides “Oh, that’s not an editorial link – we will ignore it”.
  5. Later it finds 100s more pages and it decides “This webmaster is not following the Google Webmaster Guidelines – therefore we will consider them a cheat and not rank their website so highly”.

Delete all banners now!

No, no, slow down.  There is a correct way to handle the situation.  Google, and other search engines, have agreed to a concept known as “nofollow” or “rel=nofollow”.  These are tags that can be put into an unearned, non-editorial, paid link which tell Google to not include it in the PageRank calculations.

You can think of it as “confessing” that this link is not editorial, and Google will therefore neither consider it in your favour, nor penalise you for having it.

Bottom line

To stay safe, all advertising banner links should be “rel=nofollow”.

Discuss with your advertising provider if you are not sure what that means.

For more advice on these little subtleties of online marketing, give me a call on +852 98072707 or write to me at [email protected] !


Raymond Lowe is an Internet Marketing Analyst at WL Media HK. He has been writing meta descriptions before most people had heard of Chrome. Connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest on Internet Marketing and how it applies to Hong Kong businesses.

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