A friend of mine shared some results of his revenue for the last 2 years with Text Link Ads, a service where you can buy and sell links. Publishers sell links simply to make money – and there's quite an opportunity for an established blog with a good following and ranking.
For Advertisers, the opportunity is to use backlinks to drive up their organic rank in search engines. Google's pagerank algorithm is largely weighted for backlinks, at times it appears ranking is better regardless of the quality of the content on your site. The theory is that legitimate online publishers with great relevance naturally attract links… and their organic search rank goes up.
A growing number of advertisers are sick and tired of waiting and they are simply paying to get better rank. Driving a lot of great content is quite a chore that may not pay off for months… buying backlinks can get some fairly rapid and dramatic results.
Publishing paid links without indicating rel=”nofollow” in your anchor tag is a violation of Google's Terms of Service. Google does punish and de-index sites that they determine have paid links on them. For a legitimate online publication, the revenue can overshadow any revenue that Google Adsense can provide.
His revenue in 2008 was nearly $7,000… compared to about $1,000 in Google Adsense. Not bad.
In my humble opinion, every serious search engine marketing firm now has backlinking programs in their back pocket to help deliver results. White hat SEO is no longer working because Google is now overrun with paid backlink programs driving up wealthy sites into the top search results.
In my opinion, Google is largely rigged.
Reviewing the list of destination sites in his paid links is quite interesting. It's not the major spam and make money now crowd in there, it's legitimate honest businesses. Whether they are directly responsible for purchasing the links or they are indirectly purchased by their search engine marketing company… I don't know. But they are paying, and Google's results are manipulated because of it.
Google has confirmed regular changes in its algorithms. Earlier this year, Google even confirmed that they were more heavily weighting brands. Was that to improve the relevance of results? Or was it to try to defend itself against the onslaught of paid linking programs popping up all over the web?
A last thought on this… I'm not sure that it's in your best interest to accept money for paid links. While it can definitely get you de-indexed if you're caught (which doesn't appear to happen very often), accumulating a bunch of links to sites with low ranking and, perhaps, no relevance could hurt your own site's rank. In my friends' example above, he admits that his pagerank has fallen but he hasn't been able to identify why.
Will he stop getting paid for links? He still says the money is too good to turn down for now.