Search engine rankings are everything when it comes to making a success of any functioning business in the digital age. After all, search queries on Google and other top search engines are one of the main ways modern consumers look for information and research purchases they’re considering.
If your website and content don’t rank well for the correct key terms, your business might as well not exist.
A solid SEO strategy is the key to achieving top search engine results page (SERP) rankings, and backlinks from external websites are part of how those rankings are determined.
But where do sponsored links fit into such a strategy? Are they really worth considering, and how might they help you refine your SEO strategy if you include them? Here’s a closer look at what you need to know.
What is Sponsored Links?
When most people think of links designed to benefit a business’s SEO strategy, they picture organic backlinks – links created by third parties to recommend or otherwise reference the content behind that link.
Although an organic link may well be suggested or otherwise requested by the brand behind the linked content, they’re still freely given by the link’s creator. Sponsored links, on the other hand, are links that have been paid for by the company behind them, and they can take a variety of different forms.
The best-known type of sponsored link is a Google Ads link. Google Ads is Google’s dedicated advertising service for brands who’d like their products and services advertised across SERPs and other Google products.
However, many brands also occasionally choose to purchase links from industry peers, niche bloggers, and other third parties. Alternatively, they may pay for entire pieces of sponsored content, written or otherwise.
What are the Main Characteristics of Sponsored Links?
Modern consumers dislike the feeling of being interrupted in whatever it is they’re doing for the sake of viewing advertisements.
Naturally, this is the case when they’re listening to audio content or watching videos, but they’re not exactly nuts about obvious or intrusive advertising on websites and social media platforms, either.
That’s why so many sponsored links are designed to blend right in with the rest of the environment around them, as with Google Ad links, native advertising on social media sites, and sponsored content that may appear in various news or media feeds. A user who’s not paying much attention could easily mistake sponsored links for links to standard content.
Here are a couple of points to keep in mind if you’re having trouble telling the difference.
- Sponsored links will always be discreetly labeled as sponsored or paid, as per Google policy.
- Sponsored links on websites or within original content are often tagged as “nofollow” to differentiate them from organic links.
What is the Purpose of Sponsored Links on a Search Engine Results Page?
Sponsored links as they appear on a search engine results page (SERP) – as with PPC advertising like Google Ads – serve a dual purpose. One is naturally to advertise the product, service, business, or brand showcased within the ad.
Google Ads and similar options can help a brand gain exposure, as well as increase conversion-ready traffic to a website within a relatively short timeframe.
However, the other purpose is to offer genuine value to the user who conducted the original search query. The landing pages and websites behind sponsored links like Google Ads are carefully vetted by Google and its algorithm for key factors like relevance, user experience, and overall quality to ensure they’re appropriate matches.
Should You Use Sponsored Links?
This isn’t the type of question where there’s a clear yes or no answer that applies to every website, brand, and digital marketing campaign.
However, there are valid pros and cons to consider whether you’re considering using sponsored links to drive traffic to your website, posting sponsored links to your website on behalf of someone else, or both. Here’s a look at a few to consider.
Pro: Immediate Visibility
Whether your sponsored links are associated with a PPC Google Ads campaign or a third-party website or blog that gets lots of relevant traffic in its own right, your brand immediately becomes more visible the minute the link goes live.
Do a good enough job of creating a Google Ad, in particular, and your business will instantly begin appearing in plum positions on all relevant SERPs.
Although developing a steady flow of organic traffic via an ongoing SEO strategy is definitely a must, as well, it can take time to start seeing results. However, sponsored links are great for delivering a quick influx of traffic for new businesses, new product launches, rebranding efforts, and so forth.
Con: Turning Consumers Off
Modern consumers are pretty quick studies, and most aren’t going to be interested in checking out the content behind a sponsored link.
Many don’t trust sponsored content or advertising, in general, and will simply scroll on by. And quite a few of the folks who do click will likely do so by accident because they didn’t realize it was a sponsored link in the first place.
In the case of sponsored links you add to your website or blog on behalf of other people, you risk potentially alienating your usual target audience.
Regular readers who think of your content as a trustworthy go-to source for meaty, trustworthy information may feel as if you sold out or are trying to slip something by them if they start seeing too many posts marked “sponsored”.
Pro: Highly Targeted Traffic
Sponsored links from sources such as PPC ads and social media ads tend to deliver very well-targeted traffic. The algorithms behind entities like Google, Facebook, Instagram, and the like are incredibly efficient at not only serving up your links to the right target audience but doing so at precisely the right time – right when users are primed and ready to make a purchase or otherwise engage with your brand.
The same goes for sponsored links placed within influencer content or on third-party blogs, as you’ll be leveraging a readymade, highly engaged audience likely to be interested in what your brand has to offer. However, the key to success here is to choose who you collaborate with wisely.
Remember, they need to occupy the same niche you do (or a closely related one) for your product to be relevant to their audience.
Con: Potentially Pricey
Sponsored links via services like Google Ads don’t necessarily come cheap, especially if you’re looking to rank for highly competitive keywords or key phrases.
Yes, Google gives you quite a lot of control over how much you ultimately wind up spending, and most ad campaigns are very affordable. But if you wind up in a bidding war with a competitor over a highly coveted keyword, that price tag might take a bite out of your marketing budget pretty quickly.
The same goes for sponsored links you might obtain from influencers, industry peers, top blogs, and so forth. The more important the site or influencer and the further their reach, the more you can expect to have to pay for a link or a custom piece of sponsored content.
Pro: Trackable Results
When it comes to some types of marketing, it’s not always easy to determine how successful a specific effort might have been. The exact opposite is true when you’re talking about a sponsored link or PPC ad.
PPC campaigns, in particular, generate immense quantities of valuable data that will be very helpful when it’s time to assess and improve your campaign.
It’s also fairly easy to track results coming through to your site via a single sponsored link on another blog or website. If you’re working with more than one linking partner, keep careful records of your own throughout your campaign so you can easily compare and contrast results after it’s come to an end.
Con: Necessary Creative Assets
If you’re generating sponsored links with Google Ads or a similarly simple text-based interface, you really only have to worry about creating snappy, concise written copy that both engage users and meets Google’s quality standards.
However, other options – like sponsored social media ads or Google Discovery ads – require good-quality imagery, graphics, and other visual elements to be effective.
The same is true of sponsored content hosted on other websites. Imagery is incredibly important when it comes to how that type of content performs, so give some thought to how you’ll help yours stand out visually. Think original, eye-catching, and as high-quality as possible!
And, as always, make sure all imagery is properly optimized for the platform it will appear on, as well as both desktop and a variety of different mobile devices.
As you can see, sponsored links definitely come alongside their share of advantages, especially when they’re part of a larger, more comprehensive SEO campaign. But it’s important to plan, place, and use them wisely if you do decide to give them a try.
Wrap Up: High-Quality Links Are the Secret to Equally High-Quality Traffic
Although sponsored links are a terrific way to quickly gain highly-targeted traffic that’s often equally likely to convert, they’re not enough on their own to carry an entire digital marketing campaign. Think of sponsored links, PPC advertising, and similar strategies as the short game – tools to deliver quick bursts of traffic when you need them most.
The long game is all about driving organic traffic and building long-lasting authority over time. That’s where a more comprehensive backlink strategy comes in, and our complete guide can help you get started in the right direction.
You’ll learn about the various types of backlinks every marketer should know, find out how to launch a solid backlink strategy of your own, and even discover some handy backlink tools for taking the guesswork out of your campaign!