Bloggers have long used pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to monetize their blogs. PPC networks, such as Google Adsense, Kontera and Vibrant offer bloggers two primary methods for integrating advertisements into their content. Now, InfoLinks has joined the fold of advertisers who are offering money making opportunities to Google Blogger blog owners. The new InfoLinks widget allows bloggers to automatically integrate in-text ads into their posts.
In-text ads—which appear as hyperlinks within the body of a post—differ significantly from typical PPC ads. The conventional PPC ad is a sponsored ad unit, banner or link displayed on the sidebar, header, footer or interspersed throughout the body of the article. These appear much like advertisements in magazines or newspapers. In-text ads, on the other hand, were introduced some time ago as a less obtrusive alternative to the blatant banners and link units. However, such in-text ads have not been without controversy.
In-text ads have detractors among web usability as well as ethics in advertising advocates. The issue with in-text ads is that, many times, users are not even aware that the sponsored hyperlink is indeed an advertisement. Though in-text ads are often clearly differentiated from ads inserted by the post author either by adding a double or triple underline or scheming the colors differently, it is still easy for casual readers to mistake these links for hyperlinks inserted by the publisher. This can be a critical error to make, as digital content draws its significance as much from its primary text as it does its hypertext and references. Links are seen both by search engine spiders and human readers as not just references, but endorsements.
This is an issue because publishers have little oversight regarding which advertisers are linked from their blog. For example, say for instance that a peddler of "herbal male enhancement supplements” were to sign up as an advertiser with Kontera. Then, let’s say a respected medical doctor from Mayo clinic pens a guest article for a blog who has signed up for Kontera’s PPC network. That herbal supplier with the questionable (or at the very least, unverified) reputation could potentially have their sponsored link inserted into that article from the Mayo clinic doctor. To the undiscerning reader, it may appear that this doctor was recommending the herbal supplement. But in reality, he may have never even heard of it.
In spite of the controversy, in-text advertising is apparently on the rise, as demonstrated by InfoLinks recent push into the Google Blogger market. The growing prevalence and public consternation will undoubtedly call for greater disclosure from both advertising networks and publishers. Whether the impetus for this move towards advertising policy disclosure comes from self-regulation or from the FTC (as we saw recently with the blog testimonial mandate) remains to be seen.