The Sneakiest Text Link Ad Disguise Or How To Pass Any/All Human Reviews

Author: Gab Goldenberg

Google AdSense Here’s another Greyhat SEO idea for you, ladies and gents. The sneakiest text link ad disguise ever! It’s a true Sherlock Holmes who’ll see through this disguise. If you enjoy this post, there’s plenty more where it came from (i.e. the greyhat, idea and linkbuilding archives), so do subscribe 😉. Update: Many people reading this want to hide their link destination using javascript. See here.

Google AdSense unit image courtesy of Frank O’Dwyer.


  1. Put Adsense on the page from which you want to sell/buy a text link.
  2. Take a screenshot of the ad block.
  3. Copy the AdSense ads’ “Ads by Google” destination URL.
  4. Post the screenshot on the page where the AdSense would be.
  5. Put the desired anchor text in the alt tag.
  6. Use image mapping to make the Ads by Google link go to Google, and have the rest of the area link to the advertiser’s site, like a real AdSense image ad. Update: It occurred to me that when you click the “Ads by Google” or “Advertise on this site” text links, they’ll change colour – something that won’t happen if your disguising this as an image link. So you’re better off making that part of the disguise using text layering, as laid out in the [original] subpoint immediately following:
    1. Alternatively, you can just layer the text link over an edited image [from which you removed the text to make way for your layer]. If you look at my horizontal nav on the top, those are text links layered over images.
  7. Use onmouseover to hide your link’s destination.
  8. Add other AdSense blocks or other advertising so as to make it more difficult to discern/notice something amiss. (Idea courtesy of a person I met at SMX who’s a little overwhelmed with email. If you read this and decide you want the link credit, email me.)
  9. Use divs/css/design to hide the paid link and/or have real AdSense where the fake text links should be in your page’s source code. (Idea courtesy of a certain dev who declined link credit.)

What about people trying to highlight the text? Wouldn’t that reveal the fake?

Images of text are already being used as ads. Marcus Frind’s post about boosting CTR at PlentyofFish suggested as much to his advertisers. So it could credibly be an image ad.

How about intellectual property? Google is a trademark, after all.

Assuming you’re doing this small-scale, the value to Google of suing for this is probably less than the cost of one of their lawyer’s hours. I’m not encouraging you to break the law, mind you. Just pointing out that the law is probably not a cost-effective means of combatting this.

In any case, you can always apply this technique to the dozens of other ad and affiliate networks out there. Ads and ad networks certainly aren’t in short supply online!

Why are we hiding the link’s destination?

Real Adsense blocks don’t show it. It would be a giveaway if yours showed in the status bar.

Won’t the javascript prevent the link passing ranking juice?

You aren’t really doing a javascript redirect, as I understand it and certain programming pros have told me. You’re just hiding the link destination from showing up in the status bar.

But you needn’t take my word for it. You can decide for yourself by reading WMW’s thread on onmouseover and onclick links passing PR. Or better yet, set up and run your own test. I’ll be doing my own and follow up with what I’ve found.

(Incidentally, am I the only one who’s noticed that PageRank is now supposed to be (i) a measure of the likelihood of a random surfer continually clicking links to hit your webpage; (ii) a proxy for votes/recommendations; and (iii) the determining factor as to whether a link has any value, SEO-wise? How about noticing the irony that most professional SEOs also claim not to put much stock in PageRank?)

If the javascript is problematic, you can play around with one of the affiliate or CPM networks’ ads. These usually run through one of their servers, where the domain is something incomprehensible like You can use an affiliate-network style gibberish domain and make it look like an ad that way. Of course, the gibberish destination is actually 301ing (as opposed to the legit aff networks’ 302 redirects; mostly…) and passing value to the ad’s real target ;).

Update: It seems Google encourages use of onclick and mentions nothing about Pagerank. See this FAQ they published about click-tracking/counting:

Why are you leaving the AdSense code on the page?

Because most people doing SEO are smart enough to look for the adsense code in the page if they’re suspicious (which they’re likely to be after this post gets some attention). Some might even have design skills, so making it look like it’s in the right place is equally important.

However, most of us – no matter if we’re good, rad or sexy consultants – aren’t designers. So we’d be hard pressed to tell if what looked like an AdSense block was really AdSense or if it was a paid link masquerading as such, cleverly hidden with divs, css etc.

What about the big picture ramifications?

Do you know what’ll be absolutely nuts if this tactic gains widespread usage? Google could be getting paid link reports for legitimate AdSense sites, as people confuse the blocks with paid links! Imagine if these reports start getting more and more frequent as text link sellers get more aggressive and people grow more suspicious – this idea has the potential to break the whole reporting system :). Then maybe we can get back to the real PageRank. Todd “Stuntdubl” Malicoat had a similar idea about why SEs should be indifferent to the type of link, so long as it’s there. (Since the time I drafted this to current editing, I’ve lost the link, unfortunately, and would like it if someone might drop it in the comments.)

Are there other ways to apply this idea?

First, you needn’t use regular AdSense units. You can also use the two-click conversion AdSense unit, whereby visitors click on a general category text link [which appears as a text link] and then this takes them to a page with individual ads linked to particular advertisers. That way you could actually have a page with a slew of text links on it.

You can use this technique with any other ad network. Of course, you’re better off starting with Google’s own Doubleclick 😉 [before any Google lawyers in the audience get C&D stamp-happy, I’m joking] . But there’s plenty of these networks around.

That said, Google has been at war with affiliates longer than it has with paid text links. I once tried starting a blogspot blog about fishing that was monetized from day 1 with affiliate ads and adsense. Big nono.

It got flagged as spam and I had to type in a captcha every time I wanted to post! I’d be quite dubious if the AdSense ads had triggered the flag, though it might have been the volume of ads (there were a whole bunch) that did it, so AdSense may have participated in the flag. Perhaps it’s time for the affiliate networks to start pressuring Google for it to stop flagging affiliate links as a potential spam indicators?

If you liked this post, besides the obvious suggestions (sphinning or stumbling), you’ll probably like this other greyhat post about cloning dead sites to leverage their Yahoo link strength. Ditty why Winston Churchill would have been a greyhat, and how to buy links with the most natural anchor text imaginable. Perhaps the tip here on messing with competitors’ analytics is also your bag?

So yeah… with content like that, why wouldn’t you get my RSS feed? If you really need more reasons, here’s 20 reasons! Notably: I’ll PAY YOU if you unsubscribe because you’re dissatisfied – that’s my satisfaction guarantee.

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  1. First comment~ This post inspired a few ideas i've been holding off on... we need to talk. =) -Tyler

    Comment by Tyler Shears - March 21, 2008 @ 12:39pm
  2. Gab, what an awesome post! I am sending this to all of my link vendors. Eh hem, I mean all of my Internet friends whom agree to link to me for free. ;-)

    Comment by Miguel Salcido - March 21, 2008 @ 6:01pm
  3. So sneaky you left me speechless :)

    Comment by Sasha T. - March 22, 2008 @ 9:36am
  4. Point (i) has always been the idea behind the PageRank algorithm! The problem I see is that this might get you kicked out of adsense.

    Comment by Malte - March 22, 2008 @ 2:16pm
  5. Tyler, thanks a lot for the kind words - looking forward to chatting more. Miguel, I'm glad you like it. Look forward to seeing if any of your "Internet friends" can automate this, and if so, what the end product will look like (ergo, will it leave footprints that can make detection easy). I'd emphasize the need for variety in shape, colour, ad text, anchor text etc. Sasha, thanks for getting over the speechlessness to leave the comment ;). Malte - whew, I'm not the only one on that page! Now if only Matt would join ;). As to getting the boot from AdSense, that's a great point. Hadn't considered that. On the flip side, if you're also putting up blocks that can earn them dough, I don't see what there is to complain about. It's not like text link ads promote irrelevant results in the SERPs [because that wouldn't convert]...

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - March 23, 2008 @ 2:06am
  6. I never imagined Gab to be Grey Hat... Cool idea though, for those among us that don't mind taking risks.

    Comment by Fred - March 23, 2008 @ 7:54pm
  7. ... I'm lost for words? Those link exchangers use a traffic counter so see how many clicks a link gets. But the link has a href and is valid and passes PR but they only need some statistics to see how many users click it. I might not be getting it right but are those people there saying it won't pass link juice? If so ... OMFG!

    Comment by 5ubliminal - March 28, 2008 @ 6:22pm
  8. Quite a nice point of view. I will be going to test it the following two months!

    Comment by Bobbink SEO Blog - April 1, 2008 @ 4:26pm
  9. More in a comment about the WW threads, Sebastian wrote what I look on as the definitive explanation about onclick a while back

    Comment by Andy Beard - April 12, 2008 @ 7:42pm
  10. 5ub, it's true that not everyone is at yours, Andy or Sebastian's level of technical expertise! Andy, appreciate the fyi and Bobbink, I look forward to seeing the results of your test.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - April 13, 2008 @ 12:35pm
  11. What a freaking cool, informative and well written blog. Are you on Copy Bloggers mailing list? I find your writing style and light sales pitches to be right on target and well crafted! GREAT JOB!

    Comment by Jason Fox - June 23, 2008 @ 4:53pm
  12. Very interesting idea. Another idea that I've had is having a mock affiliate program on your site, just for the purpose of passing off paid links as affiliate links. Such as and redirecting that to main page passing link juice and it looks like an affiliate link. Problem is the SE's don't seem to like aff programs so much either.

    Comment by Credit Guru - October 7, 2008 @ 9:55am
  13. "Grey Hat" I like that. Gonna give it a twirl. RM

    Comment by Atlanta RealEstate - September 15, 2009 @ 5:02pm

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