I've mulled the pros and cons of babbling about this, as both exist, but in the end I think it's something bloggers should know about, if they currently don't.
We've seen a trend towards more paid advertising deals for bloggers of late, as well as more freerolls with decent prizes set up solely for poker bloggers. Both of these trends are a good thing and I'm the last person to stare a gift horse in the mouth. I've taken part in both phenomenons, aside from the fact that I've shilled all sorts of sites here on the blog, for financial gain.
While it's hard for those of us personally involved to see it sometimes, poker blogs are increasingly building up a decent amount of clout. No, really. Not in the traditional sense, but in the eyes of Google and other search engines.
One of the key drivers of Google's success has been something it calls PageRank, which is basically the way that Google incorporates popularity of a site into other factors that its algorithm uses when ranking results for a certain search query. If lots of sites link to a page, that page (and the site as a whole that it is part of) will have a high PageRank. If no external sites link to a page, that page will have a low PageRank. The more links, the better.
(To see PageRank in action, download the Google Toolbar, and once installed, go to toolbar Options and tick the box to display PageRank. You'll see "PageRank" on your toolbar now, and it'll show a green bar when you visit sites. Mouse over the green bar and it'll pop-up text that tells you the actual PageRank number of a site, which is on a scale of 0-10, with ten being the best.)
PageRank is also a measure of not only how many other sites link to a certain page, but how popular those other sites are, too. So a link from a really popular site with a high PageRank is better than a link from an unknown site with a low PageRank. By "better" I simply mean that it gives the page it links to more of a boost, PageRank-wise.
When Google tries to decide which to list first between two pages on different sites that have the phrase "drunk midget porn" on each of them, one of the primary factors as to which gets the #1 spot is which page has a higher PageRank. Everything else being equal, the #1 spot in search results goes to the page with the higher PageRank.
That's where all of the above comes into play. If you want your pages and site to show up in Google results, you want as high a PageRank as possible. The best way to boost your PageRank is to get other sites that focus on a similar topic with high PageRank to link to you.
You may see where I'm heading with this. Because poker bloggers are good about pimping other blogs (and because there are so damn many poker blogs), we've built up a nice network of links, that give lots of blogs pretty juicy PageRank in the eyes of Google. This means that not only do random phrases on blogs rank surprisingly in search results, but that links from blogs to other sites carry a decent amount of heft and weight.
So if you're noticing an upswing in interest from advertisers, that's really what's in play. They see the juicy PageRank attached to many blogs and want some for themselves, as links from lots of sites with high PageRank will boost their site higher in search engine results.
It's not really about the visibility of the ads, in a traditional sense, as much as it is about buying PageRank. The real value is in the link itself, and the text of the link, not in whether or not it's an appealing ad that will tempt a certain percentage of people to click through.
It seems odd but you really can view PageRank as currency, in every sense of the word. An incoming, on-topic text link from a site with a PageRank of 8 is worth more than the same link from a site with a PageRank of 7, and so on. And people do indeed pay cold, hard cash for such links, based solely on PageRank. It's not really an efficient, guaranteed market and you can't go to the PageRank bank and ask for money because you have a high PageRank, but it does have value.
Which is something you should keep in mind, when offered an advertising deal or the chance to participate in a blogger freeroll. Those offers do have strings attached, and they're being offered to you because you have a blog with good PageRank, not because the sponsors are great, generous people. The links and ads that you post for those sponsors are valuable, not really because of the message or the brand-awareness or marketing aspect of them, but because they're links from a site with high PageRank. That's what the sponsors are really buying, when it's all said and done.
Now, don't get me wrong, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, either on your end or on their end. I just think it's important that everyone understand the situation, as I'm not sure sponsors are always really clear about their motivations.
Yes, indeed, I have the Full Tilt ad up there in the right. I like Full Tilt, and I like the fact that they showed initiative by buying PageRank from poker bloggers. More importantly, I like the fact that they were democratic about it, offering all sorts of bloggers the chance to sell them PageRank, and not cherry-picking only the bloggers who had a certain minimum amount of PageRank.
That's the reason I opted out of the PokerSourceOnline offer. They cherry-picked blogs that had a PageRank of 4 or better, yet didn't disclose that fact in their offer. Don't get me wrong, that's perfectly reasonable, and is a smart way of doing business. There's nothing wrong with that, or with accepting their offer. I just personally chose not to support it, as the reason poker blogs carry PageRank clout at all is because of the sense of community and interlinking and pimping, so it seems wrong to me to profit personally from that while not everyone is offered a chance to profit equally. (And, lest I sound too high and mighty, if you're going to discriminate based on PageRank, fine, but you should also pay more for blogs with a higher PageRank, and not just offer one flat deal to everyone who makes the initial cut.)
I was happy to do the original Stars freeroll for bloggers, as they were offering a pretty huge overlay far in excess of what they would have normally paid for all those incoming links and resulting PageRank boost, but I've opted out of the other smaller "freerolls" that have been offered. Again, there's nothing wrong with taking part in those, and it's very smart business to offer a $1,000 freeroll for bloggers if you would normally have to pay well in excess of $1,000 for the resulting PageRank boost you get.
In the end, it's entirely up to you, and there's no right or wrong answer. Money is nice and freerolls are nice so it'd be perfectly reasonable to take any deal and offer you can find. The odds of negotiating or finding a better deal are pretty slim, so you're really not sacrificing anything by taking assorted sponsors up on their offers. I just think it's important to understand what's really going on, and to know that the myriad gay poker blogs of the world actually have a decent amount of sway in the eyes of assorted search engines.