S.E.O – O.M.G!

I started blogging in 2010, a Golden Age of not long ago when bloggers could make money from their sites in a number of ways. Sponsored posts, sidebar adverts, paid-for links, it was all gravy. Then belts got tightened, laws were passed and it got harder for us to make a buck from our sites.

Google got wise to companies who were buying their way up the search results and decided to crack down on it – you all know about the Interflora scandal right? And I bet you all know a blogger who’s had their page rank stripped because of these types of links?

The rules are simple:

1. Paid for links MUST be no-follow

2. Advertising of ALL FORMS (so, if anyone has paid you to add a link in any form) must be declared as such and explicitly so.

The first rule is decreed by Google. Kings of T’Interwebs. It’s not ‘The Law’, but it’s their way of saying “If you value your site, don’t fuck with our algorithms”. I get it, I mean it’s not fair to consumers who are innocently Googling something and the first link they find is not the most popular, just the one that’s splashed the most cash about (a bit like Google’s own sponsored links at the top of any search…*ahem*).

The second rule was decreed by the Advertising Standards Agency and as such IS THE LAW. You can be penalised with fines or prosecution and call me a harbinger of doom if you like, but these guys have already started to make examples of people so no-one is immune.

The problem is this – SEO companies don’t like these rules. People who ‘do’ SEO have an agenda and that’s to get their client to the top of those search results. Don’t confuse them with PR people – these guys tend to use their noggin a bit more and come up with creative ways to get bloggers writing about stuff.

I get a lot of emails from SEO companies, some of whom are happy with full disclosure and no-follow links as they just want their client’s name in as many posts as possible. Many, however, are trying to baffle bloggers with bullshit to get their way. This is a snippet of an email I received from an undisclosed source, after I informed them that I would have to disclose the post as paid-for:

“Thanks for letting me know. Unfortunately I cannot allow this, as paying for links is actually against googles terms, therefore if google came across a post on your site marked in this way, then your site could get penalised, as would the brand.

I could allow this to be marked as ‘guest’ ‘feature’ or an ‘associated’ post, but ‘sponsored’ is something that google has picked up on, therefore risks you losing your page rank.
Let me know whether this would be possible at all, as I couldn’t agree to it otherwise.”
My response:
That’s not quite accurate –  It is not Google that stipulate whether something can be labelled, they only give guidelines on follow and no follow. In terms of labeling, the law states that all paid-for content must be labelled or I could be prosecuted.
If you need any further info, I’ve found this very useful: GO HERE
Let me know how you wish to proceed.
Their response back to me:
Would it be possible for you to label this as featured or guest post? It isn’t actually advertising that we are looking for – it is SEO. This is why we request that the links are very subtle and discreet, as if not, google can penalize blogs, in a similar way to what happened with the Interflora situation. This may be helpful to you –

I just want to let you know that what we require is for a link to look natural, as if you have placed it without being asked, as I wouldn’t ever want your website to get penalised.

My last email:

The whole point is that Google require paid-for links to be explicitly labelled and no-follow, otherwise I stand to lose my page rank so I’m not quite sure how you’re trying to help me to not get into trouble.
The other, bigger issue (because although I love my blog, I value my freedom and finances more highly) is that the ASA could prosecute me for placing PAID FOR links, which are advertising regardless of how you gussy-up the language, without letting my readers know that I am endorsing a product or site for money.
The ‘natural’ links you talk about are exactly the problem and while I don’t want to be personal, this is exactly the problem that bloggers are facing when dealing with SEO companies at the moment because you dangle cash in the hope that it’ll blind us to the jargon you use.
I’m not a millionaire, I could use an extra few quid here and there like the best of us, but I’m not willing to lose my blog or get into serious trouble for the sake of cash.
Thanks again.
Do you know what I think gets me the most? The fact that these people are willing to lie to us to get their way and the assumption that I’m stupid enough to go along with it. I think I was very patient to begin with but how can I go on communication with someone who clearly lacks scruples?
Enough is enough.
(As a footnote, I want to add that I make no judgement of people who accept posts containing follow-links etc., I know that times are hard and people want to make some extra money and that’s the personal decision of each individual to make, so please don’t think I’m attacking other bloggers for their choices.)

30 thoughts on “S.E.O – O.M.G!

    1. It’s completely allowed, and encouraged by Google, as a means of being explicit about your payment. What is not allowed according to Google’s algorithm is declaration of a sponsored post, with a do-follow link. Sponsored posts are fine, if they are declared as such, and contain only no-follow links

      1. Got it. So company xy pay me or offer me a product in return for review. I can’t mention other sites eg a charity/non profit url on same post, even if relevant. Unless it’s a no follow too. Thank you 😉

  1. I think you need to actually look into your information about the ASA before posting something like this. Someone would have to complain about a link on your site, then they’d have to investigate to see if the complaint is true and not just someone who doesn’t like you; then, should they feel a link may be for money/profit/goods, they’d contact you for information at which point you a) ignore it and see what happens or b) remove it.

    At no point will the ASA just whack you with a fine or court case, they’re actually very good at being nice.

    Basically, you’d get chance to do the right thing should you get “caught” – and that requires a lot of complaints first.

    If you drive, I hope you never creep over the speed limit, I hope you’ve never had a wee bit too much before getting in the car, I hope you never tried drugs as a youth, I hope you never tried alcohol under 18 or cigarettes under 16, never sold something for a profit and neglected to tell the taxman, never sold several items on eBay or similar within a year and thus fall into taxable income…and so on and so forth and that goes for anyone who commented here.

    Seriously…research before blog post ranting.

    1. OK so the ASA do not immediately send you to prison but it is still LAW and people who know that still tell us it isn’t!

      it doesn’t matter that you get a chance to rectify it before it goes any further, bloggers should never be placed in that situation by people who know better.

      1. One distinction to make is that the ASA is a watchdog that monitors online advertising (including advertorial, such as sponsored posts). The previous commentator is actually quite right – the ASA is a non-statutory body and as such has no power whatsoever to fine anyone or take them to court.

        What happens is someone reports your blog to the ASA as having breached one or other of the rules around promotions (specifically the rules in the CAP Code if you’re talking about online content) and the ASA will look into the complaint, and contact you to advise you of where you’ve gone wrong, if you have, and they might ask you to change something, or just to give them an assurance you won’t do the same thing again. End of story.

        The ASA are actually a fantastic resource for bloggers – they offer free support and advice on the rules around promotions and competitions by email and by phone, and can check through your competition terms and conditions if you’re at all unsure. In all our dealings with them, I’ve found them fantastic.

        The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading is a piece of secondary legislation entirely separate from the ASA. This law states that someone publishing promotional content where they have received payment for that content should make that fact obvious to anyone reading/watching the content.

        If you find yourself on the wrong side of this piece of legislation, you’re likely to get a call from the Office of Fair Trading, which monitors compliance with the law in England and Wales, and can bring prosecution against individuals and companies in certain circumstances. Again, this would most likely happen because an individual makes a complaint against you to one of those organisations.

        The vast majority of bloggers would feel uncomfortable knowing they were not operating within the law and so do make a point of disclosing paid content – whether it’s a sponsored post or a paid link. There’s also the issue of honesty with your readers – who may feel duped and stop reading your blog if you are not honest. Google is not the only way of being penalised in this whole business!

        Finally, it’s useful not to conflate PR and SEO. Those are two entirely different disciplines and most PR campaigns will happily accept no-follow links and value full disclosure since it increases the credibility and value of the content.

  2. There is no ‘Google law’.If content that is paid for is labelled clearly and links are no follow you are following Google’s GUIDE LINES.If you don’t, then you can have your Page Rank take away, your blog won’t be shut down.As for laws, the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) are strict on paid content that is not clearly labelled.If you don’t disclose any content on your blog, that’s a link, a post, or a review this is a breach of the consumer protection.The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) specifically prohibits “using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer (advertorial).” The CPRs also prohibits: “Falsely claiming or creating the impression that the trader is not acting for purposes
    relating to his trade, business, craft or profession, or falsely representing oneself as a

    1. No, no and no. They will ask you, should they get sufficient complaints, to remove the offending link, THEN attempt prosecution if you refuse. *actual head desk*

        1. Of course they should, it’s their job. The onus is on the blogger whether or not to agree to it. Just like it’s Gilette’s job to advertise “the best a man can get” – which isn’t necessarily true, depends on the man using it, it’s their decision.

          Advertising is shady if you think about it, in all forms.

  3. A very well-written and well-informed post Jayne. Anyone who says otherwise is obviously from one of those SEO companies and wants to keep scaring bloggers into doing what they want. Shame on them!

  4. Surely as long as any links included in a paid-for post are no-follow, then there is no problem with google? Because there are clients out there who are happy to pay for clearly labelled sponsored content on a no-follow basis and as far as I’m aware, there are no rules against that and no laws are being broken.

  5. Thanks for posting this, it’s very informative. I’m still trying to get my head around it all. I’ve not actually been approached for paid links or sponsored posts, I’m not really sure if I’d accept, but if I do I will be making sure I know what’s right and what’s wrong.

  6. i am amazed at what bloggers have to contend with and i really didnt know there were rules and laws that had to be followed
    very intresting read x

  7. I think some SEOs are panicking as they don’t know what to do with their paid follow links now that Google is finding ways to spot them a mile off. But that doesn’t give them Carte Blanche to ask bloggers to break the law. Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse, and neither is being sneaky…well said.

  8. I’ve had this a couple of times this week and both times have quoted interflora as an example. I just can’t be bothered with them now and tell them
    No as soon as they start persuading for a follow (but “discrete”) link.

  9. It sounds like they’re pretty bemused to me, but maybe I’m being too naive. It’s such a nightmare now with all the rules, trying to keep up and still make some money is so hard, especially for smaller bloggers.

  10. I’m glad you wrote this.I think some, not all SEO agencies need a good kick up the back side.It’s also good for other bloggers (particularly newbies) to see what they tell bloggers who don’t want to a) piss off Google b) abide by ASA laws.

  11. I don’t like being lied to but I would like to think that some of these SEO people are possibly fed this kind of information that they actually believe it. Or are naive. Or are just lying.

    Either way, life needs to be more transparent and they need to accept that bloggers are savvy people too!

    1. I think that’s true. I debated some issues with some young PR’s responsible for dealing with bloggers. and they complained that their bosses were adamant in their points of view, and wouldn’t be flexible to change. I suspect there is a lot of senior pressure downwards on these SEO guys – it’s a cut-throat business, and one which will ultimately fail. People are going down fighting 🙁

  12. I found this so useful. I’m not actually at the stage where I have been contacted for sponsored posts, but I’ve done a few reviews – either sent to me or bought with my own money. It’s confusing sometimes, as I often wonder what to say when I’m emailed, or where to start. I just want to blog and do a good job. If I earn some money – great – but it has to be done the right way. I’d be interested in your advice on blogging and profit in general. Wise gal! x

  13. Lie to us
    Think we are stupid.
    That we don’t know the rules

    That is what hacks me off about this more than anything. It is up to a blogger to make their own informed decision of whether they stick two fingers up to Google and do a follow link anyway. That is fine. it is the blogger’s choice.

    But the labelling issue is law. Again, up to the blogger as to whether or not they break that law.

    But it is not up to the SEO company to lie to a blogger and tell them it is alright. That they are just thinking about the blogger when saying “can you put guest not sponsored”. No they are protecting their client.

    And the sooner they wake up to the fact that bloggers aer not stupid. The better.

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