Bloggers & Brands Beware: Google Update

by Emma Donnelly Red Hot Penny

It’s been in the running for a few years, but Google have finally reaffirmed a change to their best practice guidelines that will affect brands and bloggers – and potentially everyone’s influencer marketing strategies.

They have published on their webmaster blog that bloggers who receive free or gifted products from brands or manufacturers should follow the best practices to ensure they do not get penalized. Google have clearly seen bloggers write about products and link to the supplier of the products in exchange for free product.

It’s not exactly a secret, most brands are guilty of doing such things, but up until now it was never anything to be guilty of. This form of marketing seemed like a win-win situation for the influencer and for the brand gifting them. It’s a great example of how quickly our industry can change – something we all have to keep in mind.

So for all the bloggers, vloggers and social media influencers out there, this is what you have to do to stay in Google’s good books when receiving a product as payment for a post on your site:

1. Nofollow the link, as described by our friends at Search Engine Land – “If you decide to link to the company’s site, the company’s social media accounts, an online merchant’s page that sells the product, a review service’s page featuring reviews of the product or the company’s mobile app in an app store.”

2. Disclose that you are writing this content because the company gave you the product for free. Google said, “Users want to know when they’re viewing sponsored content,” and sometimes there is a legal requirement to do so.

3. Create compelling, unique content so that it adds value beyond what is out on the web. Google said you should “provide exclusive content that only you can create due to your unique expertise or resources.”

But how can Google really detect if a post is paid for and not natural? How can they see that the blogger has been gifted an item to post about?

Chris Haines, our SEO Account Manager, explains:

“Google have been aware for a number of years that certain bloggers and blogging communities are selling links on their sites to the highest bidders in exchange for do-follow links.  They don’t like this, as it is deemed unnatural and not in keeping with their ideals of providing the best possible result for the user. 

This latest development sees Google tighten their grip in the same way they did to guest posting sites a few years ago.  Whether or not Google will issue penalties to certain blogging sites later this year remains to be seen, although based on Google’s previous steps, they are likely to isolate some of the lowest quality websites that have been clearly selling links and make examples of them. 

In terms of a manual review, it is very easy to spot blogging sites that offer paid links.  And very easy for Google to see if the links are do-follow or contain the nofollow attribute.  If Google sees that you are linking out to many different commercial websites, and not much else, the backlink profile of your site is going to look unnatural.”

This isn’t just a small hint of a new practice to follow. Often, when Google publishes best practices around nofollow usage, weeks later, Google sends out manual actions penalties for those who do not practice them. So brands, influencers and agencies – watch out.

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