Due to my background in SEO and the fact that I still do freelance SEO consulting on the side, I’m always staying up-to-date with the latest Google guidelines and algorithm changes. I’ve worked to rebuild sites that were hurt by the Penguin and Panda algorithm, so I know firsthand how your business (or blog) can be ruined if you don’t listen to Google. Basically, if you’re going to be spammy and do shady things on your blog or website, Google can find out. And they could punish you.
Now I don’t believe that you should believe everything Google tells you, because that would be a bit ridiculous. I do, however, advise you to listen to their guidelines and decide for yourself how you want to implement their suggestions.
The latest announcement from Google is on the topic of bloggers reviewing free products they receive from companies. So if you’re a blogger and you occasionally get free things from a company, listen up! Google is cracking down on bloggers who receive products for free (or are getting paid to write a sponsored post) and aren’t disclosing this properly.
Why Does This Matter?
You may be asking, “Why is Google all up in my blogging business? Why do they care if a shitty clothing company sends me wrinkly, too-small skirts that I wear once on my blog and then try to re-sell on Poshmark for $50?”
Well first of all, it’s illegal to endorse a product without following the proper etiquette. Says who? Says the FTC. You can, and probably should, read the FTC’s Endorsement Guide. These guidelines are in place to “reflect the basic truth-in-advertising principle that endorsements must be honest and not misleading. An endorsement must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser and can’t be used to make a claim that the product’s marketer couldn’t legally make.”
Second of all, it’s super shady. Would you review a stroller if you don’t even have a baby? Would you advertise a brand of coffee if you’re actually allergic to caffeine? You’re fooling your readers – those loyal people who read your blog day after day. If you’re okay with lying to all those people who make your blog successful, then we have larger problems.
So What Do I Do Now?
The next time you’re sent a product to review or asked to work with a brand on a collaboration (it could be a blog post, a social media share, an event, or any other similar platform), do the following:
- Disclose the relationship.Your readers need to know that this is a piece of sponsored content. There is nothing wrong with sponsored content – it’s how most of us make some extra money. If people have a problem with that, they can GTFO. Generally this disclosure appears at the top or bottom of the post (top is preferred, as not all readers scroll to the end). If you’re listing out the item and linking to the website of the product, you should also write “c/o” (courtesy of) or “gifted”, so readers are aware. You need to be specific on how you were compensated, not just say “This is a sponsored post.” For example, say “This post is sponsored by Company X. I received their Product Y for free to try out and this is my review.” Or “I was compensated for trying out Face Cream Z.”
- Don’t make the post a straight-up product pitch. If you’re just taking photos of yourself using/wearing the product and writing two sentences like “I just loveeeee this top from Brand X. So comfy, get 50% off today!”, get off my browser. Not only is that annoying, but it’s not quality content in Google’s eyes. Or anyone’s eyes, really. A detailed, well-written post will always perform better in Google.
- Use no-follow tags when necessary. A no-follow tag is a short HTML tag that you place in your code when you link out to another website. There are two types of links: follow and no-follow. Follow links send Google a signal that you are essentially endorsing the website you’re linking to because you love it and want to share it organically, NOT because you were paid to do so. Adding a no-follow tag when linking out to a sponsored product’s company tells Google to not follow this link.
- Having a disclosure notice in your footer is not enough. Simply writing “I sometimes get products in return for a review” on your “About” page isn’t enough. You need to do this on regular basis for all sponsored content. Having one page or area where you disclose this is not enough.
How Do I Know Which Links to No-Follow?
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t agree 100% with Google’s recent crackdown on this, especially regarding adding no-follow links as much as they want us to. If I generally love a product or a brand, I’m going to link to them whether I’m being paid or not. But to be safe and not have your website penalized, I’d just no-follow any paid links. This includes links to advertising banners (for fellow bloggers or certain companies), mentions of a product you were given for free OR being paid to review, etc. If you’re getting any type of compensation (in products or cash) for the post, just no-follow your links. Here’s an easy tutorial on doing just that.
What if the Company Tells me NOT to Disclose the Endorsement?
They are operating illegally and will probably be caught (if they haven’t yet). I’d send them a link to this blog post (heh) or the official guidelines from the FTC and/or Google. Do yourself a favor and be the bigger person and turn down the opportunity. Missing out on a free hairbrush is much better than Google penalizing your website in search results and you losing 100% of your traffic.