By June 12, 2013 Read More →

Sponsored posts

Where we stand on the contentious issue of sponsored posts

Sponsored postsFor a long time now there’s been a lot of unease in the blogging community about the issue of advertorials or sponsored posts. Usually a blogger is approached by a PR or digital media agency and asked to publish a post that contains a link to one of their clients’ products or services.

Google have announced plans to penalise more sites that sell links in this way and do not label sponsored posts or use no follow links that prevent coveted PageRank being passed to the linking site.

The penalty could be loss of PageRank or complete delisting from the Google search engines. Which is either the death knell for the site or involves a long and tortuous process to clean up the site and inch back into Google’s favour and up the rankings.

Much as webmasters and many other internet users object to being forced to dance to Google’s tune, it’s important to note that although it’s usually in the context of Google that the issue is discussed, it is actually also against the law –  the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Act 2008 – not to disclose sponsored posts.

What’s interesting to me as a blogger is that The Internet Advertising Bureau UK’s Guidelines on the Payment for Editorial Content to Promote Brands within Social Media is designed to ‘help brand owners and marketing practitioners comply with’ the Act (my italics), whereas the punitive action from Google clobbers the blogger.

Yet another case of kicking the little guy? Naturally I’d say this, but it seems rather unfair when brands and agencies have colleagues and industry information to draw on, while blogging is a typical home working kind of activity, carried out by people with a passion for their subject, and not necessarily with an interest in blogging as a whole.

Not only that, but although I’ve never come across it myself, I’ve heard stories of agency representatives assuring bloggers they are doing nothing wrong by not disclosing sponsored posts. Isolation and ignorance being no defence, they could end up suffering badly if they don’t get clued up.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, we’re at a turning point in social media marketing and it’s going to be interesting to see how it develops. So how does WfHW fit into this complicated picture?

Let’s be honest, we want to continue publishing sponsored posts because maintaining a blog is a time-consuming activity with costs, and we need to cover some of those somehow.

If anyone has any ideas for other business models that fit within Google and legal guidelines, please tell us, because we are presently racking our brains!

I think new forms of marketing will emerge and I hope they will reimburse bloggers for the time spent on creating and maintaining their blogs, but in a legal way that doesn’t risk anybody losing their online presence or entices them to break the law.

We also want to keep sponsored posts, as we believe that, carefully chosen, (and believe me, we reject many more than we accept) they add to the range and depth of the information available on the site.

But the current situation conflicts with our values around running the blog with integrity, being open and honest, and providing valuable content for home workers.

We don’t want to run the risk of misleading or confusing readers so our editorial policy from now on is to only publish sponsored posts from agencies that allow us to comply with Google and legal guidelines. Sponsored posts will be clearly labelled as such in the introduction, and no follow links will be used to avoid passing on Page Rank.

We hope agencies will continue to work with us to find new ways of providing quality content for our readers, while reaching a targeted audience for their clients.

And we will of course continue to publish guest posts from individual home workers who have a story or expertise to contribute. Naturally we don’t charge for these posts, so they are a great way to get some free PR for yourself and your business. These will be labelled as ‘guest posts’. And they are all promoted on a number of social media sites as well as Twitter, Facebook and Google+, so you never know where you might end up!

Recent examples include interior designer Anne-Marie Springer’s post on using colour to create your ideal home office and Kaitlyn Hatch’s tips on getting online when you’re travelling around Japan. Both providing terrific expertise for readers and a little exposure for the writers.

Do you have a blog? What’s your view on sponsored posts, Google penalties and the future of social media marketing?

Have you been approached by an agency to place paid links on your site? What was your experience? Please tell us your thoughts.

Posted in: News

12 Comments on "Sponsored posts"

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  1. VP says:

    Yes it’s a thorny problem, which I blogged about a while ago.

    Google sometimes kicks the big guy too – it happened to Interflora in the run up to Mothers’ Day earlier this year, which must have hurt quite a lot. But they did run a particularly aggressive campaign.

    I have a strong no follow, own content stance re sponsored posts, which is clearly stated on my blog and yes, it’s cost me lots of sponsorship and advertising so far. I believe in the long term that integrity and trust will win out.

    And there are positive signs emerging – I know of one SEO company that is positive about no follows and I have one lovely sponsor who values the personal relationship we have, including an honest dialogue about their products.

    I consider them to be beacons of hope amongst all the others keen to push brands which have nothing to do with my blog, or do have a good fit, but say ‘we appreciate your no follow stance, but a do follow link with x is OK because they’re a reputable company.’

    I’m tempted to contact those companies sometimes just so they know what’s being said in their name…

    • That’s very interesting, Michelle, and good to know Google are doing something to stop this at source.
      I’ve looked into this and it seems that Interflora were able to bounce back quite quickly – big brands of course have the money and manpower to put behind it, whereas an individual blogger would really struggle to recover.
      To any bloggers reading this who are concerned about the issue, take a look at Michelle’s blog for lots of discussion and further reading.

  2. Sharon says:

    I do have the occasional guest post on my Create Bubbles website but after a couple of #fails I now only have them from people I know & trust. I’m not sure I’d be in the position to have paid sponsored posts but if I was I would always make sure it was clearly signposted what they were.

    I can see where Google may be coming from, it would be all too easy for a large company to pay for posts whereas a smaller company wouldn’t so giving the larger company a possible unfair advantage. This levels the playing field somewhat.

    • Something I’m totally in favour of, Sharon. And on that subject unfortunately I don’t think Google have got their algorithm quite right at the moment because for my main keywords it seems to be favouring newspaper sites and big jobs boards 🙁 I’ve heard a change is in the offing, so I hope there will be an amendment soon.

  3. As a contribution to the debate about getting funding to run a blog (as once anyone who has tried it knows, it’s a lot of time and commitment):

    Do you have Adblock? Please amend the settings to show ads for all sites that use Google Ads (or other ads) where you would mind if they stopped publishing. Views are important, you don’t need to click (unless you want to). You aren’t helping the site or the blogger by blocking all ads. It’s a service to the internet community and it’s a responsibility we all have to support free quality content.

    • Thanks, Rosie, it took me a good few reads to get my head around this, as I hadn’t heard of Adblock before. I think we all tend to have a kneejerk reaction that ‘ads are bad’ but it’s always a lot more complex, isn’t it?

  4. Ah, I meant my comment to be addressed to everyone reading, rather than an admonishment to Judy!

  5. Rob Haywood says:

    I think it can only be a good thing that more and more people are being transparent.

    As consumers of content we know that things are paid for either directly by us, or by people advertising who want to sell to us.
    To market you need to build trust, and people need to like you. What can be more trustworthy than clearly stating that something is sponsored. If an agency is requesting anything other, are they really promoting trust for the represented brand?

    As far as loss of revenue goes for bloggers, there are other sponsorship and advertising opportunities out there, just because they don’t ring you up because they might not have realised they need you yet, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go after them yourself.

    • And of course if an agency asks you not to disclose a sponsored post, they are asking you to break the law.

      Very good point about being proactive, Rob, thanks. I’ve been speaking to some agencies lately and had some very interesting conversations about their policies on sponsored posts and, more importantly, how they see this issue developing.

      Love your business name, by the way 🙂

  6. Rob Haywood says:

    Judy, the business name is a throwback from when I used to build PCs, I keep meaning to change it because well I think a business name should also tell someone what you do, but hey it’s on my to do list somewhere 🙂 To be fair I’m not looking for any additional business at the moment so I’d prefer to spend my time marketing my clients businesses.

    I had of course missed the point about it being against the law, but for me the moral obligation would be more compelling than the legal one (that is to say if it wasn’t a legal requirement I would still disclose).

    Don’t forget as well as the big agencies there are plenty of small business owners who would be happy to reach some sort of host-beneficiary relationship for newsletters, websites, all sorts (with full disclosure of course).