I have recently received half a dozen offers of placing links in my blogs to reputable companies’ websites.
Think of it as product placement for the Internet. It’s been around a while, but I just figured out how it’s done, and it made me realise that the early dreams of a blogging utopia on the web are pretty much dead.
Here’s how this kind of product placement works. If I can persuade you to link to my product page in your blog, then my product will appear more popular and rise up Google’s search results accordingly. Simple.
An ad wouldn’t work. Google would see it was an ad and discount it. So one increasingly popular approach is for you to pay me to include a link in my blog. I mean, right in it: not as a link, or a ‘sponsored by’, but as a sentence, embedded, as it were, inside my copy.
I had some problem getting my head around this, so I’ll walk you through it. I add a sentence into my blog, and then turn one of the words in it into a link to the company’s website. For my trouble I get $150. The company, if it gets enough people like me to do this, will see their web site rise up through the Google ranks.
This is what the Internet, and blogs, have become. A somewhat seedy enterprise where companies–and we’re talking reputable companies here–hire ad companies to hunt out people like me with blogs that are sufficiently popular, and vaguely related to their line of business, to insert a sentence and a link.
If you’re not sure what’s wrong with this, I’ll tell you.
First off, it’s dodgy. If Google finds out about it it will not only discount the link in its calculations, but ban the website–my blog, in other words–from its index. Google doesn’t like any kind of mischief like this because it corrupts their search.
That’s why a) the blog needs to look vaguely related and b) it can’t just be any old sentence that includes the link. Google’s computers are sharp enough to spot nonsense.
That’s why kosher links are so valuable, and why there’s business in trying to persuade bloggers like me to break Google’s rules. If I get banned, my dreams of a profitable web business are gone. For the company and ad firm: nothing.
Second, it’s dodgy. It works on the assumption that all blog content is basically hack work and the people who write it are for sale. I think that’s why I loathe it so much. It clearly works: When I got back to one company that approached me, I was told the client’s request book had already been filled.
With every mercenary link sold they devalue the web.The only thing that might make my content valuable is that it’s authentic. It’s me. If I say I like something, I’m answerable for that. Not that people drop by to berate me much, but the principle is exactly the same as a journalistic one: Your byline is your bond and not a checkbook.
Really interesting to hear this side of the story. There definitely are risks for the company and the ad firm. See this article about J C Penney for the risks to the company: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html
And if the ad firm responsible were named, their reputation would be shot.
I do think it’s incredibly irresponsible of the ad firms to approach blogs and dupe them into this, particularly when many bloggers won’t be aware of the risks.
Companies themselves often don’t know what their SEO agency are doing on their behalf too and the risk they are being exposed to.
Practices like this have really damaged the reputation of SEO as a whole, and why it is unfortunately seen by many as a ‘dark art’.
Mark, thanks for this. This is an abbreviated version of a longer column, which I’ll be publishing here in updated form in a day or two. Thanks for reminding me of the NYT piece.