We can assume that Google is about to shake up the online marketing trends again by placing further restrictions on companies or individuals that indirectly break Google’s guidelines. More often than not, Google releases an update on nofollow directives weeks before dishing out manual penalties to offending sites.
This time the target is bloggers that receive free products in return for a review and link and the company that incentivise them. In essence, these companies and bloggers break the webmaster guidelines. Link schemes have always been against webmaster guidelines . Contrary to what others may think, incentivising anyone to link to your website isn’t classed as an organic link. Hundreds of companies ranging from start-ups to corporates have taken advantage of this link building exercise.
In my opinion, it’s been a long time coming. The playing field has never been level. Companies with larger marketing budgets have the edge over smaller companies who sometimes struggle to compete online.
What does this mean? We may see the blogger/company relationship diminish rapidly as the gains for the company are reduced with the latest webmasters blog post.
So, what does Google want the bloggers to do when you are given a free product?
Nofollow the link.
“Bloggers should use the nofollow tag on all such links because these links didn’t come about organically (i.e., the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide a free good or service in exchange for a link). Companies, or the marketing firms they’re working with, can do their part by reminding bloggers to use nofollow on these links.”
Ensure that you disclose that the content was written as a result of being given the product for free.
“Users want to know when they’re viewing sponsored content. Also, there are laws in some countries that make disclosure of sponsorship mandatory. A disclosure can appear anywhere in the post; however, the most useful placement is at the top in case users don’t read the entire post.”
“Provide exclusive content that only you can create due to your unique expertise or resources”
“The most successful blogs offer their visitors a compelling reason to come back. If you're a blogger you might try to become the go-to source of information in your topic area, cover a useful niche that few others are looking at, or provide exclusive content that only you can create due to your unique expertise or resources.”
We’ve seen a number of occasions when Google publishes best practice around no follow best practises, then a few weeks later the manual penalties are handed out. Want to know more about manual penalties?
“Whether you’re the company supplying the product or the blogger writing the post, below are a few best practices to ensure that this content is both useful to users and compliant with Google Webmaster Guidelines.”
So, if you have been incentivising people to link to your site. I’d take this as a pre warning that changes are on their way. Start clearing up your backlink profile now before the Google penalize you.
You must remember that:
It is both the responsibility of the company and the blogger to ensure that the guidelines are met. This suggests that both could end up under evaluation when the manual penalty start being handed out.
Historic blogs and reviews should be revisited in an attempt to ensure that your sites link profile is in line with Google’s guidelines. Contacting bloggers individually to get links amended is essential. It’s in both parties interests. However, we may see the monetisation of link removal/ amendments similar to the directory sites post Penguin updates a few years back.
Disavow file should be used to discredit any links that you are not able to amend.
If you do continue to send out free products for review it is essential that the blogger follows the webmaster tools guidelines. Penalties can be passed under “guilty by association”.
You have been warned.