Never heard of them? Nope nor had I until I…
I have had a post rattling around in my head for a while now but it breaks the blogging rule of never blogging about blogging itself. Yesterday however I was tipped over the edge and decided I had to. To discuss the increasingly common practice of bloggers being blatantly lied to and now being asked to break the law.
First of all though for my non blogging readers I must do some explaining. In simple terms it works thus.
There are PR companies that represent brands or companies or products who ask bloggers to review a product for them and talk about it on their blogs. Bloggers say it is a review or that they have been sent the product free of charge with a view to talking about it to their readers. They write a post talking about the product. Show pictures of themselves using the product etc. As you may have read on this blog. I do these and I always let you know that I have been sent the product for that purpose. Not only is it fair that I tell you, the reader, that, it is the law.
I don’t feel it is fair to tell you about a product, effectively sell it to you, without being honest about how that product came on to my desk. And the law agrees.
Why do companies do this? Well because a) they want people to talk about it to their friends; and b) if there are, say, 50 people all saying how great that product is it will appear higher in the search results on that big search engine Google. And that is good for the company concerned. More people talking about it means more people see it at the top of the results if they are looking for a similar item.
So these PR companies, or even the brands themselves send out products in exchange for a review.
Next we have companies doing something called SEO. Search Engine Optimisation. Their job is to get their client’s company to appear higher in that search result, not with a product typically, but with cold hard cash. They don’t send a product or invite you to an event with a view to reviewing it, they ask the blogger to write a post (or they write it themselves and ask for it to be copy and pasted).
They are paid by the brand or company to do this and they pay bloggers with cash or vouchers.
Again, I have made no secret of these types of posts. In themselves there is nothing wrong with these sorts of posts. They are not bad posts.
The SEO wants a link to their client within the blog post and often attached to a key word such as “best blogger called Tanya who lives in Fleet” which would then lead you to this blog.
So if I was flush I could approach 20 mates and say “will you write about me and use the above phrase and link to this blog and I will give you £50″. Those bloggers then write that blog, say they have been asked to write it (for reasons above) and the deal is done. Then if somebody goes to Google and types “best blogger in Fleet” because they want a local blogger for a campaign I appear at the top.
Now. If you are also a blogger in Fleet called Tanya but don’t have the money, is that fair?
No. It is not. Does that make me the best blogger in Fleet or does it just make me the blogger with the deepest pockets?
And that is what Google is trying to stop. They don’t want companies with big budgets being able to skew the search results with cash, to the detriment of the other equally good companies with smaller budgets. So they are changing their algorithms to pick up such posts. The have two different ways of doing links, called “follow” and “no follow”. I don’t pretend to know how it works “in the background” but I know in basic terms. And those are that spiders trawl the web looking for content. If they follow a link it boosts the rankings but they don’t want it to follow paid for links, they want to follow genuine links. Links where somebody has said “I went to a conference today and met this great woman. She might just be the best blogger in Fleet. If you ever need a blogger, you should drop her a mail”.
That is a genuine link. Talked about by a genuine person for the love of my blog. Not because I slipped them £50.
And here in lies the problem.
What is now happening on a virtually daily basis is that these SEO companies are approaching bloggers and saying “it is fine for you to do the link to my client but you can’t put anywhere in the post that this has been paid for”.
This is a lie
A bare faced blatant lie
They think that by having a follow link (generally ones that are paid for) with no disclosure of the fact it is a paid for post it will fool the Google spiders. But it doesn’t work like that.
You see there is that law that I mentioned above that governs any kind of “paid for content”.
It is never all right to write a blog post and not disclose it. This is much less wordy post that explains it much more succinctly than I have done here: Non Disclosure in Blogging
It goes on to say that this is covered in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Act 2008. Which makes sense, doesn’t it? If I am telling you how great something is you need to know that I have been paid, effectively, to sell that to you. It is what you expect of me. And it is what I expect of myself.
In fact the law says very clearly
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) specifically prohibits “using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer (advertorial).The CPRs also prohibits: “Falsely claiming or creating the impression that the trader is not acting for purposesrelating to his trade, business, craft or profession, or falsely representing oneself as a consumer.
So that is quite clear then isn’t it? Even to you non blogger types that is pretty cut and dried?
Why am I rambling on about this? Why is this featuring on Ranty Friday this week when I was going to talk to you about something else this week?
I will tell you why. Because yesterday I was asked if I would be interested in writing a post (in exchange for a three figure sum I could have well done with) this was my response:
Not a problem at all. I would need to disclose that it was a sponsored post though. And I always use the word “sponsored” not guest as it has been paid for so isn’t a guest post. I hope that is okay with you. There have been lots of discussions with SEO / PR companies and bloggers about disclosure and bloggers do need to make sure they comply with the laws on disclosure
I sent this because increasingly bloggers are being asked to not use the word “sponsored” and quite frankly we are all sick of it. So I now make my position very clear right from the outset
This was the response:
Unfortunately we have had new guidelines introduced that state we can’t place any more articles that are labelled as sponsored as they highlight the link has been paid for. Not great in the eyes of Google.
If that’s the case that you definitely have to state ‘sponsored’, then I won’t be able to go ahead I’m afraid.
I don’t suppose offering you a bit more money would sway the decision would it?
A bare faced lie. Plain and simple. It is nothing to do with Google. Nothing. And everything to do with Consumer Law. And would I be happy to break the law for more money? You see that. A supposed expert in these matters is asking me to break the law in exchange for cash.
My response was this:
The problem isn’t Google. It’s the ASA. And they are quite explicit that within the post it has to demonstrate that the post has been paid for. Failure to comply has far more serious implications than Google unfortunately
So then our expert came back with this
From my client’s point of view the problem is Google. If it is made clear that we are paying for links, we will be penalised for it. Therefore we can’t use any sort of wording that suggest it has been paid for
Blaming Google. IT IS NOT GOOGLE THAT GOVERNS DISCLOSURE. It is the law. Consumer law. There is an Act of Parliament that governs it.
I told him I was very disappointed that his client was encouraging bloggers to break the law. That in the name of getting their site to appear higher in search engine results they are prepared to break the law. This chap’s final word on the matter was this:
Please don’t think that <insert brand name> that is encouraging this. They are using us as a third party to increase their online presence and it is our choice how this is done.
So there you have it. Brands don’t know what they are paying for. They are paying these third parties to get results for them and not asking how that will be done. Presumably entrusting the experts to do it. Assuming they will comply with laws. Not realising that some of these companies are unscrupulous and will stop at nothing to get a result.
And that is criminal.
SEOs ask yourself the question: if you are asking bloggers to break the law and more and more and more turn you down, are you doing yourselves out of a job?
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