It’s been almost three months since Google released new blogger guidelines, finally clarifying that bloggers should be absolutely clear about the nature of their relationships with companies, and use no-follow links for all relationships where a company is giving away something for free, i.e. for endorsed or sponsored content.
For some time, bloggers have been in a situation of confusion on when and whether to disclose endorsed/sponsored relationships, and this Webmasters blog ostensibly cleared up some misunderstandings once and for all.
In a nutshell, if you write a favourable blog post about a company or product where something has been given for free (or you have been paid), in addition to disclosing that the visitor is viewing sponsored content, any followed links to that company or product will be classed by Google as “unnatural outbound links” and will be punishable by a manual spam action on the blogger’s website.
But three months on, has this guidance (and its penalties) really filtered through to bloggers?
How do bloggers function within Google’s parameters?
For several years, companies have been using bloggers for their online marketing abilities. In return for a free product or experience, a blogger might be asked to write up a review, often containing a link, so as to give the company credibility amongst the blogger’s audience network, as well as more authority in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Because some bloggers are not discerning about the products they endorse for free, and because some companies spread themselves widely into audiences that may have nothing to do with them, Google has long been watchful of these relationships. Best practice has fluctuated from always declaring a post sponsored to absolute denial of the question, in fear of a reprisal from Google against sponsored content. Because of the lack of clarity in this regard, myths have generated and spread amidst bloggers, to be variously answered by swathes of digital experts.
Its useful delineation of what Google wants from bloggers, then, released on March 11th 2016, was a breath of fresh air in a sphere which has been filled with contradiction.
Its guidance was threefold:
- Disclose the nature of the relationship
- Use a no-follow tag for sponsored/endorsed content
- Create compelling, unique content
The third point comes as no surprise when Google has been highlighting the importance of legitimate, valuable content in its SERP ranks for years now, but the first two were newly firm guidance.