Google Warns Reviewers of SEO Penalties If Gifts Aren’t Disclosed in Writing and Link Structure

Peter Roesler, President - Web Marketing Pros

By Peter Roesler

President, Web Marketing Pros

googlelogo_color_284x96dpFollowing an age of ad saturation, many consumers are searching for content that doesn’t feel like it was written by an advertising team. This can be seen in the rise of reviews and social media channels devoted to unboxings, try-ons, and stress tests.

Savvy business owners and marketers have taken advantage of this trend by giving products to people to review. Besides being cheaper than producing and running an ad, the content created by the reviewer would get more attention and seem more genuine. And though reviewers are quick to state their independence, the fact is that if people are more inclined to review something more favorably if they got it for free instead of paying retail price.

The FTC has recently started to crackdown on this practice. It’s fine to give products for review, but for ethical reasons, this needs to be made clear to the audience. They’ve issued several warnings to bloggers that they need to disclose, in multiple locations, when they are given products for reviews or when they are paid to mention or showcase a product from a business.

Google’s recent announcement seems to follow a similar set of logic. Some business owners and marketers had worked out systems where they would pay bloggers or give them free products for reviews to get favorable coverage and create more backlinks. Google is warning of potential penalties for sites that don’t follow their “best practices” for disclosing such arrangements.

“As a form of online marketing, some companies today will send bloggers free products to review or give away in return for a mention in a blogpost,” the company wrote in a post on the Webmaster Blog. 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.”

Essentially, Google doesn’t want businesses paying for backlinks, even in a roundabout way. Google has outlined three steps that bloggers need to take to avoid facing a penalty. These steps aren’t hard to do but take more effort than what is required by the FCC.

First, if the reviewer links to the company’s site, the company’s social media accounts, an online merchant’s page that sells the product, a review service’s page featuring reviews of the product or the company’s mobile app in an app store, they need to use a “nofollow” marker on the link. While a simple thing for SEO marketers to do, for bloggers who aren’t tech savvy, this first step may be the most challenging.

Second, and in accordance with the FTC requirements mentioned above, the site needs to disclose that they are writing this content (or using certain content) because the company gave the product for free or under some sort of arrangement.

Finally, they state that they want to see compelling, unique content so that it adds value beyond what is out on the web. Specifically, Google said the reviewer should “provide exclusive content that only you can create due to your unique expertise or resources.” What this means is that they don’t want people to just rehash press releases for the company and call it day.

Since Google has put out a warning, bloggers who do reviews need to check their content to make sure it’s inline with Google’s best practices. If Google went through the effort of updating their guidelines and sending out a message, they will probably start giving manual penalties to sites that don’t comply within a few months.

For more news about changes at Google, read this article on changes to ad locations on search engine results pages.


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