Google warns bloggers on product review disclosure

A widespread and accepted part of marketing strategy is to send products for review to bloggers in the hope of getting a little publicity. It has developed into an effective means by which companies can get their goods or services in front of a specific audience by using the platform provided by a blogger who has reach and trust with the audience.

This has been especially helpful in giving products that may be niche in nature an opportunity to gain some exposure, as bloggers often focus on quite specific segments of a market, and the product may not have the sort of appeal required for more mainstream media attention.

The other factor is bloggers who service such niche areas have often built a stronger level of trust, respect and connection with their audience than what could be generated by more generalist publishers.

A well-known example of this is Darren Rowse’s Digital Photography School site, which has become a go-to spot for anyone interested in the finer points of digital photography.

The Google Webmaster Central Blog recently posted a new set of guidelines for bloggers who review free products they receive.

If your company or you personally engage in this activity, it’s worth paying attention to what Google has said. Otherwise, you may find your performance on Google, including PageRank, could suffer as a result.

Google’s recommends individuals and brands:

  • Use the nofollow tag where appropriate;
  • Disclose the relationship; and
  • Create unique content.

Learn what “nofollow tags” mean and do

Your blog webmaster should be familiar with the term “nofollow tag” (if not, here’s an excellent explainer from Google’s Matt Cutts about it) and how it affects the way Google’s search bots crawl websites and determine things like PageRank.

Basically, Google has said only organic links should have follow tag links because links generated via commercial arrangements such as products in exchange for review are not organically created. In Google’s words, “the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide a free good or service in exchange for a link.”

Be upfront about relationships

Recently, I wrote a blog here about resilience, which was based upon a visit I made to view the operations of the company Tropical Pineapples, which is based in Central Queensland. The stories I heard struck such a chord with me that I thought it would be great to share them with other small business owners, in this case, the readers of my blog on SmartCompany.

I thought a little about the ethics of writing about one of our clients but weighed up the fact I was not talking up their products. Instead I was talking about how they as a business had managed to survive some tough times.

I also made sure to put a disclaimer at the end of the article disclosing Bendalls’ relationship with Tropical Pineapples. It can sometimes be a bit of a grey area but you need to be upfront with your readers about disclosing such relationships.

Don’t copy and paste content to your site

It’s a given you should be trying to create fresh and original content for your site rather than copying and pasting from elsewhere. Google bots do not want to be finding text on your blog that has been pretty much just pilfered from elsewhere, including from the product description on the website of the company that has provided you with a product for review.

There are obviously instances in which you might quote from such text but you need to acknowledge such a quote, and it needs to be incorporated into a post that is substantially different than the original product post on the supplier’s site.

The ACCC is also watching

Also of pertinence to bloggers based in Australia is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s position on the matter. As this PodLegal blog post points out, it’s not just Google you need to stay in the good books with – the ACCC is also watching what you do.

“Under the Australian Consumer Law, a failure to disclose paid endorsements will be misleading and deceptive conduct, which can attract serious penalties,” says the competition watchdog.

This again goes to the heart of why you need to make your blogging activities crystal clear for readers in regard to commercial ties you may have with companies providing products to you or any other connection you may have with them. By being above board about these things, you minimise the potential of damaging the trust and respect you have earned with your readers, which is the key maintaining a successful blog.

Fi Bendall is CEO of The Bendalls Group, a business that leads STRATEGY : ADVOCACY : MOBILE delivering the business acumen to drive effective positive results in a disruptive economy for the C-suite. Fi has recently won a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence award. See more at: 


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