It is known as the “no follow” tag, a small piece of HTML that was introduced to help search engines (especially Google), recognize that a link is not to count towards the popularity of the link in search engine ranking. Google has made it abundantly clear in it will not trust websites that violate the Google Webmaster quality guidelines.
Google has stated following on its Google Webmaster Blog:
Buying or selling that pass PageRank violates our webmaster guidelines.
The issue at hand now is not specifically about paid links, but about blog posts that are paid for. The issue has now been brought to the forefront once again as a new report by Forrester Research. In the report, Forrester makes a case that marketers should pay bloggers to write about their experience with a brand.
Matt Cutts, the head of Google Web Spam has stated “paid posts should not pass PageRank” and that it has taken measures to against bloggers that have violated the quality guidelines. Cutts goes on to say that “Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithm any more.”
The argument that Google makes is that paid posts should not influence ranking. If a markter pays for a post in a blog, the links in that post must be “no follow” and not pass PageRank.
Forrester’s Sean Corcoran, the author of the report that has sparked this debate has said “… bloggers want to get paid for their time and this practice isn’t really that new, it just needs to be done the right way.”
The question at hand is: What is the right way?
As Corcoran states on the Forrester Research Blog for Interactive Marketing Professionals:
The two most important conditions that marketers must follow when using sponsored conversation are 1) sponsorship transparency and 2) blogger authenticity. Sponsorship transparency means that both the marketer and the blogger must make it absolutely clear to the reader community that they are reading paid content – think of Google Adwords “Sponsored Links.” Blogger authenticity means that the blogger should have complete freedom to write in their own voice – even if the content they write about the brand is negative.
There’s no denying that there has to be a balance reached. Google has consistently applied its quality guidelines regardless of the size of website shown to have violated them. In doing so, it is protecting the integrity of its search index in an attempt to improve the overall user experience for those people using Google, and ultimately finding the correct information through search.
In keeping with what Forrester’s Corcoran has stated about “sponsorship transparency” regarding a paid blog post, he should see no problems in using the “no follow” attribute tag.
Product endorsements are a reality.
Marketers capitalize on the power of celebrity to sell the wares of their clients. Sponsored conversions are just that. These are product endorsements. Readers of blogs should be permitted the opportunity to determine if they will or will not trust the opinion of the blooger. As Corcoran so aptly indicates “blogger authenticity” will play a role in the success or failure of the sponsored post. As long as the sponsored post is transparent and the links follow Google’s established guidelines, there should be no problem.
Google is not saying that these posts are not appropriate. It is merely stating that the sponsored post or paid blog post follow the same guidelines established and enforced for all webmasters. In making its assertion that links contained in sponsored posts should be “no follow”, Google has clarified its position and has to be respected.
Marketers may not agree with this assertion, but it had better follow the guidelines of face the consequences. Google is a business, has built the largest playing field in town, and has clearly established the rules that it wants followed. It has every right to do so and has to be respected for doing so.
Some will argue that Google is using its dominance in the search world to influence and coerce bloggers into conforming to its standards. However, I don’t see it that way. Bloggers are still free to offer sponsored posts and know the rules in play. It doesn’t get much more simple than that.
For the record … no animal was harmed in the writing of this blog post and this is not a sponsored or paid blog post.