Sponsored Content and Google Penalties – Is Google Acting Hypoctrical?

Seeing that @mattcutts unfollowed @shoemoneybecause of “sponsored tweets”, I began to follow several of the bloggers that have been controversial and very much in the face of what they deem as Google’s hypocritical assessment of penalties.  At issue here is Google’s and Matt Cutts “almightier than thou” attitude that if you provide links in exchange for goods or services, those links had better be NoFollowed or risk the wrath of Google.

@mattcuts unfollows @shoemoney

Michael Gray in his post How Google Profiles SEO’s shows how Google has used give-aways to influence links to its cell phone offering Android, and exposes how other bloggers have received free trips and free cars for blogging about the vehicles.  Yet these bloggers do not appear to receive any penalties.

Google has in the past penalized bloggers such as John Chow for selling links and getting aggressive with his link building campaign for “make money online“.  Chow quickly moved to #1 for the keyword phrase and Google moved to penalize his ranking for that.  In fact, they pretty much wiped John Cow from the entire Google index.

Did that hurt John Chow?  Not one bit.  In doing so, Google helped create the entire John Chow brand and made him somewhat of an icon in the blogging community and his popularity continues to grow throughout the blogging community.  Chow’s traffic and revenue has continued to grow showing that you don’t need the blessings of Google to do well in the online world.  The key is traffic and converting that traffic – something that John Chow has become an expert at.

Does it make it right for Google to penalize some websites and not others?  Does it make it right for Google to partake in the same questionable practices they criticize others for?

According to Matt Cutts in You and A with Matt Cutts,  “It’s about people who do it deliberately for links.”

Wait a second, Matt Cutts and Google are such a great search engine they can actually determine a bloggers intent?  How can they determine the intent of a blogger when it comes to the links they provide?  Sure some of them are obviously written to promote a product, but what about the reviews that are written because you either like or dislike a product?  I have written many posts about company products that I didn’t like.  I’ve also solicited articles from companies and have written about products that I have purchased and used!

Cutts does clarify his statement “Just to be absolutely clear, you can do whatever you want on your site.  It’s your choice.  But they use a litmus test at Google to choose what they display in their index.  If you want to show up in their index, that’s what they keep in mind.”

It’s simple.  Threaten the Google empire or the sacred Google index and you get the boot.  Google has taken a very simple stance on sponsored posts – “We’ll play in your sandbox only if you play by our rules.”

Matt Cutts has earned the respect of many through his interaction on his blog.  He has been forthcoming and very consistent in practicing what he preaches.  He is an advocate for full disclosure.  His unfollowing of @shoemoney is no more that Cutts applying his own mantra to a situation where he discovered @shoemoney doing sponsored tweets.

As Shoemoney quickly pointed out in his own blog post:

I don’t know that there is a person in the industry that I have more respect for other than Matt. He is probably one of the best public speakers I have ever heard. He also is a VERY fair, trustworthy, and honorable person.

The issue that Jeremy had with this was how it happened, in a public tweet to all of Cutt’s followers.

It just really surprised me because me and Matt communicate a lot via email. Actually we just exchanged some emails 2 days before this. So why not just email me to let me know if you feel its really important? Besides with over 500 replies to me a day @shoemoney odds are I wont even see it.

Still, there are those that think that there is something more sinister at play here.  Sure, Google has a gigantic revenue stream with it’s Adwords and Adsense programs.  For the most part, they dominate this particular market and they can dictate what goes on to those users who use these programs to generate revenue from their blogs.  In taking the hard nosed stance that all sponsored posts and sponsored content must include proper disclosure, and by penalizing any form of “unethical” link building practices, Google is protecting not only the integrity of its search index, it is also protecting its advertising monopoly.

Bloggers such as Michael Gray, John Chow and Jeremy Schoemaker continue to come up with innovative ways of pushing the limits of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and because of their high profile in the blogging community, things they do come to surface a little more quickly.

The problem with this is Google leaves themselves open to a lot of criticism at unfair and equitable treatment and for the most part, this criticism is warranted.  If Google is going to have the “almightier than thou” attitude, it is imperative that they apply the rules fairly for everyone.

Sponsored posts are nothing new in the blogging community.  Matt Cutts opting to unfollow @shoemoney has done nothing more than raise the profile of Jeremy Schoemaker.  I’m sure he’s gained more followers and has gotten more press from this in the blogging community than if Cutts hadn’t said anything.

While the rest of us bloggers stive to reach the stature of John Chow and Jeremy Schoemaker, we have no choice but to listen to the wisdom of Matt Cutts and pay attention to the conditions set out by Google.  Sure, we may feel that Google sometimes acts hypocritical, but what can we do while trying to build our traffic and our online influence?

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About Barry Wheeler

Barry Wheeler is a blogger, novice SEO, geek and passionate Newfoundlander. Operating several successful websites and online communities, Barry has started exploring the social internet and its impact on all facets of society including personal life and business relationships. Find Barry on Twitter @barrywheeler and FaceBook or on his website Barry Wheeler - Blogging for Success.
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