Do Bloggers Even Know They’re Breaking Google’s Rules?

by Christina Gleason on March 4, 2009

Before my introduction to the world of Internet Marketing, I had never even heard of a no-follow link. I’ve been blogging for a few years, so it’s not like I’m a complete Web noob.  But as a blogger who just wanted a place to write about her son and her obsession with LOST, I didn’t even know the Google Webmaster Guidelines existed.

I’m not unique in this.

Which is why I’m concerned about Matt Cutts and his recent call to action about paid links. Loren Baker of Search Engine Journal has wrapped up a lot of his concerns quite nicely in a blog post.  I think that all of my fellow mommy bloggers – and bloggers in general – should read his post. Let me pull out a few takeaway messages:

  • Google does not approve of paid links in any form, including sponsored conversations like product reviews and giveaways.
  • If you publish a product review or giveaway and you don’t no-follow your links, Google will penalize both you and the company that sponsored your blog post.
  • A Google penalization is generally understood to mean a demotion in ranking, which means it will be harder for searchers to find you on the Google SERPs.

I’d like a show of hands from bloggers who do not consider themselves a part of the SEO/Internet Marketing industry… Do you no-follow all of your links to your blog post sponsors? Do you know how to no-follow your links? Or maybe I should’ve started with a more basic question – do you know what no-follow means?

I did a preliminary poll on my personal Twitter account, and the results were split. Half of the responses indicated that they didn’t no-follow their links, and the other half didn’t even know what no-follow meant.  From those in the know, they had determined that passing link juice to their sponsors was only fair, considering they’d offered some form of compensation.  Unfortunately, that decision has the opposite effect.  By passing link juice to the sponsor’s Web site, both the blog publisher and the sponsoring company have violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, which can result in losing rankings and, by extension, visitors. Incurring a Google penalty doesn’t help your blog or the sponsor!

For all of the bloggers out there who are reading this and had no idea they were doing anything wrong, you’re in good company. (As a matter of fact, I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment, and maybe I can nudge Matt Cutts to come and take a look at how many experienced bloggers are completely clueless about this whole “paid link” notion.) Here’s a little help for no-following your links:

  • Don’t use your visual blog editor to create no-follow links; use the HTML editor.
  • Add this to your anchor tag: rel=”nofollow”

You must do this for any links in sponsored posts, whether you’re publishing a product review, running a giveaway, or have been otherwise compensated for placing a link.  You are not doing your sponsors any favors by leaving the no-follow off.

Now that you know, you can start doing right by Google. I don’t think it’s fair that Google penalizes bloggers for breaking rules they aren’t even aware of, but I don’t make the rules. I hope that I can reach out and spread the word so that my favorite blogs don’t get whacked by the Google hammer the next time they run one of their awesome giveaways. (By the way, consider this a shout out to all of the awesome bloggers who have hooked me up with some fantastic prizes. You rock! Blog giveaways FTW!)

If you’ve got the time, it would be worth it  to go back and edit old blog posts to no-follow your links retroactively. Matt Cutts has put the call out for people to report sites that buy and sell links, so you want to protect yourself! Google doesn’t allow you to plead ignorance, and they don’t even need proof that you published a paid link. If they think you’re guilty, then you will suffer the consequences. Don’t give them any reason to suspect you. No-follow links to all of your sponsors, and you’ll be fine.

March 2013 update: Matt Cutts has now left no question about whether or not product for links is considered paid. Yes. It is. Interflora got smacked down for sending bloggers flowers and getting links back from them. So cut it out.

March 2013 update, part two: The FTC has clarified their guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials as well, and that includes any sponsored content on your blog. If you have been compensated in any way (cash, product, or otherwise) for something you post on your blog or on social media platforms, it needs to be disclosed clearly and conspicuously. Not only do you need to no-follow your links, but you have to tell your readers in clear terms that you’ve been compensated in some way. If you don’t, you’re in violation of federal law.

{ 9 trackbacks }

Blogger Brand Advocate for Hire — Christina Gleason - Founder of Phenomenal Content LLC
May 28, 2009 at 9:55 am
Google Says Quality is Dirt Cheap, Don't Hire Copywriters — Christina Gleason - Founder of Phenomenal Content LLC
June 10, 2009 at 9:11 am
aggregator » Blog Archive » Per Google la qualità dei contenuti non ha valore
July 6, 2009 at 6:15 am
Per Google la qualità dei contenuti non ha valore
July 6, 2009 at 5:00 pm
Six SEO Techniques Which Will Destroy Your Website - Barry Wise NJ SEO and Marketing Consultant
July 8, 2009 at 11:02 am
Six SEO Techniques Which Will Destroy Your Website
July 10, 2009 at 1:42 am
Type-A Mom Conference – Creative Ways to Monetize Your Blog: Thinking Outside the Widget - Cutest Kid Ever - A Mommy Blog
September 25, 2010 at 8:33 am
Type-A Mom Conference – Blogger Town Hall Meeting - Cutest Kid Ever - A Mommy Blog
September 26, 2010 at 2:04 pm
Nofollow Links 101: Text Links and You - Cutest Kid Ever
June 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark March 4, 2009 at 3:22 pm

“But as a blogger who just wanted a place to write about her son and her obsession with LOST….”

So the question begs, why exactly do you care?

Melanie @ Mel, A Dramatic Mommy March 4, 2009 at 3:24 pm

This is getting ridiculous. We’re sell outs if we do giveaways and reviews and now we’re hurting ourselves AND the sponsor? There are getting to be too many rules and no one is bothering to send out copies of the guidelines so we all know what to do. It’s like my HOA!

Melanie Phung March 4, 2009 at 3:39 pm

What’s even worse is that the guidelines are a moving target and inconsistently enforced. For the most part (although don’t bet the farm on my opinion), I think most mommy bloggers are perfectly safe… as long as you’re fairly far under the radar.

The number one rule of linkbuilding is “don’t make Google look stupid.” In this particular instance, the campaign had such high visibility that Google felt it had to throw down its “law”. The fact that it was an IZEA campaign, didn’t help. Again, it’s all about not embarrassing Google. If you’re a small blog and you’re not throwing those sponsored links in Google’s face, you’re probably okay right now.

The web (and Google’s SERPs) are built on millions of links that probably have direct or indirect financial incentives behind them. This attack on advertising and sponsored links is like shoveling the tide, and all these public crackdowns seem like acts of desparation on Google’s part.

Just keep up with your blogging and serving your users. No need to panic quite yet; I don’t think this particular episode is going to spill over to every blog that’s ever done a product review.

Christina March 4, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Mark, even people who “just” want to write about something want to have other people who read about it. How can you get readers if no one can find your blog due to a search engine penalty that buries you?

Mel, who said you were a sellout? It wasn’t me… but please don’t kill the messenger here. Like I said, I don’t make the rules… I’m just trying to let people know they exist.

Melanie, I think you hit the nail on the head with the “don’t bet the farm on it” part. Google probably won’t go after the mommy bloggers… but there’s a lot of drama in the community, and it would only take one person who knows the rules and has a personal vendetta against you to report your blog for “selling links” by doing product reviews and running giveaways. Mommy blogs as a whole are probably fairly safe, but individual bloggers are at risk if they get on someone’s bad side.

I left a comment for Matt Cutts on his blog. It would be awesome if he responded.

Krista March 4, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Thanks for the info, but I still don’t get it. What does “no follow” mean and why should we have to add it to our links?
What if say, I did a week of giveaways back in December and I didn’t get anything out of it? Is that still considered a no-no?

Christina March 4, 2009 at 6:46 pm

Krista,

I’m sorry I didn’t explain it. “No-follow” essentially means that you aren’t passing PageRank – one part of Google’s algorithm based on the number of sites that link to any given page – to the site you’re linking to. Google thinks that sites that buy links should not be benefiting from PageRank from those links.

Michele March 5, 2009 at 12:39 am

Wow, the “rules” do get to be a bit overwhelming, don’t they? Imagine being penalized for something you weren’t even aware of! That’s absolutely no fun. :-(

David Brice March 6, 2009 at 8:03 am

Hi. I know what a “no-follow” tag is but I have no idea how to code it !

I don’t see too much wrong with paid for blog links. It’s just another form of advertising. It’s possible to get a reasonable amount of traffic from good quality blogs in your niche. It’s up to the blog owner to decide about no follow links, not the website owner who asks for the links. As in the off-line world those companies with deep pockets take out the biggest and best adverts. It’s no different in the online world. Getting natural links is now very difficult as very few people want to give them out, even to good sites, Google has brought this situation on themselves.

Danielle Hull March 8, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Thanks so much for the info – I had to read about this a few times before I understood it enough to (want to) do something about it. And I don’t have that many posts – LOL!

Frank Carr March 9, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Google is unlikely to penalize the sponsor’s site because they don’t have proof that they were the one who bought the links in most cases. Think about it, if Google did this it would be easy to get a competitor penalized by buying links for them.

Christina March 10, 2009 at 7:16 am

Frank, I’m not convinced that it isn’t happening already… Not necessarily with blog product reviews, but with other forms of paid links.

Cindy March 11, 2009 at 4:19 pm

I have a “mommy blog” where I post reviews of products once or twice per week. I only heard about this rule late last week, and when I checked my pagerank it has fallen from 2 in February to 0 today. I can only assume that’s because I didn’t have no-follow tags in place. I’m in the process of adding them to my old posts and hope that will get my pagerank back where it was.

Christina March 11, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Cindy, I hope that adding the no-follow tags will get your PageRank back! It doesn’t get updated in the toolbar for several months at a time, so you may have to wait a while to see a difference.

Bruce June 10, 2009 at 9:16 am

Well Christina, I think you may have missed the point of what google is doing. One of the people whom I help with SEO sent me your link with some concern…. I said not to worry, For a more accurate look at how google acts themselves.

from a real internet marketing expert (the kind you should be following).
http://www.wolf-howl.com/google/google-profiles-seo/

Let’s back the clock up and review the facts:

* On May 27th at the Google I/O developer program Google has what is the press calls an “Oprah Moment” and gives away FREE cell phones to all attendees.
* Within 1 hour of the giveaway the phone finds it’s way up on Ebay with a starting price of $200.
* This phone receives 29 bids and has a final selling price of $760
* Within the 24 hours after that phone is given away Android receives approximately 50,000 new links.
* It doesn’t require a huge leap of faith to assume that at least 1 and quite possibly many more of those links can be directly attributed to Google giving away a cash in kind gift valued at between $200-$760.

So yet again google only follows the rules of any large monopolistic corporation… do as we say, not as we do

Brenda July 10, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Are we just talking about ranking in Google Search or Adsense policy..?
b~

Hunter July 18, 2009 at 3:49 pm

First of all “bruce” you seem to relish stomping on mommy bloggers and telling them where to go… you don’t belong here, you belong in a baby crib with a rattle where you can be diapered – from both ends. Get yourself a job as a moderator on highrankings where they’ve been stomping on newbie SEO’s for 6 years. Next, I’m interested in the “Google will penalize both you and the company” part and I’m going to look into that. There are a lot of bloggers that I would think get some form of compensation for product reviews like Guy Kawasaki. There is a PR4 page on Guy’s blog where he blatantly links to Amazon Kindle…

texxs August 24, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Seriously, we don’t care about google’s “rules” We don’t work for google. Google is there for our company to manipulate.

So please, you sheep keep doing what Google tells you too, makes it easier for us to succeed!

Christina February 21, 2010 at 10:56 am

Bruce,

I do follow Michael Gray, thanks. His ongoing campaign concerning Google’s double standards (letting Guy Kawasaki get away with things the rest of us can’t) was part of my inspiration for writing this post. But you contradicted yourself. Yes – Google does not practice what it preaches. That doesn’t mean the rest of us are free to do as we wish… if we want to appear reasonably high in the Google SERPs.

Texxs,

Let me know how that works out for you. It works until you get caught. Then… good luck digging yourself out of the Google sandbox. If you don’t care about ranking in the Google SERPs, feel free to ignore nofollow completely. Yahoo doesn’t care about nofollow. But if you want the Google traffic for the long haul, you need to play by their rules.

Cindi @ Moomette's Magnificents February 21, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I’m aware of DoFollow and NoFollow links and have done several blog posts to enlighten my readers who work from home or are mom bloggers. Thanks for the further information, I’m off to read up more on it.

Candace February 21, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Its a scare tactic. The only links they want you to have on your blog are for THEIR adsense. Google is not the be all to end all authority of the internet. As a mommy blogger who is part of a community of hundreds of others like me I can assure you that most of our traffics DOES NOT come from google.

You don’t see companies carrying PR Rank badges on their sites. They don’t give a crap either. I am not saying this to debunk your post by any means but I don’t care what they say, they can’t enforce a rule that they don’t follow themselves. Google Page Rank is actually so messed up that companies are not even asking for it anymore, they want readership stats instead.

MandyP February 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I had no idea about any of this! Thanks for the heads-up

MIMI February 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I still have no idea what “no-follow” is. Is there a kindergarten version of what the definition is? The more I read in your post, the more lost I felt. Are you saying that if I link to the company that sent me a product to review that I’m violating some “rule”? How in the world would a common person even know they are breaking it? It is somewhere I would’ve read about when I started my blog? Is it in some fine print where I wouldn’t have even understood it to begin with?

When I’m creating a review, I should be in my html editor? And that changes things how? This is so confusing and I don’t get it. I have no idea what an “anchor tag” is or where I’d put this code in my giveaway posts.

Will I have to tell the companies I work with that I am putting in a “no-follow” something or other on my giveaway posts? Will that possibly change if they work with me?

How will Google even know what I’m doing? Do they have a dept specifically going through Blogger and looking at every single product review site and doing something to their ranking? I haven’t even paid attention to all of that before and really am not concerned about it at this point. That seems like an endless job for someone to do.

I have never done a sponsored link or been given any $ to put someone’s link on my site. I have seen bloggers who offer a spot on their site. Is that what you are talking about? So if company XYZ contacted me, asked me to put their logo on my site and sent me some form of monetary payment, then I would be in violation of Google rules?

Is that part of the “no-follow” issue.

As you can clearly see, I’m still utterly confused about this issue. I saw it one other time quite a while ago and didn’t get it then either. You are welcome to contact me personally to explain it more if you’d like. :) Thanks for trying to help us unsuspecting and uneducated bloggeres!

Jessica February 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I am guessing I am one of the few in the know. I have been using a plugin on my wordpress blog to no-follow all links in any post except other blogs that I want to give link juice to.

But I did not know google really cared.

Brandy February 22, 2010 at 1:09 am

I have read this too, and understand it but I say whatever! Is that bad? My PR is 4 right now so when it drops down if it does .. then maybe I will change my tune .. but been a year doing paid links, paid posts, giveaways and product reviews without too much of a “bad ranking” for it yet .. so IDK …

Calliope September 26, 2010 at 3:15 pm

ooooh! here from twitter (@calliopeblogger)
I think I missed getting the handbook on blogging when it came to links. If I talk about something I usually link to it. And I am not a giveaway gal and not paid to do any linkage. But if I talk about liking a new cd and link to the cd on amazon is that a no no? Do I not do any links?

Christina October 3, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Calliope,

You don’t have to worry about that. If you want to cover yourself, you can disclose that you spent your own money to buy the CD and have not received any form of compensation for posting about it. Of course, you can use an affiliate link to earn a commission when people buy the CD from Amazon using your link if you’d like. I disclose my own use of affiliate links so I’m covering my butt for the FTC, although I’m not sure it’s legally necessary to do so.

Don’t be afraid of links! Just educate yourself. :-)

geekbabe October 4, 2010 at 3:56 am

My site is fairly new, after reading this article I ‘ve just checked only to find out my page rank fell from 2 to 1 :( I had no idea about this rule. I do a full FTC disclosure in every sponsored post I make, I’m not trying to trick or manipulate anyone.

In order to comply with Google’s rules I’ve just installed a “no follow” plug in that makes sure that nO link in any post I make follows till I can figure out exactly what is/is not allowed. I had comment Luv enabled & would like to reward my regular readers with a little juice, plus what about reviews I write that aren’t sponsored or giveaways I pay for?

geekbabe October 4, 2010 at 4:03 am

Just wanted to add here that my site is about a mix of everything but is primarily all about product review both non-sponsored & sponsored. This SEO stuff is confusing as hell to begin with & takes away precious time that I need to use to produce content, engage with followers & in general manage the site. People come to the site for product review & giveaways, how is that spam?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: