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.