Advertorials have been popping up on websites with much greater frequency over the past year or two. Advertorials are essentially paid "content", whether articles or reviews, disguised to appear that they are simple editorials by someone who has used the product or service in question, and is writing about it without ulterior motives.
Google’s main issue with advertorials are the fact that the majority of these advertorials are not disclosed by the writers or webmasters, or if it is disclosed, it is done in such a small and unobtrusive way, that the majority of readers wouldn’t realize it is a paid promotion of some sort. They are pay for play types of content which has the unfortunate effect of misleading those who read it.
The issue became much better known in February, after a UK flower site, Interflora, embarked on a huge advertorial campaign with links that passed PageRank. While in that case, they were marked as advertorial content, the links to Interflora with keyword rich links to give them the maximum benefit of those links for search engine rankings. And when it came to light, Interflora was subsequently penalized, along with some of the newspaper sites who published those advertorials with straight links.
Even with the Interflora penalty, more webmasters have been utilizing advertorials and other types of paid promotional content for search engine ranking benefits, so Google's Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts is bringing the issue up and alerting webmasters to what they need to know, so they can properly disclose advertorials without being penalized.
What are the guidelines webmasters need to know for advertorials and native advertising?
"There’s two fold things you should think about," Cutts said in a new video. "The first is on the search engine side of things. Search engine wise you should make sure that if links are paid, that is, if money changed hands in order for a link to be placed on a website, that it should not flow PageRank; in essence, it shouldn’t affect search engine rankings. That’s no different than the guidance we’ve had for many years and years and years.
"Likewise, if you are doing disclosure, you need to make sure that it’s clear to people," he said. "So a good rule of thumb is there should be clear and conspicuous disclosure. It shouldn’t be the case where people have to dig around buried in small print or have to click and look around a long time to find out, ‘Oh, this content that I am reading was actually paid.’"
The big thing Google wants webmasters to do is to ensure that if those advertorials are paid for, that you use a rel="no follow" so that those links don't pass PageRank, just as you would for any paid links on your site. Advertorials shouldn't affect search engine rankings in any way.
Secondly, ensure that promotional content is clearly disclosed, and not hidden away in tiny text that no one would ever notice.
While this isn’t a new policy by Google, Cutts noted that many webmasters aren’t doing it correctly – or more likely, hoping to get away with it. He also alludes to the Interflora advertorial penalty in the UK, that saw the advertorials with keyword rich backlinks.
He also mentions that the same thing applies to Google News, and they also blogged about it recently. Google News will remove paid content, but can also remove the entire publication from Google News as well.
You can view the entire advertorial video here: