Google issues guidelines on bloggers and links for freebies

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The practice of brands engaging with popular bloggers seems to have caught Google’s attention, with the search engine offering some advice on what bloggers should do in this situation.

Or, as it’s very easy to interpret, Google is suggesting it may take action if it deems that links have been added to posts in return for free goods.

In its post, Google advises bloggers to nofollow links to company’s sites, social pages and any sites selling the product in question.

The advice:

Bloggers should use the nofollow tag on all such links because these links didn’t come about organically (i.e., the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide a free good or service in exchange for a link).

Companies, or the marketing firms they’re working with, can do their part by reminding bloggers to use nofollow on these links.

Google also adds that bloggers should disclose any relationships, just as if this was a form of sponsored content.

I think the key point here is Google’s assertion that ‘links that pass PageRank in exchange for goods or services are against Google guidelines on link schemes’.

The threat is implicit here – if Google sees a relationship between freebies and followed links, then the blogger may suffer.

It’s a grey area, to say the least. If bloggers are accepting gifts in return for links, and that’s the basis for the freebies, then such bloggers can’t complain.

However, there are legitimate reasons for bloggers to receive freebies and these bloggers will often seek to make money through affiliate links. This is how they pay for hosting, or to cover the time they spend writing.

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For example, a gadget or video game site receiving items for review may then place links to Amazon where people can buy said items.

These reviews may be positive, they may be negative. Will Google take this into account before possibly penalising such bloggers?

If companies are sending products to bloggers and genuinely looking for feedback, why should that blogger not link to a site where readers can buy them? Is that not a natural link?

The fact that Google is issuing advice at all suggests there may be consequences for bloggers here, and I’d advise caution.

However, I think Google is stepping into a very grey area here. Some relationships between bloggers and brands may be obviously quid pro quo, but in the absence of clear contracts, I wonder how Google will ‘enforce’ this, and whether bloggers who have legitimate relationships with companies will be penalised.

For brands, it seems that blogger outreach, considered a legitimate marketing tactic, is now very much on Google’s radar.

For more on this topic, see our experts’ views on Google’s guidelines for bloggers and reviews.

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