“As a form of online marketing, some companies today will send bloggers free products to review or give away in return for a mention in a blogpost…

… 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 Webmaster Central Blog

Dun dun duuuuunnn…Google have released guidelines stating that bloggers who receive a free product for review must make sure to disclose that they were given the product in exchange for coverage. They must also provide expert/niche commentary on the product, and nofollow any links back to the company’s website.

These links didn’t come about organically

So, what are we actually talking about here? One interpretation of the guidelines is that bloggers look set to be penalised if Google sees loads of outbound links that look like they came about in exchange for a freebie. Another is that the organisations sending out the products and therefore requesting the links are at fault for – dare I say? – effectively buying links.

It seems unlikely that Google’s algorithms are going to be able to truly identify a commercial relationship between a blogger and a free-product-supplier, and so I’m struggling to see how this will be policed. In fact, it probably can’t be policed, and that’s why Google is asking bloggers to please nofollow links.

If a blogger’s published a link purely in exchange for a product, they are pushing Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and kind of don’t have a leg to stand on. Those bloggers who are looking to become an authority in the industry they blog about (fashion, music, marketing, etc) obviously want to write about services or products pertaining to that industry. They want to deliver that “compelling, unique content” Google keeps emphasising as so important. They want to show their readers they know what they’re talking about as well as help them in their journey to learn more about a product… such as where to buy it.

Tell you what else; I bet the number of bloggers that have absolutely no clue what a nofollow link is, far outweighs the number of bloggers that do… Will a blog be penalised for not using nofollow if they simply don’t understand the difference? Even if they are reminded by the companies or the marketing firm they’re working with?

SEO versus PR

Companies with an old skool SEO mentality will be sending out free products to bloggers with link juice in mind. I know, I know, “linkbuilding is dead”, but earning links with gifts is totally different, right? Those who take a PR stance will be looking for the coverage, and so are not trying to manipulate SERPs, nor are they trying to outsmart an algorithm – getting people to talk about your product is simple marketing.

A wise man once said:

“Successful SEO is all about brand authority; having a voice, getting mentioned in the right places, in front of the right people. There are no set rules with regard to how this is achieved, but if done well the links will naturally follow.” – Matt Batterham, Wise man at Browser Media

Sounds an awful lot like PR, doesn’t it?

The end of blogger outreach?

Nah. Disclosing endorsements has been a thing for blummin’ ages, it’s just that Google’s now categorically stated that they’d like bloggers to avoid exchanging links for ‘gifts’ and make sure the stuff they’re writing is unique and valuable. If bloggers stick to this, they’ll be able to review products as they always have, but they’ll be doing so within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Brands will still be able to get coverage for their products – and enjoy links as a result – but they will need to see these links as helpful to the readers of the reviews, not as fuel for search engines’ results.

And hey, if you really want traffic to your site, you could always use AdWords. Google’s cool with that.