Chances are you’ve seen lots of incredibly impassioned debate about disclosure in blog-land lately.
And chances are that – like many of us – you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to be doing, but you’re a bit worried about potentially doing something wrong.
So Foodies100 has put together a guide to what we think you NEED to know about disclosure, the law, Google and blogging.
What’s the story?
As bloggers, we are often compensated (rewarded) for our blogs and blog content. This compensation can take different forms:
- Receiving a free sample to review
- Being invited somewhere to experience something
- Being paid to publish a sponsored post by a brand
- Being paid by an SEO agency to post a link to their client’s website
- Being paid by a company to write, or do other work for them
The law, as it stands in the UK, requires bloggers to let their readers know if they are writing about something where they have been compensated. This is called “disclosure”
What’s the issue?
If I write about a product and say it’s brilliant, but fail to tell my readers I’ve been paid £200 to post about the product by the manufacturer – that’s dishonest, and might mislead my readers.
Disclosure is important because it allows readers to make informed choices about how much to trust your content. Disclosing doesn’t mean people won’t trust your reviews – it usually means they trust you more, because they know you’re honest about your dealings.
Why doesn’t everyone disclose?
Most reputable PR agencies want bloggers to disclose when they’ve received payment, or a sample, or expenses as part of their blog. They know that a blogger’s reputation is valuable, and important, and will often insist upon a disclosure.
However, in every industry there are less reputable agencies, or those who mistakenly think that your blog post will be more “influential” if it isn’t marked as having been paid for.
There’s also the SEO factor.
An Incredibly Short History of SEO
If you use a phrase like “copper pans” on your blog, and make that phrase into a link to Company A’s website, then next time someone searches online for “copper pans”, Company A’s website will rank a little more highly in the results, because your site is seen to have endorsed Company A as a good place to find copper pans.
If you’re an SEO agency, you can exploit this by paying hundreds or thousands of blogs to post these sort of links, driving your clients’ websites to the top of the search results.
An Incredibly Short History of Google’s View of Paid Links
This isn’t illegal, but search engines don’t like the idea that companies can buy their way to the top of search results – it makes them look bad, and means they’re not able to sell the advertising they rely on for their income.
Google doesn’t mind paid links per se. But they want to ensure that those paid links don’t influence its search results. That’s why Google recommends site owners use a ‘no-follow’ tag on paid links and posts – this simple tag tells Google not to count a link when deciding on search engine rankings.
If Google finds paid links on your site and they are not no-follow, then Google reserves the right to remove, or demote your site in its search results – this penalty may also be applied to the site you’re linking to.
It’s not hard to see that Google and the SEO agencies are butting heads here – and blogs are caught in the middle.
SEO agencies (sometimes) still want to buy links – and they’d like to avoid Google spotting those links if possible. So they might ask a blogger not to add a disclosure to their post. Because nothing suggests a link might be paid more effectively than a big PAID FOR sign at the bottom of the post.
The challenge for bloggers is that they are legally required to disclose paid for content – including paid links. So what to do?
You must disclose.
It’s the law, and it’s only fair play, too – your reader deserves your honesty and respect.
Exactly how you disclose is up to you. As far as the law is concerned, your disclosure must be clear and obvious – but it’s really up to you how you choose to interpret those guidelines on your site.
There are lots of different ways to disclose paid content – images, logos, in the post title, text within the post itself… some bloggers have a separate page with a disclosure policy that covers the whole site.
Our advice is:
- Don’t disregard the law and your readers by failing to disclose commercial relationships that affect your blog.
- Consider what form of disclosure feels right to you and your blog.
- Ignore people shouting on the Internet that there’s one single, right way to do this stuff. Because unless they’re a lawyer, they don’t know any better than you.
- If you are selling links on your blog and wish to continue, agree with any SEO client that you reserve the right to remove or amend the link at any time if it becomes a problem with Google
What do you think?