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When Does An Article become An Advertorial?
austtr




msg:4581569
 6:43 am on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

In recent comments, Matt Cutts is reported to have said Penguin 2 will, along with other targets, crack down on advertorials.

When I see a page in a newspaper or magazine that presents itself as being part of the publication, but which is just a means of promoting a particular product or service, then I know I'm looking at an advertorial. They are usually very easy to recognize.

I understand Google's objective in trying to drive these mostly worthless, mutton dressed as lamb, pages from its index but I can't help wondering how accurately they can decide when a page becomes an advertorial.

Articles immediately come to mind. If I write a whole bunch of stuff and submit it to article publishers as a way of generating some links back to my money pages, then I can see how that might be considered as creating advertorials... manipulative, pay for placement, low quality content created for a self serving purpose.

But if I actively encourage people to write articles to publish on my site because I want to supplement my content with additional material from subject experts, do my article pages become advertorials because I provide an acknowledgement and links back to the author?

Do you think there might be a risk that a traditional "thank you" acknowledgement/links to the article author can be seen as no different than a tell-tale sign of an advertorial? Can Google really make such subtle distinctions?

 

goodroi




msg:4581613
 10:31 am on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

I would be careful and not assume that Google currently is able to identify advertorials. I think most of their current actions against advertorials are manually done.

Looking back at how they addressed paid links, it was a very long time before they had a functioning filter.

If I was Google I would look at site relevancy. If a site is about political news and has one page about personal vacations, then that is probably a paid ad. Even if it is not an ad, as Google I would question the quality of the off-topic content since it was written by a political news website. If a page falls outside the theme of a website as Google I would devalue it.

martinibuster




msg:4581637
 1:05 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Google already has filters in place to identify do-follow links from articles that are labeled with words such as "paid" or "sponsored." As far as I know, Google cannot algorithmically identify links from unlabeled but paid for articles.

There is a revenue model popular in the UK that is pay for unlabeled pay. Some sites hint at a required payment by disclosing in their writing guidelines that articles written by commercial entities will be considered advertising. But that's vague phrasing, not something obvious like a "Sponsored Post" label.

One way I can think of is to use data from confirmed link spam and identify sites publishing articles that link out to the websites in the group of confirmed link spammers, then penalize sites that have a high percentage of outgoing links to sites known to engage in article publishing spam.

If a certain percentage of outgoing links from a website are going to identified pay for play spammers or article directory spammers, then that website may fit the profile of a pay for play article publisher. Algorithms work with pattern recognition. So if a website fits a pattern then the website is guilty.

Perhaps next time you publish an article on another site it might be useful to do an outbound link check to see who else they're linking out to, to avoid getting caught in an unnatural links sweep?

[edited by: martinibuster at 2:15 pm (utc) on Jun 6, 2013]

atlrus




msg:4581657
 1:51 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

I agree with both.

In addition, Google is not concerned with paid advertorials, as such, but with paid links within articles. And they are concerned, because it's nearly impossible, when done right, for an algo to distinguish a paid link from free link.

The only way you can get "caught", however, is if a spam employee visits a website for whatever reason and sees a paid link and decides to manually penalize one or both sites. Again, assuming that it's done properly. If you have a link to a handbag site on an auto blog, that would be rather easy for the algo to identify as paid link.

martinibuster




msg:4581669
 2:19 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Google is not concerned with paid advertorials


Google is concerned with paid advertorials with do-follow links and has been penalizing paid advertorials with do-follow links for at least a year and a half. Probably for longer than that. Google has been algorithmically whacking paid advertorials that are clearly labeled with words indicating their paid nature (advertorial, sponsored, etc.) and that also feature do-follow outgoing links.

The next step is identifying unlabeled advertorials, and I explained a way to do that.

brinked




msg:4581803
 4:29 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

I have to call google out here on doing this wrong.

I recently launched a game for iOS and so I reached out to some ios gaming news/reviews and blog sites. I reached out to them requesting they simply take a look at my game and see if this was something they feel was worthy of being on there site since it was off to a fast start with over 100 reviews and close to a 5 star rating.

Most of these sites as you can understand were swamped. They receive so many emails daily that they cant review even a small percentage of them. Some of them charge a fee for them to just look at your game and if they like it, they will review it. Does this count as an advertorial?

And here is what my main problem is. The sites I reached out to were legit sites that make good money off their ads and they dont need to accept payments for reviews if they feel the game is bad they will not want to endorse said game because they care about their business and their readers.

So my issue with google is...if a site is the type of site that accepts advertorials without properly labeling them as such, they have no business even ranking well in googles search engine and if google needs to find proof of an unmarked advertorial on a site to punish it then they must not have much confidence in their plethora of algorithm filters.

atlrus




msg:4581857
 6:56 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Google is concerned with paid advertorials with do-follow links and has been penalizing paid advertorials with do-follow links for at least a year and a half.


Uh, no, google doesn't care about advertorials, they care about the links in them. I've never heard about Google commenting on advertorials without dofollow links. Google appears not to care if you buy advertorials without any links in them, i.e. just for brand hype, product launch or whatever.

As far as your ideas about combating paid links in advertorials - they have already been broadly applied on websites such as press release services. The reason google is telling the webmasters to nofollow themselves is because they have already done as much as possible on this and will either try to scare some webmasters via a few publicized manual penalties or try to tweak something in the algo to appear as if it's penalizing such links. FUD is the only tool they have in this case.

Planet13




msg:4581858
 7:17 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

One thing seems clear to me...

While many have said the value of links in terms of SERP placement is decreasing, it sure seems like google is putting in a LOT of effort in order to only count clean (in their opinion) links.

I can only guess that linking is still very much a BIG part of the google ranking recipe...

nomis5




msg:4581862
 7:39 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Fascinating that it has taken so long for the OP's question to be asked.

The decision whether an article is an advertorial or not is, in many cases, purely in the eye of the beholder. And the beholder in this case is G. And who knows how their algo and / or employees will determine what is or isn't an advetorial. Not me, and I bet not you.

It's another "unknown" which they can call upon as and when G think fit and how G think fit.

More importantly from the way I look at it is WHY G have made this announcement. If, well I do in several cases, have articles about a specific product, green widgets, which links to the green widget site than I assume that will be classed as an advetorial.

Whatever the definition of the word, the aim behind my article is to highlight a product which I believe my readers will benefit from and give the reasons why. Why should G object to that? Why do I now need to go round and place nofollows on those links. It's absurd that G can even suggest I waste my time doing that. But that is what they are saying.

nomis5




msg:4581864
 7:44 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Just to clarify a word which appears several times in this thread. What is a "do-follow" link? Is it just a link as links have been for years?

Is it any link which is not a "no-follow" link? Sorry to get into semantics but I now assume we have a normal link, a do-follow link and a no-follow link. Which is correct?

goodroi




msg:4581896
 9:37 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Do-follow links are plain, old, ordinary links that do not contain the nofollow tag. It can be a text link or an image link.

If you are using javascript, redirects, iframes or some other tech trick to prevent Googlebot from crawling & passing link juice it is not a "do follow link".

Google is very sensitive about the use of do-follow links since they significantly impact the rankings.

As for atlrus & martinibuster, I think you both are basically saying the same thing: Google is making noise about advertorials because many of them contain unlabeled do-follow links that are slipping through their current algorithm filters. I personally can't remember seeing an online advertorial that didn't have a do-follow link.

Google tends to make noise for two reasons - #1 To warn innocent/naive webmasters so they have time to clean up and avoid the inevitable penalties & #2 To scare other webmasters with a bit of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) hoping it slows down the abuse while Google develops an automated way to take care of it.

The question is how does Google identify advertorials with do-follow links (especially if the advertorial doesn't contain tell tale keywords like "sponsored post")

martinibuster




msg:4581897
 9:49 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

The question is how does Google identify advertorials with do-follow links (especially if the advertorial doesn't contain tell tale keywords like "sponsored post")


I speculated on a plausible way of doing that in my post above. Here it is for those who don't like to scroll up:

One way I can think of is to use data from confirmed link spam and identify sites publishing articles that link out to the websites in the group of confirmed link spammers, then penalize sites that have a high percentage of outgoing links to sites known to engage in article publishing spam.

If a certain percentage of outgoing links from a website are going to identified pay for play spammers or article directory spammers, then that website may fit the profile of a pay for play article publisher. Algorithms work with pattern recognition. So if a website fits a pattern then the website is guilty.


In case the above is difficult to understand, I'll add more details. Google has a data set of spammers who use article directories. Those have been penalized, pandalized, penguinized and whatever other -ized you want to add to the list. Let's call that a set of known article directory spammers.

Drastically simplified description of how to find guest article link sellers
You take a set of all web pages that are guest posts, guest articles, and similar wording. Weed out all web pages Google already knows about, TLA, article directories, known link seller networks, etcetera.

Now you pretty much have left over the sites that have not been penalized, as far as we know. This is the set we want to get to. How we get to that set is unimportant. What we're starting with are websites that publish articles that haven't been penalized. In the previous paragraph I outlined a drastically simplified description. For argument's sake we can say Google is dunking websites in a tub of water and if it floats it's guilty and leave it at that.

The point is Google gets to the set of sites that have not been identified and are otherwise unpenalized. One thing Google can do is to analyze outbound links and find published articles with links to sites that intersect with the set of known article spammers.

One objection can be that maybe these spammers are simply aggressive and the publisher of those spam articles did not accept money and it's all legit. If someone had raised that objection to my post I would have said, wow, that's a good objection. But no one did. So I'll raise it here.

One objection can be that maybe these spammers are simply aggressive and the publisher of those spam articles did not accept money and it's all legit. It's possible. That's called a false positive. False positives are always a possibility. That's why Google creates a sandbox index to test the algos before letting them go live. So how do you prevent a false positive from ruining the legit article publishing party?

Statistical probabilities is the answer. Statistical probability has been the leading answer to weeding out false positives for link spam fighting for years and years. I know of at least one guy on Matt's spam fighting team who has an advanced degree in that. Don't know if he's on the team anymore, but I found it interesting he was on their link spam projects. Don't you?

Statistical probabilities is how you weed out false positives. You take a sampling and find a percentage of known link spammers in the outbound links in articles. Then you hand check those sites for false positives. A quality web publisher won't be taking articles from an SEO agency in Ohio on behalf of a client then linking out to both teh SEO agency AND the client, that kind of thing, you know, the one called Reality. :) Once you find the sweet spot, you're good. That's a drastic simplification. But it illustrates the process, the way link spam fighting has been done for years and years.

Way back in the TLA heyday, when leading SEO types were recommending TLA [web.archive.org], it was (wrongly) argued that Google would not penalize TLA links because Google couldn't identify them and because TLA was "legitimate" advertising. Both arguments were self-interested nonesense and you never heard such drivel or testimonials from me. I was invited to put my name to TLA marketing, but I declined. Well, it's 2005 all over again. You can bury your head in the sand and say it's FUD because Google can't do it. OR you can think about all that Google accomplishes already and understand how easy it is for Google to do.

I personally can't remember seeing an online advertorial that didn't have a do-follow link.


? You're confusing me. Are you saying you have never seen an advertorial with a no-follow link?

[edited by: martinibuster at 10:36 pm (utc) on Jun 6, 2013]

goodroi




msg:4581901
 10:10 pm on Jun 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Some advertorials contain no-follow links & are appropriately labeled as Google has requested and yes, I have seen them. But in my experience, they get much less attention.

Lately when I am asked to look at an advertorial, 99% of the time is is an advertorial that has a do-follow link. Those are the advertorials people are much more likely to spend big money on & get big ranking boosts from. When I reverse engineer backlinks, I discover advertorials with do-follow links. This is just my personal experience.

I'm sure there are many advertorials with no-follow links but they just don't come across my desk.

atlrus




msg:4581927
 1:31 am on Jun 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

Well, I just wanted to underline the fact that Google doesn't care about advertorials (even if they give air that they do), but rather paid links within an article. People here have been way too jumpy lately, thanks to google's FUD, so it seems they often group things together that they shouldn't.

For example, if I paid a guy to simply mention my website in their next article, which is not directly related to my website, but is on the same topic. Sure, it's not really an advertorial in its strictest meaning, but exactly the thing google is trying to get rid of.

As far as advertorials with no dofollow links - there are plenty of those. One example is a hype-generating article, those don't really need to have a link at all. Another all too common one is the affiliate advertorial - a website will publish an advertorial, but use affiliate links, instead of direct links and those affiliate links could be run with a redirect through a search engine blocked folder.

P.S. Speaking of advertorials and disclosures, I believe that as long as you do so on a personal website, you should be well protected under free speech.

martinibuster




msg:4581929
 1:42 am on Jun 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

affiliate advertorial


Yes, there are different forms of advertorials. In the USA there's an FTC rule about having to label paid articles and disclose affiliate relationships in "reviews" of products, that sort of thing.

So when does an article become an advertorial? When there's money involved, right?

Maybe the topic should be, When doese Google think an article becomes an advertorial?

Simsi




msg:4582026
 11:02 am on Jun 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

Austtr: But if I actively encourage people to write articles to publish on my site because I want to supplement my content with additional material from subject experts, do my article pages become advertorials because I provide an acknowledgement and links back to the author?


In my opinion, *any* external link to your website that you can influence the placement of is effectively an advert for your site, regardless of the intention and especially if your site is commercial. If it is surrounded by text is irrelevant but if it is, and that link was placed by arrangement and again your site has a commercial angle, it is open to be labelled an advertorial.

The good thing is that Google's algorithms aren't good enough yet to detect them all so webmasters and SEO companies can continue to exploit this "loophole" in Google's intelligence if they wish to. Long term though, you have to assume that link will be discounted and that your ranking could accordingly be re-adjusted. If you or the person owning the site where that link is placed hasn't been very diligent and ends up getting flagged for this practice, it may even end up penalising you.

It's risky to a long-term strategy to go down this "supplemental content" route in my opinion.

Planet13




msg:4600719
 7:04 pm on Aug 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

"Way back in the TLA heyday, when leading SEO types were recommending TLA [web.archive.org], it was (wrongly) argued that Google would not penalize TLA links because Google couldn't identify them and because TLA was "legitimate" advertising"


Thank you for bringing this up.

Why in the world did anyone ever consider Text Link Ads (TLA) as a legitimate form of building links?

The people on the testimonials page that martinibuster listed above are supposed to be "respected" members of the SEO community?

Really, those TLA's smell like manure from a mile away.

Hoople




msg:4601174
 3:16 am on Aug 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

The people on the testimonials page that martinibuster listed above are supposed to be "respected" members of the SEO community?

Really, those TLA's smell like manure from a mile away.
The link martinibuster posted was as the site was captured from 2008. It was for perspective as to how much respected thought has changed since then.

FWIW that page doesn't exist on the live site anymore.

JS_Harris




msg:4601175
 3:25 am on Aug 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

When Does An Article become An Advertorial?

When a dozen other low authority sites write about the same thing and link to the same site, and they have a pattern of doing this regularly. You tie yourself into the same network by doing the same.

I just wanted to add that you can't hide your link profile, you are who you link to. Likewise those who link to you had better be getting linked to by authority sites or they do you only temporary good, at best. This is the summer in which Google will look at link profiles more than just one hop at a time according to Matt Cutts, webmasters who employ a tiered link approach, especially if any automation is involved, can expect it to stop working very soon according to Matt Cutts's recent videos. I can't wait for it to happen honestly, we'll know it's happening when a surge of questionable authority sites hits the for sale market.

Rosalind




msg:4601250
 11:42 am on Aug 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

So when does an article become an advertorial? When there's money involved, right?

When a dozen other low authority sites write about the same thing and link to the same site, and they have a pattern of doing this regularly.

This happens a lot in the fairly new blog tour scene, and it suggests a huge grey area. They aren't what I'd consider advertorials, and it's not the bloggers but the tour organisers who arrange things who get paid. The bloggers will be provided with boilerplate text and links, and it's up to them how they embellish that or whether they nofollow links, but in practice there's a lot of duplicate content going on. Participating blogs also tend to put a positive spin on what they're discussing.

The payment never goes direct to the bloggers, but the pattern would certainly fit JS Harris' description, and for the person paying for the blog tour it doesn't make much odds who gets paid, because the result is very similar to taking out an advertorial.

diberry




msg:4601335
 5:34 pm on Aug 12, 2013 (gmt 0)

Why in the world did anyone ever consider Text Link Ads (TLA) as a legitimate form of building links?


Because way back in the day before Google existed, people bought links. There were no search engines to manipulate, so we bought links on relevant sites in order to steer our target audience to our sites - there was no other way to do it. Then Google took over, and suddenly links had a whole new meaning. But if you weren't following SEO, you didn't know that, and you just thought link sales were still alive and well.

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