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Blog Bribes and Search Engine Penalties

     
7:03 pm on Dec 7, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The topic of paying for content has arisen again, with some strong accusations and denials, along with some reaction from Danny Sullivan at Google warning about penalties.

Here's the original article which is "An Outline investigation found that contributors to prominent publications have taken payments in exchange for positive coverage." [theoutline.com...]

Here's Danny Sullivan's comments on twitter [twitter.com...]
In short, don’t buy or sell links. If we spot this activity, we may take action in search results against both the buyer and the seller


Barry has some coverage on the topic, too.

[seroundtable.com...]

I really thought everyone knew all about this, and the risks. I guess some are prepared to take the chance.
It also makes me wonder how many slip through into publication.
12:18 am on Dec 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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All of those publications no-follow their links. So I don't get what the big deal is with regards to Google's algorithm.

Or are they talking about actual do-follow links?

Additionally, why isn't anyone mentioning the FTC guidelines? Seems there's a world of hurt there bigger than anything Google can do to you.
9:06 am on Dec 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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It's a broad brush, "don't pay for links" theme in that, too.
The main part or the article is that legitimate publications are either doing it, or unknowingly being caught up in it.
11:02 am on Dec 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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This is not necessarily about search rankings: its about publicity. Its just a way of getting an ad in.

Publications that do not pay writers, or do not have any editorial control, are asking for this.
11:31 am on Dec 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Agreed, but some people hope it's about ranking.
7:27 pm on Dec 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The amounts, mostly, are so small that it seems surprising that anyone is roped into doing this sort of thing.

If I was looking to get my product, site or whatever included in an article I would use goods, not cash, to be the incentive. Cash is so crude and incriminating. An offer of free samples is so much more seductive and less crude.
7:39 pm on Dec 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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While there are still many webdevs/sites who think this sort of behaviour helps with SEO increasingly it has little/nothing to do with SEs; rather it is a play for non-search traffic and/or an appearance of brand association/relationship with the content publisher.

Not everything is SEO. Shocking, I know.
11:39 pm on Dec 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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the everlasting paid link debate only goes to show that the concept of heavily relying on links as a ranking factor is flawed and doomed to begin with. and this policing behavior by google of telling webmasters what to do in combination with intimidation through panalty threats is just desperate and ridiculous.. for whatever reason people are paying for links or doing each other a favor - well, it's not illegal and it's simply none of google's business.

If we spot this activity, we may take action

i call bullsh*t! google will never get a grip on paid links and they know it. honestly, how on earth could an algorithm detect if money or other things have changed hands secretly when setting a link? there are lots of things that can't be technically spotted by an algo no matter how sophisticated it is. transactions behind the scenes surely are one of them. deal with it, google.
6:19 pm on Dec 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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All of those publications no-follow their links. So I don't get what the big deal is with regards to Google's algorithm.

It isn't just about PageRank or SEO. Credibility matters, too, especially in Google News. (Google clearly doesn't want its news results tainted by advertorial.)

Additionally, why isn't anyone mentioning the FTC guidelines? Seems there's a world of hurt there bigger than anything Google can do to you.

The FTC guidelines are toothless. The FTC has said that any enforcement, if it occurs, will be directed at advertisers (buyers), not publishers or bloggers (sellers). IMO, the more immediate threat of a Google action (in Google News, for example) is much likelier to get the attention of a site like Forbes or Huffington Post than the remote threat of a warning letter from the FTC.
8:00 pm on Dec 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The FTC guidelines are toothless.


Those toothless gums must surely feel like teeth to the companies sued by the FTC.

U.S. Circuit Court Finds Operator of Affiliate Marketing Network Responsible
for Deceptive Third-Party Claims Made for LeanSpa Weight-loss Supplement

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/10/us-circuit-court-finds-operator-affiliate-marketing-network [ftc.gov]

The amended complaint alleged that LeadClick’s network lured consumers to LeanSpa’s online store through fake news websites designed to trick consumers into believing that real, independent news outlets and genuine customers, rather than paid advertisers and actors, had reviewed and endorsed LeanSpa’s products.
8:03 pm on Dec 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The FTC guidelines are toothless.


Still believe those aren't teeth?

Lord & Taylor Settles FTC Charges It Deceived Consumers Through Paid Article in an Online Fashion Magazine and Paid Instagram Posts by 50 “Fashion Influencers”


https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2016/03/lord-taylor-settles-ftc-charges-it-deceived-consumers-through [ftc.gov]
8:25 pm on Dec 9, 2017 (gmt 0)

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The FTC guidelines are toothless.

Three FTC actions of interest to influencers

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/blogs/business-blog/2017/09/three-ftc-actions-interest-influencers [ftc.gov]

The complaint also challenges how the respondents ran their own influencer program for CSGO Lotto. They paid other gamers between $2,500 and $55,000 in cash or skins “to post in their social media circles about their experiences in using” the gambling site. However, the contract made clear that those influencers couldn’t make “statements, claims, or representations . . . that would impair the name, reputation and goodwill” of CSGO Lotto.


While the defendants in that case didn't have to pay a fine, they are required to submit regular notices to the FTC about their business for the next ten years. Of course, attorney fees in settling this case probably didn't make this feel toothless, agreed? :)

Toothy FTC Settlement terms. [ftc.gov]
2:17 pm on Dec 10, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Google once again confirms the importance of links. If ai was doing its job then links would not matter and penalties would not be applied or even necessary for improper link building. Apparently, the penalties only apply to the little guys as the big box sites with vc backing all buy so many links it is disgustingly obvious to anyone looking.
8:12 pm on Dec 11, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Martinibuster, as I pointed out, "The FTC has said that any enforcement, if it occurs, will be directed at advertisers (buyers), not publishers or bloggers (sellers)." Sounds like that's what's been happening (in the few cases that the FTC has actually done anything).

Fact is, blogs and other publishers (large and small) are being bribed every day. The issue in the Outline investigation was a bit different, however: it was about the publishers' contributors taking bribes. Publishers who pay little or nothing to their contributors are probably more vulnerable to such shenanigans than publishers who hire professionals (and pay professional rates) are, simply because their contributors probably don't feel much (if any) loyalty to their cheapskate publishers and have relatively little to lose if they're fired from their low-paying or non-paying gigs.