Blog clinic: Disclosure and working with brands
Google has issued a direct reminder to bloggers about disclosure policies - and whether your blog is a major income source or a family journal where you only write the odd review, you need to know the rules.
For many bloggers, receiving a review product in the post is a regular occurrence. It might be a lipstick or a carseat - and a blogger might write about it, feature it in a vlog, or even just send a single tweet about it. What's important is that if a blogger features something because they've been given an incentive to do so - they should be open about this with readers.
So what is Google asking bloggers to do?
Google isn't asking bloggers to do anything new or different, but it has issued them a reminder on its official webmaster blog. It says it's best practice for bloggers to disclose to readers the relationship they have with brands who pay them or send them free products. Readers want to know when bloggers are being paid to publish content, or when they're being offered a product in exchange for a review. It's up to bloggers to be up-front about this, and the most useful and helpful place to make this clear is at the top of the post.
But why does this matter?
Bloggers can take years to build up a loyal following and invest a great deal of hard work in keeping their readers. Being honest is a vital way of maintaining a relationship with them and keeping their trust. It's likely that readers started following a blog because they liked a blogger's personal take on things. So, if a blogger is writing about something because they're being paid to do so - readers have a right to know. Most will accept that bloggers have to earn an income to keep their blogs going, but they'll appreciate knowing which content is sponsored and which isn't.
So what kind of commercial relationships are we talking about?
Blogging is constantly evolving and the way bloggers work with brands is also changing every day. Here are just some of the common ways for the two to work together currently:
- Product reviews - a blogger writes or tweets or posts about a product in exchange for that product. They may or may not receive payment as well.
- Competition - a blogger hosts a competition for a product, with or without payment, and promotes it through their site and social channels.
- Sponsored posts - a blogger is paid to write about a product, event or attraction, and is asked to link back to it within their post.
- Advertorial - a blogger is paid to publish an advertorial, over which they may or may not have had editorial control.
- Paid social - a blogger is paid to feature a product, perhaps on their Instagram account or in a vlog or tweet.
- Ambassador roles - a blogger is paid to represent a brand and their products, and feature them in posts and social posts.
- Consultancy roles - a blogger is paid by a brand for their knowledge of a particular niche.
So there's lots of ways for brands to feature on blogs! What does the Advertising Standards Authority say about all this?
Whether they are on blogs or vlogs, adverts must be clearly identifiable. An advert is where the advertiser has paid for editorial control of content. If this is the case, bloggers and vloggers must clearly mark the content as an ad so users know that they're being shown promotional content.
What about no-follow links?
Where a blogger has received an incentive to feature an external link on its site, Google asks for it to be a no-follow link. This tells Google's web monkeys that it's not an organic or natural link, and so it doesn't earn the site any Google 'juice'. Because Google ranks websites and takes into account the number and quality of external sites linking to them, it wants to know that links aren't being paid for. To make a link no-follow, you need to add rel="nofollow" to the html.
This sounds like a lot of rules...
Not really, it's quite simple. If a company offers you an incentive to feature them or their product in some way - just let your readers know and they'll continue to trust you!