Blogging - Authorities to Seek Blogging Disclosures for Paid Links
6 years, 7 months ago Posted in: Blogging, Link Building, Special 0
Authorities to Seek Blogging Disclosures for Paid Links

Disclosure of Paid Links to be Investigated

The internet is accessible to practically anyone with the equipment to do so providing a level of anonymity whilst at the same time a step to have a voice. It has given rise to bloggers, writing across many different subjects. As they devote their time to these blogs, writing personal article after article, they see their blogs carefully nurtured into what you could call a trusted domain.

During that time they will be approached to promote material and publish a link, using specific keyword focused anchor text.

Paid Links – when a link is bought with the intention to provide value to the website being linked towards, boosting keyword rankings within search engines.

When this occurs the blog suddenly is a means to payment in kind, whether that be a product or actual money. Due to its popular rise an investigation into such practises is being held in the UK.

Fair Trading Laws

The Office of Fair Trading has enforced Handpicked Media, an operator of a commercial blogging network, to clearly identify  when promotional comments have been paid for. It was concluded that Handpicked Media was in breach of Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Online promotional activity, just like any other promotional activity, must clearly identify when promotions and editorial comment have been paid for, so that consumers are not misled.

Heather Clayton, Senior Director of OFT’s Consumer Group, said:

The internet plays a key role in how people purchase products and services and the importance of online advertising continues to grow. The OFT has bolstered its expertise in this area and is taking targeted action to ensure that the law is clear, increase business compliance and empower consumers.

The integrity of information published online is crucial so that people can make informed decisions on how to spend their money. We expect online advertising and marketing campaigns to be transparent so consumers can clearly tell when blogs, posts and microblogs have been published in return for payment or payment in kind. We expect this to include promotions for products and services as well as editorial content.

Handpicked director Krista Madden said:

Our blogs and sites are instructed to show full disclosure on their blogs if it is paid for content. Twitter has been a recent addition to social media and no rules were in place at that time.

There were no clear rules on commercial activity for blogging in this country and we were very happy to work with the OFT to make sure that there is total transparency moving forward with set rules so that consumers can make informed decisions. We do hope this means that all those taking part in all types of social media activity will follow our example now in the UK.

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

Next we have the ASA reportedly investigating similar practices.

In a run through scenario of an SEO agency acquiring a link from a blogger, with the intent of pushing the SEO rankings, Malcolm Philips, Code Policy Manager at the Committee of Advertising Practise, agreed that the ASA would likely investigate such techniques.

The ASA wants to ensure that paid for links, and other promotions, are disclosed in such a way that the average consumer can see the relationship between blogger and advertiser.

Deception to Readers and Consumers

We also saw the Guardian fall short on a similar issue. The Guardian published an article about the on-going Qatar World Cup bid as Louise Taylor, the paper’s football correspondent, had travelled there. There wasn’t much love from readers with one of the comments being:

Can I ask who paid your airfare to Doha?? Surely you should declare if the Qatar bid has contributed anything?

Yes, the Guardian had failed to disclose that the Qatari government had paid for the trip. This later led to Chris Elliott, the Guardian readers’ editor, discussing this and highlighting the wider issue:

As part of the coverage the sports desk commissioned the journalist to write about her impressions of Qatar; the piece strongly supported the Qatari bid. The journalist, who is not unfamiliar with the Middle East, stands by every word she wrote, and I have no doubt that the opinions she expressed were honestly held. But our failure to footnote the fact that the trip was funded by the Qatari 2022 World Cup bid committee, or write it into the story, gave readers cause for doubt. There were at least 30 strongly negative comments to that effect posted below the article, and it took too long for us to go into the thread to make matters clear.

The article titled “open door” ended with the key highlight that editors should enforce disclosure and appending footnotes as it undermines the journalism – which it does as without it, it lends itself into looking like promotional material even if it wasn’t meant to be.

SEO and Paid Links

It could be argued this has gone out of hand. There are many blogs on the web now linking out with commercial anchor text, with plenty of SEO or link building companies actually building a network of blogs for this very purpose. Even some newspaper groups are well known for actively selling links.

That means companies, bloggers, and even SEO agencies may now face tough action if they are not disclosing any ‘paid’ links. This includes all the standard paying for time etc – see guardian above.

The big question is how is this going to be enforced when Google have trouble trying to limit the effects of paid links? Are we going to see spam reports to both Google and these authorities?

It will be interesting to see further case studies as they come along as this could jeopardise some of the SEO strategies currently in use.

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