Paid Bloggers Still Get Google Downgrades

I read today in Business Week that Google is getting increasingly sophisticated about tracking blog content that is somehow linked to compensation, alongside a discussion of pending rules from the Federal Trade Commission to cover paid product/service reviews in blog posts. 

A couple of years ago this really hit the fan with one of the first “official” PayPerPost blogging services launched. Bloggers who had earned a decent or better Page Rank saw their status tank to zero once Google realized they were being being paid for certain posts by advertisers.

To its credit, Google also penalized its own Japan division who used the pay per post tactic in an attempt to compete against Yahoo.

Bloggers who are compensated can use the “nofollow” tag within their outbound links to keep those links from being tagged by Google as paid content. I wonder how many bloggers and paying advertisers address this detail specified in their contracts? I love the convenience of logging in to my blog and finding links bout us – so I can go and thank them! The nofollow may well make that harder, but then again, if you are under contract I think it’s the buyer’s responsibility to track the postings of the paid blogger.

With perfect timing, the Social Media Club Question of the Week  (#SMCQ10) has been about “Free Content.” This goes hand-in-hand with the problem of paying people to talk about you. 

The early citizens of the internet have been providing free content of varying value (some of incredible value to be sure) without compensation. “Bloggers” and “Coders” are actually penalized the more popular they become, as they still have to pay for the web servers who connect all those readers/listeners/viewers to their content. Web users have become increasingly more savvy to advertising, and banner ads rarely compensate for the costs much less the value on certain blogs.

I think we are at one of those very klunky places in the transition from an old system, an old ethic, an old set of practices (largely defined by what was mechanically possible) and all new ones. In any transition there are going to be those who hang on to the old, as old is somehow always better in their minds. And of course there are the early adopters who favor the new just as strongly. 

This is further complicated by all of the psycho-emotional issues around “value” and around “what does it cost me.” It’s well established that people do not make rational or logical decisions when in purchase mode. I have a hard time with that as I personally do not like a lot of the gamesmanship that makes up so much of the sales process. I love the social web as it celebrates truth and transparency, as compared to truthiness and manipulative tactics. I am also very supportive of people doing what works for them – the crowds be damned. That means of course if you are someone who likes to kink things, you have the right to do that.

As awkward as things are right now, I think we are moving toward a marketplace where buyers and sellers have more even footing and therefore more responsibility and options. Readers can vet the bloggers to find out if they are paid or not for their reviews – though it should be much easier IMO. There are bloggers who think they are so independent, that they are not influenced. But hello, the very fact someone gave you something, is what started this discussion, now isn’t it? That’s worth sharing too – it only enhances your independent reputation for people like me.

I would prefer that companies who want to get in front of a blogger’s hard-earned audience, consider a more neutral and background NPR-style of true support, ongoing support, rather than a short term “we’ll wine and dine you to talk nice about us then c ya later.” That is largely self-serving (which I know, is not a bad thing per se) but it does not promote the long term sustainability of that high quality blogger. We all benefit from the independent blogger being able to keep telling it like it is – serving up not just the truth but the wide range of stories and connections and insights to her/his readers.

If the truth is getting harder to hide (because so many are recording and tracking so much) then surely truth as a strategy is becoming more efficient, if not yet more appealing.