This is the latest wrinkle in the story about how many bloggers are now willing to sell their “posts,” or written opinions, to marketers trying to buy their way into social media. A few years ago a guy named Ted Murphy thought to encourage legions of bloggers to shill, er, write about products for payment. Google got wind, and pretty much shut it down by removing the “page rank” of all such bloggers — turning them invisible on the web.
Murphy recast his company to IZEA, and now has launched massive efforts to make paid blogging placement more respectable with new rules such as full disclosure — bloggers who shill must declare it a “sponsored post” — and telling advertisers the bloggers can write whatever they want. The new model is now being seeded across the internet by engaging top bloggers (Chris Brogan, Joseph Jaffe) to write, show it’s cool, and encourage other bloggers to do the same.
This week, Google moved again to shut it all down. Matt Cutts, an enforcer at Google’s web-spam team, has re-announced that any bloggers who write paid posts must include a “no-follow tag” — a snippet of code that tells Google’s magic machine to ignore this post and any links from it, because it is worthless. This is a harsh judgment against paid posts because any marketer who hopes to generate 10,000 links into her brand’s web site from paying bloggers will now get exactly *zero* links (or more accurately, the scoring from those links will not drive up the brand in Google search results). Not exactly a good return on investment. Google went further by also warning bloggers if they don’t comply, they’ll face corresponding action. Cutts wrote, “Google — and other search engines — do take action which can include demoting sites that sell links that pass PageRank, for example.”
We covered the entire ethical debate in our recent BusinessWeek column and can only say, well, Google has voted. If bloggers continue to let their opinions be sold — even while disclosing the brands who pay them for their supposedly unbiased thoughts — they now risk having all their links back into the web go up in smoke.