Acknowledging your ‘gifts’ the Google way

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This news item concerns bloggers, and when they receive free gifts in return for a review being written about them. Google has issued guidelines for these types of postings to ensure the bloggers do not get penalised. They include:

1)  Using a no follow link if they are deciding to connect to the company in any way.

2) Produce high quality content which is over and above what is out on the web already. The theory behind this I suppose, is that if you are reviewing a product, your review should be unique and high quality anyway!

3) State that the reason you are writing is because the company have given you a product for free. Apparently this is the ethical (and sometimes legal) thing to do.

Why?

The whole idea behind making bloggers do this is to allow Google to have a better understanding of where any links have come from. Without this practice in place, they find it hard to track which links came out organically.  

When you look at the guidelines they are actually quite straightforward and not exactly hard to implement. What they are however is questionable and debatable, and here’s why.

A) Is there really any problem if bloggers want to link to a site they have received a free product from? Shouldn’t there be an element of freedom of choice about this?

B) Google claims the guidelines are so it can track organic links better, but how can it differentiate between a ‘pure’ organic link and one which someone has added because of reviewing a free item (apart from the obvious?)

C) What would the level, scale and severity of any penalties be? Is this really necessary for such an issue that some people would regard as no issue in the first place?

Although guidelines and perhaps reasons have been produced, it certainly seems to raise more questions than answers. Google issuing ‘rules’ because it wants to follow the origins of links is one thing, but do they (or should they) have the authority to be restrictive in this way?

Some would argue that this sets a worrying precedent. Are we heading towards the point where someone has control of the mechanics of everything that is put out online? If this was the case, then how could anything ever be truly authentic and original?

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