Google Blames Paid Link Policy Violation On Agency Unruly, Which Blames Sponsored Blogger

Next Story

Indie Platformer Super Meat Boy Jumps Past 1 Million Sales

A blogger paid to publish a Chrome video is responsible for violating Google policy, not Google or its ad agency Unruly Media that sponsored the post. However, Google says it never authorized Unruly to run a sponsored blog post campaign in the first place. Yesterday we covered that Google was sponsoring bloggers to post a Chrome video, but that at least one post linked directly to the Chrome download page in violation of Google’s paid link policy. The author chose to include the link, and her post has now been deleted.

[Update: Read the latest news in the saga – Google has done the honorable thing and penalized the Chrome download page’s search ranking.]

Unruly Media‘s founder and CEO Scott Button tells me “Unruly never requires bloggers to link to back to an advertiser’s site. Occasionally, bloggers will unfortunately pen a post that deviates from our guidelines, as here. Where that happens, we’re very happy to have it pointed out, and will work with the blogger to fix it as fast as possible.”

However, Google has told The Verge “Google never agreed to anything more than online ads. We have consistently avoided paid sponsorships, including paying bloggers to promote our products.” The company is “now looking at what changes we need to make to ensure that this never happens again.” Unruly could lose Google’s business over the snafu.

This morning, the offending post briefly had its link to the Chrome download page deactivated before the entire post was deleted. I’ve reached out to the author Mariah Humphries as to why exactly she deleted the post.

It appears Google wasn’t trying to be evil, and instead there was a miscommunication between it, Unruly, and the sponsored bloggers. Still, I’ll reiterate what I said yesterday : “Google should have predicted scrutiny and been more careful with the instructions the bloggers received.” Yes, Button says “Unruly always asks [sponsored bloggers] to mark the post (or any related tweet) as sponsored, too, and to mark any additional links as nofollow so that they don’t influence search engine rankings.” It seems that this should be mandatory, though, not simply a request.

This all brings up the bigger question of the legitimacy of payola in the blogging world. If brands and their ad agencies think they can get more referral traffic or views of a video by paying bloggers to write about them or their client, fine. That’s their business. I’m not a big fan of overly aggressive marketing campaigns, and I don’t think Google should stoop to this to promote Chrome. But my real issue is with the bloggers.

I think authors have a duty to their audience to share what they truly find interesting. Publishing about a topic because you were paid seems like a violation of your readers’ trust, even if you write “Sponsored by…” somewhere in the post. Take sponsorships from companies with overlapping target demographics, not the company you’re currently writing about. For bigger blogs, make sure the writer doesn’t know who is sponsoring what. Otherwise, completely divide editorial from sponsored content by posting ad text or video verbatim.

If my only way to tell if you’re selling rather than discussing something is a one line disclaimer, I’m going to have trouble trusting you. Sure, this is easy to say since I’m a blogger on salary, and it’s harder to live by if you’re scraping by as a freelancer. Either way, though, keeping your editorial content fiercely independent is how you build respect, word-of-mouth, readership, and legitimate monetization potential.

In any case, here’s Scott Button’s well written statement to me defending his company. I believe it shows Unruly Media wasn’t trying to violate Google policy, but that it may need to be more explicit in spelling out linking policies to bloggers it pays, especially when working for high profile clients:

“To be totally clear, Google paid us to get the Chrome video watched. It did not pay us to get bloggers to write about Chrome. It certainly didn’t pay us to get *positive* reviews about Chrome nor to get links back to Google’s site. As other people have pointed out, since Google controls Google, that would have been crazy!

Unruly never requires bloggers to link to back to an advertiser’s site. That’s because we’re in the business of video advertising not search engine marketing, so we couldn’t care less about link juice. We don’t ask for it, we don’t pay for it, and we don’t track it. What we do pay for is views of video content: our business is to distribute branded video content on behalf of blue-chip brands and their agencies.

Unruly is committed to an ethical, legal, and totally transparent approach to online marketing. It’s crucial that branded video content is clearly marked as sponsored and that links don’t distort search engine rankings. It’s also crucial that opinions belong to the author – the internet is a free place and consumers control it, not brands – which is why we never push an angle or opinion, and also why, occasionally, bloggers will unfortunately pen a post that deviates from our guidelines, as here. Where that happens, we’re very happy to have it pointed out, and will work with the blogger to fix it as fast as possible.

Some nitty-gritty for the interested. Unruly’s video player has a very clear ‘Sponsored by Google’ disclosure underneath it. The disclosure itself and the video player do link back to the advertiser’s site, but are wrapped in Javascript so do not influence search engine rankings. Unruly does not require that bloggers write about the video content nor do we require that bloggers provide any additional links to the advertiser’s site. However, if they do, Unruly always asks them to mark the post (or any related tweet) as sponsored, too, and to mark any additional links as nofollow so that they don’t influence search engine rankings. This is just good practice and is one of the things that separates Unruly from other practitioners.

We do sometimes give bloggers a small bonus for going to the trouble of writing a blog post. It’s a thank you and is our way of giving something back to small, independent authors. All bloggers get paid for delivering video views regardless of whether they write about the content. 

Some related articles

Best Regards,

Scott
Founder & Group CEO
Unruly Media 

Check out the next installment in the saga – Not So Evil: Google Penalizes Chrome’s PageRank For Policy Violation. It covers details of the 60 day penalty to Chrome search ranking, and I argue that Google may not be lying when it says it didn’t authorize the sponsored blog post campaign.

[Image Credit: Shutterstock]