Why Google is Missing the Point on Sponsored Content


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Over at the InNetwork blog this week, I wrote about why influencers deserve to be paid. It essentially looked at why brands should be treating influencers more professionally, and respecting them as a key partner in any marketing mix.

In the comment section after the post, Kari Rippetoe, Content Marketing Manager at Search Mojo, left an interesting statement:

Interesting post – you pulled me in with that title, because I wasn’t quite sure I agreed. I totally get where you’re coming from regarding the time an influencer not only spends in writing a post, but also in cultivating and managing their influence and community. But, from an SEO standpoint (and I work for a search marketing firm, so we’re very sensitive to this), paid posts (if you’re indeed compensating the influencer with money) can be detrimental to SEO. Google doesn’t like paid links, and while its algorithm can’t necessarily detect all paid links, I’m not sure if it’s worth the risk. That’s why we don’t pursue requests from bloggers to write posts for payment – because that’s a risk we can’t take on behalf of our SEO clients.

Kari’s point about paid links, and Google’s view on them, is a pertinent one, since – while there are other search engines around – Google is the search algorithm that most people take notice of and adhere to, rightly or wrongly.

The thing is, for me, Google’s wrong regarding their stance on sponsored content.

Sponsored Content – The Google Take

To get a better idea of what Google’s take is, here’s what’s being said around the web with regards what Google does and doesn’t “allow” when it comes to sponsored [paid] content:

Google made it clear that they do not want sponsored content indexed in Google News, and sites that mix in promotional articles with their regular news content could be excluded from Google News entirely.

To clarify, the second warning refers to advertorials or articles created entirely by or for a sponsor, along the lines of what BuzzFeed doesAdam Sherk.

So, essentially, Google is trying to avoid clearly advertorial content that offers nothing but promoting a brand’s message or paid media. Fair enough – there’s enough crap online that’s been paid for and bypasses the good content, which gets lost in amongst the paid stuff.

Where it gets a but muddied, though, is in what Google deems acceptable, as highlighted by the opening sentence in the paragraph that follows Adam’s quote above:

It does not apply to instances in which regular editorial content is given a sponsor treatment.

So, for example, a blogger could write a piece about hair gel and have Garnier Fructus sponsor the post. This means the blogger writes and Garnier might offer free samples. The blogger’s words, the brand’s product.

See a flaw there? Yep, it can still be viewed as paid content by the blogger’s readers. Why would Garnier sponsor without something being in it for them? Did the blogger remain unbiased, or were they tempted by bigger partnerships if they slipped in a couple of favourable mentions of Garnier throughout the post?

While there may not have been physical dollars exchanged, the question is still there – “can this opinion be trusted?”

Once that happens, it counters the very reason Google wants to clamp down on sponsored content: false advertising, inferior products, etc., and how they’re displacing quality-led, honest content.

Sponsored Content – The Irony Factor

Which brings us to the point that Kari made in her comment over at the InNetwork post, about Google not liking paid links and how that can impact a brand that uses this marketing method.

As I mentioned earlier, I can understand why Google wants to keep their results quality-driven. It helps the consumer, who uses Google more, who can charge more for ads, and… oh, right. Ads. Otherwise known as paid content.

Look at the image below, based around a search for “best SEO companies”.

best seo companies Google Search

There are 11 results visible in the screen shot – essentially, above the fold results (or what people see without needing to scroll down on their screens).

Of these 11 results, only three are organic, and clearly show a solid understanding of SEO by the company involved, which holds the #1 and #2 spot, with #3 being a YouTube video.

Every other result is an ad. Or, for want of a better description, Google accepting paid content to promote a business over another one. Sound familiar?

So it would appear that sponsored/paid content is fine if it’s ads with Google but not if it’s ads appearing within Google.

This is kind of messed up. Especially since, as I talked about in the post over at InNetwork, trust is the ultimate currency of a blogger, and isn’t something that can be bought at any price.

Sponsored Content – The Trust Factor

Are there bloggers that don’t give a crap and will write any old thing for a brand in exchange for regular sponsored content campaigns? Unfortunately, yes, and these are the ones that Google should quite rightly hammer.

But I’ve tended to find that they’re mostly in the minority.

Instead, what you have are bloggers looking to make a living doing the thing they love – sharing content, making recommendations, helping their community find a solution to help with a certain need.

That love, and that desire to help, allows the blogger to build a loyal and trusted audience – one that they would never deceive or whose trust they’d break, for the sake of a positive review when in fact a product or service was crap.

On the flip side, good brands know that the best way to meet customer needs is to listen to them. Because of the inherent mistrust of brands by consumers, often the only way this listening can happen is by sponsoring a post, allowing a blogger to write about you, offer some trial product, and then monitor the feedback over the coming weeks.

This understanding on both sides sees the blogger write an unbiased view, with the brand allowing that to happen in order to truly understand their target customer’s mindset.

As you can see, it’s a win-win for all involved. Except it’s not – because Google doesn’t really want this type of exchange to happen.

Instead of getting honest and quality content throughout their engine, Google would rather allow other types of paid content – ads – that have no indication of the quality of the company behind them.

At best, this seems a completely flawed approach. At worst, it could ironically enhance the current issue. After all, if solid content via honest sponsorship and disclosure is being punished and grouped in with the crappy stuff, why even bother…


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown is partner at Bonsai Interactive Marketing, a full service agency offering integrated, social media and mobile marketing solutions. He is also founder of the 12for12k Challenge, a social media-led charity initiative connecting globally and helping locally.


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