My twitter is literally exploding right now with lots of you lovelies panicking shitless about getting penalised by search engines for links in and outside of sponsored posts. So I thought I put together some advice rather than repeating myself.
Here’s the general issue: Search Engines doesn’t like people buying links on other people’s websites. This manipulates the Search Engine results. Now this ‘buying’ is a bit tricky – because it doesn’t just concern the links that are being paid for. It’s links that are suspicious such as with the Interflora case where the SEO campaign was hidden with a Blogger Outreach campaign were companies now offer products/vouchers for a specific link in return. This helped Interflora rank high around Valentine’s Day because they had all bloggers link to their website with specific words, so when people searched for those words, their links came up really high. That’s manipulating the search results. Search engines don’t like that. Never did, but now they’re really cracking down on it.
What are SEO links / Sponsored Posts
You might think that you know what a sponsored posts is – it’s a post with a paid-for link. But it’s so much more. It’s when it has a specific link. With a specific link I mean like a linked anchor text. Like ‘great shoes’ linking to ASOS’s shoe section. THAT’s an SEO link because your link helps ASOS rank higher when people search ‘great shoes’. Whether that’s paid for with money or with vouchers, products, etc – it doesn’t matter. From search engine crawler POV it’s a sponsored link.
So if a company gives you something for a specific post, where you have to guarantee the post and link (not like product reviews where products are provided, but it’s for consideration!) – that’s an SEO post.
Basically any specific link that is being asked for directly in return for something is in a way sponsored. With reviews and other posts, you choose to link them, but here the companies ask for specific links in return for a gift/voucher/money. THAT’s a sponsored post ultimately.
But of course, the companies give you these vouchers so that you don’t end up declaring it as sponsored post. Most people only think of sponsored posts when money is being exchanged.
They also ask for some text and sometimes even for links to other websites – this is their ways of trying to trick Google into thinking the link is in the post by choice, when it isn’t.
When to NoFollow links
Now people ask how Google knows what link was paid for and what isn’t. Thats a fair point, but when it comes to SEO campaigns, the normally running within a specific time frame – like again Interflora, who literally spammed the search engines through their ‘blogger outreach’ posts within a time span of a week, if not less than that. Of course if a google crawler suddenly finds the same link everywhere it’s very suspicious.
Of course this leads to worry about general links included. Like if you just choose to link to a website ’cause you want to. This is your choice and of course you don’t wanna be penalised. If you look at it from the crawlers perspective it’s very irratic, because not everyone links to the same website at the same time.
Sometimes however that can happen too – if lots of people blog about the same product/information at the same time. Like press releases or after events.
Either way, stating that it is a sponsored post is not enough anymore. Of course, you still have to do so with ASA rules.
However, you now need to mark links as ‘nofollow’ when they’re sponsored for. As in <a href=”link”>text</a> becomes <a rel=”nofollow” href=”link”>text</a>. This was actually always the case, but Google is now really starting to crack down on this stuff and penalising people, that is the paying company AND you.
Basically, any link that you wouldn’t normally include in a post is not-organic. It’s not there naturally, because you chose it to be. Those are the links that need nofollow.
What not to NoFollow
So if you wanna be on the safe side, make all links nofollow. You don’t have to – only links that were paid for (see above the qualification)
However, product reviews, affiliate links, etc are your choice and unless the company asks for a specific linked anchor text you do not have to worry about it – FOR NOW (Google constantly change their policies)
What to do now with sponsored posts
I would recommend making the links that were specifically asked for by companies nofollow. If there wasn’t a specific ‘please link to xyz when you write about this after we give you xyz’ then you’re ok. You can then choose to nofollow but you don’t have to.
I keep bringing Interflora up. Let’s explain what happened. Interflora disguised an SEO campaign as a Blogger Outreach campaign. And Blogger Outreach campaigns are different. PRs send products in hope of coverage, but it’s completely up to you whether you choose to cover the product, in which way you do it and what you say and which links to include, right? That’s your choice. However, Interflora provided their ‘bloggers’ with products rather than money (which is why people didn’t realise it was an SEO campaign, because people think of sponsored posts only when money is being exchanged). But the bloggers only got these products ‘gifted’ in return to agreeing with specific rules. That’s not an organic link. That’s a link they bought (cheaply mind you too, considering that the bloggers got flowers that might’ve cost Interflora £2 a pop for a link, rather than maybe £50 or whatever per link!).
Because they ran this campaign in a very poor, short period of time with the same links and the same linked anchor text, the search engine crawlers flagged this and so most websites that worked with Interflora (news websites, etc) got penalised.
Edit: The bloggers who worked with Interflora on this campaign did not get punished. It is unclear as to why (as declaration of things has nothing to do with Google but the UK Advertisement Standards Agency (ASA) rules) but they technically could’ve been penalised too.
Update: Interflora have gotten un-penalised. I’m not sure how and when, but their rankings are back to normal. It is unclear whether any other penalty was undone by Google though.
When search engines notice these types of non-organic links (they are freaking sophisticated, they don’t need to know whether a link was paid for or not!), they will put your Page Authority and Domain Authority back to 0. What does that mean? You go back to 0 in search engine results. Say at the moment you’re on the first page of search results if someone searches ‘great shoes’, once you’re penalised you will not be listed as a result at all. This of course loses you readers, traffic and ultimately money.
If you’re really not sure what to do, nofollow every single link. It doesn’t contribute to the company’s performance in search engines as much, but it keeps on the safe side.
If a company offers anything in return for something specific, then that’s an SEO activity and it is YOUR responsibility to make them aware of the risks of penalising. You both can get screwed. And as I said, declaration isn’t enough anymore. So either take the risk (and the money, product, or whatever) and do the post with the link as you normally would, or you put your foot down and avoid any risk with including a nofollow but also most likely lose out on any SEO money, as there’s obviously no point of a company buying a link on your website if it doesn’t help them perform better in search engine results.
What about nofollowing affiliate links? No need, really, especially if you link the word ‘here’ or ‘link’ with that affiliate link!
What about product reviews / links I just felt like mentioning? Again, no need to nofollow those links. You can, if you want to of course, but if you provided the link out of your own free will then that’s your choice.
Please let me know if you have any questions, disagreements, etc. I’m happy to help xxx