Once upon a time blogging was a cutting edge way for independent writers to air their opinions and personal views on whatever their area of expertise was without a commercial agenda. In recent years, PR companies and big business have jumped on blogging (and content marketing in general) as a means to spread their marketing message to a wider audience and this has led to some unfortunate results for bloggers and the trust that readers have in blogs.
There is a fine line between a blog post and an advertorial. Taking payment, whether in products or cash, to write about other businesses and their offerings can mean that not only are you risking your audience trust, as search engine algorithms become more sophisticated in 2014, you could potentially find yourself being penalised by Google and other search engines.
Why is transparency so important?
Disclosure is an essential part of gaining and maintaining audience trust. If a business has supplied you with free products it is important that you make this clear when you are writing about the products.
Be aware that even with the best intentions, when you have been given a freebie by a PR company or other business, it can be difficult to write an impartial review on the product. Most people won’t go as far as to actually lie about a product they have been given but they might hesitate to write anything too negative out of a sense of obligation or guilt.
How can I prevent this happening?
If you want to maintain your credibility, it is important that you keep your integrity. Many bloggers refuse to accept freebies from PR companies if they don’t genuinely like the product offered. This means that they are only posting positive reviews about products they genuinely feel positive about.
Some bloggers argue that accepting anything for free immediately damages your credibility and you shouldn’t write about anything you wouldn’t be happy to pay for yourself. Whatever your policy is, it is important that it is made clear on your site and that you stick to it or your marketing could become meaningless.
How could it affect my search engine rankings?
Google has strong opinions on the difference between valuable and useful blog content, and sponsored advertising. If they consider what you are writing to be more advertising than genuine content there is a good chance your blog will be penalised and could end up suffering for a long time into the future.
With Google’s new authorship mark-ups taking on a stronger role, the consequences could not only affect your business blog but you as an author. A bad reputation with Google as an author could follow you around the internet permanently and make it extremely difficult for you to successfully market yourself online.
With the growing emphasis on content marketing and social sharing, it is likely that in the future, PR companies and other big businesses will continue to approach bloggers to lend their credibility to their products. Be aware of the potential risks of accepting free products or payment to write reviews. Is it worth the risk of compromising your integrity and reputation or would you be better off paying for a product and writing an honest review that your readers can trust?