September 12, 2007

How paid bloggers can protect their blogs

by Brian Turner

Paid blog? Protect your site!

Whether you agree with services that pay for blog posts or not, the fact is that these have now become an integral feature of the internet.

The market in paid or sponsored blogging has reached a point that entrepreneurial bloggers can balance earning money while maintaining a valued audience.

What many bloggers taking money for posts don’t realise, though, is that they could be unwittingly setting themselves up in a duck shoot – that could result in their blog being effectively killed.

Buzz vs links

While a number of paid blog posting services wrap themselves up as “buzz marketing” in action, the simple fact is that these services are primarily used to buy links for SEO purposes – in order to help rank their targeted website better on Google.

The trouble for bloggers who sell posts on their site is that this puts them squarely in the battleground between SEO’s and Google.

Google knows links can be bought and sold, and has become increasingly aggressive at tackling this recently.

And that means if you make it clear your blog is selling links, you could get targeted for devaluation and a range of penalties by Google.

Ways to show you’re selling links

You really don’t want to be seen to be selling links on your blog if possible. But there are a few simple ways you can do this that Google are sure to be able to finger:

  1. Have “Sponsored Posts” in paid for blog posts
  2. Have a basic affiliate link to paid blog posting services
  3. Whore yourself to every cheap schmuck who pays

“Sponsored links” has long been a flag that Google should perhaps ignore the links under such a heading. Similarly, stated “This is a sponsored post” and various other words to that effect is a clear – and universal – indicator that Google should perhaps not value the links on that page. Heck, maybe just not value the page. Index it, but otherwise ignore it.

Additionally, it’s a common observation that those places most likely placing affiliate links on their site to paid blog posting services – are in fact those blogs most likely to be selling paid blog posting services. Again, it gives a clear signal that while Google should maybe continue to look at the page, it can consider that the content is below value and treat it as such.

This is especially the case on those blogs whoring themselves to every cheap schmuck who pays. While the above indicators are probably present, Google can probably apply a little network theory, and wipe these out en masse – in time. After all, Google built itself up as a search company by analysing the links between web pages, and how that relates to the information on those pages. And it’s already being wiping out the value of pages and links en masse, attacking massive link exchange networks over the past few years.

How to protect your blog

Okay, so you blog for fun, but also for business, and it offers and earning opportunity. Sounds reasonable?

If so, let’s ensure that you protect your blog first, to make it harder to ensure that your blog, it’s pages, and its links, are harder to ignore algorithmically.

1. Sitewide disclaimer

Don’t flag individual posts as paid. Don’t have a “paid posts” category. In fact, simply ensure you have a sitewide disclaimer if required, and leave it stated in there that some blog posts may be commercial promotions. Don’t worry, you’re not being unethical if you don’t have a disclaimer in full on every page – a link is fine.

2. Hide your flags

If you must have affiliate links, if you must have a disclaimer, if you must have anything that says in plain text and links “Hey, I’m selling links here!” then ensure Google – and the other search engines – can’t easily read it.

There are a few simple ways to do this – for example, use tinyurl.com to hide your affiliate links.

However, one of the safest ways is to ensure any such links run through a jump script or javascript – which is run from a folder blocked in your robots.txt file, ie:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /my-jump-script-location-or-javascript-folder-name/

As reputable search engine bots are obliged to follow robots.txt instructions, they won’t be able to read your affiliate links, etc.

3. Don’t be a whore

Simple, really. The more you whore your blog to paid posts, the less useful your blog is to any reader. Because you write about crap, no one links to you, so you never develop any real traffic.

And because Google can apply some network theory wizardry, they can probably spot the fact that there is a subset of blogs all linking to another subset of websites, all using the same keywords in the links.

A clear pattern – a clear network – and something you might expect Matt Cutts to wave his magic anti-spam wand over and kill in an update.

Without traffic, without any real presence online, and without any real quality indicators, it’s going to be difficult to keep grabbing those paid post dollars, because the SEO managers can easily have you flagged as a worthless purchase.

Use common sense to protect your blog

My personal experience of Google is that they try to act fairly and even-handedly, but if you constantly wave a red flag at them, eventually Google will act.

So if you make it far too clear that your blog is selling links, you could risk a big loss of traffic, and with that, potential income, as your blog no longer looks so attractive to advertisers.

So just use a little common sense, and tweak your site in such a way that it doesn’t raise red flag about your quality too easily.

Hopefully these tips will help you on your way.

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