If you read my blog regularly, you know that from time to time I do sponsored posts. This sort of blog advertising is a great way to earn a little extra income and pay for my blog expenses. But sometimes, these sorts of requests are shady.
Most PR requests are safe (although many are not lucrative to be worth your time). But others can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Friends, I don’t care what someone offers to pay you. Some things are not worth your reputation, and the level of trust that you’ve built up with your readership.
Here are the type of paid blogging opportunities you should consider avoiding:
They ask you to not disclose that your post is sponsored.
Big no-no. Don’t call your own ethics into question by dealing with people who clearly have none. A blatant disregard for the FTC guidelines is truly dangerous to the blogging community, and to consumers. Disclosures help consumers make informed decisions. Disclosures help the blog community to be a standard-bearer of honesty and trust.
I received this email from a company just two days ago:
Hi, I have clients that I like to get blog posts written for and published on various blogs. The article itself doesn’t have to be too long…maybe 200-300 words. It also doesn’t have to be about my client (unless I otherwise specify)…just be able to use the anchor text of the link in the article (I only want 1 link in the post). The only other condition is that I CAN NOT have it say “sponsored post” or “paid post” anywhere. If you really want to meet the FTC guidelines then you could use an image to say it’s a paid post…just not text. I don’t want Google to be able to read that it’s paid for. Examples of an image being used can be found here or here. If you do agree with the conditions above then please email me back answering the following 2 questions:
1. How much will you charge me per post?
2. Will you be sharing these posts on your social accounts? (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
What’s wrong with this email? Everything.
This person asked me to BLATANTLY IGNORE FTC guidelines around disclosing paid relationships.
For those of you who aren’t aware of the FTC guidelines, you need to be aware of them. Read a great FAQ on them on the FTC website. They apply to you if you do any sort of work with PR: if you have a relationship with a brand or advertiser that includes payment or product, that relationship must be clearly disclosed in your post. A “blanket” disclosure covering your entire blog is not sufficient.
They ask you to skirt the FTC guidelines in any other way.
Let’s revisit the email above. Anticipating that I might be concerned with FTC guidelines, the guy provided me with a suggested back-door solution if “I really want to meet FTC guidelines” by hiding the disclosure in an image.
If you were reading a product review on this blog, would you go and click an image to determine if I had placed there a disclosure that I had been paid? No, you wouldn’t. You expect that disclosure to be at the beginning or end of a blog post. Representatives who ask you to fudge the system have no moral compass. This sort of loophole-seeking doesn’t do anybody good BUT the business for whom you’re compromising your reputation.
They require follow links.
This one can probably be the subject of debate, but I don’t work with companies who require follow links in sponsored posts. Why? Because again, the only party that benefits from these type of links are the companies that insist on them, and in fact, I can be penalized by Google for doing it.
When high-quality sites link to another site with a “follow link,” that site is given a “boost” with Google. However, Google does not love paid posts or sponsored content because, well, it’s advertising. So paid posts that include follow links are often penalized by Google – big time. You can read all about no follow links in this About.com article on no follow tags. No reputable blog network I’ve worked with has ever required me to place a follow link.
It sounds too good to be true.
It probably is. Disreputable folks will spend email paragraphs flattering you and making it seem like it’s easy-peasy to make money. But there’s usually a catch with these people. Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t even go down the path. I have a group of friends who routinely circulate PR requests among each other as a sanity check: “Does this seem weird?” “Is this something you would accept?” There’s no better place to utilize your blog buddies.
The request is clearly a mass email.
Not all mass PR or paid blogging requests are shady, but some are. Take a look at the email. Are you addressed by your real name? Does the copy reference anything specific about your blog? Are there tons of misspellings? Professional and reputable PR people take the time to read a person’s blog and do their diligence before approaching a blogger with an opportunity. Same goes for blog networks that offer their members opportunities – they’ve already qualified you and it’s okay if they send you an opportunity via newsletter. Unprofessional people treat you like a number because guess what? They don’t care about establishing relationships, they care about their search engine rankings – and nothing else.
It’s pretty easy to be a trustworthy and well-respected blogger. Tell the truth. Don’t be afraid to disclose. Be selective on the opportunities you take. Don’t associate yourself with companies who want to evade the system.
Most importantly, focus on the positive: there are scads of fabulous PR opportunities with plenty of reputable agencies and companies. If we all just say no to the shady ones, the cream will keep rising to the top.