A List Bloggers Shouldn’t Throw Stones

    March 19, 2007

There are a number of fatal, hypocritical or naive flaws in almost every attack on paid posts by A list bloggers and it is time to show them their Achilles heel(s).

I am going to highlight Matt Mullenweg in this post, but please understand that this isn’t a personal attack, it just highlights many of the problems that the A-listers wouldn’t recognise if they looked at their own activities.

Matt is recognised as a major influencer, and whilst it is hard to get exact numbers for various reasons, there is a good chance 2 million or more people might have had a chance to see the headline "Selling Links" in their WordPress account.

Selling Links

Links have value for as long as clicking on them will transfer visitors from one site to another, and for as long as they are used by search engines as part of their relevancy calculations.

(Links are becoming less and less relevant, especially in Google – I have seen hard evidence)

A disclosed paid link within a review is actually the most transparent link and ethically pure on the internet. Most other forms of linking do not have a disclosure of any kind, yet more often than not some kind of compensation has occurred that is not transparent

  • Friends – you link to your friend, your friend might link to you
  • Your employer – if your company does well, you benefit
  • Promote a social media platform to your readers, and you suddenly get lots of friends on that platform, and possibly more prominence or authority.

Gone are the innocent days of the internet when people linked through to others purely based on it being good content, and that is especially true of the blogosphere. You link through to people and trackback/pingback because you want to express your views, and for other people to read them, and maybe respond in turn.

Gaming Search Engines?

The Yahoo directory has for years been a pillar of support for the Google algorithms. For over 5 years it has been paid inclusion only for commercial sites.

If I ran a blog on WordPress.com and tagged it "blogging" I would gain link equity from Robert Scoble, via the WordPress.com tagging system, whether Robert had read my post or not.

Thousands of affiliate programs gain link equity from affiliate links

WordPress.com is currently skewing Google’s index to the tune of 750,000 blogs, and thousands of tag pages.

Content Choice

People often choose content for financial reasons because they are controversial/topical and bring them more traffic and subscribers, or just to be evangelical on a particular topic.

Many sites were created to target specific subjects because they are lucrative.

Matt Mullenweg attacks PayPerPost >> Matt morally is on higher ground >> WordPress.com is an ethical service >> more WordPress.com users >> $$$

Matt doesn’t disclose that he is financially linked with WordPress in his blog posts – Who are the investors in Automattic? Does every employee at Automattic declare they work for Automattic within every blog post they write about WordPress?

Michael Arrington is at least blatantly honest that he often writes about Pay Per Post because it brings in more traffic and subscribers. The most valuable currency for Michael Arrington isn’t money, but access to information, preferably before anyone else.

Why don’t solutions to disclosure get more links? I have invested time and money into developing solutions for disclosure. I think my disclosure policy plugin site has so far generated approximately 10 links from bloggers, and 21 unique blogs according to Technorati, though some of it is syndication, feed errors or splogs.

People attack paid post companies because they have no intent to receive a pay check from them. In the same post Matt highlighted, a mother of 2 in the comments has technical problems using the Pay Per Post disclosure, and that is affecting the income she needs.

What a great gift to mankind, we have more pseudo ethical commercial blogs, but increase poverty by imposing ethical stigmas on services that provide income for people that need it.

Disregard for Legal Issues

In the wphackers mailing list a while back I suggested that WordPress should contain some boiler-plate legal terms, and the idea was effectively shot down. I know that legal jurisdiction would make them more complicated, but GPL seems to be usable worldwide.

WordPress.com didn’t even have a terms of service when it went live, let alone during beta, and how many bloggers have a privacy policy for all those email addresses they are collecting? In the UK there is the Data Protection Act, I am not sure of the US equivalent. Can you comply with that if you use a blogging service provided by a 3rd party?

MyBlogLog was recently attacked for not having a clear ToS and for cancelling the account of one person without warning. WordPress.com do that on a daily basis.

Who owns the comment content on a blog? How is a blog owner allowed to use the comment content? What rights to moderation?

There are blogs on WordPress.com that have been publishing content with affiliate links for over a year – I have even seen them listed on the front page.

WordPress.com uses a lot of tracking, not only on the main site, but also on the subdomains of blog owners. I have never seen a privacy statement on any wordpress.com hosted blog, then again I have never seen a privacy statement on blogspot hosted blogs either that gave details about what they were tracking. Does a blog owner have the option not to have all the demographic data of their blog visible?

Affiliate Marketing

Clickbank only recently changed their terms to include a mention of disclosure being required, but this is not the case for other affiliate program whose members practice word of mouth marketing. In fact they are not specific, they just require what is required by the FTC.

PayPerPost currently require more than is probably required by the FTC, and certainly much more than is practiced by 95% of affiliates.

Why are Pay Per Post getting a hard time over disclosure?

Examples of Ethical Paid Reviews

  • I wrote a review for Arron Wall’s SEO Glossary – I have made as much from the affiliate links as from the review itself, and it got me a link from Aaron’s blog – how cool is that?
  • Volusion Shopping Cart Review – In my opinion I went into as much depth as was possible for a service with so many features, and didn’t pull any punches about features I felt needed improvement.
  • Review of the Sponsored Reviews Service – I tried to provide as much information as possible, and highlighted things I would like improved.

In every case the company requesting the review gained more than buzz or a link, in fact with all 3 companies the link they gained wasn’t even a concern, and a drop in the ocean.

Each one of these reviews

  • Was on topic for this blog
  • Unbiased
  • Well received by my readers

It would be easy to point out that there are bloggers that will write reviews that are rushed affairs, and just mention the product in passing.

You get what you pay for, and in my case I try to make every review I write "cornerstone content". If I can’t write something unique and original about a product or service, I generally won’t even mention it, no matter how much I am offered.

I actually turned down a $150 review yesterday for ethical reasons – I had received manual comment spam from people promoting the product.

There are also affiliates that write glowing reviews of products that they have only read the sales page for, but no one would dream of attacking Clickbank, Linkshare or Commission Junction over this. Google in many ways prevent disclosure for their referral units.
Have you seen fake book reviews with links to Amazon? That is obviously Amazon’s fault, and last time I looked Amazon didn’t require disclosure.

Would WordPress Exist Without Paid Links?

How many WordPress contributors make money for their contribution from paid links either in the sidebar of their blog, or within the content? 80%? 90%?

I am sure every single one of them makes more money from paid links than donations.

Suggested Reading

Seriously? Every single post on this blog tagged with Disclosure and a lot of the posts tagged nofollow

Personal Challenge

Give me any[1] A List blog, and I will find problems with their disclosure or legal terms, on a paid post consultancy basis through either Sponsored Reviews or ReviewMe.

I should note that I am not a lawyer, so this is for entertainment purposes, and anything I point out could well be subject to interpretation and there is no guarantee. Also note that the review would be published on this blog without prior approval, and that rates will be increasing to $200 soon.

That is nothing compared to the hourly rate of many WordPress consultants. I can’t advise on code solutions for platforms other than WordPress. Review length will really depend on what I have to work with.

If I can’t find anything wrong, you will get a free review that I will publish anyway.

[1] I won’t link to content that is in my opinion inappropriate for this blog

Oh, and to make this really interesting, you don’t have to be the blog owner to order a review.

In closing, no one is perfect, and that includes myself – I have only just added a privacy statement and it is not formally worded.


*Originally published at AndyBeard.eu