Shoemoney & SEOmoz Debate Link Disclosure

    June 6, 2007

This week everyone seems to be talking about the debate between Shoemoney and SEOmoz following Rand Fishkin’s post last week about disclosing paid blog recommendations. This continued when Shoemoney and Rand Fiskin discussed their opinions today on Net Income.

Here’s a bit of background into both of their views, Shoemoney say’s you should assume every recommendation on his blog has some sort of method of making cash behind it:

"So yea you should not trust me… or Rand… or Andy Beal… or John Chow… Or Darren Rowse… OR ANYONE like we are Jesus Christ who you should do whatever they say and not use your own head. you should try EVERYTHING and let the money show you what works the best."

While Rand believes that he provides users with a more honest review by not taking payment for posting a link about a product or service:

"Even Indextools, which I love, and am very fond of talking about, doesn’t give us anything beyond the usual free account for re-sellers and discounts for having many clients with them. When I link to them, I never use an affiliate link or have them track that traffic. I like their service; I share my experiences honestly; end of story."

The main argument is about the disclosure of whether a review is paid for or uses an affiliate link, Jeremy Schoemaker has an affiliate marketing background and if he promotes a ringtone affiliate I don’t think there is any need to state that a commission will be taken from each sale, it’s probably assumed by the user as the main purpose of the site is to make a profit. It’s a bit different however with a news or blog site, both Shoemoney and SEOmoz have built up a very large reader base who respect the opinions posted and in this case I agree that it’s important that users know the link you are reviewing is paid for.

To a certain extent I agree with Shoemoney but Rand’s reasoning makes more sense to me and I think you have to admire his integrity by not accepting payment for reviewing a product or service. By doing this SEOmoz readers should be able to trust the website’s being linked to without questioning the honesty of a review. I don’t actually think there is a one-fits-all answer for this as in my opinion it depends on the circumstances, the example made on Net Income about CNN accepting payment to mention a pharmaceutical company was a good one as there are some sources you need to trust 100%. Personally I don’t have a problem promoting affiliates or writing paid reviews providing I think the advertised product is of interest to the blog’s readers and of a high enough quality so that if it did refer new customers they’re unlikely to be disappointed. For example I’ve just wrote a review about Search Marketing Standard magazine, this is unpaid but does contain an affiliate link, I thought the magazine was very useful and I feel that most people reading this blog would probably agree so I don’t see a problem in using this link, if they didn’t have an affiliate program I would still have wrote the same post. The URL clearly shows an affiliate link was used, I’m not sure if it’s necessary to clearly state this as well as it’s not like I’m hiding the fact by cloaking or using an internal redirect.

I also think it depends upon the type of product reviewed, I don’t feel as strongly as Rand about this and as a reader I wouldn’t mind if an affiliate link was used to promote IndexTools if I genuinely believed the review. I probably wouldn’t feel the same way however if a direct payment was received instead though as I think this comes across as more of a bribe. I also think the amount of products recommended is important if the SEOmoz list of recommended companies contained two or three affiliate links I would question why they were in there if others didn’t have this and at the same time if there was a large list of only affiliate links I’d probably ask which companies should be listed but didn’t have affiliate programs. While a single affiliate link based on a positive experience wouldn’t raise as many questions into the reasoning behind a review, at least in my opinion anyway.

I think a lot of this has got blown out of proportion a bit as they both probably agree on a large part of this too. Shoemoney has previously said he turns down most offers for paid blog reviews as they wouldn’t be of interest to his readers so it’s not as if he’s promoting everything possible, just perhaps not always being clear on what he’s getting paid or making a commission upon. It would be good to hear what everyone else thinks? Is there a standard yes or no/SEOmoz or Shoemoney answer to this?