I had a lively debate last week with a client who wanted us to write product reviews for items they would send for free in return for a positive review. Despite the company offering lots of work, we declined.
First, the company didn?t want to disclose that we were reviewing products we received for free and secondly, we would have been under obligation to write positive reviews regardless of our true opinion. This is not only unethical, it?s also against Google guidelines. So even had we produced the content, it would have been unlikely to have helped the company anyway.
For those many thousands of bloggers out there who do post reviews of products they received free, Google has some ethical guidelines you need to know about.
This kind of promotion is becoming more common thanks to the rise of adblockers and increased influence of bloggers. It is something Google wants to create a series of best practices for and I think they are a good idea. Much like the clear labelling of sponsored content within a website, a clear statement that you received the product for free so you could review it is equally necessary. It is necessary so the reader is fully in the picture about what they are reading and the potential bias the piece may (or may not) contain.
Googles best practices include:
Using nofollow tags
Google would prefer you to nofollow tags on all links back to the company who provided the product for your review. That includes links to the company website, social media accounts, merchant?s page, review page and any mobile app. Companies are also under an obligation to remind all reviewers to do the same.
How does nofollow work? This link to the Google blog shows you how.
Reviewers are also recommended to make it clear the nature of the relationship between you and the company who provided the product. Google would prefer you place this disclosure at the top, but says it can appear anywhere within the post.
So make it clear that you received the product for free and place it at the head of the review. Readers don?t mind, they just want to know the truth. Plus, as Google states, this is a legal requirement in some countries, including the U.S.
Compelling, unique content
The final Google requirement is that you create unique content that utilises your opportunity, knowledge and experience to the full. This should be a mandatory rule for every blog, but especially for those given the opportunity of free stuff in return for a review!
These best practices not only help you get the best out of the search engine but will also stop your review or even the entire site being penalised for non-compliance. Not using the nofollow link in particular is against Google?s TOS, so should be avoided at all costs!