Running Advertorials on Your Site? Google Could Exclude You from Search Results
If you’re running advertorials, paid content, or native advertising on your site make sure the ads and content associated with your sponsors are properly disclosed, or else you might find your entire website excluded from search results.
That’s basically the gist of Matt Cutt’s latest GoogleWebmasterHelp video (see below).
In the video, Cutts reminded users of Google’s long-time policy regarding paid links and content. The policy states that paid links should not pass page rank, and should therefore be labeled as nofollow. In addition, webmasters must see to it that all advertorials, paid content, and native ads on their site are clearly and conspicuously labeled accordingly (i.e. use words like “sponsored” or “advertisement”).
However, according to Cutts, Google’s webspam team has been seeing problems regarding advertorials, native advertising content, or paid content that aren’t being disclosed adequately.
Apparently, Google has caught a lot of websites running paid content, links, and advertorials without including adequate disclosures, thus misleading or deceiving users in the process.
Cutts went on that Google has already taken action against such sites and they’re going to “keep taking strong action.”
He furthered, “We do think it’s important to be able to figure out whether something is paid or not on the web. ”[Emphasis added.]
And it’s not just with the webspam team. The Google News team is in the same boat. According to the Google News Blog :
If a site mixes news content with affiliate, promotional, advertorial, or marketing materials (for your company or another party), we strongly recommend that you separate non-news content on a different host or directory, block it from being crawled with robots.txt, or create a Google News Sitemap for your news articles only. Otherwise, if we learn of promotional content mixed with news content, we may exclude your entire publication from Google News. [Emphasis added.]
How exactly will they figure what’s paid content and what isn’t?
Google just wants to make the web a much fairer place by telling sites to adequately disclose sponsorships. While that’s pretty noble reasoning, the fact that Google wants to take such “strong action” against sites that it deems are violating its polices is very disturbing.
For one thing, how exactly is the search giant planning to figure out which sites are running advertorials/undisclosed paid links? Can Google’s algorithms read between the lines now?
What if Google mistakenly removes a perfectly legit website from search results? What happens to the publisher then? They would have to jump through hoops, lose traffic, and miss out on revenue opportunities--and that definitely isn’t fair.
Another troublesome issue here is Google’s vague definition of paid content. In the video, Cutts clearly said, “If you are taking money and posting content that people don’t realize is paid or is not adequately disclosed both to people and to search engines, we are willing to take action on that.”
As several YouTube comments noted, a vast majority of content on the web is paid, one way or the other. Sometimes advertisers sponsor content while other times writers are paid to produce it. Either way, money almost always changes hands.
Google first needs to define and clarify the types of “paid content” that it’s willing to take action against.
Additionally, the manner of how sponsorships are disclosed should also be defined. Different publishers have different ways of labeling their sponsorships and Google first needs to be clear about how it wants these disclosures to appear before it decides to exclude sites from search results.
For instance, while some websites label each and every advertorial, paid link and affiliate link on all the pages that they’re posted on, other publishers keep their sponsorship disclosures on a separate page.
Furthermore, deals between advertisers and publishers can vary as well. For example, check out this screen shot of Entrepreneur.com:
I’m guessing the article “ Need a Beer? These Ballpark Apps Are Changing How You Get One ” is either directly or indirectly sponsored by Porsche because on the homepage you’ll see a small icon that says “Presented by Porsche” (small red circle). Now when you click through that, you’ll see that the article itself doesn’t link to the automaker’s site nor does it even mention Porsche, but there is a large display ad to its right.
Also note that on the actual page of the article, the site doesn’t disclose that the content is presented by Porsche (it only mentions it on the homepage), but it does display a pretty prominent banner ad on the article page.
Would this be the kind of thing that Google would penalize? Maybe, maybe not. The search giant isn’t exactly clear about what it deems are appropriate ways to disclose sponsorships. Does the “Sponsored” label have to be on every page, or simply mentioning it on the homepage or other pages enough?
The point here is that suddenly taking out entire websites from search results isn’t the answer. Before policing websites running sponsored content, Google must first set the record straight by spelling out what publishers and advertisers can and cannot do with regards to advertorials, native advertising, and sponsored content.
Do you run advertorials/paid content on your site? What can you say about Google taking action against sites that do this? Share your thoughts in the comments below.