Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Bloggers: Why You Must Disclose Sponsorship, and Readers: Why Not All Sponsored Posts Are Bad

Bloggers: Why You Must Disclose Sponsorship, and Readers: Why Not All Sponsored Posts Are Bad | Not Dressed As Lamb
Lately there's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about bloggers that don't disclose when they've been gifted items or paid for sponsored posts and the effect it has for themselves - and for their readers.

If you're a blogger accepting freebies or payment (cash or vouchers) and not making it clear in your blog and social media posts that you've accepted payment, then you could fall seriously foul of Google's most recent crackdown on non-disclosure. Not only that but it's not fair to your readers if you're not being open and honest with them.

I'm also addressing why bloggers often don't disclose (it's often for fear of putting their readers off) and why sponsored posts are NOT all bad (and this is for both bloggers and readers) if they are written - and disclosed - properly. But first - bloggers:

Bloggers: Why You Must Disclose Sponsorship, and Readers: Why Not All Sponsored Posts Are Bad | Not Dressed As Lamb

1. As a blogger, are you up to date with Google's best practices on reviewing free products?

Google Webmasters blog, March 2016:
"As a form of online marketing, some companies today will send bloggers free products to review or give away in return for a mention in a blogpost. Whether you’re the company supplying the product or the blogger writing the post, below are a few best practices to ensure that this content is both useful to users and compliant with Google Webmaster Guidelines
1. Use the nofollow tag where appropriate. Links that pass PageRank in exchange for goods or services are against Google guidelines on link schemes.
2. Disclose the relationship. Users want to know when they’re viewing sponsored content. Also, there are laws in some countries that make disclosure of sponsorship mandatory.
3. Create compelling, unique content. The most successful blogs offer their visitors a compelling reason to come back."
Read in full: Best practices for bloggers reviewing free products they receive from companies

If the points above are news to you, read it in full right now. Then make sure you read it and re read it again - it is VITAL that you are complying with this. By failing to disclose clearly when goods have been gifted or you have received any kind of payment for your posts or links included, you are risking annoying Google and the visibility of your site.


What are no-follow links and do I have to use them?


If you are a blogger you have to be aware of no-follow links and know how to use them. Last year ago I answered the "what are no follow links" question and explained how and when to use them here:

6 Important Things to Include on Your Blog

In a nutshell, it stops the companies who have paid you (with goods or payment) trying to bypass PageRank (how far up your site appears in Google search results). They've effectively "paid" to have their SEO boosted via the links you provide and therefore (in Google's eyes) shouldn't have an unfair advantage over sites that are grown organically.

And I mention it in the post when talking about the fact that some unscrupulous companies still insist on do-follow links, but it's worth saying again...

IF A COMPANY WANTS TO WORK WITH YOU BUT INSISTS ON A DO-FOLLOW LINK THEN MY ADVICE IS SIMPLE: DO NOT WORK WITH THEM. THEY ARE EITHER TERRIBLY INEXPERIENCED OR THEY KNOW THE RISKS - AND ARE IGNORING THEM.

Why do I need to disclose what I've been gifted and when I've received payment?


For two reasons.

Firstly, it may well be law in your country to disclose clearly what you have received. An asterisk* at the end of the gifted item and an explanation on your PR page may well not be at all sufficient depending on where you live. Find out what the laws are and abide by them.

Don't forget about social media, where linking to a brand (or tagging them in) was part of the agreement. Use the hashtags #sponsored, #ad or #promotion - but here's a sneaky tip: With the exception of Twitter where you can't edit tweets later, wait about 10 minutes before adding in the hashtags (especially applies to Instagram). Adding those hashtags may affect the visibility of your post as Facebook and now Instagram work on algorithms, but leaving it for a short while means your post will be seen but will also keep Big Brother happy. (Thanks to Annette of Lady of Style for that tip.)

The clearer you make it, the better. I do several things in relation to disclosure:

  1. All gifted products are marked "c/o"
  2. My blog's footer has my disclosure policy so it can be seen on every page
  3. Sponsored posts - where I have received any form of cash payment for the post - have a "Sponsored content" image immediately after the first image in the post. Therefore no "sponsored" keyword is included (keeps brands happy) but my readers are clearly informed (keeps them happy)
  4. I include a link to my disclosure policy in every sponsored post where it is clearly explained what "written in collaboration with" a brand means and what affiliate links are.

Secondly, it's only fair to your readers. The more open and honest you are, the more they will trust you. By writing an interesting, informative, useful and engaging post that is also clearly marked as sponsored content, you're proving that just because you received payment to write it doesn't mean it's less worthy than the rest of your output.

BY WRITING AN INTERESTING, INFORMATIVE, USEFUL AND ENGAGING POST THAT IS ALSO CLEARLY MARKED AS SPONSORED CONTENT, YOU'RE PROVING THAT JUST BECAUSE YOU RECEIVED PAYMENT TO WRITE IT DOESN'T MEAN IT'S LESS WORTHY THAN THE REST OF YOUR OUTPUT.

Which brings me onto part two - why do readers think that sponsored content is "bad"?



2. Readers: Sponsored posts are not "bad" if they're written well

I've heard this many times from other bloggers: Their readers have told them they "don't like" sponsored posts. Somehow they think they're a sell out by accepting payment to feature a product, or write about a brand.

My take on it is this: If a blogger produces content that is interesting, informative, useful and engaging (yes, all the same qualities mentioned above!) - should it matter whether it was sponsored or not?

"SPONSORED" SIMPLY MEANS SOME SORT OF PAYMENT HAS EXCHANGED HANDS BETWEEN BRAND AND BLOGGER. IT DOES NOT HAVE TO MEAN THAT THE BLOGGER HAS REGURGITATED PRE-WRITTEN CONTENT, USED IMAGES FROM A RETAILER'S WEBSITE AND THROWN IN SOME LINKS.

"Sponsored" simply means some sort of payment has exchanged hands between brand and blogger in either cash, product or services. It does not have to mean that the blogger has regurgitated pre-written content, used images from a retailer's website and thrown in some links. It is true that some bloggers do do this, but not every blogger and not every "sponsored post".

When I collaborate with a brand, I always make sure that my readers come first, and the brand second. As long as I am meeting the criteria of the agreement I have in place with the brand, I make sure what I produce and write for a sponsored post is just as high-quality and interesting as all my other posts. In other words, bloggers with integrity and a desire for quality will produce sponsored posts that you probably wouldn't even realise were sponsored unless they disclosed the fact.

SPONSORED POSTS ARE NOT A BAD THING BECAUSE GOOD BLOGGERS WILL ONLY PRODUCE QUALITY CONTENT THAT THEIR READERS WILL ENJOY, WHETHER IT IS SPONSORED OR NOT.

And if a blogger is churning out low quality content just for the money, it will be all-too obvious to you as a reader. Sponsored posts are not a bad thing because good bloggers will only produce quality content that their readers will enjoy, whether it is sponsored or not.

Judge for yourself with these two recent posts on my blog:

How to Style Culottes for SS16 | The Archive by Alexa Range

White Maxi Skirt and Layered Blouse (With Blue and Orange) | The Jacques Vert Group Style Edit

Do you think there is much of a difference in the quality of these two posts? One was sponsored, the other wasn't, but I still write the same quality copy and publish the same quality images in both. I would like to think that the pride I take in my blog and what I produce is evident to both readers and brands. Brands have to trust me to write high quality content - and so do my readers.


Blogging as a profession

Full-time professional bloggers are becoming more and more common. The days of writing a "web log" as a little hobby have long gone. It remains a hobby for many; however, it is now possible to make it a viable day job (especially for women, who can enjoy the freedom of being self employed) due to the fact that clever brands know that it is another form of advertising for them.

It is a flexible profession that lends itself to women who have, or want to have, a family.

It lends itself to women who want to supplement their existing income.

It lends itself to women (like me) who want to have a complete change of career at a later stage in life.

In other words, blogging should not be seen as a lesser profession than any other - it is a fantastic profession in fact - and wanting to be paid for something you love doing should not be vilified. If you're not doing it with heart and soul and your clients/readers/audience in mind, then (like any other profession) your clients/readers/audience will simply vote with their feet.

It's up to readers to make informed choices, and it's up to bloggers to make that choice an easy one.


ARE YOU A BLOGGER WHO NEEDS TO SORT OUT THEIR DISCLOSURE - WERE YOU AWARE OF GOOGLE'S NEW GUIDELINES? AND IF YOU'RE A NON-BLOGGING READER WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SPONSORED POSTS (HAVE I CHANGED YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THEM)? COMMENT BELOW, OR TAKE IT TO TWITTER @NOTLAMB!


Catherine

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16 comments

  1. I don't mind a sponsored post if I know that up front and bloggers seem to do that well. It's the youtuber's that need a lesson. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a "morning routine" video only to be duped that the whole post was a sponsored video by some brand.

    Monica.

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  2. Hi Catherine, another great post as always. I don't mind a sponsored post myself as long as it's clear. I did see these guidelines and will definitely disclose if/when/should it happen. Thanks again!

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  3. That's a brilliant post, Catherine!
    Our readers who are not bloggers, deserve to know what a "sonsored post" really is. Yes, I accept products and payment for certain posts but that doesn't mean I blog for compensation only! I have a clear definition about collaborations on my blog and there are numerous requests which I decline because they do not fit my portfolio i.e. my personal style and my target group!
    When I work with a brand I really like their products and will also buy them when I am not sponsored by the brand.
    A clear disclosure is a legal requirement in Germany but also an obligation towards my readers.
    Plus: In Germany I have to pay taxes not only on the fee I charge but also on products I receive! That means a "free" product is NOT FREE at all!!

    Again, thank you for bringing up this topic!
    xx
    Annette | Lady of Style

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  4. Thank you, Catherine, for such an informative and helpful post. As a reader, I agree that you can tell the difference between a sincere, professionally-written sponsored post and low quality click-bait. Like you say, as long as your post is genuine and you are upfront about the arrangement, then I do not see any problem. Many years ago I worked for a publisher doing magazine advertorials and spent a lot of time trying to keep the clients happy while maintaining the editorial integrity of the magazines. By the time I had finished all the negotiations between the advertisers and our editors, I think I had the diplomatic skills to match a UN peace envoy! So, it's not new, but readers need to get used to the idea in the same way they did with magazine advertorials and sponsored features.

    If I am ever lucky enough to be in the other corner, as a blogger, I really appreciate having this comprehensive resource.

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  5. Thank you for mentioning this! It drives me crazy when I know content on a blog is sponsored but there's no disclosure. You always have such informative and helpful blogging posts!

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  6. This is an excellent post Catherine. I have so much respect for how transparent you are when you do a sponsored post. Lots of bloggers don't disclose it and some intentionally conceal their sponsored posts, even when it is obvious (especially to other bloggers) that they are being paid.

    Also, you or any other good blogger wouldn't do a sponsored post if you didn't think you could create quality content that fits in with the rest of your blog. Today, a cereal company approached me about writing a post for them, and after I finished laughing to myself, and I politely said, "Thank you for thinking of me, but how could I possibly write about a high protein cereal on a Fashion blog?" One post about sequin jackets, and the next about cereal?? I don't think so.

    The rules around sponsored content change frequently. Both hobby bloggers and professional bloggers have a hard time keeping up, and aren't incentivised to do so when there don't seem penalties for the rule-breakers. As this industry matures, that will change as well. Not that I get many sponsored opportunities, but I'm not sure I'd know the finer points about these rules if it weren't for you, so thank you! xx

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  7. I'm happy to read sponsored posts as long as the product / service is something the blogger would have used anyway (if that makes any sense!), like your sponsored style posts, for example. As a blogger, I only accept products I would buy myself so I can be honest. As for disclosing, I always put something on then page about being 'gifted the item' and have a disclosure on the bottom of every page. However, I think I will take on your idea about having a Sponsored Post image. I've noticed it before and think it's brilliant! Great post, as always Catherine!
    Suzy x
    www.suzyturner.com

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  8. Wow! Super post Catherine. I really, really appreciate your blogging series. It's so helpful. Now, here's the big question: How does one get sponsored?! It is seriously my dream! If I were to be sponsored in any capacity I think I would be beside myself. I've signed up for your suggestions from a post a while back--no takers yet. Sometimes I wonder if I need to hire someone or something....

    Anyway, again, great post!

    Love, Ann

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  9. Thank you Catherine for (another) fabulous and informative post. As a reader of your blog, I am always certain what is sponsored content and what isn't. I think the quality of the content speaks for itself and I cannot see or read any difference in your posts. I think it only right that we are transparent and honest and as Suzy said above, so long as sponsored content (or gifted items or services) are authentic to the blogger and her style, then surely there is nothing wrong! Love Liz xxx www.whatlizzyloves.com xxx

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  10. Brilliant post Catherine! I really do think that readers can tell when a post is sponsored and the blogger is trying to hide the fact. It drives me mad as my respect for the blogger goes down the pan, and I lose trust in any recommendations she/he makes.
    I do think that some bloggers do it out of lack of knowledge, so let's hope this post gives them the information they need to keep their readers informed and Google happy :)
    Michelle xx
    http://www.thebarefacedchic.co.uk

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  11. Really great, informative post Catherine. I did know about the Google post and have since managed to make some deals with PRs about no-follow links. I think that if company likes to work with you and knows the rules they don't have a problem with it. You're totally right about being honest with your readers too. I always disclose when I've been paid for a post or sent a product. Thanks for sharing. x
    #BrilliantBlogPosts

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  12. Really useful post, Catherine, thank you! I've never really understood unfollow links so will set your post first on my reading list tomorrow! I don't do many reviews or any sponsored posts so haven't been dodging the system - just a bit clueless! As far as freebies go, I think the time we spend as bloggers on producing a quality review with photos almost always far outweighs the value of the product - I totally agree that blogging should be considered as respectable a profession as any other form of writing or social media and I hope that increased awareness will enlarge opportunities in this area. I read (and love!) your posts through my inbox normally (you're one of very few I subscribe to) so I don't normally comment, but I enjoy your blogging-related ones too. Have a great weekend! x

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  13. I always disclose if I have received any form of payment, or if the reviewed items have been gifted to me. I think it's only fair.
    I have never had any of my readers comment that they are not happy with the sponsored content. Like you, I make sure the content is on a good level regardless if it's a sponsored post or not.
    #brilliantblogposts

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  14. Thanks for this Catherine. I don't know if I will ever have to worry about it, but I'm going to save your post as it has such helpful information, just in case! You are a gem! - Amy
    www.stylingrannymama.com

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  15. Useful post, thank you. I didn't understand no-follow links either but now I get it. I agree with a previous commenter, it's the youtubers that are the worst for this! I've been thinking about this issue for a while now, so it was interesting to read your thoughts.

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