RIP, content marketing. Thanks to Google’s algorithm updates and quality guidelines that require paid links to include a nofollow tag, there’s simply no value any more in online promotions for brands and agencies.
After all, if a sponsored link can no longer provide a direct PageRank boost, what’s the point? Everyone knows the only reason to bother promoting a brand online is for the improved search engine rankings.
Did you detect a hint of sarcasm there? I hope so, because when marketers focus too much of their attention on search engine optimization (SEO), they lose sight of the big picture. SEO is no longer solely about increasing rank; it’s about traffic, revenue and brand engagement.
The truth is, Google’s nofollow requirement shouldn’t even slow you down when it comes to your content marketing efforts. Done right, sponsored links can still generate amazing results for your brand — as long as you prioritize the most critical element of any SEO campaign: the content itself.
What Nofollow Means In a Nutshell
The nofollow attribute in a link tells Google to drop that link from their overall graph of the web. Since a website’s position in Google PageRank is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to it, nofollow was created to prevent spammy links from influencing search engine results.
Google’s Penguin algorithm, first announced on April 24, 2012, is aimed at lowering the search engine rankings of websites using so-called black-hat SEO techniques. That means if Google thinks you’re trying to artificially boost PageRank (for instance, by selling or buying non-nofollow links, or posting them), your site will be penalized.
Basically, if Google suspects that you’re violating their search engine Terms of Service by actively choosing not to use nofollow in a paid link — meaning, any link that may be interpreted by Google as not genuinely editorial — you’ll appear lower on Google search results.
Nofollow’s Fundamental Misunderstanding
“But if a blogger has to post my link as nofollow, why bother paying for online sponsorships?” Do you want to create brand awareness? Connect with the vast, highly engaged audience of a popular blogger? Bring real traffic back to your own website? Drive sales? A nofollow link can do all those things and more.
Don’t get too hung up on SEO best practices when you think about links. Links are about exposure, and when an authoritative online influencer shares your content through a good nofollow link, the benefits you reap are far more valuable than an incremental uptick in PageRank. Google may not index nofollow links, but there are plenty of people who can see them just fine. Journalists, well-connected bloggers, your target audience — the exact same people you’d hoped to reach through search.
Plus, here’s the thing almost everyone forgets, straight from Google’s mouth: “The target pages may still appear in our index if other sites link to them without using nofollow.“ Meaning, once your sponsored message is sent out into the world and begins getting shared, it’s no longer an advertisement. It’s a conversation.
Remember: Transparency Drives Credibility
Disclosure isn’t an inconvenient marketing buzzkill; it’s the critical element in any sponsored content that underscores the trustworthiness of its source. With research showing that consumers are increasingly looking to bloggers before they buy, honesty and transparency are the driving factors that help influencers connect with their audience. A 2011 survey conducted by BlogHer and co-sponsored by global communications firm Ketchum found that bloggers’ endorsements wield more influencing power than celebrities, and 53 percent of U.S. blog readers who are female have purchased a product based on a blog recommendation.
Bloggers and brands alike lose credibility when sponsorships aren’t disclosed per the latest FTC guidelines. When the sponsorship is clearly explained, bloggers have the freedom to create their own naturally engaging content around the marketing message — and that authenticity is what resonates with readers.
Including the nofollow element in a link is just another step in disclosing a paid relationship. Just as failing to disclose a sponsorship can result in audiences losing faith in what a blogger has to say, improperly using non-nofollow links causes websites to be de-ranked in Google’s search results. In both scenarios, it’s important to tell the whole story so that no one stops listening.
When online influencers consistently align with Google’s own quality guidelines — principle #2: Don’t deceive your users — they become trusted sources of information. Thus, even more valuable to work with.
In The End, Good Content Is Everything
How can brands use bloggers to spread the word about their products and services while generating legitimate links to their content? Simple: by hiring online publishers that know how to deliver top-quality content. According to the brand engagement experts at Socialarc (disclosure: Socialarc is a Sway Group client), the key principles of a successful content marketing strategy are as follows:
- Prioritize quality over quantity: paid quality content drives earned reach
- Wrap brand messaging in relevant editorial content
- Support brand messaging with engaging, socially shareable objects
It’s a delicate balance to produce relevant sponsored content that not only feels genuinely useful to readers, it results in a measurably successful promotion. When skilled influencers are given editorial freedom to execute content marketing programs, you get powerful brand messages that aren’t just passively consumed: they’re shareable, actionable and become sparks for relevant conversations. The goal isn’t just to push SEO, it’s to encourage audiences to curate and create. People want to talk and share experiences, and organic, top-quality content trumps any linking strategy in the books.
Key publishers can deliver branded content that’s compelling enough for readers to share with their network of friends and followers. In turn, their socially active connections of influencers will share, re-blog, link and drive brand awareness. This is where a paid strategy results in earned media, and there isn’t a Google requirement in the world that can stop it from happening if your content is on target.
As content marketing trends come and go, the foundation remains the same. Build good content and strong audience connections, and the nuts and bolts of how individual links are generated simply don’t matter as much. More than ever, it pays to hire the right storytellers to get your message heard.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.