Everything you need to know about SEO, published jointly with Search Engine Land every Thursday.
The SocialChorus Lesson: Use “Nofollow” In Native Ads, To Avoid Google Penalties
Brand building service SocialChorus has learned a lesson that other native advertising players should also know. Even when you’re focused on building awareness through social media, you can’t ignore Google and its rules, not if sponsored posts and links in native advertising are involved.
The company’s platform came under attention this week after an agency working on behalf of Microsoft used it to launch a campaign designed to raise buzz about Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser.
Mistake number one was trying to involve TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington with a cold-call pitch that failed to recognize he’s hardly the type of blogger to be attracted to such a campaign, especially when he’s written against sponsored posts.
Mistake number two was bigger, not realizing that sponsored posts, if they involve any linking to a brand’s site, could get that brand penalized by Google.
Sponsored Posts & Buying Google “Votes”
The short story is that Google effectively looks at links like “votes” for good content. So if someone provides a link to another site, and payment or compensation is involved in any way, Google may consider that a form of buying votes and respond with a penalty.
To avoid problems, Google has recommended that people make use of the “nofollow attribute,” a mechanism that prevents a link from passing along credit to the page it points at. Google sees these links but doesn’t count them as votes.
SocialChorus: Now That We Know, We’ll Nofollow
Until now, SocialChorus hadn’t even been up on the nofollow requirement.
“The bottom line is that we were not really was focused or aware of this stuff until now,” said SocialChorus founder and CEO Gregory Shove, in an interview with Marketing Land.
Shove explained that the focus of his company’s campaigns are about creating social media awareness by working with bloggers, not to increase search rankings.
“They’re not being paid to include links. They’re being paid to create content and drive social awareness for the brand,” he said.
The situation with Internet Explorer has now caused SocialChorus to understand that even if the bloggers aren’t paid to link, any links generated by sponsored posts will potentially violate Google’s guidelines if not blocked with nofollow or other mechanisms.
As a result, SocialChorus is making changes. The company tells me after talking with the head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, it has now altered its software platform so that any links provided to bloggers will use nofollow. Presumably, bloggers will also be given better guidelines, as well.
Potentially, some of the big name clients that have used SocialChorus — companies and products like Heinz, Progressive and Target — could find themselves in hot water over past campaigns that have generated links where nofollow wasn’t used.
Google itself wouldn’t comment on this or the situation at all, when asked.
Realistically, it would be hard for Google to pin down exactly which campaigns were involved, at this point. More likely, Google will take a “looking forward” approach to ensure new violations don’t happen.
As for Internet Explorer, while it doesn’t rank in the first page of results on Google for “browser,” that’s probably not because of some penalty — nor would I expect one would be applied, as the SocialChorus campaign hadn’t even started. Microsoft has also now canceled it. FYI, Safari also doesn’t rank on the first page of results.
It’s also pretty clear that SocialChorus wasn’t aiming to do campaigns for link building purposes. The company has plenty of guidance for bloggers about following US Federal Trade Commission rules for paid content, so it doesn’t seem like it was somehow trying to slip things past without disclosure.
Rather, the FTC guidelines don’t require the use of nofollow. That’s a Google rule. And if you’re a social company, focused on social, you just might not be up on Google’s rules about SEO and how a social campaign might interfere with those.
Ironically, Google had to penalize its own Chrome browser for the same situation. In 2012, Chrome was involved in a social promotion, one that inadvertently violated Google’s SEO guidelines. Even though it was fairly clear there was no attempt to game Google’s search results with the campaign, Google still placed a penalty against the Chrome home page that lasted for 60 days.
If you’re involved in social or native advertising, nofollow is an essential you should understand. We’ve got just the resource on that: What Is The Nofollow Tag; When & How To Use It. Check it out.