Debate regarding Penguin 2.0 and advertorials

Please read below and tell me if this makes sense. If what I have are advertorials then I need some one to do a backlink audit for me, etc. to fix the issues.

I believe I have been hit by Penguin 2.0. The traffic started decreasing on May 22 or 23, 2013 - the same time that the new algorithm came out.

I analyzed the backlink profile and found some unnatural looking links and I also found some of what seems to be “advertorials” (though I’m not sure - this is where I need your opinion). Penguin 2.0 has partly to do with advertorials.

Here’s what I did - I paid a company to write high-quality articles for me and then post them on sites like Forbes, HuffPost, Business Insider, etc. I’m trying to figure out if those would be considered advertorials or not. Based on what Matt Cutts from Google says the answer is yes. The links from those articles to my sites were all dofollow and there was not any disclosure stating that the articles were ‘advertisements’ or ‘sponsored’. There were many of these ‘guest blogs’ and they were all done by the same company that used mostly the same targeted anchor text for all the links pointing back to my site.

I wanted to get your opinion as to whether these are advertorials or not.

I’ve done a lot of research online as far as what Matt Cutts from Google says about these. I have not listened to nobody except Matt Cutts thus far since he would know what an advertorial is or is not. But now I’m opening this debate up for discussion. Here are the things I have found that he (Matt Cutts) has said in regard to advertorials (almost everything below has been said by Matt Cutts):

Just because it is a high-quality article on a high quality site does not mean that it’s not an advertorial.

Advertorials – This is paid content that is made to look like genuine, organic content. Matt says it shouldn’t flow pagerank to the target site. If it does flow pagerank then you could have gotten hit for that as well.

Inbound links with rich anchor text are powerful for helping boost search engine rankings. Therefore, many companies have tried to game Google’s algorithm by acquiring inbound links using the anchor text they want to rank for. One of the acquisition methods is buying paid text links from sites they believe are powerful to Google. This is clearly against Google’s guidelines and can get you in a lot of trouble with Big G.

So, if a company gets hammered by Google overnight, it very well could be that the company was engaging in paid links. One quick way to identify this is to analyze the anchor text leading to a site. Note, a natural link profile will contain some rich anchor text links, but will also be balanced with other types of links. For example, a normal link profile might contain links that contain the URL, the brand name, non-descriptive links like “click here” or “learn more”, etc. Rarely (if ever) will a website naturally contain 99% rich anchor text links.

Many websites were hit by Penguin based on risky link profiles filled with unnatural links.

To address the issue, make sure that any paid links on your site don’t pass PageRank. You can remove any paid links or advertorial pages, or make sure that any paid hyperlinks have the rel=“nofollow” attribute. After ensuring that no paid links on your site pass PageRank, you can submit a reconsideration request and if you had a manual webspam action on your site, someone at Google will review the request. After the request has been reviewed, you’ll get a notification back about whether the reconsideration request was granted or not.

A lot of people guest post or guest blog to try and increase their personal brand, gain new readers, and one would think improve the performance of their website in search engines. This is not a bad thing in and of itself as long as it’s done the right way according to Google.

Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, posted a new video today on YouTube clarifying Google’s stance on Advertorials and “native advertising.”

Matt Cutts says, “Now there’s nothing wrong inherently with advertorials or native advertising, but they should not flow PageRank and there should be clear and conspicuous disclosure so that users realize that something is paid, not organic or editorial.”

Google doesn’t care about advertorials or outside advertising per say. The only time they care about it is when they think it might be manipulating their ranking algorithm.

One option is to write to the site and ask them to remove the link. Keeping the post, especially if it mentions your site or business by name, may still help your rankings.

Another option is to ask site owners to change the anchor text and keep the link but make the link a no follow link. This can help diversify your anchor text profile.
Google’s Cutts wanted to make it clear that it is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines for webmasters and advertisers to use advertorials or native advertising as a means of passing PageRank to your webpages.

Matt explained that Google treats links as editorial votes and editorial votes helps sites rank higher because of the way that the algorithm is written. When links are embedded into advertorials or paid stories, if they are not disclosed, that is against Google’s guidelines because they see it as trying to manipulate their ranking algorithm.

Matt Cutts posted a slide showing their guidelines for both user advertorial disclosure and search engine advertorial disclosure. Here’s what the slide said:

Disclosure to search engines
• Paid links should not flow PageRank
Ex: rel=”nofollow”

Disclosure to readers
• Clear and conspicuous
Ex: “Advertisement” or “Sponsored”

In summary, the Google guidelines for Advertorials are:

(1) Search Engines: If links are paid for, i.e., money changes hands, then links should not pass PageRank. You should nofollow links in Advertorials.
(2) Users & Readers: It should be clear to your readers that this is a paid story by labeling it advertisement or sponsored story.

So, why is Google talking about this now? There was no change in Google policy, but Matt said that there has been an increase of webmasters using this technique in the recent months.

Here are the things I think I need to do for those “guest blogs” I have which I think Google calls advertorials:

Make sure that any paid hyperlinks have the rel=“nofollow” attribute.

Another thing I would do is to modify the anchor text on those links pointing back to your site. Make the anchor text more diversified. Note, a natural link profile will contain some rich anchor text links, but will also be balanced with other types of links. For example, a normal link profile might contain links that contain the URL, the brand name, non-descriptive links like “click here” or “learn more”, etc. Rarely (if ever) will a website naturally contain 99% rich anchor text links.

And then the last thing I would do is have those paid articles marked “Advertisement” or “Sponsored”.

That’s 3 different things to do. Does that make sense?

According to Matt Cutts from Google, any link that is acquired as a result of money changing hands is not viewed as legitimate in Google’s eyes. It doesn’t matter that money was not changed hands between the company that wrote/posted the articles and the site where the post was published (Forbes, HuffPost, etc).

What does matter is that money exchanged hands somewhere in order for the posts to have been posted (i.e. money changed hands between me and the company that wrote and posted my guest blogs). It basically means that someone gave some money to someone else and that’s the reason the post got published (rather than Forbes, HuffPost, etc. or Heather writing about you naturally because they thought it was interesting or because they wanted to).

Had it not been for the money that particular post would not have been published. These words come directly from Matt Cutts from Google.

The way I understand it is that I should make sure that if links are paid (especially in regard to guest blogs/advertorials) – that is if money changed hands (anyone’s hands) in order for a link to be placed on a website – that it should not flow PageRank.

For a supporting reference, this is a video from a Webmaster Central Hangout from February:

When someone in the video says they submit articles to the Huffington Post, and asks if they should nofollow the links to their site, Google’s John Mueller says, “Generally speaking, if you’re submitting articles for your website, or your clients’ websites and you’re including links to those websites there, then that’s probably something I’d nofollow because those aren’t essentially natural links from that website.”

Here’s another supporting reference in another February Webmaster Central hangout:

In that one, when a webmaster asks if it’s okay to get links to his site through guest postings, Mueller says, “Think about whether or not this is a link that would be on that site if it weren’t for your actions there. Especially when it comes to guest blogging, that’s something where you are essentially placing links on other people’s sites together with this content, so that’s something I kind of shy away from purely from a linkbuilding point of view. I think sometimes it can make sense to guest blog on other peoples’ sites and drive some traffic to your site because people really liked what you are writing and they are interested in the topic and they click through that link to come to your website but those are probably the cases where you’d want to use something like a rel=nofollow on those links.”

Another thing (according to Google) that most likely caused me to get caught up in this latest algorithm update:

My guest blog post was not written by an independent and neutral third party. Instead, it written by someone at my company or someone my company paid to guarantee placement.

Advertorials are considered “guaranteed” placement because they have been paid for. The money is what guarantees their placement. In contrast, true journalistic editorials are never “guaranteed”. For example, you might write up a blog post and then submit that post to a blog such as Forbes, Huffpost, etc. and then at that point the blog has the choice of whether or not to publish it or not. Sometimes they might and other times they might not.

Google can easily figure out that a paid-for company (which is in business and gets gets paid to do this) has posted my blog posts on sites like Forbes, Huffpost, etc. on my behalf. If you visit the company site (the ones who wrote and posted my articles) you can see that they do not offer their services for free. They charge money for the “guarantee” or service that your blog post will be published. This, in Google’s eyes, is not a true editorial. It is a post that has been paid for in one way or the other.

Google says, “True journalistic editorials are usually written by the editors of the blog, not by a company. When a company writes a blog post it will almost universally be biased and slanted towards the favor of the company writing the post. True editorials can be like that too but they are written by the editors of the blog and not by the company seeking to publish it’s blog post.”

Also according to Google, something else that could have caused those posts to be considered advertorials is the fact that the company which I paid to write and post the guest blogs on my behalf consistently requires that blogs (Forbes, HuffPost, etc.) keep a link to my site in place in the author bios section of the article.

Here are the facts of how Google currently views this issue:

Editorial is unpaid.

It’s difficult to define but editorial is generally considered to be content that appears in a newspaper, news channel, magazine or website that is considered timely, relevant news. Editorial cannot be paid for and you cannot demand that it be run nor anything about the story or how it’s covered. Companies do not control the final content.

I know many bloggers receive releases from brands and companies. They are hoping that if you find their pitch interesting enough you will write about it. Some will. Some won’t. It’s the same as a newspaper or a magazine. And yes, writers for those publications get paid. But they get paid BY THE PUBLICATION, not by the company.

“Editorials” technically refer to opinion articles in newspapers. Since a vast majority of blogging falls into the “opinion” category, “editorial blog content” has come to mean posts that the blogger has posted out of genuine interest, and unpaid. If you see an awesome pair of shoes and want to share it with your readers by posting on your blog or social media, that is editorial content. If you want to talk about your experience going shopping for the first time, again editorial content.

If you get tipped off that your favorite designer is having a 80% off sale and you want to share that with your readers, that is editorial content.

An advertorial is paid.

Obviously if you are paying for it, you are guaranteed inclusion in the news outlet. Of course, then there is the argument that the “article” now loses credibility as it is biased and contains outright company messaging. But the message is out there and that is important to many brands. Sponsored posts are advertorial too according to Google.

Advertising content is content that you have been paid to produce (i.e you paying Heather). This is usually negotiated in advance. The brand will have certain parameters and goals with it’s post and it will probably have negotiated a package with services:

• Writing a post with specific links (sometimes tracked links)
• Publishing the post on a specified date
• Using specified language from the brand in your post
• Giving the brand final approval for post publishing

The list goes on. If a brand has specific branding to be included in the post, then that is indeed advertising content according to Google.

The bottom line is, Google wants links that are freely given (or at least appear to be freely given) and anything else (to them) smacks of attempted manipulation.
Furthermore, the posts that this company got published for me looked unnatural because each post linked to my site with targeted anchor text. Not only that, but also because of the fact that all of those published posts were done by the same person (company). That in and of itself smells of some sort of “package deal” for money (at least in Google’s eyes anyway).

Although Google has no way of finding out whether a link or post was truly paid for or not their new algorithm update has been created to weed out paid for content that masquerades as ‘real’ content such as advertorials, sponsored content, etc. Google doesn’t know what your intent is. They have no way of knowing that you’re simply submitting guest posts for branding (not to gain ranking power via links). It is easy to misconstrue as an advertorial.

Google is not saying to cease writing guest content on other people’s sites all together. I am not saying that either. In fact, they say that they are not against that and that it could be a good thing to do if done properly. I also say that it could still be a good thing (for now) if done according to Google’s guidelines.

I know that’s a lot of information but based on what I’ve told you do you think it’s possible that Google could be viewing my “guest blogs” as advertorials?

How did the guest posts link to your site? Did they just keep hammering your main target KW or is there a ‘natural’ mix of ‘junk’ links, generic links, direct links, partial kw links, and target kw links? You might be jumping the gun on the advertorial issue. As I can tell from how you pieced together Matt Cutts’ public pronouncements on this, you can already tell that Google has its work cut out in terms of detecting which is paid or not. I am guessing they will be using a contextual approach but this is like using a flamethrower to knock out a few ants inside a building.