Tuesday, December 3, 2013

paying for coverage

NEW UPDATE 1/16/2014 - Updates below original post.

Original Post 12/3/13:

The practice of paying bloggers to write things means you have to be very careful about trusting anything you read online. Of course, if it's news to you that you have to be skeptical about anything you read online, then you are at grave risk for being fooled or worse.

One recent example is someone who uses Dr. in his title. I don't know anything about him. I was forwarded an offer to pay me and send me a gift card for a free dinner if I wrote about DrColbert.com. So that's what I'm doing. I am not recommending his website. I just want to tell you that if you see mentions of this website, it may be because the blogger got paid. Oh, the instructions said I had to include this link: http://socopm.us/rnSSl

I do not recommend clicking on the link. Remember, I'm writing this post just so I can send an invoice for the promised payment... and to warn you again that the contents of too many blogs and websites are untrustworthy.

Of course, even by writing this warning, I'm probably boosting that website's ranking on Google and elsewhere, since the bots mostly count links, not intent.

I'll let you know how the free dinner was.

Oh, I was also instructed to include this disclaimer:

      • "This post was created in partnership with eAccountable. All opinions are my own." 
Actually, I give this outfit credit for including the disclaimer... even if few readers would know what it really means.  
Update 12/17/13:  I am beginning to wonder if eAccountable is taking advantage of bloggers as well as their readers. I submitted my post, but have not received the promised payment. I did get a note from Dr. Colbert saying he would forward my questions about payment to scott@eaccountable.com, but since then, all I have received are pitches for more promotional posts.
Update 12/27/13: I got paid! (in part) On Dec. 19, Scott Wanamaker at eAccountable said the promised $5 was on its way. It arrived in my PayPal account later that day. (He didn't say whether they would be sending the restaurant gift card that was also promised.) Wanamaker said payments to bloggers are made every couple of weeks. (I also received an email directly from DrColbert apologizing for the length of time it took to process the payment.)

In an email, Wanamaker made a few other points:
"- The links we use are affiliate links and by default are nofollow, so they don’t impact SEO results.
- We do have the disclaimer in place so readers know that the link is sponsored. Also, many of the bloggers that make a business out of this put their own disclaimer.
- We provide subject ideas to write about, but wish that all bloggers write what they feel about a particular brand.  While we do reserve the right to requests edits this is rarely ever needed." 
I don't know enough about the inner workings of SEO to evaluate his claim that the links don't "impact" SEO results... but if that is so, then I wonder what exactly eAccountable clients get by buying links. Are they really paying just for clicks from blogs?

I don't have any way to test his assertion that eAccountable rarely requests edits to what bloggers post, though I would expect most posts would be positive. After all, human behavior research indicates that even token payments affect attitudes. (Pharmaceutical detailers didn't give out all those pens and donuts just to be nice. They knew little gifts burrow into the subconcious mind.)

But I dispute his claim that the eAccountable disclaimer tells readers that the posts are sponsored. As I noted in the original post, the disclaimer merely states:
"This post was created in partnership with eAccountable. All opinions are my own."
There is no mention of sponsorship. I think readers might judge the posts differently if they clearly stated: "I was paid by eAccountable to write this post about their client."

I'll let you know if I ever receive the promised restaurant gift card. Meanwhile, be careful what you read... it may be sponsored.

Update 1/2/14: Well, I received the restaurant gift card... sort of.

Here's what was promised:
  • Receive $5 Bonus just for posting...
  • And, DINNER is on us! Receive a FREE $25 Restaurant Gift Card as well just for posting
As mentioned above, I did receive $5 via PayPal from eAccountable. But the restaurant "gift card" turned out to be just a 25 point credit with a coupon operation. Not only are there few restaurants offering deals, most of them are 2-for-1 entrees and other partial discounts you can get online easily.

To me, this card is almost worthless. Like the payola bloggers that shortchange readers by taking payoffs, when eAccountable says "DINNER is on us!," it doesn't actually mean what you'd expect.

Guess I'll go hungry.

Update 1/16/14: Digging into the guts of SEO, linking, rankings, etc.

Big thanks to Tim Farley (@krelnik) for looking under the hood of the eAccountable link system to check claims about NOFOLLOW attributes and other deep technical matters that are well beyond my web skills. Read all about it on his blog. It appears that eAccountable does indeed use a system that avoids tripping over Google's ban on paying for links to boost rankings. So we are left with the questionable ethics of paying bloggers.

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