Is the sponsored post dead?



In our recent survey on how parent bloggers make money from blogging, one in five Tots100 bloggers told us they make money via sponsored posts.

Writing half a dozen sponsored posts a month can represent a significant income to many parent bloggers. But there’s a problem. Google ranks sites in its search results based largely on the number and type of links posting to each website. Something with lots of high quality links (from blogs, for example) will rank higher in search results than other sites.

Obviously, this opens the door to manipulation. Brands can use sponsored posts to effectively buy huge numbers of links and boost their own Google ranking. Naturally, Google doesn’t like this, and has always insisted that paid-for links (such as those found in sponsored posts) should be ‘no-follow’.  Sites that don’t comply can be removed from Google results entirely. Recent changes suggest the rules are about to be implemented more strictly. And the result? Chaos. 

Bloggers are getting emails asking them to add no-follow tags to links, amend advertising banners, remove content, or add complex new code that restricts how ads are displayed. Ads are being cancelled and pulled. And a worrying number of bloggers tell us they’re now being asked by SEO and PR agencies to write paid-for posts that don’t include any mention of payment. This is a really worrying development. These brands are asking parent bloggers to flout the ASA guidelines on disclosure of commercial content, and asking bloggers to mislead their readers. On every possible level, it’s just shady.

Here at the Tots100, we suspect the days of the sponsored post are coming to an end. Nobody wants to risk losing their Google ranking – blogger or brand – so why take the chance?

If you’re a blogger and asked to write a sponsored post, we would advise you to use a no-follow link. If you choose to use follow links, make sure you’re aware of the risks, and are compensated accordingly. No matter which link you use, always, always ensure your readers aren’t misled into thinking paid-for content is independent. Remember, anyone asking you to be dishonest does not have your best interests at heart – are you sure you want to do business with them? (If you’d like to know more about no-follow links and how to use them, you can download our free guide to making money from your blog)

Our message to brands is – bloggers are a great community and deserving of your respect. Take time to build relationships and generate word of mouth conversations around your client’s brands. We work on lots of fun, engaging campaigns with brands that don’t rely on sponsored content. Don’t ask bloggers to compromise their integrity, to meet your short-term goals. We’re worth more than that.

Have you experienced any of these issues in recent weeks? Have you changed how you blog as a result? Have you got any great tips on keeping income and integrity? Do let us know your suggestions – we’d love to hear them.

Sally Whittle is founder of the Tots100, Foodies100, BlogSummit and the MAD Blog Awards. When she's not working, she can be found blogging at Who's the Mummy, or having fun with her 8 year old daughter, Flea.

Discussion28 Comments

  1. OK this is scary! I don’t do sponsored posts but have in the past. Do I need to go back and change posts that are over 2 yrs old?

    • I don’t think it needs to be that extreme, but if you rely on Google for lots of traffic, or on your Page Rank for lots of income, maybe it’s worth thinking about editing any old paid links to make them no-follow?

      • I just checked and I don’t think I need to worry. I’ve done reviews but not sponsored posts. In my panic I got it muddled up! Not that it matters all that much I don’t make an income from my blog nor do I get a lot of traffic from google. Thanks for the great information Sally. You always have our back!

  2. I have had to turn down many review and sponsored post offers recently because they are insisting on DoFollow links. I am really not willing to take the risk but I do think that it will leave me with no review or sponsored post offers soon.

    • I don’t do sponsored posts or paid links on my blog AT ALL, and never have done. There are other ways to make money from your blog, honest!

  3. I was using nofollow links until recently when two companies emailed me afterwards and asked my to change to them to follow links. I posted on Twitter about it and heard from someone who said her she never uses nofollow links and nearly all of her traffic comes from Google so she doesn’t think it does any harm. I don’t really understand it all but would it not be pointless for the company if nofollow links were used? I don’t want to take any chances but the extra money I earn makes a real difference to my life at the moment. It’s a tricky one!

    • I would be wary of taking advice from someone on Twitter. There’s always plenty of people who smoked for 50 years and lived to be 100, but you know by smoking you’re taking a gamble. Same with the follow links – just be aware of the risk you’re taking and know the consequences.

  4. To be honest I don’t really understand all this as I have never even been asked to do a sponsored post (wish I had been – would love to make some money from my blog as hubbie might be a bit more supportive of it) but I do do some reviews. Do the links in reviews need to be no follow or doesn’t it matter? Does it make a difference if product is free or if you just want to review something you liked or disliked that you paid for? I have never used them and only recently realised that I could do them on blogger! Please can someone explain further – thank you ! x

  5. Perhaps parent bloggers can now return to the halcyon days of writing about their parenting experiences?

    I for one would welcome it, my own blog included :)

    • I think it will be interesting if we see a swing away from paid links and posts towards more word-of-mouth PR campaigns, certainly – that tends to always result in more interesting content from my point of view, as a reader. Interesting times!

  6. I’m in the same boat as Rollercoaster Mum there, I’ve never been paid for writing and an offer has never been made. I actually even write for a local glossy free. The thought of being paid someday sponsored or otherwise is almost a pipe dream for the majority of us blogging.
    A lot of opinion around atm that if there ARE so many bloggers that WILL write your product review etc for free why pay?
    It’s a shame that your content and talent/skill for writing isn’t given more weight.

    • And so say all the writers of the world! It’s an old argument, and one we’re unlikely to win any time soon – but this turn of events may signal a change at least.

  7. This is a really interesting post, thank you. I have wondered about this a lot over the last few weeks as I am getting more and more requests to do sponsored posts. My family, quite frankly, could do with the money so I have been doing them and not doing no follow links. My page rank never seems to rise or fall but isn’t particularly high and I have never really purposefully tried to increase it because I am happy with my traffic, although like anyone I wouldn’t say no to more.
    At the moment, sponsored posts are my only source of income through my blog as I rarely get approached for adverts, so I am reluctant to say no. However my blog and traffic are important as well- it is hard to know what to do.

    • It is tricky – but I think the important thing is to have the information. Then you can make an informed decision – it’s calculated risk, but I think many bloggers who need the money are leaving the follow/nofollow rule alone, and biding their time to see what happens.

  8. Like Nickie my head is spinning from this as well, make them no-follow, don’t make them no-follow. Label them sponsored/advertorial/featured/guest/other? I just wish that PRs were worrying about this as much as us.

  9. I agree with Nickie- all this talk is very helpful. I was on the verge of agreeing to sponsored post at the beginning of the year but changed my mind because I didn’t feel it was where i wanted ‘to go’ if that makes sense. Now I’m grateful I didn’t. I adore word-of-mouth-type approaches as they will always be written with genuine praise, whereas it can often be hard to come up with content for sponsored posts that sounds genuine or natural.

  10. Exactly – what everyone does is entirely up to them, the important thing is to have the knowledge so you CAN make your own choice, and that it is an informed one.

  11. Sadly, PR’s are just worried with fulfilling the brief their client has given them, and making sure they get paid this month!

  12. I’m not getting sponsored posts much these days but am receiving lots of stuff to “review” and also being asked to promote competitions etc on facebook through my blog posts. Where do I stand with these ? am I ok with links to the companies in question ? So confused (easily done )

    Thanks as always for being on the ball and so generous with sharing your knowledge Sally and team xx

  13. Pingback: That old issue of transparency again: bloggers vs PRs on sponsored content | Wadds' PR Blog

  14. Transparency is an issue… will SEO bods be open and honest about the number of bloggers they are approaching to post identical links when approaching a blogger?

    How do we know if the ‘specially written content for your blog’ is a one off or contains the same keywords and links of hundreds of others?

  15. How is this breaking ASA regulations, it’s not illegal to include a link within a post that you write and it’s not shady to encourage a mummy blogger to write a bit of positive content, this is called Public Relations which Political Parties businesses and the likes have done for years! This post is merely to encourage moral panics among mummy bloggers!!

    • Hi Sara

      ASA regulations state that where you are paid to publish content by a brand, this must be clear to a reader, or viewer. That’s why you’ll see the word “advertorial” used sometimes in magazines and newspapers to indicate content is paid for. The same applies online – if a publisher is paid to publish content then they must disclose that payment. If you Google Handpicked Media you’ll see they fell foul of exactly this issue.

      Of course bloggers can and should use links in articles and posts – there’s no law or rule to say otherwise. However, bloggers MUST disclose payments for posts/links, whether it’s in goods or cash, and this is not optional.

      The issue of whether these paid links are follow or no-follow is entirely separate. We know that Google asks publishers to make paid links no-follow but this isn’t a legal requirement. If a blogger chooses not to adhere to Google’s request, then the worst that will happen is potentially losing Page Rank or being de-listed by Google. That’s a choice for each blogger to make for themselves – we just think it should be a choice based on accurate information, rather than the slightly shady arguments sometimes put forward by SEO Agencies looking for easy ways to build links to clients’ sites!

      • Surely these regulations only apply to big media agencies and not hobby mum bloggers who make a bit of cash on the side. All due respect the ASA are unlikely to come down hard on Mum bloggers, they’ve got bigger fish to fry. I own hobby sites and if the ASA come knocking I’ll take their advice with a pinch of salt.

        The fact is disclosing that a post is sponsored or paid for is a huge spam flag to Google and will demote the site, (bit ironic considering bloggers ask for payment if you ask me but that’s another subject altogether) would it not make sense to have a disclosure page sating you accept sponsorship which isn’t indexed by Google and have that as a no follow link at the bottom of the post to adhere to the authorities and keep Google in the dark?? Be interest to hear your thoughts!

        • I suspect we’ll have to agree to differ on this one.

          If you’re paid for content and you’re selling links then yes, you’re vulnerable to action from Google. But if you’re taking that risk in full knowledge of the potential consequences then I’ve no issue with that. I don’t like bloggers being misled by shoddy SEO agencies because bloggers DO get caught out and have been de-listed and had their Page Rank removed.

          I do have a much bigger issue with a lack of disclosure. The law is there to protect consumers, and readers are entitled to expect honesty from a blog. I don’t mind HOW you disclose – you can use a disclosure page, you can use a statement, an image, or simply explain in the text of a post, “I was provided with a free sample”. There’s no one way to meet the requirements. In my experience, I don’t agree that “paid for” or “advertorial” content leads to sites being demoted in Google – providing the content is unique, high-quality editorial, Google’s unlikely to have an issue with it, and if the links contained are paid, then they’ll be no-followed anyway.

          As an aside, I hear lots of people tell me they know how to out-smart Google. And to be honest – I don’t fancy their chances much. From what I understand of how these things work, Google’s looking at the link in the post, rather than the words ‘sponsored’ or ‘paid’. So that paid-for follow link is FAR more likely to attract attention from Google than your disclosure page.

          As with all things, it’s a personal choice. If you understand the issues and feel comfortable not disclosing a payment, then that’s really a matter for you, your readers and the ASA to resolve, not us! And if you want to take paid links, and you understand the potential consequences, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t do so.