Here's the conundrum. Search engine marketing requires links. Links can be hard to come by. Blog reviews are a great way to get links. Blog reviews have the added bonus of carrying the power of word-of-mouth recommendations. That said, it can be hard to catch the eye of a blogger and to get them to write about your products. The solution? Buy your blog reviews. At least that's how some people see it.
As someone who makes their living by writing for two blogs, I have an appreciation for both the difficulty of building up a business based solely on advertising and for the power that a single blog post can have. I've written about companies on both my sites and had feedback that let me know that those posts generated a lot of traffic, a lot of interest and even a lot of buyers. Both of my sites feature product reviews...sometimes of products that I've purchased, sometimes of products that were sent me to specifically so that I would review them.
However, I've never made a blog post that was bought and paid for.
I've considered it. When pay per post services first started popping up, I gave thought to serving up a few advertorials with clear disclaimers attached to them. I even went so far as to register at the various pay per post sites to see how they systems worked. Every few weeks I get an offer to earn $50 if I'll make a post about a certain product on my hobby blog. It would be a nice supplement to my income for a few minutes time, but once I thought it through it just felt...well...wrong. I've worked hard to build up a level of trust with my readers and I'd feel like I was betraying that if I blogged about a topic because someone cut me a check.
Apparently some people feel the same way.
The Los Angeles Times has an interesting story this week about paid blogging services that takes a good look at both sides of the issue.
On the one hand, bloggers and marketers love it. The bloggers earn money (some of them quite a bit of it) and marketers get their products in front of customers and get a personal recommendation from a trusted source to boot.
She has earned $7,743.54 since signing up in July, shortly after the Orlando, Fla.-based marketing firm was launched, by promoting such things as wireless outdoor speakers and online coupon sites. The part-time job has helped her pay for a wall-mounted TV, dishes and a family ski trip.
"People talk about how we're destroying the credibility of the Internet," Caldwell said. "Let me tell you — there are a lot worse things happening online."
On the other hand, some people are concerned about the potential impact on the blog world if it becomes too easy to buy opinions...
"The problem is the advertisers are trying to buy a blogger's voice, and once they've bought it they own it," said Jeff Jarvis, a City University of New York journalism professor who writes about technology at BuzzMachine.com.
"PayPerPost versus authentic blogging is like comparing prostitution with making love to someone you care for deeply. No one with any level of ethics would get involved with these clowns," said Jason McCabe Calacanis, an entrepreneur who co-founded Weblogs Inc., a network of blogs that includes popular technology site Engadget.
While most pay per post services now require full disclosure, and the Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings stating that pay per post entries must be clearly disclosed, the rules are pretty loose about how a blogger must disclose the purchased content. Some bloggers simply include a small logo or text bit somewhere toward the bottom of the page that explains that some content may be purchased. Others include a clear disclosure statement in every post.
Some pay per post supporters have suggested that the practice is really no different from purchasing paid search engine ads or from paying for product placements inside TV shows and movies. Since most bloggers are not credentialed journalists, many claim that they have no ethical guidelines by which they should abide, opening them up to more opportunity when it comes to accepting these types of advertisements.
How this new marketing channel will flesh out in the coming years remains to be seen. Quite a few other controversial marketing tactics have gone mainstream after initial bouts of skepticism and there's no reason to think that pay per post blog advertising might not follow suit. Part of it will depend on how clearly these paid bloggers differentiate their posts and how tolerant their readers are of a bloggers need or desire to earn a profit.
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Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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