Best practices for bloggers reviewing free products

As a way to market themselves online, some companies offer blogs- that either partly or fully lend themselves to product reviews- free products in exchange for favourable online reviews and occasionally testimonials. The situation is widely perceived as win-win with the blogger benefitting from the free product while the favourable review increases the company’s online recognition and exposure.

Free product review blogs came to the fore in the US when the Federal Trade Commission published guidelines requiring that bloggers disclose the full nature of their relationship with the companies behind the products they advertise.

The success of free product reviewing as a means of advertising has increased the need for the regulation of this kind of blogs.

Google, on March 11, published a notice on their webmaster blog highlighting guidelines to bloggers receiving free products from manufacturers on best practices’ to avoid getting penalized by the search engine.

Failing to meet the guidelines could even end up causing some of the blogger’s articles not to show on Goggle search. The three practices are listed below.

Use nofollow tags on the link

The nofollow tag was first introduced in the early 2000s as an instruction to search engines not to follow the particular link. When manufacturers offer free products to blogs in exchange for reviews and testimonials, they request that the blogger links back to their company home page, their social media pages or affiliate pages.

Google required that bloggers use nofollow tags on such links because they were not organic. According to Google, since the company had to provide a free product or free service or pay for the links to exist, then they were artificially generated. The blogger, however, is not required to introduce nofollow HTML attributes for everything on their blogs; just the affected links.

Google also suggested that since the penalties for contravening this guideline would be far reaching enough to affect even the sponsoring brand’s online visibility, the companies needed to play their part in by reminding bloggers to appropriately use the nofollow tags.

Full disclosure of the relationship

The guidelines also required that users be informed when they are viewing sponsored content. This is already a legal requirement in some countries which require that bloggers disclose when content is sponsored. The purpose of the disclosure, along with following Google’s guidelines, was also to inspire trust from them.

Google also recommended that the disclosure of the relationship between the blogger and manufacturer be placed at the top just in case users didn’t finish reading the whole article.

Create Original content

It is important as a content blogger aiming to create a successful niche blog that you offer visitors on their blogs a compelling reason to come back. This can be done either by providing useful exclusive well-researched content that no other blog has to offer, or by covering a unique niche that you are the go-to source of information.

In typical Google fashion, the search engine sent out penalties to product review blogs during the weekend running from April 8th to April 10th, just a few weeks after putting up the notice. Google sent out manual actions to the bloggers that failed to take heed of the guidelines posted on their webmaster blog.