Writing Honest Paid Reviews and “The Gonster”

The Honest Way loves to tell it straight, as it is, the honest truth and all that! So this may come as no surprise to my regular readers…

There is an alarming debate going on over the merits and possible problems associated with writing paid reviews for sites like PayPerPost, ReviewMe etc. I learned this from a recent post in my friend Grizzly Brear’s blog, Make Money For Beginners.

It stems from the recent page rank shake-up by “The Gonster” (I think you know who I mean!) where some very high profile blogs were slapped down in the rankings for selling links to make money…

Gasp! Make Money? How dare they!

Well, that seems to be the feeling at The Gonster, anyway. Of course this is still only conjecture, as no one outside of The Gonstser actually knows the whole truth. Maybe the likes of John Chow (who suffered a massive cut in his PR) were doing something else that rankled the Big G.

But as far as anyone can intelligently surmise, the PR cut in the big name blogs was highly probably because the search engines don’t like crappy sites buying links to boost their own page rankings. When you think about it logically it is an unfair way of getting a high rank and coming out as popular in a keyword search when your site is actually a pile of ads and misleading links. The search engines are trying hard to keep such sites from their high pages because when people search for something, they should get the most relevant sites first. Fair enough.

So it makes a lot of sense. Except like all corporate monsters, The Gonster is shooting the messengers, and not the perpetrators by penalizing people for trying to make money from facilitating this practice, which is after all simply exploiting an opportunity that has presented itself.

Isn’t that what business is all about? Making money from supply and demand?

Of course it is. And there will always be the ones who oppose it. Which is fine as long as the opposers don’t have too much power or too loud a voice.

But when a big voice booms “Don’t do that or you’ll be sorry…” we have a problem. The Gonster is that problem and they appear to be after hitting anyone who does not comply with their precepts.

“Resistance is futile…”

Well, that’s my take on the paid links bit, so how does that affect paid reviews?

Paid review sites have their own set of rules, one of them being that when they give you a link to include in your review (and they always do) they state that the link must not be altered in any way or the post will not be accepted.

Now, if your review was to advertise a company and to raise their profile by being exposed to your blog’s readership, which is how they do it in magazines and newspapers, then as long as the link sent some of those readers to the advertiser’s site, then the paid review has done its job.

But what if the predominant purpose of that paid review was not simply exposure, but to gain link juice from the link in the post, especially if it came from a high PR blog?

If that’s the case, which when you think about it makes all the more sense, then isn’t that the same as paying for links? Oh, dear – sounds like the same problem! The Gonster may well penalize naughty, misbehaving bloggers who are trying to scrape a living from the few dollars they make from writing these reviews.

Oh, oh.

As the message clearly sent out by The Gonster was to stop selling links or have your PR cut down, then anyone writing paid reviews must surely fall under the cosh as well.

So what can we do about it?

Well, at the moment, it appears that it’s not possible to distinguish a paid link in a review from a naturally given link love link. To muddy the waters further, some blogs write reviews of other websites and blogs for free either because they thought the site was worthy of it or they wanted to get the attention of the site so they’ll maybe link back by way of thanking them for the review. That’s something you can’t realistically penalize blogger for, because it’s all part of promoting yourself for no direct monetary gain.

If paid review companies want to stay in business – and let’s not bury our heads in the sand here, they will lose a lot of business if The Gonster has its way – they need to be more flexible in the way links are allowed to be displayed on blogs. One simple way is to allow the rel=”_nofollow” attribute to be added to the anchor tag. This effectively cuts off the link juice to the advertiser, but still allows the link to generate traffic to the advertiser’s site.

Another way is to get clever with the “full disclosure” directive. This is a measure enforced upon paid review sites whereby the reviewer must disclose that the review is sponsored and who by. The disclosure is usually in the form of text or a link, which can be read or followed by certain techniques – high tech ones like robots and text recognition and low tech ones like a person actually reading the text! Guess which one will be most effective across the billion or so blogs out there. Here’s a hint: There aren’t enough people to physically read them all.

So instead of a text or link disclosure, how about a graphic disclosure? PayPerPost actually do that on some reviews, but it falls down because they use a tinyurl.com link to the graphic on their own server, which is too traceable. Now if they got clever and gave that graphic disclosure bubble as a download to be linked direct from the reviewer’s blog’s server, not so trackable!

Well if it was MY business on the line, I’d be thinking along those lines…

To conclude. For now, it is probably still relatively safe to carry on writing paid reviews and I shall certainly continue for as long as I feel justified in doing so, as it brings me in some very welcome income that reimburses me for all the hard work I put in writing for my several blogs, sites, lenses and everything else I do online that takes up my 12 hour plus day sitting in front of this thing.

If I get slapped down for doing it, then what have I lost?

I still have my ever increasing traffic on all of my blogs which I attract by my own promotion – very little of it comes from The Gonster anyway – it’s all my own efforts and I like to think my interesting and informative writing skills that people keep coming back to see.

So I’ll take the money while it’s there, because it wasn’t there before and if it goes away in a while, then I will have made considerably more for doing it than I would have for not doing it. (If that made sense, then you have a brain as chaotic as mine!!!)

Here’s to your success!

Terry Didcott
The Honest Way