Backlinks in Blogger Competitions and Paid Links

Aintree Races Image Source

Aintree Races
Image Source

In the time that I have been blogging, I have received countless emails asking me if I’d like to enter a competition for bloggers, some come from in-house PR and Marketing departments, while others are from outsourced agencies.  Generally speaking, entry involves blogging about something along a theme, for example a dream holiday destination or race day outfit, and linking back to either the competition page (which is on the company’s main website) or to another page on the website of the company who are hosting the competition, for example, using ‘ladies day at Cheltenham race course’ and linking to a betting website.  These competitions really blur the line between public relations, marketing and bloggers.

In my early days of blogging, I often thought it strange that it was the aim of a campaign to get a fashion and beauty blogger to link a vaguely related post back to a betting website that was completely unrelated to their blog. I would then question the point in including a link to a page that my readers wouldn’t value. As a blogger, when I usually link a website from my blog it is because I want my readers to go over to the page to check out the item I have talked about and perhaps buy it for themselves, therefore, where is the sense in linking to a site that my readers wont have an interest in and wont click-through to? Afterall, they wouldn’t go into Top Shop looking to place a bet so why would they expect to read a fashion blog and place a bet? That was when I discovered backlinks.

You can read all about backlinks and my thoughts on their future here.  But in essence, when it comes to backlinks, it is the quality of the backlink that is important which is determined by the content of the site that the backlink has come from, most specifically, if the content of the site is relevent to the content of your site then the link will be considered to be of higher quality than if the content were to be completely unrelated. For me, as a fashion and beauty blogger, if my website is linked on another fashion bloggers site or if a quote and link to my blog is quoted on the press section of a beauty brand then those backlinks are deemed to be quality links whereas if a backlink to my blog was created on a website about farming, it wouldn’t be considered to be of good quality.

Now, back to those competitions I mentioned earlier. I’ve seen it done well and I’ve seen it done particularly poorly.   I usually remain impartial when it comes to Twitter chats about such subjects but I’ve been sat on the fence for too long getting splinters in my arse so I thought I’d chuck my two cents worth in and let you know what I think works and doesn’t work from my experience.  That’s not to say that what I think is correct or best practice or even that Google would approve, it’s just my thoughts.

In my opinion, the best blog about this to potentially win this approaches come from PR practitioners and that’s because the approach runs alongside something that’s newsworthy that I would blog about anyway, for example such and such a brand have launched a new whatsit, or thingymabobby are having a sale.  Generally, a clothing brand will get in touch with me and let me know that they’re holding a competition to win a £500 shopping spree on their online store and all I have to do to enter is to create a wish list style post picking my top five things from their latest sale.  Now as a blogger, I don’t mind this approach as it is a good fit for my blog because I already write about fashion and create wish list posts on my site.  I see it as mutually beneficial as I am selecting my favourite pieces from the sale and alerting my readers to it and the brand is getting a quality coverage and backlinks.  I can’t possible cover every fashion find out there in outfit posts, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford my internet bill, so doing a wish list of items I like and how I would style them is a great way for me to bring more fashion and style tips onto my site and ive found that my readers appreciate me letting them know about great deals I’ve found.  If I do these kinds of posts, I’m not doing it to enter the competition as I’d have more chance of being run over by a bus; I’m doing it because the fashion items and the announcement of the sale are relevent to my blog; they’re newsworthy to me and my readers.

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot Image Source

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot
Image Source

I’ve seen countless tweets from bloggers talking about how being asked to enter competitions like this is ‘poor PR practice’ but I don’t agree as long as the content is relevant to the blog that it would be written on. Generally such comments are followed with ‘theres always a budget’ which any of us working in PR will know that that is not always the case depending on where funds are allocated and ‘I’m not going to work for free’.  I’ve often tried giving the text-book response about PR being an earned media, blah di blah, but sometimes its best just to keep out of the Twitter banter and remain impartial.

What I don’t agree with is blogging to enter a competition to gain a backlink when it comes from a marketing company because generally speaking, the website you’re linking to is pretty much unrelated to the content of your site and there is no new announcement to be made to make it newsworthy.  Plus, those companies don’t want you to tell anyone you’re entering a competition, they simply want you to create the content and stick the link in there; it’s all very backhanded for backlinks.  If I had a pound for every time I was asked to link a fashion blog post to a betting site for the chance to win two tickets to Ladies Day I wouldn’t be sat here writing this blog post.  The sole aim of that marketing person getting in touch with me is to increase the number of backlinks to that website in a vague attempt at manipulating SEO results.  They don’t care that my blog has nothing to do with the company they’re working with and they’re not bothered about the quality of my post as long as their link is there.  Although, surprisingly, I may still write the post and the deciding vote is whether or not the marketing company will pay me to write it because in the vast majority of cases, there IS a budget when marketing is concerned.

Being paid to write a blog post or more specifically, being paid to post a link, is undoubtedly dodgy ground, especially where Google and their guidelines are concerned.  Bloggers who agree to publish a post with a paid for link are essentially adding fuel to the fire but unfortunately that’s the times that we’re living in at the moment and while I’m ashamed to say it, on a blogger to blogger level sometimes its a case of, if you can’t beat them, join them as long as it is right for your blog and your readers.  The internet is so dynamic that such techniques will certainly not be around for long before but those websites that have quality, organic and natural backlinks will always remain.  Google hates paid for links because essentially you’re manipulating search engine results as explained by one of the Google Webmasters below.  Instead what these companies should do is buy an ad instead that doesn’t contribute to page rank or make the link ‘no follow’ which I think is best practice.

Quite controversially, I guess I’ll tell you how I fell into writing the odd post with a paid for link.  Now when I’m talking about the odd post, I literally mean two or three posts a year out of the many tens or hundreds of emails I receive annually, although that doesn’t make it right.  I caught on to what the marketing companies a few years ago were doing when I was asked to write a post about what I would wear to Ladies Day, linking back to a betting site, in order to enter a competition to win tickets to a particular Ladies Day event.  It was then that I realised that the marketing agency will have either got these tickets for free or for a very low price out of their budget and by getting lots of bloggers, regardless of the size of their readership or page views, to write a post and link their intended website, they were in effect manipulating SEO results in a way that was positive for them but negative for Google as the blogs they were targeting had nothing to do with racing or gambling.  It was then that I decided to try to manipulate the manipulates by responding to their email detailing that I wouldn’t care to enter the competition however I could turn the topic into a sponsored post for them.  I was surprised at how quickly they replied with the fee that they would be willing to pay me.

Now it might sound bad of me to accept a link that is paid for but I don’t do it without careful consideration.  Firstly, the vast majority of my readers are over the age of 18 and can therefore legally gamble.  I don’t condone or recommend gambling and I certainly wouldn’t encourage it on my blog but I have spoken in the past about going to a casino and the outfit I wore there.  I have also spoken about going to Ladies Day and I have shown the outfit that I wore to Ladies Day.  I know from feedback and comments that I have received on my blog that many of my readers like to go to Ladies Day and they also find such outfit posts helpful for attending other fancy occasions such as weddings and christenings.  With that in mind, me creating a post to give my readers outfit inspiration for such events isn’t going against the grain of my blogs content, is it not?  The way I see it, I’m giving some earned media coverage to brands that deserve it- for making cute clothes and accessories that my readers will love and that I want to put in an outfit inspiration post.  I’m not being paid to recommend a service and I’m not encouraging my readers to directly click on the link to the racing site, I’m simply embedding a link to it and lets face it, the amount of click-throughs they actually get from it is minimal, if any.  I also offer full disclosure on all paid for content so my readers know exactly where they stand with my blog at all times and my feedback from them is that they like that as they know that it is up to them whether or not they click-through onto any links in the post.

In my opinion, my post may contribute towards the SEO efforts of that site but the value really lies in the content created by giving my readers inspiration for outfits that they can wear to special occasions they may have coming up and that worthwhile content wouldn’t be there if I had just chosen to insert any ol’ paid for link into a random, irrelevant post.  There are some occasions where I have written a sponsored post for a marketing agency, who had first asked me to enter a competition, only to be contacted by them several months later asking for the link to be removed completely because they’d had their hand smacked by Google.  The valuable content remains on my blog indefinitely and provides a fashion resource for my readers in the future however the marketing agency have wasted money on a link they can no longer have which makes their work in the first place a waste of time.  Surely the best practice would be to market the brand or the event itself in order to gain organic, natural links in the first place?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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The Future of Backlinks in SEO

When you create an inbound link from one website to another you have created what is known as a backlink. In short, it’s all about Search Engine Optimisation and let me tell you, the world of SEO revolves around backlinks.

Websites want as many quality backlinks to their site as possible as search engines like Google look to backlinks as a way of determining how popular or important a website is.  If a website has lots of backlinks going to it, search engines deem that particular website to be more relevant than others when it comes to the order in which websites will appear in search results. Of course a company wants to appear as high up in the search results as possible, I mean come on, who actually gets to the bottom of the first page of results on a search engine, let alone onto the second or third?

However what defines a quality backlink?  Generally its to do with the content of the site.  If you’re a blogger who writes about beauty, a link to a website about computer programming within your content wouldn’t be considered to be a quality link because the content is completely unrelated to one another.

Quote from Google's Matt Cutts. Image Source

Quote from Google’s Matt Cutts.
Image Source

As in the Matt Cutts quote above, organic, quality back links take a long time to emerge but are the most beneficial to a website and I think its bad practice when some companies try to mass manipulate SEO results by trying to get unrelated websites to link back to their site. While there are varying degrees of success with this approach, it actually violates Google’s guidelines which you can read about here.

Google and other search engines want the results that are generated to be relevent to what the person has searched for and popular because the popularity can show how helpful the page was if lots of people have found it to be of relevance to what they were searching for. Backlinks are one of the major players in determining what search results are found however Google aren’t stupid, they know that there are companies out there that are trying to manipulate the results by getting their link on as many websites as possible, regardless of whether or not they are relevent and they are taking steps towards stopping this from happening. As a blogger I have, on occasion, written a sponsored post for a marketing agency only to be contacted by the same agency less than a year later asking for the link to be made ‘No Follow’ or to be removed completely because they’ve had their hand smacked by Google.  While the beauty of being a blogger is that your content is your own, unedited thoughts, you’re generally blogging without qualifications in the field and its only through reading outside of your blogs topic, about SEO and how page ranking works that you realise how you should and shouldn’t be operating as a blogger.  I think that’s how a lot of bloggers are used by marketing companies because in a lot of cases, those professionals are relying on a lot of new, inexperience bloggers to blindly post backlinks to their site.

Backlinks really do help to ascertain the reputation of a site but it what is also very important is the quality of the content on that page. I think that ultimately, backlinks will not become obsolete until Google has worked out a way to search for the information that relevent backlinks provide without having the use the backlinks themselves. Google’s never-ending quest ultimately leads towards developing Google into more of a conversational piece whereby it can understand language more so than an order of keywords.

What is certain is that the internet is full of links and it is impossible to get away from them.  The best websites will always have organic, natural links leading to them simply because of how genuinely great they are and they don’t need to attempt to manipulate SEO in order to gain a higher page rank.  There is talk of Google taking the relevance of backlinks out of their search results but recent trials were found to yield, poor, unrelated search results, as discussed in the video above, so at least for the time being, backlinks are here to stay.

What do you think about the future of backlinks?  Are they here to stay or is their time running out?  Let me know in the comments!


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