Google: Nofollow links and disclose when reviewing free products


Google has released some new best practices for bloggers who review free products that they receive from companies. In summary, these should be treated as paid links and NoFollowed, in addition to the writer disclosing the relationship to the reader.

The main issue here is that Google has noticed that many blogs or review websites are accepting free gifts \ free products from companies in return for providing a link back to the company. As you probably already know, providing links in return for payment or services is against the Google Webmaster Guidelines, in particular, the rules regarding Link Schemes.

An example provided by Google in their guidelines state that the following link scheme can negatively impact a site’s ranking in the search results:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link

Best Practices

The new best practices provided by Google relating to Links in return for Free Gifts are as follows:

1. NoFollow Links back to the Company giving the Gift

Links that pass PageRank in exchange for Goods or services are against the Guidelines on Link Schemes (as we mentioned above). Google has found that companies quite often urge bloggers to link back to the following:

  • the company’s website
  • the company’s social media accounts
  • an online merchant’s page that sells the product
  • a review service’s page featuring reviews of the product
  • the company’s mobile app on an app store
  • the company’s mobile app on an app store

Google’s argument is that if it weren’t for the offer of the free product in return for these links, then the links would never have been given. As such, all these types of links should use the NoFollow Tag.

While we agree with Google that in most cases this is probably the case where product reviews have been done, we query the situation when reputable review websites that for completeness of coverage would have reviewed the product regardless of whether a free product was offered. Surely, in this case, the argument that the links would never have been given is flawed.

We believe the warning has been given in part due to low-quality spammy reviews being written specifically for the purpose of obtaining the free product (thanks to companies seeing an easy way to acquire links), and as such we may see Google take more stringent enforcement of its existing guidelines on Link Schemes. As such, we recommend you follow these guidelines going forward.

2. Disclose the relationship

It is in Google’s interest to provide accurate and helpful web pages in its Search Results. As many users wish to know when they are viewing sponsored content, Google has taken the view that they would like to see the fact that you have written the review in return for payment or a gift disclosed to the reader.

In the United States, there is a legal requirement to disclose the fact that the author has received compensation (whether via a gift, monetary payment, or as an affiliate) when a product is promoted via reviews, rankings or testimonials.

An example of a clear disclosure is as follows:

Disclosure: We are a professional review website that receives compensation from the companies whose products we review. We test each product thoroughly and give high marks to only the very best. We are independently owned, and the opinions expressed here are our own.

Also, the disclosure must be clear, and not require the reader to click on a link, scroll or hover to learn that you have received, or may receive compensation for the review \ product.

3. Create compelling, Unique Content

Google reiterates the need to provide value to the readers. You can do this by becoming the go-to source of information for the topic area, cover a particular and useful niche, or provide exclusive content based on your unique expertise or resources.

We will be happy to see your thoughts

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