from the shameful dept
Okay, everyone, sit back, relax, and strap it down, because this is going to take some time, but it's time well-spent. I don't know if I can call myself a blogging veteran or not at this point, but perhaps the fact that there are apparently people and companies out there that pay blog and website writers to include links to client websites within their posts comes as a bit of a shock to me. First, I'm curious as to just how useful such an arrangement could be. Second, and more important, who the hell would want to risk their credibility as a writer for a couple of bucks and some links?
Yet, according to this report by Gawker, that appears to be exactly what's happening, and it appears to be happening at some serious players in the web journalism space.
These firms are hired by clients to enhance their Google results and overall SEO. The firms then offer to, essentially, bribe writers at various websites to place links to their clients in editorial content, because Google looks kindly on such links when calculating search rankings. The writers get paid; the links go in quietly; the cash is slipped into Paypal accounts; the news organizations are never informed. It's stealth marketing, and it's designed to deceive both the employer and the reader. It's an unethical scam.Now, this all started when Gawker's Hamilton Nolan received a letter from one of these shady firms, inquiring as to whether he'd be interested in such an arrangement. From there, Nolan essentially strung the emailer along to milk as much information as possible from him, and then posted the exchange on the Gawker site. The company, Backlinks.us, claims to charge hundreds of dollars for this type of "work", which also includes spamming blogs with comments, manufacturing social media bookmarks, and utilizing buffer sites for forum backlinks.
Now, as Nolan kept at it, he was able to get some information out of the Backlinks rep. It's all couched in language designed to keep from appearing too shady, but it's fairly transparent how dirty this whole thing is.
Hi Hamilton,Lest you think this is some kind of line-walking on an ethical ledge, it isn't. As soon as a writer takes payment to specifically include links surreptitiously, with no mention of the post or links being sponsored, you've sold yourself to the devil. It's over, your credibility is gone, and you're off the list as a trusted source of information (and probably violating FTC regulations). More to the point, a willingness by a writer to engage in this kind of thing is even more damning as an indication of what else you could get him or her to do for a bit of coin. It's why most website operators (and I've confirmed this would be the case with Techdirt as well) would immediately shit-can any writer who did this kind of thing. Something Rock from Backlinks is well-aware of:
thank you very much for a quick response. The arrangement would be that we give you a keyword and URL and then you write an article that is relevant to that keyword and embed the link inside the article with the keyword we give you. Like I said, we are not looking for promotional posts, but for high quality informative posts that have a link back to our specified site. You can also link out to sites like Wikipedia and similar to make the article the best it can be. Would that be of interest to you and if so how much would you charge per such an article?
Kind regards, Rock.
We are looking to establish relationships with authors directly. Sure, run it by your boss, but he will most probably said you can't do it because the company will want a piece of the pie. That is why we are looking for direct relationships to authors. : In any case, let us know if you decide to want to work with us. We would be happy to have you in our team and you would probably also happy with earnings some more money each month by doing what you are doing.No, he or she would say you can't do it because it's less ethical than punching a nun in the crotch, and that's pretty effing unethical.
Now, look, there are all kinds of shady bastards out in the world and there's probably plenty of people looking to bilk small-time folks on the internet for their ethics in exchange for some pocket money. But, hey, it's not like any writers for sites of any stature would do this kind of thing, right?
Yes, we are doing this on HuffingtonPost, ChicagoTribune, UTSanDiego and other such big news sites so the Gawker wouldn't be any different... The compensation would be $50-$80 per post that you write. How does that sound? Here are 2 HuffingtonPost.com posts that were made for us. The first one is: [Link], here the keyword of our client is freelance writer (which links to our clients site) and the second one is this one: [Link] here the keyword that is linked to our client's site is UppSite.While both are HuffPo links as examples, if there's any credence to the Chicago Tribune and UT San Diego being involved with this, amongst others, that's a serious problem. Not because including links for pay in and of itself is a horrible scandal, though it is pretty bad, but because it indicates a willingness to break from ethics for money when it comes to the content of stories. That's a huge problem. I won't go to the Chicago Tribune, my home newspaper, without thinking of this story each and every time.
Now, it should be noted that the Gawker post was later updated with a response from Rock of Backlinks, who hurriedly said that all his previous emails were lies, that his examples of clients weren't actually clients at all, and that he was just trying to make the company look impressive. That may be true, but it might not be. The very admission is proof that Rock is a liar, either in his early statements or those that came later, and you'd expect him to disavow his client-writers to protect their reputations even if they were in on the program. In other words, his denial doesn't really solve any of the mystery or worry here. This isn't to say you can't trust anything you read on the web, of course. You just have to use your head, gather multiple sources, and analyze actual facts for yourself. Or, if you're lazy, just read everything I write and take it as gospel. Because it is.