The SEO industry and Google have long agreed paid links are bad practice. Recently the search giant has expanded their definition of paid links to include links in advertorials, and has penalized Interflora and posting guidance to search marketers.
At the same time in the advertising industry, there is an ever-increasing amount of talk about native advertising as the next big thing. Native advertising is a term with many vague definitions, but most experts agree that it includes advertising that is more relevant and adds similar value to the content it is placed within.
So a well written advertorial, which provides value to its readers, would be considered native advertising and a good thing. That is, unless it includes a link. More specifically, a “link that passes PageRank,” per Google’s policy. In that case, it opens the advertiser for penalties in ranking in Google’s search results.
Even this would be all well and good, except for one more little catch: Who makes sure that links in native advertising do not pass PageRank? This is a technical implementation and the responsibility of the publisher. I’m not sure it’s fair to expect the advertiser to be savvy enough to know which links pass PageRank and to check every advertorial placement to maintain good standing with Google.
Furthermore, I’m not sure this is really in the spirit of Google’s guidelines. Frankly, I question if Google just isn’t behind the times. Native advertising sets itself apart from traditional advertising, both in approach and in results, because it is valuable content in and of itself. If that’s the case, then what relevance is it the content is paid-for? How is that any different from a publisher paying its web host to host their website?
As demonstrated by the recent Scientology debacle in The Atlantic, native advertising will only succeed if there is a degree of editorial control on the part of the publisher. Without this editorial oversight, the industry will destroy this “new” medium before it gets off the ground. From Google’s perspective, this editorial oversight should add a degree of credibility and make for a somewhat reliable signal for ranking results.
Contrast this with an irrelevant banner ad which ads no value to the reader and is simply paid to be placed on the page. Clearly, this link is of no value as a signal to Google.
So if native advertising is not the fad some in the industry see it as, something has to change. Either advertisers had better get smart about the inner-workings of SEO or Google needs to rethink their judgement of native advertising and advertorials.