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Matt Cutts and I sat down for a conversation after his keynote earlier this month at PubCon. We spoke for quite some time about Google’s policy surrounding paid links and specifically the use of no-follow tags. I have to say that I like Matt and I enjoyed our conversation. However, I don’t completely agree with what he had to say regarding sponsored content.

I explained to Matt that in SocialSpark all links required by an advertiser would carry the no-follow tag. I thought this would be a great thing. Matt commended the decision, but then added ALL links inside of any sponsored post should carry the no-follow tag period, regardless of whether they are required, not required or even link to the advertiser paying for the post. That means if Nikon pays me to review a camera and I link off to a site about photography that link needs to be no-follow, along with the link to the blog of my buddy the photographer. His reasoning was that the sponsored post wouldn’t exist without the sponsor paying for it, therefore all the content is commercial and should be no-follow.

The ramifications of that statement and policy didn’t hit me until I was on a jet back to Orlando. Is Google really saying that all content that is commercially driven by a sponsor should carry no-follow tags? Let’s look at what that would mean at a higher level.

1. Every link on this blog should have a no-follow tag.
2. Every link on the IZEA corporate site and millions of other corporate sites should have a no-follow tag.

The fact is a huge amount of content on the web is sponsored in some way. I am paid to blog on the IZEA blog as part of my salary. I largely write about and link to things with a corporate agenda, whether that be linking to a blogger in our network, a promotion, or another IZEA owned website. None of the content I create would exist without payment to me, and while I am not paid on a per post basis the content I create is most definitely influenced or driven by this company.

Under Google’s policy all of the content I create on behalf of IZEA should carry no-follow tags, regardless of whether there has been actual payment for any individual link. So now it’s not just paid links that require no-follow, it becomes commercial content in general because “it wouldn’t exist without payment”.

When we announced we would require no-follow links in SocialSpark I was really excited. In fact I still am as I think it is the right thing to do. But no-follows on all sponsored content just doesn’t sit right with me.

If we decide to enforce no-follows on all links where does it end? How/where/why does Google draw the line between bloggers like me and those when get paid on a per post basis? Am I exempt because I am on salary and they aren’t? We are both driven by our sponsors, I just happen to work full time for mine and blog exclusively about them. I am not required to link to anything and either are they, but under this scenario I should be using no-follow for every link.

I titled this post An Invitation to Google, MSN, Yahoo and because I want to hear what all the major search engines have to say on this subject. Matt, if you are reading this post and I have got anything wrong here please correct me.

IZEA is still committed to no-follow on advertiser required links in SocialSpark. We have already put a no-follow option in PayPerPost. However, I would like to get some input from the other engines, bloggers, advertisers and search experts (would love feedback from Andy Beard, Danny Sullivan, Rand Fishkin, Aaron Wall) before we commit to anything more.

Update: Great post by Andy Beard. “There is absolutely no way I can comply with these current new
demands, I would have to stick nofollow on every link within some of my
most popular and highly rated content.”