Updated – this post has been updated below with links to the responses from V7N Contexual Link Creators.
Today I took a quick look at a new contextual links program that seems to have been launched this week by the name of Contextual Links at V7N. I saw it in my RSS feed earlier in the week mentioned on a couple of blogs but didn’t think much of it (as a result I’m sorry but I can’t say what site I read about it on first). However a couple of days ago I was rung by John Scott (one of it’s creators) and asked to take a look at it and give my opinion – so I took a second look.
V7N Contextual Links is difficult to describe in succinctly – but what comes to mind is that it’s a program that is a cross between PayPerPost and Text-Link-Ads (as best I can describe it).
In short – it’s a way of advertisers to buy links (largely for SEO purposes) to their sites from blogs and websites that get paid $10 for posting each link. Links are placed ‘in content’ and need to be contextual.
I have a few concerns with the program to be honest (sorry John):
- From what I read, the posts don’t need to be new ones that you insert links into. As long as they are on a blog with a PR of over 3 and on the industry that the link is about they seem to be fine.
- Bloggers are not required to (or encouraged to) write directly about the advertiser they are linking
- Bloggers are not allowed to disclose that the link is paid for.
What concerns me about this program is that it seems to go against the basics of good ethical blogging (update – or at least my understanding of it). I personally believe in a style of blogging that is transparent to readers and where they are aware of what you get out of what you write. We’ve been over this ground with the PayPerPost controversies in the last 6 months and even they now have moved to a position where publishers must disclose paid reviews.
Some will argue that this is different to PPP because the blogger is not expressing an opinion about the linked product or service (ie it is not a review – just a link) but to me this still doesn’t sit well. In conjunction with these links being inserted back into old posts – it just doesn’t sit well as good blogging practice in my opinion.
It also could well end up being an illegal practice in some parts of the world with the recent statement of the FTC saying that ‘companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships’.
My desire as a blogger is to build a relationship of trust with my readers – not one where I try to slip by them links that benefit me but that offer them no real value.
My desire is to provide my readers with useful content – and useful links in that content to investigate that are relevant (not just contextual) to what I’m writing about and am trying to communicate.
While I can see why such a service would be attractive to advertisers – I’m not convinced it’s in bloggers or their readers best interests to engage in it.
But that’s just my opinion – what do you think?
Update – Aviva Directory Blog points to my post asking if I’m ethical? What his post has to do with me being ethical I fail to see – his headline fails to match with his writing at all and doesn’t leave me feeling any more convinced to give V7N a second look!
The author of Aviva is one of the people behind V7N and defends the system as being like ‘product placement’ in movies (and other media).
This may well be the case and ultimately it’s up to each blogger to determine whether that is the type of blogging that they want to get into.
Product placement annoys me as a movie goer – the latest Bond movie was so full of it that I could barely concentrate on the plot at times. But again – that’s just my personal preference as a consumer of media.
My personal style of blogging is where I attempt to provide readers with useful information to them. In doing so I like to be upfront about what is an ad and what isn’t. That’s just my style (and looking at the comments on my blog the style of many other bloggers).
From that perspective – I can’t use V7N ads on my blogs – because they do not allow me to disclose that a link is a paid one. It’s not even an option (even the most controversial systems usually give the publisher the choice to disclose).
Ethical? I guess that’s something that each individual needs to come to terms with. All I’ll say is that it doesn’t fit with my approach to blogging. I’ve tried in my review above not to slam it as ‘unethical’ but presented my own view and let my readers add their own.
PS: As Nick points out in comments below – Matt Cutts from Google today had something to say on this topic here in his post on undetectable spam – might be worth a read before signing up.
Update 2: John Scott has posted about my upcoming review of V7N Contextual Links (he’d heard about it before I published it – interestingly I only told one person that the review was coming out). He then updated his post after reading my first impression review.
“We do not ask for any opinions on the site. For example, if Google were the customer, the blogger would mention “search engine” and have it linked to Google. No opinion. No editorial. Just a link. Nothing to disclose.
Bloggers have to make a living like everybody else. AdSense pays a paltry wage, so why not supplement it with some V7N Contextual?”
I agree that posting a review of a product and being paid for it is different to just putting links in posts – but it still doesn’t sit well for me. I have nothing against making a living from blogging (I work my butt off to show people how to to do it) but I do want to do it in a way where my readers know where they stand with what I’m writing. When I link to something in my posts it’s like me giving it a vote of confidence (unless I do it in the context of giving it a warning). I want to link to quality sites that will provide some benefit to my readers.
Again – it’s just my opinion – something John asked me for when he rang asking me to take a look at V7N Contextual Links. It shouldn’t really come as a shock to anyone though that I’ve taken this approach as I’ve done it in previous reviews and interviews of other ad systems that didn’t want their publishers disclosing that reviews (with links in them) were paid for.
Ultimately though – the market will determine if I’m on my own with my opinions or not.