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V7N Contextual Links – a First Impression Review

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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):

  1. 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.
  2. Bloggers are not required to (or encouraged to) write directly about the advertiser they are linking
  3. 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.

He writes:

“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.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Liam says:

    While agreeing completely with your reservations Darren, it should be said that it probably won’t be too long before the major search engines consider such links part of bad neighborhoods.

    I know it might seem impossile to distinguish between a “paid” contextual link and a genuine one – but ultimately when your heart isn’t in it – just like with reviews – even linking will show cracks that the search engines will find.

    And when that happens, goodbye to rankings.

  2. I thought disclosure was now required by the FTC for all Word of Mouth marketing. The lack of disclosure makes this look a little too “SEO”.

  3. Dave says:

    I cannot see how this can benefit, in the long run, any website or blog. Short term monetary gain is going to be offset by a long term mistrust by your visitors.

    I want to know if a link to a site is an advertisement (ie adsense), recommendation (ie aff link) by the writer, or a link to something of interest. Blind links to products is of no benefit as far as I can see (is that a bad pun?) – Unless the link is clearly an affiliate or advertising link, how can I trust the link not to take me to one of the V7N Contextual Link advertisers.

    As the blogging world tries to move towards greater transparency for its readership, does an advertising network that wishes to remain secret (as such) really have a place?

  4. jhay says:

    Hmm…that really separates them from the other ad networks, no disclosure policies. Similar to Blog to Profit, but the disclosure is an option for the bloggers. Black hat seo? ;)

  5. Edgar says:

    Yes, it is clearly BlackHat. I’m really concerned about this! I do SEO myself, but this is under the belt against SE-s, becouse i can not imagine a single way how SE-s will detect this. Am I wrong when I belive it is truly undetectable?

  6. Darren says:

    Other issues aside, it’s a little risky selling links forever. From their FAQ:

    “The publisher is contractually obligated to make a good faith effort to keep the link active on the website for as long as the web site exists.”

    At least with Text Link Ads and the others, you can remove the ads if you one day decide to. For example, if the search engines devalue your site for running them, you could remove them in order to try to regain some trust. You wouldn’t have that option with V7N ads.

  7. Ken Cheung says:

    Interesting. This morning I read a post on Matt Cutts blog about V7N and “undetectable” links/spam. You’ll get banned when you get caught:

    http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/undetectable-spam/

  8. Rob Witham says:

    I have to agree with you Darren. I would view that type of advertising as deceptive (or awfully close to it) and as a reader it would leave me with a bad opinion of the blog. As a blogger I certainly would prefer to steer a very wide course around anything that might compromise the integrity of the site.

  9. Brad says:

    Personally I am not concerned about what is good ethical blogging. So long as the backlinks are relevant and benefit both the advertiser and publisher – it doesn’t bother me so much.

  10. Dave Starr says:

    First of all, if Google doesn’t like it, I don’t either. Too much money to be made from Google in fields outside the insular world of blogging about blogging.

    Secondly, like the majority of commenters I do have a policy to disclose anything I am being paid for.

    Third, (and this goes especially to Brad’s comment) “… benefit both the advertiser and the publisher … “. Your viewpoint is valid, Brad, but let me tell you what I (and a lot of readers/forum moderators/etc) do when I click on a link and find out it’s going to some 100 page sales letter site, or some other spammy venue. I go back to the originating site, memorize who seems to be responsible (remeber on the Web nobody really knows who anyone is) and if I got to the deceptive site via something like a favorite or RSS feed, I delink from them. I also make note of the advertiser as a place to avoid.

    Now would I necessarily know that I was being sent somewhere via a V7N link? Not sure, but given the consequences if I do find out, can you tell me what the “benefits” might be?

  11. John Scott says:

    Needless to say, I do disagree with you about the ethics of it. I think that bloggers deserve to make money from their efforts, and Adsense pays very little. Nobody is hurt by inserting a relevent link into the post, and since we ask blogger to not blog about the site they link to, there is no issue of “bought and paid for endorsements”.

    Of course Google is not going to like it. They prefer disclosure so they nuke sites that participate.

    Nevertheless, I do appreciate you posting your honest opinion of the service. Thanks, Darren. :)

  12. gaman says:

    They will have to change their policy otherwise they will have hard time getting bloggers to sign up especially those who are concern about their honesty or have read http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/undetectable-spam/

  13. Nick says:

    Are they joking? number 3 alone, is enough to slap a few fines on them… The FTC people are no boyscouts…

    I’d definitely steer away from any unscrupulous companies willing to put me in the target of the FTC..

    But, most importantly, your readers… you develop a good relationship with your readers, and in turn you lie right in front of their face…

    RED FLAG!!! THIS IS NOT A GOOD COMPANY!!!

  14. John Scott says:

    FTC? Are you kidding? Link sales have been happening for years and the FTC does not give a hoot.

  15. Don says:

    Well, I can see both sides of this issue. I personally would not/do not pitch anything on my sites just because I’m getting paid to. I only promote products I’ve used and like or that close friends have used and liked.

    However, I don’t see blogs in the blogosphere coming back from the commercial side. I don’t see any harm in a “commercial blogger” selling his/her wares on a commercial blog. Web surfers should be aware of, or made aware of, a commercialized site when the come upon it.

    I think most of us are knowledgeable enough to know a b.s. post when we see one. We should also be able to spot “spamming post”.

    Just my two cents worth,

    Don

  16. I saw many times that people purchase or sell text links in blog posts contacting directly and nobody ever had anything against it.
    Why is this service flagged as spam if it is provided by 3rd party? Even better, they review both sides and keep quality of products and advertising spots that way.
    If you are blogging about seo, why wouldn’t you get paid to insert relevant links into your posts?
    If you think your readers wouldn’t like advertising in blog posts why you keep adsense in it? Personally I hate adsense in blog posts and never click on it or place it on my blogs.
    From what I see, there is a chance that you already signed up with Contextual links and you are paid for link to it in your post above. If this is not the case, you are missing 10$ and there is no other difference.

  17. Bernard says:

    As such i do not see a problem as long as the links are actually offering extra value for the readers, so all depends on what advertisors they will be working with. Time will show.

  18. Good lord, who made that horrendous “logo”!? Bleck.

  19. Ajeet says:

    Hey come on, let bloggers make some money, man! :)

  20. Emily says:

    a program that will not let its users say if they are involved in it – why would they do this unless they were trying to hide something? Dubious – unethical – spammy.

    I can see some bloggers using it but not ones who are trying to build genuine community on their sites.

  21. James Trotta says:

    I understand (but don’t share) your concern with #3, but why would 1 and 2 be concerns?

    1.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.

    (I do believe they check Alexa rank and the quality of the blogs in the program. Only an amateur would go on PR alone)

    2. Bloggers are not required to (or encouraged to) write directly about the advertiser they are linking

    3. Bloggers are not allowed to disclose that the link is paid for.

  22. James Trotta says:

    Sorry, one more thing. Can you check the accuracy of this statement: The author of Aviva is one of the people behind V7N?

    I know the owner does business with v7n but I don’t think he’s part owner or anything like that.

  23. Darren you have a big banner with text-link-ads on this blog.
    v7n in my point of view is doing the same like text-link-ads.. so what’s the problem? The problem is where the link is? In footer? in sidebar or in body? The footer and the sidebar are the ethical parts? :)

  24. Darren Rowse says:

    James – I don’t have a problem with 1 and 2 in isolation – but when you put it all together it just seems to clash with the way I blog and the way I see many bloggers blogging.

    Also – check out this post where Aviva Directory blog claims to be a partner of John on the launch.

    Tudor – the difference with TLA in my books are two fold:

    1. The links appear on a sidebar and not in content where they can be confused with the blogger’s opinions and recommendations. For me content is about communicating a message, sharing information or providing useful things for my readers.

    2. I use TLA with a ‘sponsored links’ or ‘partners’ heading – something TLA encourage and don’t force me not to do.

    IF V7N would even give me the option of acknowledging that links are paid I would have been more positive about it but – they are the only ad network that I know who force bloggers not to be transparent in this way. That’s the main issue I have.

  25. Jeremiah says:

    I have started asking questions about all this stuff on the v7n forum, as I have recently tried out the program and am already having ethical issues about not being able to disclose the fact that it’s paid blogging. So far, I’ve been able to put a snarky satirical spin on each post which is in context with my overall blog’s focus, but I am beginning to think this is not going to be good for my blog in the long run.

  26. mrrob says:

    Darren- I just came across V7 contextual links and was a bit skeptical myself. Glad I googled the key and found your site. I knew I’d find something of value here as I always do.

  27. Just came across this post. It’s about 8 months on and there is now the -60 penalty for selling links. I wonder how programs like that reviewed above are doing now

    Thanks, by the way. It is great to come across successful blogs that support ethical marketing. Shows that we don’t have to resort to scrapper sites and link farms to succeed in this business

  28. Anthony Cea says:

    This is just one of the many John Scott scams over the years that include spamming Digital Point forums along with the owner of Aviva, buying signature links and avatars to advertise their “Google Killer” V7N contextual.

    Too bad for John Scott that Google and the truth killed his grand scheme and major fraud, John was a master link farm promoter along with Aviva Directory, their fraudulent promotions of interlinked directories lead to Google banning many directories that were heavily promoted on Digital Point along with a guy named Mike Dammann (Blogmaster, SiteTutor, Firetown, BlogParty, FrogEngine, DirectoryContest, DirectoryConvention and a ton of other forum user names and link farms), John and Aviva hired this clown to promote their scams on Digital Point.

    The real kicker is that John Scott suckered Lee Dodd out of 220 grand for that piece of crap link farm network and got out before anyone found out the real truth.

    If Shawn Hogan of Digital Point was not such a censor (Shawn banned me for no real reason other than exposing his and Crazy Rob’s ineptitude), I would have exposed all these con men on Digital Point, but as we know, Shawn has a lot to hide and protects con men and allows them to defraud the webmaster community openly.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Contextual Links – Another new advertising system for blogs that launched this week. It’s a cross between Text Link Ads and Pay Per Post, and is already receiving criticism. Since bloggers are paid to link to certain sites from their posts – and they’re not required to disclose that the link is paid for, the service raises some major ethical concerns, says Problogger. I tend to agree – in fact, getting paid for a link seems even more problematic that getting paid for a whole post. [...]

  2. [...] Darren Rowse, also pointed out his view about this service, also giving it negative comments and predictions(we will be back on some of his words latter) and Jeff Behrendt responded again. So did John Scot, also one of the owners of this program. Facts: [...]

  3. [...] Originally Posted by glengara TWIC, John Scott has started a Blog Link Ads type service Contextual Links @ V7N No affiliation etc….. I think Darren Rowse was looking at that this week: V7N Contextual Links – a First Impression Review __________________ Armchair.ie | work|Blog Tips|Seo tips|EU Domain ScandalTechie Toys| Gadgets Do you want your vbulletin site to be search engine friendly? Click here for info [...]

  4. [...] Paid links – what is a paid link? What isn’t a paid link? The old debate reignites. [...]

  5. [...] * Darren has posted an initial reaction to the controversial V7N Contextual Links Program. Matt Cutts also does a little fear mongering. I’ll probably be using it as an advertiser. And yes, I’m a little shifty. [...]

  6. [...] Contextual Links – Another new advertising system for blogs that launched this week. It’s a cross between Text Link Ads and Pay Per Post, and is already receiving criticism. Since bloggers are paid to link to certain sites from their posts – and they’re not required to disclose that the link is paid for, the service raises some major ethical concerns, says Problogger. I tend to agree – in fact, getting paid for a link seems even more problematic that getting paid for a whole post. [...]