Google have obviously been clamping down on paid links during the last year, but it now looks like they may also be taking a stance against blog reviews made in exchange for free gifts!
Just in case you haven’t heard of this; a recent popular strategy has been for website’s to offer a free gift in exchange for bloggers reviewing and linking to a product. This appeared to be treated differently from paid blog reviews with many people assuming this to be a tactic considered acceptable by Google.
One website which openly uses this tactic is SumoLounge.com, successfully generating hundreds of backlinks in exchange for a free product, often a sumo beanbag chair.
However, Google now appear to have stripped Sumo Lounge of their Google PageRank (notice the toolbar image below). No obvious ranking penalties have been applied and internal PageRank is still active, but this may act as a warning to website’s looking to offer a similar incentive to gain links from bloggers.
I can understand why Google would treat these type of reviews in the same way as a paid blog post, but it will almost certainly be very difficult to police. Google will need to ensure they only penalise websites where the sole intention of offering a free gift is in order to receive a product review backlink, otherwise how can they differentiate between this and a christmas gift?
So what do you do now?
I think it’s a fairly safe bet that if you rely heavily on one type of link building strategy (whether it’s via directories, articles or blog reviews) you’re likely to create a backlink profile which appears unnatural to the search engines. Having a widespread mix of different type of links is far more likely to have a positive influence towards search rankings. Although entirely speculative, it’s also possible that Google will be more lenient if paid links only account for a small percentage of overall backlinks, perhaps resulting in paid links being devalued instead of a ranking penalty applied.