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The risk in paid for links

SEO practice leaves brands and agencies exposed to legal challenge

Many brands may be inadvertently jeopardising their Google rankings and breaching Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) guidelines with their Search Engine Optimisation practices.

The practice of Search Engine Optimisation agencies (SEOs) paying bloggers for links and advertorials is widespread.  As our report ‘The risks in paying for links (and accepting payment for them)’ explains, however, these practices may expose the brands, SEOs and bloggers involved to legal challenge.

Many link-building practices have serious legal and commercial implications. A blogger who is given money to promote a product or service has to ensure consumers are aware they’re being advertised to.  Ignorance by brands is no defence. The ASA has made it clear that “ultimately the buck would stop with the advertiser”.  In addition to breaking ASA guidelines, there are potential commercial implications by breaching Google guidelines.  Google has demonstrated it will penalise the brand for such transgressions by ranking it lower in search results or, in extreme cases, removing it from Google search results altogether.

Bloom Agency recently undertook a recent statistical analysis which demonstrated that when they approached bloggers and website owners to invite them to host content on the client’s behalf, 75% requested payment.  Bloom’s policy is not to pay for content but the analysis serves to illustrate that there is a common expectation of payment for hosting such links.

Brands and agencies need a detailed understanding of where the boundaries lie and how they ensure they can deliver a legally compliant service.  For brands and agencies this means adopting a more rigorous approach to SEO contracts to protect both parties. For bloggers this means ensuring they don’t breach ASA, HMRC or trading standards guidelines.

Download our report on ‘The risks in paying for links (and accepting payment for them)’ here.

For a contract health check or advice on your SEO practices please contact Jeanette Burgess or Gwendoline Davies.

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