August 22, 2014

Blogging Networks Can Expand Your Reach, Influence, and Income

Getting paid for a blog post may seem like a pretty good deal if you are a new blogger. Receiving free products in lieu of payment has its upsides, too. There are many ways to go about this, but one of the popular methods, although controversial, is to join an influencer network.

An influencer network is a new way of saying that you are a hired gun. You are a blogger or vlogger who agrees to publish reviews for money or free product and to disclose it within FTC guidelines.  Many times, you’ll do this work because a public relations or social media agency hires you on behalf of its client – thus, you are in their network.

Let me restate that this can be a controversial way to build up your blogging business. Google recently gutted other companies like this because it considers these blog networks to be “content farms” designed to enhance a company’s PageRank through “spammy” (read: paid for) links. I link to a story on this topic at the end as well as several other SEO-posts that can help the small business owner sort it all out.

I don’t believe that these programs are wrong or bad. I think they provide an opportunity for savvy and honest business people to monetize a blog. You have to exercise good judgment when deciding if a network fits with your overall plans and if you want to accept payment (cash or product) for a “sponsored post” versus regular online advertisements or Google’s AdSense ads on your website.

Here are four to take a look at:

BlogFrog is one of the industry leaders in the influencer marketing space. They help advertisers (brands) identify and recruit topic-based social media influencers. Their platform includes a searchable database of more than 100,000 social media influencers, a knowledgeable community for quickly building successful campaigns, and tools to monitor and measure the effectiveness of social influencer programs. You have to apply to join the network and they base their decision on your topic and your web traffic.

Clever Girls Collective is run by, well, four clever girls in the San Francisco area and you have to give them credit for a high energy, savvy, and somewhat cheeky approach to influencer marketing. I hope they create a Clever Guys one soon. You apply to join the network and while topic and traffic are important; they appear to look carefully at how you will fit in with their major brand partners (an all-star list found on the case studies page).

SocialSpark is pretty organized. You sign up, then they provide you with offers or leads from advertisers. They call these “opportunities” which outline the advertiser details. You can then accept the terms or negotiate. You write your post and it is submitted to the advertiser for approval. Once published, you earn points, which can be redeemed for cash via PayPal. Simple application form.

Klout is another form of network where you can earn rewards based on your influencer scores. It is called Klout Perks. Klout is pretty well known for their Klout score and many bloggers are addicted to seeing it go up or upset when it goes down. Their entire algorithm is controversial and causes a fairly regular stir in the blogosphere when mentioned. You don’t really apply — just by signing in via Twitter or Facebook you become eligible for “perks” based on your Klout score.

To make this a practical post, I asked a friend and professional blogger, Jenny On The Spot, Jenny Ingram to share a few insights with our readers. Jenny is part of BlogFrog, BlogHer, and other well-known networks and has given me advice before on building a blogging-based business. She does product reviews occasionally for which she is paid in cash and/or product.

Jenny explained that each review, each brand’s request, is something she considers carefully and on a case-by-case basis to make sure there is a match for her readership, her audience. The reader has to come first. She stated that product reviews, even ones that send you “free” product to review, “come with a real cost – your time and effort. As a blogger, you have to decide if this path really works for you and if you’re running a hobby blog or a business.”

Adding revenue streams to your blog can be a good idea for some small businesses. Just be sure that you understand the FTC guidelines as well as the impact on your site via Google.

More Resources for SEO and Linkbuilding

Miranda Miller has an excellent post at Search Engine Watch that explains a fair amount about building links and sites that have been “de-indexed.” The one site that is most often cited is BuildMyRank.com, which has reportedly been issuing refunds to subscribers after Google de-indexed them.

You can also go through the Google Webmaster YouTube channel that shares lots of good ideas for optimizing your website through officially acceptable means.

Three of my favorite SEO link building posts from Small Business Trends contributors:

1. Why SMBs Shouldn’t Fear Link Building by Lisa Barone.

2. How to Choose the Right SEO Tactics for Your Small Business by Tom Demers.

3. 5 Tips For Being Naturally Good At SEO by Lisa Barone.

What do you think? Are influencer networks a good way to build income and a reputation for your blog?

More in: 13 Comments ▼

TJ McCue - Product Editor


TJ McCue TJ McCue is the Product Editor for Small Business Trends and an entrepreneur who publishes Tech Biz Talk. TJ is a former Wall Street Journal columnist. He also writes for Forbes and American Express OPEN Forum. He loves learning about technology apps and software services - share yours with TJ.

13 Reactions

  1. Hi TJ, Thanks for covering this controversial topic.

    I would emphasize and highlight that there’s a big difference between disclosing when a post is “sponsored” — and accepting money/something of value but NOT disclosing it.

    As you point out, here in the U.S. there are Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules requiring disclosure.

    In addition, there’s also the Google issue. Google’s Matt Cutts recommends that if you accept money, you use “rel=nofollow” in your links so that it is clear that it’s not a case of accepting money to game PageRank or rankings for a particular term. Otherwise, Google may take action, including demoting the site or penalizing the party that paid the money.

    In the case of Build My Rank, which you mention, those were links being bought and NOT disclosed as paid links. So I think that’s a huge difference.

    Another difference with Build My Rank and similar “link building” networks is that often the blogs were pure spam blogs. Most consisted of nothing but spammy links and stolen content, with no real readership and no purpose other than to serve as a container for buying/selling links. Or as Miranda put it in the article — it was a case of “unnatural backlink profiles.”

    To recap these 2 points — disclosure and “nofollow” are very important parts of the mix if you decide to accept money for paid reviews or sponsored posts. They maintain credibility and protect the parties from adverse action by Google.

    - Anita Campbell,
    Small Business Trends

  2. Completely agree, Anita, and thanks for the additional explanations. Well stated.

  3. I’m okay with these types of operations. Just because someone is being compensated doesn’t mean they aren’t being honest. As long as the relationship is disclosed then it’s up to the reader to determine how much weight or trust they’ll give the post/review.

  4. Thanks for clarifying, Anita. I would never consider Clever Girls (which I’m a part of) in any way related to a “content farm.” Glad you drew the distinction so well.

    I’ve seen things change quickly for brands and bloggers once the Penguin update hit. While I used to get asked to use keyword anchors in my sponsored posts (which I refused), I don’t get requests for it much now. I’d also like to clarify that some folks choose to keep do-follow tags in their code, which hasn’t seemed to be a problem for them, as long as they are authentic and original in their anchor text choices (not bending to the SEO whims of a link placement agency). For example, I would see no problem linking back to ABC Food brand’s website with “ABC Food brand website” as the anchor text. That makes sense, and doesn’t seem like a search term that would alert Google to any underhanded dealings. (Plus, Google still relies on humans to help determine search rankings. If we don’t use anchor text responsibly, it leaves it open for others to abuse it, no?)

    • Hi Linsey, I would hope that people now realize that there’s such a thing as trying to be “too smart” about anchor text.

      In the real world, links come with all sorts of anchor text. Example: they don’t all say “buy dog food” for a site that sells dog food. Some will use the brand name of the website such as “Doggie Delites.” Some will have the URL. Some have anchor text with words like “read more” or “go here.” Others may legitimately say “buy dog food.”

      It is totally unnatural to just have anchor text that says one or two search-motivated phrases.

      I hope people now see the futility of unnatural anchor text. But I am not so sure everyone has caught on.

      - Anita

  5. I think the biggest problem is that Google isn’t very clear on what it constitutes as a purchased link. Is it outright buying a link, a guest post where you paid for the placement, or an advertisement/advertorial spot(newspapers have been doing this for years online). Any platform that doesn’t have a human audience in mind first, (private blog networks, most article directories)should be avoided.
    As Anita stated, disclosure is important….there needs to be a clear distinction between paid placements and natural placements on your website.

    • Hi Gary,

      Thanks for your comment. It seems to me that Google has actually been fairly clear. Buying links; buying “guest posts”; buying advertorials or sponsored content; buying paid reviews — anytime money is changing hands in exchange for publishing something, it seems to me Google’s Matt Cutts has been pretty clear on it.

      I remember a few years ago that outfits like “Pay Per Post” were downgraded. A site that I acquired a few years ago came with several paid reviews that had not been disclosed on the face of the site. I remember it because I spent the better part of a Saturday reviewing all posts and deleting all of the paid ones that came through Pay Per Post. :)

      Yes, it is very important for a publisher to keep everything clear and mark an article “sponsored” or use some other unambiguous designation if it’s been paid for – otherwise you could bring grief down on your head. There are enough landmines in running an online business without adding that.

      - Anita

      • Lol, yes…it’s definitely a minefield out there. I think my main issue is that the rules are always changing, what is acceptable today could get you in big trouble tomorrow when Google decides to change the rules. People who are knowledgeable about SEO, like yourself, can recover and make adjustments….but what about the typical small business owner who hasn’t stayed up with the algo changes? I’m not just talking paid inclusions, but anchor text, site wide links and other activities which were ok a few years ago but are now frowned upon.

        I totally understand why Google has to keep making changes, SEO’s tend to beat things to death (take infographics) until Google finally has to come out and say enough, we are now going to devalue that tactic as it’s gotten way out of hand and it’s no longer a natural way to do SEO.

        I’m ranting here, but thanks for listening Anita! Have a wonderful weekend!

  6. Question…..I see that Google is potentially penalizing blog rolls and other sitewide links. How does it differentiate between paid advertising (button ads) and non-paid? Is it the use of no-follow attributes?

    • Hi Dave,

      I would hope Google would look at the overall credibility of a site before downgrading blogrolls and sitewide links. There are plenty of legitimate places that still use blogrolls or add links in a footer to a site for a good reason that has nothing to do with selling links.

      For instance, we have a small number of sitewide links, but they are either to sites we also own or they are for a particular reason such as displaying the Better Business Bureau rating or another rating or honor we are proud of and think it’s important for readers to know about. No one is paying us for them, and for the most part they are image links anyway. If Google is going to penalize us for a few selected things that serve our business and our readers well, then I give up!!!

      - Anita

  7. Thanks Anita, i’m just so confused as to what’s right and what’s wrong!

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