Influencer Outreach and Google PageRank: What Brands Need To Know
While many marketers are well aware that Google (and the FTC) wants influencers to disclose content that is sponsored or compensated, Google has also released blog posts and videos on the subject of advertorial content that gives additional instructions and warnings for brands conducting influencer outreach.
In these resources, Google mentions that when "money changes hands" with influencers, any links the influencer includes to branded websites should be marked "no-follow". This action discloses the paid relationship to the search engine, telling it that it shouldn't pass Google PageRank to what could be considered a paid link.
Although it's a little unclear how a brand could interpret “money changing hands” (if providing product is considered compensation), Google is reiterating that the influencer’s website and the brand website could be penalized in search results if an influencer discloses the content is sponsored but doesn’t make links to the brand site no-follow.
Risk to Brands and Influencers
What is the real risk if a brand or an influencer doesn't mark links to branded websites no-follow? The jury is still out. One UK based e-commerce flower company, Interflora conducted an outreach campaign leading up to Valentine's day in which they had influencers link to specific webpages in exchange for free flowers for posting these links. Google reportedly penalized Interflora for this outreach with an 11-day penalty in which the company didn't appear for any of its key search terms, including its own name. Google never released an official statement on this, and many online conversations still speculate on what really caused the penalty.
This said, many influencers and influencer networks have already chosen to avoid the risk altogether by choosing to make links no-follow on posts they may write on behalf of brands. Other influencers are choosing to take the risk because they feel that the Interflora example clearly required numerous influencer's to link to specific pages on their website in a specified time period. In other words - Interflora knew what they were doing and should've gotten caught.
Benefits Don't Outweigh The Risk For Most Brands
Our perspective is that for most large brands, the benefits don't outweigh the risk. Brands should work with influencers to ensure links to brand websites are marked no-follow. In return, the brand will still benefit from influencer content showing up in search results, additional site traffic coming from the influencer, and the awareness generated by the influencer's established community. This said, brands that use influencers with the sole purpose of increasing back-links need to take a moment and re-think their outreach strategy.
Finally, here is a quick tutorial on how to make a link "no-follow" in case you had trouble following.
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