Published On: Tue, Nov 17th, 2009

The Business of Buying Off Bloggers

There has been a lot of talk lately about buying off bloggers. This murky practice involves individuals being paid by PR agencies and SEO specialists to basically write nice stuff about a client. This in turn creates the illusion of independent third party endorsements, as well as scoring highly on search engines.

For some more background you can read two good posts on this topic by Laurence Borel who spoke out after being offered £70 in exchange for some kind words in her blog, whilst Matt Churchill offers some in-depth analysis on the ethical and sustainability issues surrounding this practice.

Whilst, I too  had a recent approach from a SEO agency that put its motivation more crudely, a lot more crudely, it read ‘the reason that these blog postings are valuable is that, when they are linked to websites, those websites will achieve higher rankings in the search engines. Then those websites will sell more of their service or product. Those websites are willing to pay for your assistance’.

To me this is a black hat, underhand tactic if ever I saw one. Not only is it unethical, but could damage the trust, openness, the raison d’etre of blogging. I can see no difference between this practice and the infamous Edelman/Wal-mart fake blog. Whilst ‘paid for bloggers’  may involve ‘real’ people, I’m under no illusion that this tactic is just as bad as the Edelman/Wal-mart blog fiasco. In both instances there is no disclosure, audiences are being lied to and the blogger is guided on what to say – it is classic astroturfing.

Blogs are SEO friendly so it is not surprising that unscrupulous agencies are trying this tactic. However, I cannot help but feel that companies would be better off either investing in a product or service that people really want to blog about or carrying out some in depth analysis to target bloggers who would be genuinely interested.

This practice has made me question my own motivation to blog…I write SWT as I like to state my views and hopefully stimulate conversation. When someone offers me a story, I think about it, evaluate if it is relevant to the blog and if I can get any mileage out of it. I don’t do it for financial gain.

Whilst, I don’t mind people suggesting a topic, being paid to do so would call my impartiality into question.

About the Author

- Marketing Manager with a passion for inbound at HubSpot, Founder of Growth Hack Talks, Blogger at and Chief Quaffer at .

Displaying 9 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Lolly says:

    Hi Ben,

    I can’t believe SEO agencies also do that sort of stuff! This is an absolute disgrace!

    The whole point of the social web is to be able to recommend products to peers, or on the other hand, have a moan when things go wrong.

    Bloggers might as well hand their WordPress login details in exchange for money, so that the agency in question can write the blog post themselves!

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by bencotton: ‘The business of buying off bloggers’ [from my blog]

  3. Ben,

    As a blogger and an SEO exec. I am only mildly surprised by this, it really highlights some of the black hat techniques that certain (not be named) agencies undertake and is a shame as it gives the whole industry a bad name.

    I definitely support the position you’re taking and hope other bloggers have the same sense of integrity!

  4. Ben Cotton says:

    I think this is an awful practice. My experience centres on a company that unashamedly flouted good ethics with wonderfully short sighted statements like…

    ‘We will not accept postings with notes indicating the posting was paid for or is a sponsored posting (or any other language that communicates this point). If a note exists elsewhere on your blog that speaks of paid or sponsored listings, that’s ok, it just cannot be on or near the posting done for XXXX, and the postings that you create for XXXX cannot be in a “Paid” section of your blog’.

    This practice is advertising (plain and simple) masquerading as something very different e.g. genuine third party endorsement…as soon as money changes hands you cease to be a third party. There is a horrible lack of disclosure – deliberately misleading consumers is never acceptable and needs to be stamped out.

    This is the latest manifestation of the fake blog and whilst it may be a ‘real’ person blogging, if you are effectively being told what to say by PR people, it is not your blog anymore.

    In Rob Brown’s useful book ‘Public Relations and the social web’ he talks about the new ethics within PR…these companies would do well to get their hands on a copy.

    Disclaimer: I was not paid a fee to mention Rob Brown’s book.

  5. […] 17th November 2009: – Matt Churchill: PR agencies must not pay bloggers – Ben Cotton: The business of buying off bloggers – Peter Sigrist: Blogging could disappear as quickly has it has risen Share and […]

  6. 2This practice is advertising (plain and simple) masquerading as something very different e.g. genuine third party endorsement…as soon as money changes hands you cease to be a third party.”

    This is the key point, people reading blogs are looking for a recommendation – by all means advertise and be sponsored, just show a banner to let your readers know!

  7. […] The business of buying off bloggers « Social Web Thing […]

  8. Sal A says:

    The Edelman Wal-Mart fiasco is just the tip of the iceberg – if you look just at Edelman you see a long list of these types of behaviors. Since they are frequently cited as being one of the more savvy online flacking agencies the others must be doing even worse things? A quick review of other Edelman blogging fiascos on behalf of their clients include such links as:

    * “Burger King fires secret bloggers”
    * “USA Innovations and Thai Myth blogs tied to PR firm”
    * “Microsoft blog influence blunder…”
    * “PR firm launches blog offensive for GMO giant Monsanto…”

  9. Very good information thank you.
    Bookmarking this page.

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