Bloggers who receive products to review for free could be hit by a change in their search rankings if they don’t follow best practice guidelines laid out by Google. 

A new Webmaster post published on Friday (March 11) outlines that any blogger who trades coverage on their site for a free product must do three things: use nofollow tags for links, disclose the commercial nature of the post and ensure their content is unique.

While the last point may come as a given, the first two could see some serious penalties dished out to sites that fail to state the brief terms of the exchange. Searchengineland points out that Google will often dish out manual penalties to those neglecting best practice following a notice.

With this typically happening within the space of a few weeks, bloggers have little time to make sure all of their content is playing by the rules, or face a hefty slide down the SERPs.

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With blogger outreach becoming all the more important for brands, it is common practice for a member of the marketing team – typically a PR – to dish out products for ‘influencers’ to review. 

A good link can generate a serious amount of traffic, while a productive outreach campaign can spread the word to hundreds of thousands of potential buyers at the cost of handing out a selection of freebies.

The growing popularity of this technique has even had an impact on affiliate marketing, specifically when it comes to publisher recruitment and trying to convince bloggers to earn via affiliate links rather than settle for the relatively simple pathway of trading links for free items.   

But some sites may be set to rue the mistake of not disclosing the nature of brand relationships after Google’s repetition of the search rulebook. 

It will now be up to these bloggers to trawl back through their site content and make sure every link back to a supplier is tagged as nofollow, and every relationship with a brand highlighted clearly.