Let’s Look At The Ethics Of Some Sponsored Posts!

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Despite it being 2014, sponsored posts are still rife.  We all know it; anybody working in the industry will see examples of it on a regular basis.  Big brands and agencies are still at it. It’s embarrassing for everybody to see, but it’s actually a lot worse than that.  It’s very dangerous.

In the olden days sponsored posts were very easy to detect.  They’d usually fall into one of the following camps:

1)    The posts would use keyword rich anchor text.

2)    The posts would be very off topic; for example, a casino post on a mummy blog.

3)    There would be a disclaimer at the bottom of the post, highlighting the fact it was sponsored.

It is more difficult now to spot sponsored posts. Companies and agencies who choose to take this path are generally a lot more careful on the nature of the sites they get involved with, and try hard to blend in their sponsored post amongst many other links. Let me give an example,  take a look at this blog post.


The topic of the post is all around keeping children entertained & stimulated / educated during the summer holidays.  It’s on a parenting blog, so a very nice fit.

First of all, this is an openly declared sponsored post as shown by the last line in the post (below):

The second thing to point out is that the article contains 7 do follow links.  We have a crystal clear guideline breach, but who exactly is it breaching the guidelines?
The links are:

First of all, it is very unlikely to have been the BBC.  I think it is a safe bet to rule links 1 and 2 out from the start as belonging to the offender.

Link number 3 is a genuine children’s education resource site, ran by a single individual who gives the collection of user contributed resources away for free.  It is very reasonable to assume that this individual is unlikely to be behind the sponsored post.

Link number 4 points to phonicsplay.co.uk.  This is owned by a private company (Phonicsplay Ltd).  It is very on topic, and they do look to target both parents and teachers with their service so a sponsored post would be in their interest.  Let’s put these down as a maybe on our list of suspects for now.

Link number 5 belongs to an individual, and it’s a very basic affiliate site.  Whilst being very on topic, I would say it was very unlikely that this site was behind the sponsored link.

This brings us to link number 6, Netflix. Obviously a large business with a very good childrens program offering.  They run large online marketing campaigns using a combination of in-house and agencies.  Could this be part of their marketing campaign?  Let’s put them down as a maybe.


Finally, we have link number 7 – Virgin Media. If any link is out of place, it is clearly this.  If I was a betting man, I’d put my money firmly on this.

Obviously, I can not prove this 100% and this is the very point.  Nobody can prove this 100%, but there are a limited number of potential likely scenarios which led to this post.

1)    Netflix paid for the post (or compensated the blogger somehow), and threw in a link to Virgin Media Broadband in a bizarre and poor attempt to somehow “deflect” any criticism.

2)    An agency managing both Netflix and Virgin Media campaigns decided to kill 2 birds with one stone, and put both clients within the same sponsored post.  The fact that you can find other sponsored posts which link to both sites in a similar way certainly adds weight to this theory.

3)    Virgin Media paid for the post, and linked to other genuine resources as part of their “making it look natural” strategy, and they considered Netflix a genuine resource (which it is).

4)    The BBC, Phonicsplay Ltd. or one of two individuals compensated the blogger for exposure, and felt particularly generous and gave out additional links to Virgin Media broadband.

However, the real question here is – Has website A put websites B, C, & D at risk by involving them in their link building activities?  We know SEO penalties are rife for poor link building practices, more so now than ever before.

In reality, it is very unlikely that a single link on a single sponsored post is going to get any website a penalty, either algorithmic or manual (I’d love to read case studies of this if anybody knows otherwise).  However, there is the potential for trouble should a few sites start including some of these links into their sponsored posts.  I would love to hear where things would stand from a legal perspective on this.

This example serves as a clear reminder that you need to watch your brand mentions and links like a hawk, and update your disavow file whenever anything remotely suspicious is spotted.


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