Are there any ethical bloggers left out there?

Are there any ethical bloggers left out there?

With your kind support, {grow} has become a fairly popular blog. With this distinction, I’m deluged with requests to do sponsored posts (companies offering to pay for their promotional content to show up as a blog post).

The scams seem to be getting more aggressive and extreme and I recently pointed out the example of a guy who flat-out lied to me just to get a back-link on this blog.  It makes me wonder … if there are so many people trying to pay me to turn {grow} into their advertisement, they must be having enough success to make it worth their while, right?

There must be a critical mass of influential bloggers out there accepting money for blog posts, otherwise these people would go away!

What follows is a word-for-word transcript of messages exchanged between myself and an actual company seeking a paid placement on {grow}.  I’ve only changed the real name of the writer and her company because I don’t need to embarass this person …

Hello Mark!

I am interested in content advertising opportunities on your site, Schaefer Marketing Solutions,because of its great pool of write-ups.

By the way, this is Susan Rafstein and I work for Synchristic

Our company is one of the most reliable guides for webmasters and website development in the market. We offer in-depth reviews of various hosting providers and other web-related tutorials.

Are you interested?



Thanks for connecting with me.

If I am reading your inquiry correctly, you are looking to advertise on my blog. Specifically, what do you have in mind?


Hi Mark!

You got that right. Actually, I’m looking for a possibility if you can do a review of our company, Synchristic Tell me how much would it cost us for you to publish the review in the blog area of your website.

Hoping you’ll consider.



Maybe this appears old-fashioned but I think being paid to do a positive review is unethical.



I’m sorry if that didn’t sound right to you Mark. That was just merely a suggestion–didn’t say that the review is gonna lean towards the positive side. But I bet that incase you do you it, we will do good.

Anyway, what about we do a guest post?



In all due respect, you are approaching this “pitch” in a disastrous way.

If I am unwilling to be paid to promote your company through a blog post, why would I do it for free? And how does one “review” a hosting company any way?

I have built my blog and my community on excellent content and I’ve built trust, in part,  by not allowing outside companies to convert these great people into sales leads.

Occasionally I do have guest posts from individuals who are active members in the community. I invite them to do posts because they have great ideas or to help them get some exposure for their own work.

However, I’ve never heard of you or your company before so it’s unlikely that I would unleash you on a community of people who have also become my friends.

I would invite you to read my blog, get to know the folks around here, and show up through comments before asking me to promote your content.

This is probably the same reaction you will receive from other trustworthy bloggers, or at least I hope so!  If you do a search on “how to pitch to bloggers” I think you will get much of the same advice I’m providing here.

Best wishes, Mark

Hi Mark!

Again, my apologies if I’m sounding a bit off in your standards. Thanks for the advice and I will take note of that.

I’ve been doing this for quite some time now and honestly, you’re the only one who had that reaction. But there’s a first time for everything, right?

Anyway, I’m concluding this as a negative response from you. Thanks for your time.


P.S.: Just in case you change your mind, you can send me an email anytime.

Another variation on paid content is paying for backlinks.  I am routinely being offered $100 per link, even if I sneak them into old blog posts.  And while it’s unlikely that many people would ever know about this, I would know about it and it seems … unethical.  Or is it?  Does anybody out there really care any more or are most bloggers link whores?

I’m also seeing a growing number of bloggers routinely featuring their customer in blog posts. Are they directly or indirectly being paid for these posts and links, or simply being polite? Do blog readers notice this like I do? Do they care? Are we just getting numb to it? Or is it smart business?

When I get inquiries like the one above, I wonder if I am that much out of step with the times compared to other bloggers.  Am I simply idealistic?  Stupid?  Surely I can’t be the only one taking a stand on this kind of graft, right?  What do you think?  Would you take the money?

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  • Evy Ramos

    This is a good question.  Are there?  I would venture to say not many.  But at the same time I have seen this done two ways.  One, you would never even know they were getting paid to blog.  Two, they openly tell their readers they are getting paid before getting into the blog post.  As a journalist, I would NEVER be allowed to do this as I would be fired on the spot.  Bloggers are only answerable to themselves.  I honestly don’t see a problem if the blogger is clear from the beginning that they are getting paid to review.  Just my thoughts.

  • It has become an industry. Our culture increasingly seems to feel that, if you get duped, it’s your fault. We assume everything is ersatz. You’ll laugh when I say this, but to me, this goes right along with the social proof engines. They’re shams, and I think they are precisely what real social media prevents or at least reduces the risk of. It’s about to get a lot harder to prove one’s reputation thanks to stuff like this. Meanwhile, it’s an arms race, pulling everyone down into the muck. 

    Journalists drew up codes of ethics and such, but no one believed them. 

    Eesh. I’m not sure you shouldn’t have named the person in question.

  • If a post fits to my blog (in topic and in quality), I am happy to receive guest bloggers. Quality means also, that the post should not be a pure commercial, but it is allowed to put in a link or two.
    I have no problems with link sponsoring, although this has been only once the case, as long as the link itself is not something dubious.
    Kind regards from Germany

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  • Lorenzo Biscontin

    Dear Mark, I wrote a very similar post last Sunday in my blog (is in Italian), since I was addressed by a multinational web PR agency offering my a minimum of 50 euros for any post I written on their campaign and published AFTER their approval. I found it totally un ethical, then I am leaving them the time to show up and explain their reason until next Sunday. If they would do it, I will reveal who they are on a new post.
    The only difference between on and off line is that on line everybody con participate in the discussion any time. In this difference reside the possibility to mantain an healty, ethical and fair environment on line.
    In is no mattare to embarass people, is matter to make the people aware about the credibility of what they read.
    Therefore I believe that pointining out names of agency and people (try to) work in this way is a desirable/needed ethical behaviour.
    This is not preventing them to show up and explain themselves in public.

  • I think you were very kind not to name names, as it were. Hopefully “Susan” has read this and learned a lesson. It’s quite possible that she has been “doing this for some time” but it strikes me as odd that yours was the first of “that reaction”… but then again, if she’s been pitching bloggers who’ll do anything for a few bucks, I suppose not. 
    For my part, if I write about clients, I make sure to call them out clearly in the post. Like you, Mark, I’m building a community based on mutual respect and trust (or at least, I’d like to think so), and there’s no way I’d sell them down the river. If my guest bloggers write about them, I always remind them that that relationship has to be called out. But I do not ever get paid for that, nor do I accept links for payment. I haven’t even tried any affiliate programs, and if I did, I’d only do so with companies/products I’ve tested/used/like… otherwise, what’s the point?
    You may be idealistic, and I think that’s a good thing. You’re sure as heck not stupid!

  • People (and companies) like this make it much harder for someone starting out like me, to get guest posts. I am hardworking, and way too busy to bullshit anyone. Would I like to guest post? Sure. I am too much of a small fry for many bloggers. I sent out a pitch and got that reaction.

    So between unethical liars and just starting out, I very often have few options. Ah, such is life. i guess I may have to become unethical if I ever want to make money which makes me very sad.

    I wonder if anything can be done to tip the scales back the other way. It used to be that being hardworking and honest were good things. it does not seem that way anymore.

  • It’s a lonely place up there in the land of ethics. But the air is clear and so is your conscience. If we lose the truly good guys, who is left to light the way? Stay the course, Mark. And keep reminding us that principles don’t have a sliding scale–if you say you will (or won’t) then whether the bribe is $5 or $500 is immaterial. We need our champions.

  • It is definitely shady. We have featured clients on our blog, but never because they asked or were sponsoring. The nature of our blog is that we sometimes feature case studies or examples of successful online press releases — it’s only natural that we’d pull from our own group of customers. 🙂 

    I agree with Evy, that I never really mind it too much when a blogger is up front about being paid to review a product or service or sharing that they have an affiliate stake in something. This happens a lot on the “mommy” blogs that are out there and my reaction is usually “good for you!” for figuring out how to get a years supply of Rice Krispies for your family of 10. LOL 

    Unfortunately, it’s not always as cut and dry as that — and what you’re describing is horrible. I can’t imagine so blatantly approaching someone and asking for so much real estate on their successful blog. Kudos to you for protecting us AND for using your platform to send such a clear message. What they are doing isn’t right and if she has truly been doing this for some time, it’s disheartening to think you’re the first to have this reaction! 

  • On the subject of spotlighting customers on your blog, I think that’s very nice of anyone to do that. We can help our clients even further through the platform and communities we’ve built for ourselves. I talk about my clients and the great work they do and am NOT paid for it. I do it because they are awesome.

    As for people offering you money to post on your blog or for a review of a product/service that you’ve never used, that’s supremely lazy. I’m sure many people are taking the money – the people that either don’t truly care about their reputation or their readers, if they have any.

    I won’t ever endorse a product or service that I or any of my clients have never used, simply because if they offer poor service it’s my reputation more than theirs on the line.

    As for extending this to other bloggers, I’m not sure what blogs you are reading Mark but I don’t see this happening on those I read. Either that or they’re pretty damn good at covering it up.

  • I think it is nothing more than the good ol’ advertorial going online. But a magazine is totally different from a blog. A blog is personal and although it can be part of an online business, its audience is made up of trusted friends and relations. The reason why blogs have become so popular nowadays has all to do with trust. People trust what they read on blogs as it is personal, non-commercialised information.
    Luckily I still know lots of ethical bloggers out there (depending on the subject I guess), but the trend you described will be hard to bend. It is posts like this that (re) gain trust with your readers.

    I do get questions sometimes if I want to post certain articles on my blog for money. I have always neglected them, as I believe my blog should carry only my personal messages (and some guest posts of people I trust 100%). Your blog is your choice. As soon as you start with unethical links and posts your content will be covered by weed and readers will leave you.

    I loved reading this post Mark!

  • Jane van Velsen

    I agree with you.  This kind of approach is wrong and placing adverts on a blog is wrong. are doing this now on certain blogs.  People take the blogs from them to write about personal issues within their field/niche so why tack a retail oriented advert on to that?  A bit sneaky if you ask me but then I’m an ethical social media user (few of us around these days).  At some point all this has to be addressed.  I understand why, I just don’t think it’s right.  Blogs are personal and created for the owner to post about their niche.  This takes us into the realm of using blogs for affiliate advertising…. too many of those sites abound online now anyway cluttering it all up! If trust is the issue here….. what on earth are these people thinking?  The trust will quickly be broken.
    If we want to give a product, service or company a recommendation there are so many other nicer ways to do it online.  Leave the choice to do that with the owner of the social media tool.

  • It’s an evolving world Mark. I’ve done a few “sponsored posts” and sold “in post sponsorships.” In the cases I’ve done it, I have had an existing relationship with the individuals or companies. In other words, I’ve felt comfortable endorsing those brands and sharing them with the B2Bbloggers community.

    As for links from unknowns, I typically respond by making the cost for a link so high, they think I am crazy. They are so used to bloggers being willing to take $50 – $100 bucks for back links, that when I turn the tables on them and put the number in the thousands, they think I am obtuse. 

    It’s my view that there really is no harm in taking money for links, it’s the nature of a Google based world with unemployment holding at 9%. Every one has bills to pay and dreams to fulfill.

    But for me to take the time to give an ideal back link for them, I’ve simply raised the value by 15-25x. There haven’t been any takers to date. Though if Google continues to place a such a high value linkage, maybe, just maybe that value with rise in the future.

    Is that unethical? Is it morally wrong to take $2,500 for a back link vs. $100? I will let you know how it makes me feel should it ever happen.    

  • Well Mark, its tough to decide what is ethical or what isn’t these days as we all have our own opinion of ethics. 

    I have a dear friend who was retrenched and couldn’t get a job since January he’s does iphone games review during his past time. In the past he didn’t take in any money for the reviews, however since he was retrenched he started taking a fee for doing reviews, Even “gambling” backlinks because he had a family to take care, but does give his honest review of those games. 

    He doesn’t disclose it though that its a sponsored post though. I recommended he disclose it but he was afraid of what his readers might think. 

    So, in my opinion, I would say some might mind about getting paid to blog, but i think if its “targeted” why not? Just disclose to let people know. 

    So perhaps the answer would be, it depends how we define ethical. For me I would disclose it if I were to do it (i get email offers like this too) 

    Love your stand! thanks! 🙂 

  • Anonymous

    Mark – You should send her this post and ask for payment. You did after all somewhat review her company and wasn’t that what she was requesting in the first place? Ha!

  • Anonymous

    Mark – You should send her this post and ask for payment. You did after all somewhat review her company and wasn’t that what she was requesting in the first place? Ha!

  • Glad you’re taking a stand on this Mark. Of course you shouldn’t take the money because that goes against all your values. The community you have built is here because of those values. Why would you burn their permission, attention, connection and friendship for the sake of a few bucks?
    Thanks for being out of step!

  • Ron

    I believe the word is ethical and personally I am a fan.

  • Stand your digital and moral ground sir!
    The race to the bottom for cash amongst these bloggers will eventually rot them out. Sad indeed.
    I come here because it is ‘asshole’ free.

  • Allen Roberts

    The value and the trap of the web is transparency, anything tricky sticks, as does the good stuff.
    often we hear the word “Trust” used as an objective, a desirable characteristic, like something that can be bought at the supermarket, “buy me, Trust in sale this week, only .99cents each”,  when trust is an outcome of a pattern of behaviour over time.
    The web community is so connected that behaviour that is inconsistent with the proclaimed position would be seen and communicated very quickly, and there is little chance of recovery by the transgressor.

  • I think there are two issues here: the matter of being paid to blog on someone’s behalf; and how negotiations for such an arrangement should take place. Behind each of these issues is the threat of creepiness. I define creepiness as an imbalanced relationship where one party wins by misleading and causing harm to the other.

    The matter of blogging for money is ultimately up to the blogger. At the very least, the blogger should offer full disclosure when they do this if they are to retain any integrity. As a reader I’ll decide if I want to read such posts and visit such blogs. I probably wouldn’t. The creepiness factor here is that someone could mislead me as a reader and take advantage of whatever trust I have put into the writer and their blog channel.

    The manner in which this individual attempted to ‘negotiate’ an arrangement with you is what strikes me most here. From the outset they treated you disrespectfully – yes, like a link whore. The creepiness there for me is how your acceptance of such an ‘offer’ would immediately diminish your brand. And again, this connects right through to the grow community because, by inference, we are also disrespected.

    I make conscious decisions about how I spend my time on line and who I choose to read. I don’t have time to waste on BS whether it be inauthentic content or disrespectful communication.

    Thank you for calling them out Mark. I’m behind you all the way.


  • I agree with Evy Ramos. There are 3 categories of bloggers from the ‘pay-to-post’ perspective.
    1. Those who are ethical, and do not write biased posts
    2. Write sponsored posts, with disclosure
    3. Write sponsored posts, without disclosure
    I think all types of bloggers co-exist in the market, and you just simply pick a side for yourself. As simple as that. 
    Blogging being a free-market economy, the question of ethics is going to be answered by the market itself – more sponsored links & posts, lesser and weaker the community…

  • Hi Mark,

    I think you are absolutely spot-on in confronting Susan’s pitch, and explaining why it wouldn’t work for your blog. As a daily reader, I would be put off if I came to your blog and saw a review of a company I’ve never heard of and that doesn’t apply to your blog and audience. I applaud you for sticking to your standards. I hope other popular/trusted bloggers with a loyal following would do the same. 

    I don’t think acquiring anything (business, links, etc.) through shady practices is worthwhile. Yes, paying someone with high PR for a link to my site would help me out, but that’s lazy. I would much rather create something fantastic than resort to being sneaky. That’s not success, in my opinion.

    You’re doing the right thing. Keep on doin’ what you’re doin’. (And, thank you!).

  • This is a serious issue with the decline of so-called “earned” media — independent publishers who earn enough to invest in a journalistic approach to their content.

    Bloggers should have ethics, of course, but ethics don’t buy groceries.

  • Bravo, Mark–not only for your stand, but for providing another opportunity for some great discussion.  I liken the situation to hosting a dinner party or other gathering of friends, at which people share commonalities and ideas–sometimes including recommendations for movies, restaurants, a new model smartphone, or whatever it may be.  But that’s organic, and fundamentally different from (in this scenario) your clinking a glass to get our attention, and then launching into a pitch for Acme widgets (or “Synchristic Hosting”!).  A few recurrences of that, and I’m sure we’d all “leave the party”–and be the poorer for the loss of community.  I admire your stand.

  • Everybody has to live their life their own way and I can’t blame somebody for taking the money and disclosing it. But that changes the blog forever doesn’t it? Thanks for this great addition to the discussion Evy.

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  • The problem with naming names on the social web is that people start to attack the person instead of the issue. I’m pretty much settled on the idea of keeping it clean but I’m open for debate.

  • Thanks very much for contributing a dissenting view. I also allow links to a certain extent for non-paid guest bloggers.

  • Lorenzo, really honored to have you contribute your wisdom on this issue. Thank you!

  • Yes, that’s what struck me about this dialogue too. It made me think … What? Am I the only one out here not taking money for posts? That just can’t be right yet those folks must be having success somewhere! Thanks for being a principled blogger Shonali!

  • It isn’t just the blogging world.  There is a lack of ethics and integrity in many marketing areas.  It makes me crazy.  The best I can do is hold myself and my team to a high standard and I choose only to work for and with companies that have the same philosophy.  But I loved your post because it was like a comedic web version of the old Bob Newhart telephone shtick with the crazy conversation back and forth.  My favorite line:
    “I’ve been doing this for quite some time now and honestly, you’re the only one who had that reaction. But there’s a first time for everything, right?”

  • I haven’t walked in your shoes, but I do see many people moving ahead on the blogosphere with good work and great content. It does take time and patience, however. I blogged for 18 months before I did a guest post for anybody. Hang in there.

  • Thanks for taking the time to leave that kind comment.

  • Very interesting comment Tara. I have a much different reaction when I see a sponsored post. I stop reading. I mean, it’s an ad, right? Credibility goes out the door. Puts the whole blog in a questionable category for me because then I will always be wondering if a post is sponsored or not … I don’t want to have to figure it out or search for the disclosure.

  • Agree to an extent. I also mention my customers occasionally because that is my life and experience and that’s what I write about. However, of course we are being paid for this indirectly. Customers pay us and telling the world they are awesome in a blog post furthers the commercial relationship. When you discuss customers do you disclose that they are customers? Probably a smart thing to do.

  • Wow, what a very wise contribution Emiel. Thank you!

  • Thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts on this today, Jane.

  • Glad I can always count on you for the opposing view : ) Thanks very much for contributing this alternative perspective Jeremy. I don’t agree, but I appreciate the thoughtful response.

  • As you know, I accidentally stepped into this morass when I wrote a post that was misread as suggesting that a major blogger was getting paid for backlink posts. The incredible overreaction was a clear indication that that something is going on in the industry and that people were afraid of being called out on it. Someone below said that it’s just advertising–but ads are clearly differentiated as ads. This is more like journalists being bought. 

    I guess one of the benefits of not being a big blogger is not getting approached like this.  I’m glad you blogged about it, Mark. And I’m glad you’re the ethical person you are who won’t say yes.

  • I think what your friend is doing clearly unethical. However, if I had no options and had to feed my children I’m not sure i wouldn’t do in the same thing in his situation. I would not let my children go hungry. Very interesting addition to the discussion Aaron!

  • Always thinking aren’t you Kacy? : )

  • Mark,

    I’ve seen far worse than this. My friend JOel got an email from some company that was addressed “Dear Blogger”. Right now there’s a big disconnect between person and corporate social media. Individuals have influence like never before and companies are trying to buy that influence as opposed to connect to it and nurture it. They are trying to take a shortcut to something that has taken us years to develop. 

  • Thanks Bernadette.

  • James Michael Shea


    As a former journalist turned blogger I cringed as I read the emails. Nobody would approach a journalist in this manner. I understand that lines get blurred sometimes. I’ve had publishers who “encouraged” us to write certain articles. But I have never been approached by a business like this before.

    I was at a social media conference a couple weeks and met a few people from agencies that have sprung up to get businesses in touch with blogger. A woman told me that businesses pay up to a $1,000 a post to some blogger. I would imagine that the blogger’s credibility would be shot if his or her readers learned about the money.

  • Hmmmm. I had a range of reactions while reading this and I think I have settled on my thoughts…

    1. Whatever you are advertising/posting/reviewing NEEDS to be relevant to your site and readers. That was her first mistake.

    2. A company looking for links/reviews/etc really needs to spend some time building a relationship with someone before even thinking about pitching. Second mistake. (Then again, I am one of the ethical PR people, so apparently that kind of behavior is rare is the common world.)

    3. If both those cases prove true-the company is one your readers would be interested in and they are not just a spammy business- and you would genuinely recommend them and approve of them, then I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking compensation for it. You are providing something very valuable to them, you should receive something of worth in return, be it a return link, money, or what have you.

    Hopefully she gained some valuable feedback from the exchange. Then again, if she didn’t-its better for us good guys… more opportunities for me!

  • I don’t like to search for the disclosure either. However, I read a home improvement blog and I never mind when they are upfront about the fact that Home Depot donated supplies for a project or a particular power tool company gave them a tool. I feel comfortable in the fact that they always disclose when that happens, so when there are posts or home improvement projects that don’t mention sponsorship, I never wonder. 

    I would definitely stop reading if it seemed the blog post always tried to hide the sponsorship or possibly not even disclose it. 🙂 The difference is — those sponsorships make sense. You posting a review of a web hosting service doesn’t even mesh with the musings and community of posts that you’ve fostered here!

  • I had to favorite parts of the post above:
    However, I’ve never heard of you or
    your company before so it’s unlikely that I would unleash you on a
    community of people who have also become my friends.

    This speaks so strongly to how many are trying to just “hit and run” I really don’t have time to really know you, but our analytics indicate that you get the “right” about of people reading / commenting / linking / sharing (blah blah blah) could you do me a favor? It’s like someone walking up to you in the street and saying “I know  don’t know you but would you buy me a coffee?”

    And then:

    P.S.: Just in case you change your mind, you can send me an email anytime.

    Because it wasn’t enough to take your information (aka advice) with grace, this person had to try just one more time to “sell.” This is like having a “I’m never to busy for your referrals” message at the bottom of an email signature, when you’re sending it to a unhappy customer.

    I know it’s unfortunate that these people are finding success, but I wounder what their ROI is vs. someone who has taken the time to build a relationship and that is invited “FOR FREE” to do a guest post, or your just simply review their product because their awesome…

  • Indirectly is true, but we don’t get paid directly to promote them, at least I don’t and I doubt you do either.

    And yes I always say “a Dempsey Marketing client” or “referral partner” or whatever the relationship is when I mention them. Standard operating procedure.

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  • Albrecht

    I don’t accept guest posts in which the purpose is to advertise a site/service.  I don’t accept requests for back links (although I’m only offered $50, not your $100.  I don’t accept pay for writing a review.

  • Just wanted to say that it was very classy of you not to name names. This is the right way to do this kind of post. Hopefully that individual will read this and learn something.

  • Lindsay Bell

    Great post Mark, you raise some interesting questions. First off, the grammar from that ‘individual’ was so atrocious, I don’t know how you lasted as long as you did. Kudos to you for sending such a gracious note to her. Secondly, as a former journalist/producer, I consider ‘publishing’ a part of journalism, especially if you have a developed and devoted fan base/audience. If you’re simply a hack shilling for a company, people should be made aware. Even on Twitter, if someone tweets about a company that happens to be a client of theirs, they indicate such (or are expected to) in the body of the tweet. That’s transparent and ethical behaviour. Again, cheers to you for pointing out the unseemly nature of her request. And for respecting what you’ve built *and* your followers enough to respectfully decline. Best, Lindsay 

  • Anonymous

    Answer: Yes, there are. You’re just swimming in the wrong fish tank…

  • You’re right, and you took the high road. They’re lucky.

  • Carole Dupre

    Mark, when observing the values you espouse consistently through your work, your commitment to helping others grow, the blog posts and The Tao you’ve written, one word comes to mind: Authenticity. Not “idealistic.” Certainly not “stupid.” Just keeping it real. Thanks!

  • Dear Mark, This happens all the time. There are lots of bad people in the world…both on the company side and on the blogging side. My advice? Use that handy, dandy delete button when you receive these inquiries. Much love, Gini

  • Renee Malove

    There are a number of bloggers who regularly allow paid advertising and reviews on their site, and if they’re doing it right…good for them.

    In my opinion, anyway. I know a number of mommy bloggers who regularly review products on their blog in exchange for a kickback, but I don’t know any that have deliberately touted a product they knew was pure, unadulterated crap.

    An honest review is an honest review. If the product is relevant to your audience, if you’ve tried it and you’re not pulling your punches in your review, I say go for it. It’s when you start bending your own rules and advertising things you’d NEVER promote otherwise, that aren’t relevant or that ask you to be sneaky that your blogger ethics become compromised.

  • Mark – one of the reasons you have such an amazing community is because you are the kind of person that you are. There are many of us who believe that personal and business integrity matter as much as what is being said in a given post. I have only been at this for a couple years, but have already seen folks who would never have done what was asked of you here, now finding it almost routine to do it now.

    Thanks for keeping your integrity a priority!

  • Ethics. I wish there were more posts like yours on the topic. Not enough people seem to be talking about it – and that seems to beg the question, doesn’t it? Do people care? A lot don’t, I think. ‘ethics’ is in the too-hard basket.

    I’m a writer, and ethics is a growing issue in my space. Authors trading each other positive reviews, some writers holding a review of another writer’s work hostage in order to force a positive review, friends and family giving 5 star reviews when they may not have even read or liked the book. In the age of growing self-publishing, readers rely on reviews to know if a book is worth reading, but writers like these really stack the deck. It is something I and a few other writers have blogged about, and the question of ethics in this context, but again, not enough people are talking about it.

    In my opinion this, and the behaviour you have blogged about, is unethical. Sometimes it’s downright dishonest. At the very least it’s rude and discourteous. People don’t seem to care, and that’s sad. Is it because they are numb to it? Or they see nothing wrong in that behaviour? I don’t have the answer.

  • Hi Mark,
    None of that feels right to me either. Good for you for following that voice that said no! I’ll admit I was chuckling as I read, thinking I look forward to the day when I have problems like this! 🙂

  • I have been fortunate. I’ve worked for very ethical companies in my life. So, joining the world of blogging has been a shock to my system. Corruption is accepted as a best practice I’m afraid.

  • A gray area perhaps.  I’d rather keep it clean. Thanks for the opposing view Renee!

  • Yeah, I generally do just delete these.  i think I responded to this lady because it was so blatant and I wanted to see what she would say. : )

  • Many thanks, Carole. 

  • Oh don’t get me started on the journalist versus blogger debate. I’ll talk about it all night. A hot button!  : )   Thanks for helping out on the discussion today Lindsay! 

  • That’s the policy I’m taking in general.  Too many people go on the attack.  Nice to see you in the comment section Elyse. 

  • Really great points Josh.  When I write my posts, I have my readers in mind as if they are sitting there.  And, in fact, they are, just on the other side of the Internet!  I’ve made more friends off my blog in two years than the last 10 years combined and you just don’t mess with your friends. 

  • Dynamite comment.  You put a lot of thought into that and I think you nailed it Samantha! Great job. 

  • There is more of this going on than you can imagine. Blogs are influential and companies want access to that. I also think there is a lot going on behind the scenes and bloggers are not always declaring that they are getting paid. 

  • Well said.  They want the easy route to readers!

  • I think the reaction was indicative of the problem and also indicative that many bloggers in the social space don;t have much class when it comes to business matters. Why would they? Most of them have never been in business.

  • That’s the line that really flipped me out.  Really?  Am I alone out here???  Thanks for the great comment Sarah! 

  • Beautiful comment Pete!  Well done! 

  • That’s a whole ‘nother topic!  The expectation of “free” and the fact that bloggers do so much and then have their content ripped off.  Don’t get me started … 

  • You’re very welcome Courtney. Thanks for caring enough to comment!

  • Nice analysis Kirthi.  Thank you! 

  • I think you nailed it here. It is a betrayal of trust, or at least you’re stretching the trust as far as you can. Not my bag. 

  • LOL. I don’t know about that.  I am increasingly curmudgeonly. : ) 

  • Honestly there are a few bloggers out there I really wonder about.  I think they pitch but dont tell. I have strong suspicions they are on the dole. : ( 

  • This IS why {Grow} is one of the very few blogs I pay attention to…….. Mark, you’re right, you built this community beacuse of your integrity and willingness to asay it as it is……even if not everyone agrees. And that’s what makes this community great, because we can discuss.
    Eventually, people will figure out that advertising in the ‘old’ sense is just no longer working. In fact it will have the opposite effect.

  • Another great post, Mark.  I’m not a blogger, but I do work with clients who seek”endorsement” from the “best” bloggers in their respective categories.  Your post is eye opening…the email exchange you shared sheds some real insight into what can happen.   What good is a post from a top blogger, if there is no authenticity behind it?  Can readers see through it?? Don’t Clients deserve to know that those acting on their behalf (like Susan above) are approaching bloggers who will write genuine content – good or bad?

    Integrity is important.  Nice to see you have it!

  • I agree, Mark.  

    Beyond agreeing with the ethical manner in which you choose to maintain your blog, I believe Google has made it clear in their TOS that they don’t approve of buying or selling backlinks to increase a site’s SEO.  They want people linking because we actually *like* something, not because we’re personally benefiting.  So not only is your stand a worthy one, you’re staying in the good graces of Google – arguably the most critical player in any ongoing online enterprise.

    All by just doing the right thing.  Chalk one up to the good guys!  🙂

  • Mark,
    Ethics are ethics whether you are online or offline. It seems as though people frequently ask for something online which they might not ask for in person and offline. Even though it’s easy enough to find out about a person and/or their company online, there is a sense of quasi anonymity online. I suspect that may be the reason this practice is more prevalent in the online communities.

    As others have stated you should be applauded for standing by your values and integrity. Once you begin compromising those you have begun the slide down the proverbial slope. And it is always a nearly impossible climb back up.

    A very wise person once said that the definition of success is when those who know me best, love and respect me the most. I would much prefer that to all the money in the world, and I suspect you would too. Stand tall Mark, it is clear where your community stands…right beside you.

  • WoW that was amusing. I’ve been hit up for guest post ops from a certain website, but all they want is back-links so they can move to the next blog.

  • After watching the comments unfold, I am beginning to think you are right. 🙁 I don’t think I realized before how pervasive the practice was. 

  • I get these kinds of offers too, but like you, won’t trade my reader’s trust for a small kickback. That’s why I get hired in the first place and enjoy so much repeat and word-of-mouth referral business. But, I do realize that not all blogs are built on trust. There are plenty of successful blogs that are sheer infotainment of some sort. And, buyer beware on all of their ads and links. It’s a monetized blog that has no product of it’s own to sell and no reputation to protect. So, is it ethical for them to take someone up on the guest post offer? Maybe so. Is it okay for you and me and folks that need to endear trust? No way.

    The part I have a problem with is asking you to review something you’ve never tried and know nothing about. I agree with several other commentors here that the idea of pitching you cold like that means that she is only looking at the demographics of your site audience and not actually reading its content.

    I appreciate you sharing the correspondance you had with her and I’ll be passing this post along to my readers.

  • Of course there are ethical bloggers…I, for example, run an ethics blog. But people don’t try this stuff on ethics blogs. They try it on marketing blogs, because marketing easily slides down the slippery slope into quid pro quo deals, deception and deceit. The profession has lots of ethical practitioners (my dad was one; I have been a marketing director) but the field has more than its share of sleazes.

    By the way: ghost blogging, like ghost-writing without attribution, is per se unethical because it’s deceptive. Don’t fool yourself. Yes, it’s a common practice. So are a lot of unethical things. It’s wrong. Small wonder college students think it’s no big deal to pay someone to “ghost write” a term paper. They read the rationalizations here (and elsewhere) and wonder; “What’s the difference?”

    Not much.

  • Hey Mark,
    Backlinks are hard to come by these days. Authoritative blogs represent one of the few websites where links are still worth something and owners are willing to host them. In other words, “opportunity”. 

    Is it ethical? My most recent blog post covers this exact topic

    If I were you I would consider it an honor to be consistently approached for advertisements. Think about it, how many times have A-list celebs in Hollywood turned down requests to be the spokesman for the newest herpes drug or something equally as unappealing. Sure, it’s annoying, but it’s also an honor that some company thinks your blog us valuable enough to pay you for a review. 

    Your blog is popular, your content is great, most bloggers would kill to have sponsors. Of course you have to choose the sponsors you believe in and would recommend, but it’s still better to be the one declining money making opportunities rather than the other way around.

  • I know how busy  you are and it means a lot that you have stuck with {grow} after all these years!  Thanks for believing! : ) 

  • Actually, I think it makes really good business sense to work with bloggers. Research shows that to many, bloggers are more influential even than word-of-mouth recommendations! So I can see why you would want these buzz agents on your side. It’s just that companies are completely ineffective in figuring out how to do it, at least with me. I have never taken a dime for a post or a link, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t write about the people and products I believe in. Thanks Susan! 

  • That is an extremely interesting point Mac.  But how would Google know if a link has been paid for or not?  I guess the company would be black-listed or something? Thanks so much for taking the time to weigh in with that insight!

  • That is really an amazing comment Phil!  Thank you!  You know some of these folks are taking this offline too.  Im now getting cold calls from people trying to buy links and space on the blog.  Very annoying. 

  • Welcome to the blogosphere Alvin!

  • Thanks.  I get emails like this every day and they all seems to follow a similar format — “I really enjoyed reading your last post (insert headline here)” and think you would be interested in my company’s products (insert unrelated garbage here).  : ) 

  • You’ve opened up a can of worms here.  I disagree that somehow people who write about ethics are inherently better than people who write about marketing.  In fact, as a marketer and somebody who loves my profession, I’m offended by this. I know lots of stand-up people in this field because that is who I surround myself with. 

    I don’t know what prompted the comment on ghost writing but I disagree with you here too. 

    When you hear a CEO deliver a speech, is it likely that they wrote it themselves? No.  Is it their speech? Yes.

    When you read a letter to the shareholders in an annual report, did the CEO write it? Never. It’s done by finance, PR and Legal.  Do they sign their name to it and own it? Yes.

    Would you ask your CEO to write the company newsletter?  No.  If they spent their time on this they would probably be fired.

    And according to research in the Harvard Business Review, most effective CEOs are NOT great communicators. They’re analytical and even shy.  So giving them some help communicating is good for everyone.

    Having said this, I think any ghost writing should be transparent. On a blog, for example, I think the CEO should direct the content, the thoughts should be their own and they need to personally respond to any comments. I also think that somewhere on the blog it should be acknowledged that there may be editorial support on the blog and name the people doing it.

    Ghost writing will always occur because executives need to communicate and some of them are simply too busy to do it or poor communincators. As consumers of content, we all benefit from better executive communications. So let’s not ignore reality. But we can approach it in a responsible way.

  • Thanks for not only sharing what happened but the actual emails, Mark!

    In my 22 years in radio – no sneaky freebies and 5 years as a blogger – no paid posts, free stuff for mentions, trips, cars for the weekend or paid backlinks while unsolicited emails from people who “love your blog” go to the junk folder. I prefer to share my thoughts and if others like them and feel they can use them, that’s cool.  My focus is growing a business community and establishing others who may want to collaborate on business projects. Then again, I’m weird like that. 

    Great preso at SMM2011 and outstanding to finally meet, hang out and have dinner a few weeks ago in Toronto! (note: Mark and I paid for our own dinner)

  • You and I have radically different views of the world.  I read your post (effective backlink placement by the way!) and the ensuing comments and I found this whole debate to be nauseating.  Think about what you’re discussing here: Is it ethical to take money and deceive readers with links that help advertisers dupe Google?

    You call that a job?

    You can sugar coat it with all the valuable “service” SEO provides all you want, but at its core, that is the business case for SEO — tricking Google.  The whole field of SEO is a mind muck. At the end of a successful day of work, what do you do, celebrate because you really f*cked Google today?

    If everyone claiming to be an SEO “professional” quit and got a real job producing goods and services the world would be a better place. I’ve really had it with the whole SEO business model.I’m tired of the spam DMs on Twitter, I am tired of the ridiculous SEO requests that clutter my inbox, I’m sick of cleaning the crap out of the comment section of my blog and I’m disgusted with this stupid war that is waged to get backlinks.

    Sorry for the rant.  I’m not picking on you personally Dan, but since you brought it up, I gave you my honest answer.

  • Thanks for weighing-in today Kneale. A delight to meet you in real life!

  • As the comments clearly show, Mark, you are very definitely NOT alone. I’ve been blogging for 11 years now across a range of blogs and have kept the ethical “high road” in mind the whole time. And, like you, I’m constantly bombarded by a smorgasbord of sleazy scams that keep my Delete button in constant usage.  Unfortunately I think it speaks to both the ethics (or lack thereof) of some in the blogging space… and also in the marketing/PR/communications space who think this is perfectly okay to do.  

    Thanks for writing this piece, though, it’s good to keep reminding the larger world out there of this issue… and again, you are very definitely NOT alone!

  • Mark I just wrote a long ass response on James Michale Shea’s blog and gave you props for your ethics. I knew this about you anyway.

    I love telling the Fall 2009 story of finding out Guy Kawasaki was being paid $800 a tweet from a Business Week article on paid tweeters when the government was deciding on whether this has to be acknowledged for transparency (the law says you must disclose this even if not being enforced). I tweeted Guy asking which tweets were paid. He didnt respond. I unfollowed him and AllTop and still to this day I bring this up when the chance is there. Nice person or not the ethical issues pissed me off and so I do everything I can just to put the seed of doubt in anyone who follows him on the Twitter whether the tweet one sees is his…or paid. But he has a twitter team who ghost tweets for him anyway (something else I have an issue with).

    Thank you for posting this. And really loved the email exchange. You rock!

  • Oh quickly off topic. Right now you have 11 facebook shares and 11 G+1’s. Very nice Google! 8)

  • Connie

    Mark…a couple of thoughts. 

    1.  This person needs more than links to elevate their company profile.  They don’t seem to have basic writing skills.  I think this is a common situation for many firms.  Hiring a person who can write might be a more immediate need than seeking links.

    2.  Your thought-provoking post brings all-paid text marketing into question.  Should the company employee posts be identified as such; or is it ok to present as a ghost-writer or even an outsider?  As a writer for others, I make an effort to know the products and services which I will be expected to write about.  But if requested to write about company policies, personalities or client relations, I would not have in-depth knowledge about these subjects.  Therefore, should I only write about what I know personally?  Is it OK to paraphrase and edit an interview with the CEO?  What about transcribing an employee meeting and always writing a positive story, eliminating the bad stuff?  We all know this goes on.

    3.  I do think it’s ok to accept pay for backlinks for informational, content enrichment, or background material.  Of course, then the writer will decide whether each link qualifies to meet their definition of these terms .

  • Thanks for your great post and your stand, Mark! Also, thanks for exposing this unethical blogging practice, which, as you say, must have a “critical mass.”  You are kind not to name names, and I totally get why you are doing that. But part of me would like to see some sort of “name and shame.” That way we could identify any influential bloggers via Google who’ve accepted this offer and take anything they write (or tweet) with the proverbial “grain of salt” thereafter.

  • Never mind! Just Googled (in quotes) “reliable guides for webmasters and website development” and “in-depth reviews of various hosting providers” and suspect I found what I wanted to know. 

  • Good for you Mark. I think we all know a lot of
    bloggers/authors that would have accepted the payment, and passed on a positive
    review onto their community. I have read a few books recently where authors
    have inserted companies to partner with, and those companies have awful
    service, awful history of negative feedback, and awful delivery of what’s
    promised. Clearly, they got paid to insert a product/brand they didn’t really
    use or like, but wanted the quick buck anyways.

    You’re community has grown because of your knowledge,
    insight, and the respect you give us all (always answering us and having time
    for us), so kudos to you for taking a stand.

  • Hi Mark, I think it’s great that you’ve shared the experience here. Sponsored posts are pretty popular here and we even have blogger networks that ‘specializes’ in writing advertorials (some made it a full-time job!). Do you have any thoughts on this matter? 🙂

  • Oh i know that. I was just providing a fanciful headline based on the implication of this lady’s comment.  Thanks so much for adding your wisdom today Dan! 

  • I did not know that about Guy. Disappointing to hear. Thanks for chiming in Howie! 

  • And it still doesn’t pay the bills : ) 

  • An interesting perspective. I think it is a slippery slope though. If there are legitimate links that enhance an article, shouldn’t you include them any way?  If you take pay for them, you have to declare it, right?  Wouldn’t explaining that in the middle of an article kind of take away from the content?  And if you didn’t explain it, are you being fair to your readers?  We’ll have to agree to disagree.

  • Ha!  The power of the Big G : ) 

  • Always great to hear from you Johnny! Appreciate your loyal readership. 

  • yeah we have the same thing here. I can only speak for myself Jan. Here in the U.S. we have laws that you must declare when it is a paid post. If it is a paid post, I stop reading it. It’s an ad.

    I think it also hurts the credibility of the blog. It is just never the same when you have to figure out if it is paid or not.  But, again that is just my opinion. Look at Chris Brogan. His blog is basically a running advertisement and people still seem to read it. I’m probably not typical of the rest of the world.  Thanks for stopping by! 

  • Joyce Feld

    Three cheers for professional integrity! Personally, I believe there’s way too little of this in the world of marketing and PR.

  • Nice to hear from you Joyce! It’s been too long! : )

  • While I rather enjoyed Samantha’s comment and agree with her conclusion that taking compensation for writing your genuine opinion on something is not wrong, I would like to offer some more theoretical grounds for this conclusion.

    Most ethical theories, whether consequentialist (interested in consequences of actions) or deontological (interested in the actions themselves and not their consequences) are based on rules. Another possible framework is virtue ethics, which is not interested in individual actions, but on characteristics.

    Regardless of the view we adopt, I don’t think a moral rule that states that “accepting compensation for something that you do is wrong” is tenable. The rule needs to be more specific. However, “accepting compensation for writing something in your blog is wrong” does not seem right either. It can be argued against through reductio ad absurdum (a type of argument that attempts to show that adopting a certain position leads to unacceptable results, and must therefore be abandoned); basically, by arguing, as Samantha did, that accepting compensation for writing something you could write anyway does not seem wrong.

    I grant that this reductio ad absurdum may not convince everyone. Adopting the stance that one should not be compensated for anything in their blog is a coherent view. I would consider it a very purist view that considers blogging an essentially personal and spontaneous activity.

    To counter this view, I would offer further arguments that blog hosting costs money, and time is money as well, so accepting payment for certain things helps cover these costs and may actually improve the quality of the blog, as you are able to spend more time on the blog instead of other work.

    This does not mean that accepting bribes or being paid to promote junk is right. Quite the contrary, it seems that a moral rule that states that “accepting compensation for writing something you do not believe in in your blog is wrong” is quite valid indeed. After all, a blog is a channel for your opinions, and bending whichever way money is waved destroys its essential characteristics: authenticity and personality.

    The usual counter-argument then proceeds along the lines that accepting money for something makes you more prone to accept money for other things as well. However, in argumentation theory this is regarded as a fallacy, slippery slope. In short, unless the causal chain from the minor action to the major action can be established, a slippery slope argument has no value. In this case, there does not seem to be good basis for the argument, as there is a clear and obvious line to be drawn between opinions you hold and opinions you do not hold. There just is no chance to err on that subject.

    Now that I think about it, this might actually have significant consequences regarding ethical advertising in blogs. Wouldn’t it be more right to post your own opinions and get paid to do so than have, say, Google Adsense displaying ads to products you do not endorse? One could argue that posts are supposed to be all you and ads are not, but they are both presented to the reader as part of the same experience, so is that difference all that important?

  • I did NOT say that “people who write about ethics are inherently better than people who write about marketing” That thought is nowhere in my post. The point is that when peopel are thinking about ethics, they tend to think about ethics. Duh. Marketing involves manipulation, puffery, frequently deceit—it is an ethical gray area.

    I don’t know what “transparent ghostwriting” means. By definition, a ghostwriter in invisible. Coo-writer? Editor? These are transparent.

    Writing speeches is not the same thing as ghostwriting. By the conventions of speeched, the speaker endorses and ratifies verything he says. Ghostwriting often means that the person whose name is on the article never actually said or thought anything in it. That makes the by-line a lie.

    The ethical way to handle writing assistance is to have “with ——” alongside the exceutive’s name. A few years ago, the same op-ed was published under two different doctors; names in two newspapers. Both read the ghostwritten article and approved it. Did they BOTH write it?

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  • Dee

    I think I may be a little late in joining the discussion, but I just wanted to say that we need a little more idealism today. I think that bloggers fall under the category of educators. They may not get paid like a teacher or a professor, but they do educate the public. To get paid for a blog by a company is equivalent to (for example) the FDA getting paid by a pharmaceutical company to approve their drug. What you did was right and I hope more bloggers do this.

  • Hey Mark,
    It’s always refreshing to read a good rant. I don’t take it personal. 

    The SEO profession is a lot like being a lawyer. Occasionally you’ll find some honest ones who actually do help people and the world is better because of them, but most of the time lawyers will lie, manipulate and loophole the law until the system breaks and everyone suffers. 

    The truth is that many web developers just don’t know how to design a site for search engines. They put content in flash, images or behind zip code inputs. They accidentally create duplicate content or use wrong redirect types. In those cases search engines legitimately need to find content to provide good search results, and that content would be unavailable to them unless another developer comes along who knows how search engines work – an SEO. I have to believe that even you would agree that this isn’t wrong or unethical, and it’s not about tricking Google either. 

    The other side of it is that even after structural issues are resolved, it often doesn’t result in number one rankings. Thats when things often get manipulative. Content is spun, links are purchased, pages are cloaked. I can’t deny that most of the industry is focused on this. 

    But look. Don’t assume that just because ones does SEO for a living, you know their world view. Just like you shouldn’t assume that all lawyers have the same world view. If someone emails you looking for backlinks, and that upsets you, fine. You are entitled to be upset. But SEO has many facets, and to categorize all SEO as unethical really does make you sound like an outsider who, “just doesn’t understand”.

    Not all SEOs use annoying tactics. Many are great marketers who are also avid bloggers themselves.

    Regardless of this convo, I’m still a huge fan and continue to love your stuff.

  • Mark

    Lawyers are closely regulated. There’s a big difference between these professions. No SEO can lose their license. I hope SEO does become regulated.

    I use SEO help for my clients. I know the potential value. And I don’t mind being an outsider. It’s hard spending 27 years in companies that actually made things and created economic value and then see the dysfunctional crap that goes on in the Internet space. we need more outsiders to bring a little common sense to the field.

    You stated that most SEOs are focused on the crap. That’s all I’m saying too. We are in complete agreement.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting views. I was wound up in the first comment and was too harsh. I’m sorry for that. It was a particularly spam-filled day.

  • Thanks Dee. You’re not late one bit : )

  • I did not argue that taking any money for a blog is wrong. I have ads on my blog (although most of them are free).  I have had affiliate links on my blog too.  I’m not even saying taking money for a sponosored post is wrong for some people as long as you declare it.  I’m just saying it’s not for me.  In my opinion, it would betraying the audience.

  • There is a big difference between SEO and lawyers. The law profession is regulated.  No SEO person can lose their license for unethcial practices, although I hope this is the case some day.

    I don’t mind being an outsider. We need more outsiders to point out the dysfunction in this business.  Too many people accept corruption — even defend it — as common practice. I don’t.

    You mentioned that most SEO are focused on these dysfunctional processes. That’s all I’m saying too. We are in complete agreement it seems.

    Thanks for your comment and your patience. My original response was too harsh and I’m sorry for that. I was having a particularly bad spam day.

  • Not only did you defame marketers in the first comment, you did it in the second one too. I do not regard marketing as an ethical gray area.  In fact, the people who I choose to surround myself with in this business are among the finest and most ethical business people I have ever known. Contending that me and my collegues engage frequently in deceipt is deeply offensive.

    And yes, we even think about ethics sometimes too, even though we are not people who write about ethics every day.

    Although I do not profess to be an expert in the study of ethics, I do know there are rarely absolutes like “the ethical way to handle writing assistance is …”

    I have been in business a long time and have never known a CEO from a large company who completely wrote their own speeches, their own sales presentations or their own letter to shareholders.  I have also never seen anyone either provide, or demand credit for, co-authorship of these communications. And I do not regard these leaders as unethical. Do you? 

  • Hey Mark,
    Not a problem my friend. Comment spammers are drawn to a good blog like a moth to a flame. Fighting them off can be a full time job, and a frustrating one at that. 

    There are differences between SEOs and lawyers, regulation being one. But regulations can’t make a lawyer stop lying, or stop exploiting loopholes that allows guilty people to go free. Ethical behavior comes down to the individual regardless of the industry. 

    My main point is just that there are different levels of SEO. Those who do SEO at a professional, enterprise level typically don’t engage in the spam tactics. They can’t, else they put the brand at risk for public shame. That’s why big brands mostly work with reputable agencies who have a great track record. And believe me, these agencies aren’t the ones leaving comment spam and email requests to buy links. 

    I don’t expect to convince anyone that the SEO professional, as a whole, is a noble one anymore than a used car salesman could convince someone that their industry is build on honest and integrity.  I only want to point out that there are different levels of SEO, and at the highest level it’s about understanding web dev, marketing and content creation, not spammy tactics.

    An insiders 2 cents.
    Lots of respect – 

  • I think the simple, if slightly-paranoid-sounding answer to that question is “Google knows all, sees all”. Over time, they know how to recognize genuine linking behaviors vs paid linking behaviors. Also, they know who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong, so when they see a link to someone who’s doing linking “wrong”, they’re immediately suspicious of the site that links to them, or receives links from them.

    My experience and understanding is that most sites aren’t completely blacklisted. More likely is a gradient of punishments based upon how in-the-wrong Google perceives a website to be.

  • I must point out that when you write about betraying the audience, you are making a moral statement. Betrayal is essentially a moral concept.

    Sure, this still does not mean that you should hold the position that taking money for a sponsored post is wrong in general.

    However, when taken to its logical conclusion, it does narrow your options to two:

    1. Moral relativism – what is right for someone is not necessarily right for someone else. If this is held to apply even if two individuals were placed in completely the same circumstances, it is a very dangerous position.

    2. Different conditions. There are criteria that apply to your blog or that apply to some other blogs that make taking money for a sponsored post morally different. I can’t quite figure out what such criteria would be as long as blogging is viewed as expression of one’s own opinions. If that premise is abandoned, I have a hard time defining blogging at all. Perhaps this can be done.

    I guess what I’m saying is that our society encourages tolerance and refraining from moral condemnation. However, many moral statements can obey this norm in appearance only, and only careful examination of the premises can reveal whether there really are basis for tolerance regarding a specific subject.

  • This is a really great post, Mark, and I agree with you completely. I don’t know what sort of database these people are working off of, because I get a query like that on an almost weekly basis, and I’m sure I don’t even get a small fraction of the traffic that you get.

    The grey areas at which it becomes borderline are hard to pin down, but the extremes are obvious – and most of these queries are extremes (like people emailing me to point out that we haven’t had any posts on penny stocks lately, so I should run their guest post… duh, we don’t write about investing!).

    Whatever heuristic each blogger chooses to adopt, it ultimately has to be about value to the reader; it’s okay if the blogger is making money (I think that’s great), as long as the money isn’t the only reason they’re doing it – if it is, then it’s a warning sign, I think.

    I’m new to this, and still figuring it out, but I think that’s a good starting point…

  • So….what you’re saying is that when that guy with an all-red cape, horns, and a pitchfork asked if he could guest post on my blog, and when he showed me a bio rife with links to his own site, that maybe I should have said no?


    The thought would never have occurred to me, but now that you mention it, that does make quite a lot of sense. Darn. I wonder if he was serious about my soul, too. 

    Oh, and also, if you are crazy then I’m right there with ya. 🙂

  • The only way I apply my morals to any one else is by setting an example.  People can make an observation and make their own decisions. 

  • There is a delicate balance.  I truly believe the emphasis MUST be on quality content. If you keep that view and exhibit patience, the money will come, either directly or indirectly. 

    I recently heard somebody describe advertising as an admission of failure.  You’re not creating enough value organically to get people to love you and buy from you. I’m not sure I’m on that side of the extreme, but there is a kernel of truth there.

    Thanks Danny! 

  • I know that guy.  : ) 

  • As a follow up… Matt Cutts just released a webmaster video going on record saying that Google does not consider SEO to be spam:

    Granted, many SEOs do use spamming techniques, but the discipline as a whole, when done correctly and ethically, is not viewed as spam by Google.

  • Interesting post. When I restarted blogging, I decided not to have any ads on my site except for products I create. Hence, there are no ads on my site…

    To answer your question though, I think it’s important to draft a written policy, for yourself more than anyone else and refer back to it when you get “grey” area sorts of requests. If you write a good one, you can actually publish it and refer the majority of requests to that page.

    If you do decide to accept money for guest posts, links, etc, it’s important to disclose that fact to your audience. It’s not only the law, but it’s the right thing to do. You’ll feel better accepting payments for placements that add value to your audience and you’ll make a little money too.

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  • Dear Mark

    Thanks for highlighting this. I would have been curious as to what they would have paid you?  Completely out of curiosity.

    There are several services we use as expats: our bank, our particular medical insurance which has been fabulous etc that I have thought about contacting to do paid advertising on my site.  I had thought about writing one blog post reviewing our personal experience with these services as part of the ad.  I haven’t done it yet but would be curious to see what you and the readers think about this?  It would only be services we used and LIKE!


  • I’m a writer by night and a lawyer by day… alas unethical practices are rife in my life. Lawyers have a reputation for being unethical but some of my clients leave the worst ‘stereotyped’ lawyers for dead. I find myself telling them I won’t draft what they want because it’s unethical!

  • Serena

    The blog scene is on the cusp of exploding in India and with just a few blogs getting all the readership this problem already exists. This has always been prevalent in the magazine industry with writers having to promote advertisers in a positive light throughout the magazine and giving positive reviews to restaurants/hotels who invited them to dine/stay for free. I hope with the rise of blogs in India the current “unethical” scenario tones down a bit. 

  • If anything, I found your reaction a bit stranger than her approach. Sure, she might have seemed untargeted. Then again, a lot of folks in marketing these days manage websites for their clients and bring numerous clients to a single host (in which case their outreach makes more sense). Your site specifically says you offer website development services. So it makes sense (to me) that they would be feel you’re a good fit. Nothing irrelevant about that.

    Asking for reviews (even paid ones) isn’t even close to being unethical in my opinion. Rather than asking you for private opinions about them in a consulting capacity, they ask for you to give that initial feedback in a public space instead. And they happen to compensate you for the time. The only way it would be unethical on their end is if they demanded a positive review. Beyond that, the ethics are on the blogger — failure to disclose the payment, opting not to be honest because they’re getting paid, etc. 

    You also mentioned paid links. Again, there’s absolutely nothing unethical about that action. Ethics only come into play if a blogger fails to disclose paid advertisements in some way or if they’re naive enough to believe that paid links are “wrong” just because Google doesn’t approve of them. Paid links used to be a huge advertising format and they were good for a lot of site owners (myself included). Then Google stepped in and labeled them terrible things (because their own algorithms were faulty and they had their own link sale business to keep in mind — but that’s not something you want to get me started on). Other than being a form of advertisement, there’s nothing special about them. It’s just on the blogger to disclose and choose advertisers they’d willingly support. 

    I can’t say that you’re “stupid” but I do think you’re very idealistic. Your view isn’t uncommon. But this is one of those cases where bloggers need to be reminded that there is no single “right” way to blog. If there were, we’d still all be using them for personal journals. But they’ve evolved over time. Blogs have a place in PR. In that capacity it makes sense to keep advertisements to the minimum because it could alter perceived influences over your content. But blogs are also marketing tools. In that sense, promotional elements are more common. 

    And then there’s another purpose of blogs that people in marketing and PR sometimes forget — they’re business models all on their own. I’d know. I run a couple of dozen for that very reason (and have managed marketing and PR oriented blogs over the years for myself and clients as well — so intimately familiar with their various roles).

    They’re designed to bring in income. Ads are a part of that. I don’t do paid reviews often, but when I do my visitors tend to buy. Why? Because I don’t compromise ethics. They get the good and the bad, and they know I never sugarcoat. If I tell them I recommend a product or service, they know I mean that. I’ve built trust over the years. Some bloggers are just hacks who will promote any piece of crap for a buck. But in my experience most of us aren’t that way. 

    Ads themselves, in any form, aren’t what cross an ethical line. We are.

  • Thanks very much for the counter-perspective and dissenting view. And thanks for refraining from calling me “stupid.” I will extend the same courtesy to you : )

    While I agree there can be many kinds of blogs for many kinds of people, I think your blog can either reflect an authentic opinion or it can be an ad. It can’t be both. In that way, there is a “right” way to do a blog if you expect to earn people’s respect. If you choose to jam your blogs with ads and paid reviews that is perfectly fine “to bring in income” but I doubt your content will be taken seriously for very long (and there are plenty of examples of that). Once you cross that line, nobody will know what to trust as you or what is simply an ad. Personally, when I see that a blog is a “paid” post I stop in my tracks and will likely never return to that blog. Who wants to waste their time reading ads?

    The person above wanted to pay me to review their hosting service on my blog. Disclosing this as a paid review would provide a great backlink for the service but be nothing more than meaningless dribble for my readers. Perhaps i am idealistic, as you say, for me to not want to sell out for a few bucks. Our goals obviously differ Jennifer, but to me, there is something more important than the money — Trust.

  • Very interesting. Perhaps standing out as “ethical” might be your point of differentiation then?

  • Serena

    Absolutely! Brands are getting tired of paying for tweets and coverage when there are only a handful of blogs that have decent readership.

  • AmyP

    Hey Mark, I think bloggers need to step into their readers shoes. I read blogs because I want an honest opinion on that subject so why would I put up with paid content?

    I work for a big company who regularly pay bloggers to review products and attend events. If this keeps happening I think the blogging will eventually become extinct because they will lose all credibility and readers will crave to read something that’s unbiased!     

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  • I totally agree that her approach was the wrong way to go about it – and unfortunately, it’s  very similar to many pitches I get each week too.

    But one area where I disagree, is in suggesting that many bloggers are “link whores”. While I love the colorful description, {lol} – I don’t agree that it’s a bad thing to allow paid links. 

    When I add a paid link to an old post, it goes at the bottom in a little blurb of related content. Example: I added one to the review of a great weight loss book I bought and had wanted to share – then at the bottom, there’s two sentences including the link, saying something like, “If you’re looking for more help in losing weight this summer, you should also check out xyz book – for more great tips!” – Content makes sense, the link to the other book was not spammy, and I think it’s entirely appropriate.

    To me, it’s similar to watching TV. You can choose to run your site more like PBS, with less paid ads, and more private content. Or you can choose to run your site more like ABC, where you sometimes have product placement, advertisements for products, or even, “This content was brought to you by xyz paid link company” at the end of a post or two. For me, my blog is a business, and I rely on it to support my daughter and I. I’m very choosy about which brands I allow in sponsored posts/ads/etc, I have no problem doing paid work if it’s something that my readers would enjoy learning about. 

    I think that there isn’t a right or wrong – if you’re a good enough writer to make paid posts interesting and entertaining, and that’s a good fit for your blog – go for it 🙂  

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  • klafave

    I believe that before you can write a review, paid or otherwise, it has to be relevant to your blog readers.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with those that will do any review for pay as long as it is disclosed in the post.  I, myself, have done paid reviews and If my review is not favorable, I still write it because I am going to give my readers my honest opinion.  I do believe that before you pitch a review request or any other paid post, you should be doing some research on that company, product or service. 

    When I do reviews, it is usually product reviews that I have tried the product myself and give my honest opinion of that product.  If it doesn’t work the way it says it should or is inferior in any way, I disclose that information.  I do see a lot of bloggers that will take anything in lieu of payment and while I don’t think this is unethical, I do believe that is greatly diminishes the bloggers credibility with its readers.

    Sites like blogsvertise add to this behavior of writing anything for money because they do not screen the blog for it’s content before allowing a blogger to write the paid post.  If I run a savings and deals blog that does product reviews and giveaways, why would my readers be interested in a review about a print shop in China?  I wish there was a site out there somewhere that matched up bloggers with review opportunities based on many criteria but also including site content. 

    I applaud you for sticking to your guns on this. 

  • Ashley

    Hi Mark,

    I think companies will keep pitching unethically like this if they have bloggers willing to oblige. And there are soooo many of them that it hurts me. It baffles me that many of these “link whore” blogs, you know the incredibly biased ones that just push products onto readers? Those get BIG audiences.

    All of this proves there is a big audience for companies and opportunities for them to make money. I recently discussed this with an unethical pitcher online. She basically said that lots of bloggers were participating and were happy with it, so that made her pitch okay. This type of rationale seems common. It’s so unfortunate.


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