The good news about the new Google links edict, in which the search engine giant will penalize bloggers who use samples for their product reviews, is that it shouldn’t harm the Wine Curmudgeon or anyone else who is a legitimate wine writer. The bad news? That we have to trust Google – a highly secretive company that doesn’t tell anyone what it does or why it does it.
That’s the learned opinion of Stephen Kenwright, who has been parsing Google’s search algorithms since 2003 for Branded3, a consultancy in Leeds and London in the United Kingdom that helps companies boost their search results.
I contacted Kenwright after Google’s March samples announcement, and he didn’t disagree that there was reason to be concerned. “What you wrote,” he said, “made a lot of sense. Google’s guidelines are open to interpretation.”
So how legitimate was my fear that those of us who use samples were being lumped in with the sleazes and scumbags who trade in links for scam and profit? Links matter because their quality and quantity are crucial in getting the best search ranking from Google, and those of us who write on the Internet live and die by Google’s search rankings. A crummy search ranking, and you can’t find me no matter how good I am. Links also matter to the producers who send us samples, since Google’s new policy will penalize them as well – even though they aren’t trying to cheat the system.
Said Kenwright: “You’re writing a review– are you giving the best possible advice? Or is there no real reason for the review and the link to be there? Then you’ll probably be penalized. If you trust Google to do the right thing, it probably will.”
The key word, of course, is probably. Kenwright said Google’s targets are bloggers and companies who pile on links for no legitimate reason – a highly-ranked Mommy blogger, for instance, who suddenly reviews rifle scopes, or a well-read travel site for backpackers that for no particular reason starts doing luxury hotel reviews.
“Ask yourself, ‘Is my readership interested in this product?’ “ said Kenwright. “Do your readers expect to see this review on this site? The deciding factor is whether the reviews are genuine or not.”
So producers can keep sending samples to those of us who do legitimate wine reviews, and I can keep using those samples in my reviews without sending the blog crashing and burning to the bottom of the Internet.
The headline on this post refers to the infamous 1975 New York Daily News headline during New York City’s bankruptcy crisis.