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26 February 2013 - 4:14pm | posted by | 2 comments

Does Google's hardline stance on Interflora spell the end of the advertorial?

The end for the advertorial?The end for the advertorial?

Advertorials in newspapers have been an effective and accepted marketing tool for many years and long before the internet. In most cases, an advertorial takes the form of an editorial article which has been paid for by a commercial entity and is labelled as “Advertising Feature” or similar.

They deliver strong business development and brand building benefits for the featured business and are a good revenue stream for the newspaper.

However, they have now attracted the wrath of Google, with a number of UK newspapers seemingly been penalised with PageRank drops for publishing advertorial pages with embedded links.

At the same time, Interflora appears to be the scapegoat business, having lost high-visibility rankings for relevant key terms including its own brand name.

On Friday, Google’s head of search spam, Matt Cutts, wrote:

“Please be wary if someone approaches you and wants to pay you for links or ‘advertorial’ pages on your site that pass PageRank. Selling links (or entire advertorial pages with embedded links) that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines, and Google does take action on such violations.”

So, at a time when control of the press is a hot topic, Google is perhaps closer to succeeding than others… dictating to newspapers what they should publish and how.

Also, in the wake of this, to the great amusement of some, a popular twitterer posted: “So *now* they tell me mass buying advertorials isn't the same as content marketing”.

But the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm is misguided, in my humble opinion. Because advertorials *are* a justifiable and valuable element of content marketing, whether or not bought in mass.

That is as long as they pass editorial guidelines and are useful to the readers. And, if they don’t, they shouldn’t be published in the first place.

There is no doubt some digital marketers are guilty of producing large amounts of poor quality material and some publishers have adopted low acceptance standards.

But this should not be the death of the advertorial from a content marketing perspective. I suppose the “link earning” side-effect has been a nice bonus which publishers may now negate with nofollow attributes. However, business development and brand building still remain strong.

This is all very much about the “Google way”, and similar to how they targeted the poor quality article networks. That is, there is a large channel which is known to be a carrier of paid links but Google is only able to police some of it. Therefore, Google puts a shot across the bows of the publishers – as well as “exposing” a high-profile brand – and sits back to see what happens next.

What it probably expects is that the majority of publishers will stop providing link-carrying advertorials and the majority of brands will insist their agencies don’t use the practice (if they previously did so, of course, in both cases). Job done, to a great extent.

Then again. What about the “good story” sent out by a PR Agency which is picked up by the News Desk and published “run-of-paper”, including a link to a business website? Is that not a paid link, too, in another form?

So, I say long live the advertorial, but with some sympathy for the editors who may still have to check their contents. As I recall an advertorial from my newspaper past written for a carpet shop by a cheeky writer. He had embedded the line …

“If you want a good shag, see Sheila on the second floor …”

David Mill is managing director of digital marketing company MediaCo and was previously online editor of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, group online editor of Mirror Group and head of publishing and content at Scotland Online

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