The Hidden Value of a Link

Is PayPerPost evil?

Sure. I can get on board with that. Though it’s a flawed hypothesis, a lot of my column this week tries to explore why. It actually does have parallels in other media, and there are even some blog advertising campaigns enlisting bloggers themselves that tapped into the real power of community, but PayPerPost keeps making me squirm. I’ll take pop-ups over PPP any day. It does have some defenders, such as those who commented on the column on MediaPost (granted, those who emailed me were much more supportive – hardly a surprise, given sample biases).

The column also once again, like last week, stars the link. The full column’s in the extended entry. Is PPP really just product placement or advertorial? Or is it corrupting the fabric of social media, and the entire social media ecosystem? I welcome your take, as this debate isn’t going away.

The Hidden Cost Of A Link

 How much is a link back to your site
worth to you?

That’s one of the questions that arises with PayPerPost, the
service which, as its name suggests, offers a marketplace where advertisers can
pay for bloggers to post about them with a link to their site, all within the
blog’s editorial content. The link itself is arguably the most valuable part of
the whole operation (for more on the value of links, read last
week’s column
).

The biggest problem with links from PayPerPost is that they’re in
the editorial copy instead of with the ads. This presents a double-edged sword
for PayPerPost. If the links were off to the side or otherwise demarcated as ads
(such as when ads in RSS feeds are set off in a shaded box or surrounded by the
word "advertisement"), then there wouldn’t be much controversy over money
changing hands for running them.

The backlash against PayPerPost stems from these ads being
included as regular posts. The fact that there’s a disclaimer requirement
doesn’t do enough to blunt the negative effects of such a slippery slope with
ads being included in the editorial content. Additionally, the disclaimer can
negate the value of the blogger’s write-up (making the link the only real value)
— and bloggers with impeccable integrity, or enough of an audience to otherwise
monetize their blogs (whether it’s through ads, new business, or other leads
such as speaking engagements) won’t risk their reputations to join.

Some defenders of PayPerPost claim that their model is no
different than other forms of advertising. A perfect parallel is hard to find,
so this may be a straw-man argument. One somewhat related model is in radio,
where hosts will shill a product themselves on behalf of the good folks at the
advertiser being promoted. You won’t find such advertising in The New York
Times
, or embedded in a Fareed Zakaria column in Newsweek. For
similar reasons, it shouldn’t be on a blog.

Another parallel can be made with advertorials, which appear in
many shades of gray. Some are merely ads that include editorial copy written by
the advertiser, and they’re often made to look like other articles on the page
or in the publication. As that’s just another type of ad, the parallel is
tenuous at best. Some publications, meanwhile, will have their writers interview
the advertiser and write the copy for the advertorial, which is the only place
that the publication will cover a given topic. In such a case, the advertiser’s
only way of getting into the "editorial content" of that issue is by buying its
way in.

Bloggers have nothing in common with the second form of
advertorial I mentioned. Bloggers can always write about whatever they want
whenever they want. I’m a blogger, and I can post 20 times a day or once every
20 days, covering as few or as many trends, ideas, and companies as I wish. I’d
never run PayPerPost ads for fear of losing credibility (full disclosure: I did
register my blog with them to check out the service, though I never took part in
any campaigns).

So how could a marketer reach me and take advantage of those 133
links Google counts pointing to my blog? Blogger relations would work better. I
have companies write me every so often letting me know about new Web sites,
products, and services. If it’s a really great Web site, for example, I’ll write
about it (rarely do I cover things that don’t interest me just for the sake of
posting about them), and I’ll provide a link with commentary. Instead of paying
per post, the marketer invests time (by themselves, or through an agency) in
researching appropriate blogs, developing pitches relevant to each blogger, and
then making the pitch — with the occasional added cost of sending promotional
items. While such a campaign can be more costly, it’s exponentially more
effective. As a bonus, other bloggers will readily post their own links to
something they find in another blogger’s copy, though with PayPerPost that viral
effect isn’t there (I’ve never blogged, "Hey, check out what this advertiser
paid this other blogger to write about!")

PayPerPost refers to its service as "consumer-generated
advertising," but that’s a misnomer. When I write on my blog that I loved
staying at the Ceiba del Mar in Puerto Morelos, Mexico, that’s a
consumer-generated ad — better known as word-of-mouth marketing, and from the
consumer’s perspective, it’s just sharing information. When Dale Backus won a
contest for producing the Doritos Super Bowl ad, that was consumer-generated
advertising. When advertisers pay someone to post a link and comment on their
offering, it’s a cash-for-link deal that appears in the editorial content. When
PayPerPost’s advertisers hire consumers to write the copy and post the link,
it’s clearly not in the spirit of consumer-generated media, even if in some way
it counts as a technicality.

It’s up for marketers to determine how much links are worth for
them. They should keep in mind that the price can include intangibles that harm
their brands. And that, by the way, is full disclosure.

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