You might have happened across this story over the last couple of weeks. It highlights a lot of the dangers associated with so-called “blogger outreach” – especially when it’s outsourced to people who clearly don’t understand how it can work when done properly.
The upshot of the story is this. A company claiming to represent the bingo wing (or whatever the terminology is) of gambling firm 888 wrote to a blogger asking for a link. Basically, the guy tore the linkbuilding company a new hoop by publically outing their methods – publishing their request for a link alongside his own very scabrous comments. I doff my cap to his amusing writing on the subject.
Bloggers can be a very prickly bunch of people. In a lot of cases, they are writing for personal motives. It could be that in their normal lives they don’t have a chance or the personality to say the things that they really believe. Protected by the anonymity of the screen, they can publish and be damned. Consequently, the blog is a very personal space. People who claim to work with bloggers can be telling the truth – after all, plenty of people will blog for cash, and anyone who works in SEO and claims otherwise is lying. However, unless there are well-established lines of communication between the blogger and the company an initial approach must be taken with extreme caution – as this incident vividly proves.
In this case, approaching this guy was always a fool’s errand. A look back through his previous, very scatalogical, postings reveals him to be the exactly the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to try and approach. His blog has This Is My Turf written all over it. The fact that he’s had a book of his posts published also reveals that he must be a good writer with a good sized audience and no need of the fifty quid that was proposed to him.
Anyway, assuming that this is all genuine, I’d give the following advice to anyone looking to get into this as a way of linkbuilding.
- Check out the blogs carefully before contacting them. If they’ve got other content that looks like advertising, it doesn’t mean that it is advertising. In fact, in the case of a good writer you probably couldn’t tell the difference anyway. If the content ever leans towards the satirical, political or personal viewpoint then steer clear. Read the blog archives and you should be able to tell whether the blogger is likely to be open to that kind of thing.
- Don’t contact them with a standard form link request. Linkbuying is, as every fule no, outlawed by Google. Advertising, however, isn’t. A request about advertising slots is at least open and honest and above board. If the blogger is prepared to consider giving you editorial space, that’s their decision and you shouldn’t presume that they’re so desperate for money as to use their personal space to shill for your product. Certainly do not tell the blogger what their piece “should” be about like happened in this case. Oh – and probably don’t reveal who you’re working for in case this happens to you!!!
- Look for an obvious synergy in content. If you are looking to find bloggers for whatever line of product or service you’re selling, then see if they’ve alluded to anything similar before. The chances that the guy at Bete de Jour is an avid bingo player are laughably slim, so leave well alone. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone outside the affiliate networks blogging about bingo so a blogger outreach program isn’t really that great a place to start anyway.
- Ask for feedback instead of offering payment. Having established that some people can take great umbrage at the suggestion that they get paid to write positively for you, many people will gladly review your service or product in exchange for either a sneak preview, a free sample or whatever you can offer. It’s flattering to be asked for your opinion, and the chance to get advance access to something is quite alluring for your ego. I still remember when some company asked if they could use one of my Flickr pics in a brochure. They’d have paid a photographer a couple of hundred quid. I was happy to get a mention in the credits, which just goes to show
- Be prepared to face negative feedback in public. If you are asking a writer for feedback, it won’t always be good. Joel Spolsky is about as prominent example of this you can get. You win some, you lose some. If that happens, don’t shy away from the criticism – contact the blogger to apologise and to thank them for their feedback, either publically in the comments or privately via email. It goes a long way to retaining goodwill.
In short: treat bloggers as people – not as professional advertising outlets.
On the other hand, if you are a blogger and are approached in this way, don’t assume that the company themselves are responsible. Quite often themarketing manager gets a brief from his board of “sort out the SEO” and unless they’re switched on (still surprisingly uncommon) they can just hire any Tom, Dick or Harry without even realising that this kind of hilarious shitstorm is happening on the web in their name. Even so, the linkbuyers deservedly got it in the neck on this one.
On the other hand, my AdSense earnings are pitiful, so if you’re reading this and want to make me an offer I’ve got literally nothing to lose!