Blogging By The Rules

This week’s “Blog Tip Tuesday” post is about the official rules of blogging, including FTC rules for bloggers and Google’s rules about “no-follow” links. Just like the playground, the blogosphere is so much nicer when everyone is blogging by the rules!

Blogging By The Rules - FTC Rules For Bloggers

Before I go any further, let me remind you that while I am a lawyer, I am not a communications lawyer or a cyberspace lawyer or an e-commerce lawyer. This post is written from my non-professional perspective as an avid hobby blogger. 

FTC Rules For Bloggers

Last year the FTC published a guidance document on “How to Make Effective Disclosures In Digital Advertising” that got some attention in the blogosphere because it includes specific examples related to blogging. From the FTC’s perspective, blogs are no different than any other advertising medium, so any and all FTC rules can be applied to bloggers. If you want to learn more, one place to start is the FTC rules relating to “endorsements and testimonials” that apply to most sponsored blog reviews.

Some of the most important principles in the FTC Guidelines include the following points:

  • Advertising must be truthful and not misleading.
  • Advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims (“substantiation”).
  • Advertisements cannot be unfair.
  • Required disclosures must be clear and conspicuous. 

In the blogging example in the FTC Guidelines, the blogger wrote a positive review of paint that she received in exchange for a review. Under the rules relating to endorsements, she must disclose the fact that she was given the paint to review. According to the example, including that disclosure at the end of her review probably was not enough to ensure that the disclosure was “clear and conspicuous” as required.

This example underscores the FTC’s view that “[t]he closer the disclosure is to the claim to which it relates, the better.” This means that disclosures on a separate page, generic disclosures in a sidebar or footer separated from the content, disclosures that you have to scroll to see, and disclosures that appear after hyperlinks that might take the reader away from the page may not be acceptable. 

Think about how you feel as a reader. If you read through a long post raving about a new product or a great meal at a new restaurant, and then get to the bottom of the post and see a “disclaimer” in small, italic font in a lighter color, don’t you feel like you’ve somehow been duped? 

No-Follow Links

One of my top 10 WordPress plug-ins is the Ultimate No-Follow plug-in, which makes it easy to designate links as “no-follow” links. What is a “no-follow” link and why should you care? This post from Amuse Your Bouche has a pretty good explanation of what Google does when it “sees” a link in your blog post, why you want Google to “follow” some links, and why you don’t want Google to follow others.

Google suggests that you use “no-follow” links under the following circumstances:

  • When you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the content of the linked website.
  • When the link leads to a sign-in or registration page.
  • When you’ve been paid to include the link in your post. 

The last point is an important “rule” to Google. If Google thinks your blog is participating in any Link Schemes it may take action against your blog–demoting its rank and making it harder to find via search engines. 

Many companies ask bloggers to include links in their posts when they are doing reviews or posting “advertorial” content. These types of links should be “no-follow” links to comply with Google’s guidelines. (I’ve found that responding to “offers” by noting that I only use “no-follow” links in sponsored content is a good way to weed out unscrupulous marketers!) This is also a good reason to delete spammy comments, since most include links that you probably don’t want to vouch for! 

 WordPress.Com Terms Of Service

When I first started blogging, my blog was on WordPress.com. One of the reasons I switched to a self-hosted blog on WordPress.org was to get away from some of the restrictive WordPress.com terms of service, including the ban on ad networks (although I don’t use one), the restrictions on affiliate links (which I use from time-to-time and in my side bar), and the general prohibition against “advertising” (which encompasses sponsored posts and product reviews). If your blog is on WordPress.com, make sure you understand and play by their rules, or you may risk your blog being suspended. 

Did you know about the FTC rules for bloggers?

Are there other important rules for bloggers I didn’t cover?

This entry was posted in Product Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Blogging By The Rules

  1. Great post! You covered a lot of bases!
    Erin @ Her Heartland Soul recently posted…Our Staycation at Hotel Deco XVMy Profile

  2. Good tips as always! Thanks 🙂
    Deborah Brooks @ Confessions of a Mother Runner recently posted…Tuesdays on the Run-Hydration & FuelingMy Profile

  3. Erica G says:

    Great tips! Quick question – would you do no-follow links when you are sharing blogs? I tend to not do so but was interested in your thoughts.

    P.S. You are featured today on my blog!
    Erica G recently posted…Blog of the Month!My Profile

  4. Great post! I actually learned something, I always had thought the disclosure went a the bottom just because that is what I saw others do, thanks to you I will now be correcting this! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!!!
    Kristy @Runaway Bridal Planner recently posted…Hiking Blanch Lake, Wasatch Mountains UtahMy Profile

    • Coco says:

      Sometimes it seems like most bloggers don’t know the rules! You can work the disclosure into your post naturally — you don’t have to say “FTC Notice” or “Disclaimer” like many people do–as long as you follow the FTC guidance for “clear and conspicuous”
      Coco recently posted…Blogging By The Rules My Profile

  5. Kim says:

    I just try to steer clear of all these things – I figure if I don’t do them than I won’t be breaking any rules – avoidance:)
    Kim recently posted…Chris is 46!My Profile

  6. Dagmara says:

    Thank you for sharing Coco, I am glad that you have picked this subject for your post. I am always wondering about these guidelines for bloggers, how to properly indicate that a post is promoted, sponsored, etc. This has helped.
    Dagmara recently posted…Trendy Tuesday: Everything Pink!My Profile

  7. GiGi Eats says:

    The NO and DO follow links have ALWAYS confused me!
    GiGi Eats recently posted…Enjoy These Bananas on a HammockMy Profile

  8. I’m definitely familiar with the rules you mentioned, but need more education on them for sure!
    Sue @ This Mama Runs for Cupcakes recently posted…Wonder Mom Wedesday Link up: Back to SchoolMy Profile

  9. Thanks for the tips. Good reminders of what to keep in mind.
    Julie @ Making Mindfulness recently posted…On Being 30: How Life Has Changed Between 20 & 30My Profile

  10. Pingback: Five New Year Resolutions For Bloggers - Got2Run4Me

  11. I just found this last night after someone linked to it in a Sweat Pink comment on FB. The no-follow rule has always been a concern that I rarely fix in a link. I’m going to look for, and add, the no-follow plugin for WordPress. Thanks for the tips!
    Debbie @ Deb Runs recently posted…When The Brooklyn Dodgers Recruited My DadMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge