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!
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?
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?