Are you a blogger, who receives free products or services to review online? Then pay close attention because Google recently published a set of guidelines (Guidelines) for you to follow.
Not sure if you are in Google’s sights? Here are just a few examples of the type of situations that are bound to capture Google’s attention:
- A restaurant offering free meals to bloggers to encourage positive reviews;
- A blogger receiving free goods in return for endorsing products; and
- A blogger being paid for endorsement of a product.
Not only do you need to consider Google’s efforts in regulating the blogosphere, but the Australian Consumer Law also enforces rules for online endorsement and reviews. These legal rules must be followed, regardless of whether you’re a supplier or a blogger (professional or otherwise).
According to Google, ‘users want to know when they’re viewing sponsored content’, and this position is reinforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). Under the Australian Consumer Law, a failure to disclose paid endorsements will be misleading and deceptive conduct, which can attract serious penalties.
The heart of the issue is the right of consumers to only be subjected to honest advertising and promotion.
So, what are the consequences?
If Google discovers that you are advertising or reviewing products, in exchange for an undisclosed reward (for example, product or money), it may consider you to be in violation of the Guidelines. This is likely to amount in your demotion or elimination from Google search results. Not a favourable outcome at all.
If the ACCC finds your business has been covertly enticing bloggers to endorse or review your products, you may be penalised for misleading and deceptive conduct under the Australian Consumer Law. This can lead to financial penalty and cause irreparable damage to the reputation and credibility of your brand, as well as your blog.
How do I comply?
These three things will assist you to not face the wrath of Google or the ACCC:
- Bloggers must clearly disclose any commercial relationship with any business, which may be rewarding you for your endorsement.
- Bloggers should use ‘nofollow’ links when linking to the business responsible for providing you with free products. This will prevent the links from affecting search results and creating artificial popularity.
- Businesses should monitor the conduct of bloggers, who they have provided free product with (a business will be responsible for any misleading or deceptive conduct carried out by a blogger, who have been rewarded to endorse its products).
Businesses that follow the Guidelines are likely to satisfy Google and the provisions of the Australian Consumer Law. However, businesses and bloggers should become familiar with the deceptive trade practice provisions of the Australian Consumer Law, before giving any public endorsement the green light.
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