Think before you accept that bottle of water

Google’s linking policy in its Terms of Service says:

Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.

Imagine you own a fashion, music or travel news site – part of your job is to attend fashion or music events or sample tourist products.

The people owning these products are eager for you to expose them to your audience and you get invited to experience these products. This is something that has happened in the ‘traditional’ media space for years. Business invites reporters to be open and honest about their product. For the reporters this is a double benefit – he/she gets to mingle with the rich and famous experience the high life whilst also being paid to write about it.

Now – I have a theory, people are not dumb and will realise when someone writes about something in an insincere way. Eventually that writer and publication will lose his audience as they seek out the ‘truth’ rather than the ‘fluff’. This is natural and happens almost on an unconscious level.

BUT, this is where Google’s linking Terms of Service is headed for a clash with the real world as we still get reporters eager to share links to products that they recommend and, technically, they will be in violation of Google’s Terms of Service as I can bet you that the reporter did receive some form of “free” product, lunch or bottle of water as a thank you for attending a presentation.

Does this mean that every writer, reporter and blogger now needs to publish a legal document stating that they did not receive any “free” items and paid for their own tea / coffee / biscuits?

Does this mean that every article written about any business, fashion, music or tourism product will violate Google’s Terms of Service?

Is it okay, nay recommended, to link to an internal page about the company that you write about?

Frightening stuff when a ToS is so broad!