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Tots100, Nofollow and Hypocrisy

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This afternoon, I ended up on ‘Bloggers didn’t Come Down in the Last Shower‘, a post by blogger Sally deriding SEOs for their approach to bloggers, PR and paid links. Sally has a problem with PR/SEO types who disguise their intentions or outright lie about the potential damage to blogger’s search engine rankings caused by paid links that don’t carry the nofollow attribute.

No problems there, I agree completely. I get several e-mails on a daily basis from link builders who’ve clearly not read my blog or contact page who make out that they can provide me with content that’s the next best thing, beneficial to my site, bla dee freakin’ bla. Yawn, delete.

Sally links to a post she wrote for Tots100 in the beginning of her post. Unless you’re a parenting blogger, you’re probably unaware that Tots100 is a “community” that ranks bloggers who’ve signed up “using a unique scoring algorithm that reflects a blog’s popularity, influence and engagement”. That’s a toplist, to those of us who’ve been around since the 90s. Sally, incidentally, is the founder of Tots100. Anyway, the post discusses nofollow and why it’s important to add the attribute to paid links. It’s not the most technically accurate but given the audience is generally non-technical, I’ll forgive it that.

What bothers me about the Tots100 post, and the “bloggers aren’t stupid!” follow-up, is that it completely fails to mention the link to the family holidays website (‘familyholidays.co.uk’) contained within the Tots100 badge that all participating bloggers must place on their website to be included and/or ranked in the toplist/index/community/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. The link to the family holidays website is provided without the nofollow attribute. Now, the bloggers adding it to their sidebar might not be paid for its placement but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Tots100 don’t include this as a friendly gesture to the company behind familyholidays.co.uk. To spell that out for you: Tots100 will be financially compensated for their affiliation with the family holidays site. Financial compensation = it’s a bloody paid link! See update below

So why the hypocritical double standards? Haven’t figured that one out yet…

Update @ 20:11

Sally from Tots100 has stated that they are not paid or compensated for the links to the family holidays website. The links, across hundreds of blogs, are purely there (quoting #43687):

[..] Because it’s a great company, we’re happy to be associated with them, and that’s about as far as it goes.

I would argue that they still need to be nofollowed (untrusted link) but at least this means that, apparently, Tots100 aren’t slapping dofollowed advertising on member’s sites.

Jem Turner jem@jemjabella.co.uk +44(0)7521056376

22 comments so far

  1. Sally Whittle said:

    Hi Jem

    Thanks for the post.

    Just a couple of factual corrections if I may:

    1. Tots100 and its owners, Flea Enterprises, receive no payment for the badges on our members sites.

    2. As the links are not paid, our understanding is that the links on badges do not need to be nofollowed. If that changes, of course, we’d change the badge code. No community wants to do anything detrimental to its members, us included :)

    3. Members are not required to display a Tots100 badge to be a part of our community. Displaying a badge is optional, except during the registration process, when we use it as a way of verifying ownership of a site.

    Apart from that, great post – and we agree with you that the SEO-driven paid link thing is a real pain in the neck for bloggers, myself included.

    Thanks

    Sally

    • Jem said:

      Are you saying that you do not receive any compensation from familyholidays or the parent company sunshine.co.uk ltd for the links that are included as part of the member badge?

        • Jem said:

          Just to clarify, by ‘you’ I meant you personally and/or Tots100 / Flea Enterprises / MADS etc…

          And if the answer remains the same, can you clarify the point of the links to familyholidays.co.uk so that I can amend my post so as not to misrepresent your good self?

  2. Sprogmama said:

    I have the Tots100 badge on my blog and I’ve edited out the Family Holidays code. Widget space is limited to my footer and I certainly don’t want any advertising snuck in there.

    Sally, if you don’t mind me asking, what is the benefit (to you) of including the link to Family Holidays if you aren’t compensated for it?

  3. Sally said:

    That’s correct. No payment to myself or my company. Or to any other third party.

    Feel free to call us names for all sorts of other reasons though… I note you’re not keen on Mummy bloggers as a breed… ;-)

    • Jem said:

      If we’re going to be pedantic, I said compensation not payment. However, I am sure you’re not deliberately re-wording your sentence to avoid answering the question :) As above – what is the point of the link to familyholidays.co.uk?

      I have nothing against mummy bloggers, just a) the term “mummy bloggers” and b) ad-riddled blogs where you cannot distinguish a real post from a sponsored one.

      • Sally said:

        I’m re-wording the sentence because I don’t know how to be any clearer. There’s no payment, including a payment in kind. Simple as that. I just hope that’s clear enough!

  4. Mummetime said:

    I never had a problem with the tots100 network although I was aware of the followed links to the site and te holiday network I just put them down to the way that tots100 monetized the site – each to their own. However advising other mummy bloggers not to add followed links seems as though you want the link strength to just go to the tots100 and family holidays sites.
    Followed or no followed it seems to come down to money more than advice or sharing.
    I would be interested to know why the link was to the family holiday site if not for some sort of compensation?
    Making money from a site isn’t necessarily a bad thing but if it starts to compromise values or the content it isn’t worth it.
    Totally agree with some of the idiots that email for links.

    • Jem said:

      “Making money from a site isn’t necessarily a bad thing but if it starts to compromise values or the content it isn’t worth it.”

      Brilliantly put.

  5. Sally said:

    We’re very happy to leave the link to Family Holidays as a follow link, as we think it’s a great site, and we’re happy to support them and be associated with them.

    Bloggers in our community don’t have to use the badge, and some bloggers edit out some or all of the badge – which is perfectly fine.

    I am pleased that many of our members get a lot out of being in the Tots100 (traffic, backlinks, free blogging conferences, free parties and social events and regular opportunities for reviews, advertising etc) but it’s by no means a hard requirement of membership.

    We do sometimes work with clients on projects that involve bloggers linking to us, or to them. In these cases, we would always advise bloggers they are free to use no-follow code, if they prefer.

    On occasion, clients may want to buy sponsored content with follow links and in this case, we would approach the blogger and ensure they understand what they’re committing to, and that they’re happy to proceed. I don’t have an issue with paid follow links, just with people assuming bloggers can be misled or misinformed on the issues.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss the issue more widely. We are always happy to answer questions and where we can do things better, we’re very happy to take on board feedback. There is always room for improvement, and we’re glad the blogging community feels able to ask awkward questions and disagree with us on occasion.

    But perhaps talk to us first before slating us next time?

    Thanks

    Sally

    • Sprogmama said:

      So what is your relationship to Family Holidays if you don’t mind me asking? If you like them as a company, why not just link to them on your own site?

      It just seems a little odd to give them such a huge amount of exposure and potential click-throughs with absolutely nothing in return.

      • Sally said:

        What’s the question?

        Do we get paid? No

        Are we compensated or paid in kind? No

        Why do we have the link? Because it’s a great company, we’re happy to be associated with them, and that’s about as far as it goes.

        That said if you, or any of your readers have any additional, or more specific questions you contact me directly, I’m always happy to chat :)

        And it’s not the first time I’ve been called odd…

        Sally

      • Sprogmama said:

        Sally, my question was “What is your relationship with Family Holidays?”.

        I was referring to the decision being odd, not you personally. Unusual would probably have been a better term, apologies if I caused any offence.

        As a side note, I do love how the Tots100 badge is so clean and minimalist. I don’t usually bother with badges because they’re often huge and garish, but I’ve made an exception for yours (and mumsnet lol) because it doesn’t intrude on my layout.

        Thanks for taking the time to promptly address the issue raised here. :)

  6. Jem said:

    It’s worth pointing out to all bloggers that Google’s guidelines on the nofollow attribute don’t just apply to paid links. Google lists three specific examples of link that should be nofollowed, see here: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=96569

    Note in particular the sentence “Here are some cases” – so clearly not an exhaustive list.

    Google has publicly stated that affiliate links, sponsored reviews containing links etc should also be nofollowed. Matt Cutts has stated several times that links created purely to direct traffic should be nofollowed.

    Nofollow was originally created as a method to combat spam (for which I vocally opposed it, way back when). It’s not “just” for paid links and never has been.

  7. Emma said:

    Hmm, I’m still not clear why Tots100 want to give this one company so much free publicity – this is why I’ve got the Tots100 badge on my own blog, but I’ve removed the couple of lines of HTML that add in the link. I’m happy to promote Tots100, but not other companies that I haven’t personally chosen.

  8. Jacqui said:

    Sally, just to be clear, are you saying that you, Tots 100 or Flea Enterprises have received no payments, gifts or discounts from familyholidays.co.uk?

    • Jem said:

      I’ve been speaking to Sally via e-mail and she has confirmed again: “nobody gets paid for the links on Tots100 badges by anyone, in cash, or via payment in kind”

      I believe what Sally is saying – that she & her company behind Tots100 etc are not being compensated. Doesn’t mean nobody at familyholidays etc isn’t or that bloggers are effectively giving the site free advertising, but that’s another issue altogether. I would urge any blogger bothered by what I’ve written about here to either modify the Tots100 code to nofollow the links or simply remove them altogether.

  9. Holly said:

    Ummm…. This all smells a bit fishy doesn’t it? Especially when you read posts n Sally’s own blog ‘thanking her amazing sponsors, FamilyHolidays.co.uk’

    It seems someone can’t make up their mind about them being sponsors or simply being ‘a great company’.

    Maybe the question being asked here wasn’t quite right… I would have asked if they have been paid by FamilyHolidays at any time in the past…

    http://www.whosthemummy.co.uk/2010/07/july-2010-tots100-index-of-uk-parent-blogs-and-bloggers.html

    • Jem said:

      I’d not seen that post – as a casual reader of Sally’s blog I’d only dip in and out – but you’re right that the wording is odd.

      Still, I chucked a few wild ideas based on another blogger’s findings at Sally via email after this post was published and she denied all accusations so with nothing to go on, I can only trust what she said.

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