Pay per spam

A Fortune Forbes reporter called me the other day as he started into a story about Pay Per Post and once again, I wish I’d done the interview by email so I could point to what I told him.

He was enthusiastic about Pay Per Post catching on. I asked him what evidence he had to say that. He said it had lots of posties and lots of advertisers and is getting more funding. Well, funding is not necessarily a sign of a successful business. I asked whether it was profitable and whether it was performing for those advertisers. I took him through my logic of why Pay Per Post surely cannot work for advertisers as a branding and marketing tool because posties’ paid blog posts are unreadable and not credible and have no audience. I said that I thought this was nothing but human splogging: an effort to get bloggers to link to companies for SEO. I begged him to call Google and find out their view of this and whether they were set to block it. I urged him to get to advertisers to find out what alleged value they got out of this. I told him that I think less of advertisers — namely, HP — that use this. I pleaded with him to be skeptical.

Here’s his rather puffy. He glosses right over the human splogging as if it were a fringe benefit, not a scam:

Some advertisers have pretty good luck with the system. Besides buzz, PayPerPost’s army of bloggers can influence a Web site’s all-important rank in search engines.

The algorithms that determine search engine results pay particular attention to how many different pages link to a site, and by suddenly introducing hundreds of new links to a particular site, PayPerPost has the power to radically and rapidly affect this.

In January, for example, when PayPerPost bloggers began writing about Hewlett-Packard (nyse: HPQ – news – people ), the search terms ”HP” and ”HP Camera” spiked in the Neilsen NetRatings, which monitor Internet activity.

When posties embedded trailers of the 2006 Ashley Judd movie Bug in their blogs, the video became one of the most popular on, a popular indexer of what’s happening on the Web. Last week, when posties were offered $18 to talk up John Cusack’s new movie, 1408, all 300 opportunities were snatched up within 24 hours.

There’s the lead, damnit. Pay Per Post isn’t advertising, marketing, branding, any of that. It’s an attempt to get around Google’s and Technorati’s splog filters. You might as well have — pace Andrew Keen — a million, uh, well, monkeys typing links.

: Oh, and I don’t sniff. I snort.

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  • Can’t help but wonder what kind of cheap devices said reporter would be willing to leverage for his own benefit as a writer. I’m somewhat sympathetic to bloggers seeking to make a little money blogging – but when your reaction to advertisers is “neat-o – it’s SEO!” there seems to be a certain lack of moral compass.

  • It just sounds like another version of “gaming the system” and follows a long line of “opportunistic” marketing schemes from click fraud, phony book sales (to get on bestseller lists), and payola (or swag). In the end these “good marketing is lying” tactics kill trust and increase cynicism. That can’t be good for business.

  • It makes me wonder whether the article was a paid post in Fortune for the PayPerPost service.

  • Sue

    I have seen some backlash by bloggers who have said they will delete posties from their blogrolls/feeds because they are sick of going to blogs they used to read only to find endless paid posts there.

  • Paw

    I believe online advertising is rapidly approaching a crossroads in its development. It has to decide (and quickly) what it wants to be when it grows up. As advertisers allocate higher percentages of their spending to online, they will demand more and more accountability from suppliers, much like they did from cable in its infancy. This includes standardized third party measurement of campaigns, affidavits of performance and guarantees against things like click fraud and other questionable business practices. If these things don’t occur, advertisers are bound to slow growth until they do.

    Another thing the IAB and other trade associations could (and should) do: come up with as many case studies as possible of advertisers that shifted large amounts of money from traditional media to online and the positive effect this had on sales. In spite of their constant complaining, traditional media clients know that their advertising dollars get results there; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t spend the money. The more results-based evidence of online’s ability to move product, the faster budgets will grow.

    My $0.02.

  • Tim

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Jeff.

    I agree that this is about SEO. But the genie is out of the bottle, and has been for years. Before there were marketplaces, it was done directly between the blogger and advertiser, and usually without disclosure. A much less efficient, and less honest, model.

    As long as Google says links = votes = relevancy, it will continue to be that way. The only viable alternative in the short-run – Google penalizing paid ads – is going to result in disclosures becoming a thing of the past. But at least there will be more artfully written paid posts.

    Thanks again, and if you are so inspired, I’d enjoy reading about alternate futures to the one I just presented.



  • Nick

    Is it bad form to point out that the “Fortune” article actually appeared on

  • JJ:
    1) Your investment in a PPP competitor for social media sponsorship dollars puts this whole post in question. As one of the small minority of bloggers who aspires to apply professional journalist rules, conflict disclosure applies to holding competing interests as well, doesn’t it?

    2) You keep flip-flopping on what the problem is with PPP. First you claimed it was the fact that sponsors can reach your editorial, but you redirected your focus after a competing investment to say it’s about SE relevance impacts. Neither is correct, but at least don’t flip-flop so obviously to pad your wallet.
    3) Speaking of your wallet, would you care to wager whether organic posts or sponsored posts provide more relevant data for SE algos? For example, this post alone provides contextual data for Fortune on a Forbes article and link-based data via your “puff” and “million” links. I’m doing some research on the relevance of anchor text in organic vs. sponsored posts and would welcome a friendly $100 wager of which posts more cloesly match the average person’s measure of relevance. My money is on market systems like PPP delivering more relevant data to the SEs. Do you believe your SEO argument enough to put your money on random indexed organic post links delivering more relevant data? If not, is the relevance smokescreen really about relevance or about slowing/stifling competitive ad models by a search monopoly/oligopoly. You’re a smart guy JJ, where do you place your bet? ;-)

  • VC Dan,

    First, Black 20 is hardly in “social media sponsorship” as you euphemistically describe the space. Black 20 is an entertainment company. PPP is most certainly not entertaining. They are not competitors anymore than I compete with Harper’s Bazaar for ad dollars. That’s absurd.

    Second, I disclosed the Black 20 investment the day it closed.

    Third, I’m not flip-flopping on the problems with PPP. I’m adding to my list of problem. It’s hardly an either-or. They try to buy the voice of bloggers. And it turns out that this isn’t even for marketing but for SEO. They’re using these people. I’m glad they’re getting paid and it is their right to be paid. But they should be insulted that they are being used to fool a machine.

    Fourth, I don’t gamble. Not with VCs.

    Fifth, what interest do YOU have in this space?

  • JJ,

    1) Black20 is pretty clear about their advertiser pitch:
    “Any of the above advertising opportunities can be combined with organic product integration. In other words, let’s work together to find a way to incorporate your product into BLACK20 quality programming, assuring your message is reaching your target audience. You’re Snickers? Ok great. You want someone to choke on a candy bar cause it’s packed with delicious peanuts? Drop us a line so we can negotiate a deal before we sell that gem off to Baby Ruth.

    And for all you small companies that don’t have a commercial, but you want one… have no fear, let’s figure out a solution where together we can create a short spot to run on the network. Don’t hesitate to inquire. We are open to all ideas, big or small. ”

    Therefore, if an advertiser is considering online video product placement, they can spend with specific video properties like Black20 or they can spend with a marketplace of potential CGM video properties like PPP. They must decide the ROI of playing one specific niche or playing the long-tail. I don’t mind if you have a better label for those advertisers, but Black20 and PPP are very direct competitors for those advertiser dollars.

    2) “I disclosed the Black 20 investment the day it closed.” That’s interesting. Do you feel a single post that isn’t linked from other pages a sufficient disclosure of conflicts? You should carry a “Disclosure Policy” link on every page.

    3) I think you confused me by declaring the PPP “lead” is about SEO, when your prior PPP “lead” was around reaching editorial with product. The timing of your video investment which involves product placements and the switch to an SEO soapbox was just a bit too convenient.

    4) OK, let’s not really gamble. Just tell me your honest opinion whether the anchor text in sponsored posts will be more or less relevant than the average blogger’s choice of anchor text for a given link. No money on the line, just take a position.

    5) Are you seriously unsure or are you just playing around? Just in case, I’ve provided another siglink to my blog which includes no fewer than 11 mentions of PPP, my investment list including PPP and my Disclosure Policy including PPP. Siglinks are the standard mode of sharing context for any commenter (it’s why anon/no-siglink comments carry less trust), made even better by the inclusion of a Disclosure Policy link on every page of my blog. If you followed my lead on a ubiquitous BuzzMachine Disclosure Policy link, my Black20 conflict disclosure comments would have been moot.

  • VC Dan,

    You’re right: I am updating my disclosures page with two investments.

    I did look around your site to find your PPP investment and could not. Now I see it.

    You’re trying way too hard here. These companies have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

    I invest in other companies that do something things with which I would not agree. I have Microsoft stock, ferchrissakes. So by your logic, I can impute that you approve of everything every company you invest in does. So you approved of PPP turning llittle kids into shills?

    I have no idea about Google alogrithms.

    We might as well agree to disagree. I think PPP is a spam sham. You don’t. We disagree. Strongly.

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