What is an advertorial? In short, an advertorial is a cross between an ad and an editorial. The advertorial has been around a long time in traditional print media. For example, a company would pay a newspaper to write some editorial content that also promoted their product. But, it would be made clear that it was sponsored by some entity. The seo advertorial has gotten some recent attention in because it's been used for link building. With the seo advertorial, there is more than just a human consumer audience--there is also the search engine crawling the content. And so, whether this is ethically wrong or right, Google has determined that it crosses a line and made an example out of a U.K company, Interflora, and hit them with penalties.


Hello, and welcome to our video on advertorials. I'm Chad Hill. And I have Adam Stetzer here, as well.

Good afternoon, Chad. We've got an interesting topic today-- advertorials, which is this funny word that's a cross between an ad and an editorial. It's been around a long time. I know it's gotten some recent attention in SEO because it's been used for link building, such as the interflora google penalty.

So I thought we'd try to educate our viewers a little bit today, Chad, on first just talking about what are advertorials? What have they been used for? What's the ethical debate been around those? And then transition into how more recently people have become quite creative in using them for SEO and link building and whether that's ultimately a good idea. So what are advertorials in the first place?

Well, these are things you typically saw in print-- so either in newspapers or magazines. And the idea was that rather than having-- just to use a magazine example-- the full page magazine ad, if you could make your ad look a little bit more like an article, then it obviously carried whatever editorial value that that magazine carried.

So if you're in Time, it looks like a Time article. Then someone might actually read it and read it with a different level of commitment than they might just glance at an ad. So the idea was yes, we will pay you to write some editorial content, but we're going to tell you what that content should say. And it's probably going to promote our product or our point of view. That's what, traditionally, people refer to as an advertorial.

Right. And I think I've seen these materials in the Washington Post or New York Times. Most notably, I remember them in the real estate section, where I might have been flipping through and started to read what looked like a well-researched or editorial piece-- because that's how presents, right? It's long form, has a lot of facts. It's well-detailed.

But then, my eye might have drifted down and seen somewhere, this contest sponsored by or paid advertisement. So I think that's the core concept. It is paid. So the point of view cannot be completely unbiased. But it usually has way more value than a traditional ad, wouldn't you think, because there's generally research facts. And it's in this grey area, right?

Yeah. Exactly. It definitely is interesting information. But as you said, the point of view is more associated with the dollars exchanging hands. And therefore, the real goal of the advertiser or the person paying for the advertorial is make this look as much like your editorial content as possible.

And of course, the editorial team at wherever that thing was going in is going to be pushing back, saying, we need to keep some distinction between our true editorial and this advertorial content. So we want a slightly different font or some sort of disclosure at the top or the bottom that says, this is paid content.

So there was an ethical debate or is an ethical debate around advertorials, because it is blurring the traditional line. The traditional lines-- in print media, at least, and somewhat true in television, too-- is the content is in one place and then the ads are in another. And you can be clear on which is which. Interflora advertorial was not clear.

So you can see where the ethical debate started to creep in. And I know most print media have landed on the issue of disclosure. As long as they feel like they're disclosing that it was sponsored content or paid content, they're OK with it-- and particularly these days, when they're struggling to keep their revenues up.

But let's transition a little bit and talk about SEO, search engine optimization, and what role advertorials play in seo advertorial and why the interflora penalty got into the news in the first place. I know this UK company-- Interflora, a flower company-- got a penalty earlier this year from Google. And what they had done is sponsored many, many interflora advertorials.

But the twist here is they were in the online section of the newspaper. And they had DoFollow links in them. So why did that cross the line? And what does that mean for SEO?

Well, it's a really great question. And it's one that you can speculate on. But essentially, what happened there is you took this model that had been, as you said, in place for many, many years on the print side. And you add this extra element, which was, in addition to the audience value of it-- so someone on these websites readings this advertorial content-- we're actually now going to add an SEO component.

So the minute that link was put in there, there was a secondary audience now that was crawling that content and following those links. And so the question is, by having that link that catered to that other audience, did they somehow cross a line? And the answer that Google said is yes and gave their infamous interflora google penalty to the seo advertorial.

I think it's very debatable, though. What do you think, Adam?

I think it is, too. I think it's very strange territory. Google clearly said, we're going to view this as a paid link. And everyone should, by now, be very familiar with their policy on paid links. And so they actually issued a full on Interflora google penalty, who then had to run around and scramble and pull down all these advertorials.

I believe they've since recovered their rankings. But a penalty's a big deal for a business like that. So I do think this is in the grey area, because it was sponsored content. But it was not truly an ad and it had editorial value and it had end user value. But it does seem, just by the fact of putting the link in there, they crossed a line for Google.

So I think this debate's going to go on for quite awhile. It's interesting to pay attention to these data points. But as an SEO practitioner, what you should probably take away from our video today is Google did throw down a judgment on the seo advertorial. And they said, we're viewing this as a paid link, for better or for worse. And you should probably be aware of that.

But the ethics of it are fascinating to me, because, as we talked about in traditional print media, how it's very well-defined-- this is the content and this is the ad-- well, move into television and you think, at first, that's pretty well-defined. But where things start to get funky is with paid product placement.

So many people probably aren't aware that most popular TV shows they watch will have a can of Coke or a can of Pepsi or some other detergent or some other product-- that they were actually paid to include in the shot. And yet, there's really not a whole lot ethical debate or any sort of penalty that comes to those companies from doing that.

Advertorials with an included DoFollow link seem to me to be quite similar. But in the web world, the rules seem to be a little different.