There Need To Be More Transparency in Domain Blog Posts

Oct 31 2017

There are FTC rules about advertisement.   It’s pretty clear.  If you receive ANY form of compensation from a company or person you have to CLEARLY disclose in that article that you have received compensation from that company.  I was not very good about it early on in this blog.  Then my a family member of mine became responsible for managing the legal compliance for their websites and reviews.  That’s where my disclosure at the bottom of my list came from.  Making it very obvious that I am being paid from a lot of people to do the list.   Yet it seems like nobody else is doing it.  According to the FTC and to anyone reading a blog article, “Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement”   What’s the definition of an endorsement?

Here is the official definition

For purposes of this part, an endorsement means any advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser, even if the views expressed by that party are identical to those of the sponsoring advertiser. The party whose opinions, beliefs, findings, or experience the message appears to reflect will be called the endorser and may be an individual, group, or institution

Yes.  Any demonstration or just plain verbal statements about that company is an endorsement.  In short, you shouldn’t be writing any article about a company without saying you are paid by that company to write about them.  Business Insider is a good  example of following the rules in this article.

There aren’t too many domain blogs so its hard not to get personal. And Michael Berkens is a lawyer so I’m pretty sure he is comfortable with anything he or Raymond writes.  I don’t know exactly who pays whom or how much they get paid but I don’t think anyone would disagree when I say, articles seem to have a more paid to write feel than ever.  And there are several reasons why I think this is happening.

  1. Banner ads don’t work anymore.  Bloggers have to get more creative trying to earn advertising dollars.  Announcing events and making up stories just to get information across is really the only way to get readers attention and eyeballs for their clients.
  2. It’s a small industry.  There are only so many advertisers.   If you are a larger blog with a lot of advertisers, five out of 10 articles are probably going to be about your advertisers whether they paid you or not
  3. People don’t know the law or care.  If you are in a foreign country you don’t care about the FTC and their rules.  And when was the last time a small blog got sued over it?  Others think that because you can see a big ad next to the article that readers should assume.  But that’s not how it works.  As I said people are blind to ads, and hiding the word sponsor in the tags or in tiny print doesn’t apply either
  4. Bloggers honestly feel that their opinions don’t change because of sponsors.  It couldn’t be further from the truth.  As a blogger I can tell you that more articles get written about sponsors and they are handled different than non sponsors.  It may be subliminal but it is absolutely there.  It’s like pretending you’re the coach and your kid is on the team and you don’t treat them any different.  You do, often much harder on them than the other kids, but you treat them different.
  5. If you were going to write the article anyway it doesn’t count does it?   As I said before, if you have the major industry players as advertisers it is pretty much impossible to write most of your articles without disclosing.  But you still have to do it.

I went through last years’ articles to see where I had officially broken the rules. No it wasn’t .WS.  I wasn’t paid anything to tell my story.  If anything I took a bath and lost face to tell that one.  I pretty much broke it on every article mentioning an advertiser.  Articles like a NamesCon ticket that I received and didn’t disclose it,  each time I mentioned tickets were for sale.  I was supposed to and should have.  I didn’t disclose paid listings in a few tweets that I did for clients.  They were covered on my list page but I didn’t do it correctly on Twitter.  I have done a bad job but we are going to clean it up from here.  You have to start somewhere.

I am certainly not going to be the compliance police for domain blogs.  But I certainly have been paying attention over the last few months. The percentage of posts that don’t disclose relationships is gotten much higher in 2017.  Do I think bloggers are trying to fool anyone?  Absolutely not.  They are merely trying to make a living.  Am I a hypocrite?  I’ve already said I have been. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t best for our readers to know

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15 comments


      1. Post author
        ShaneCultra

        Don’t need to elaborate. Stating the rules as laid out by the FTC. I’m not policing them just pointing out that they generally aren’t understood nor followed.

  1. Kevin Murphy

    I’m not sure you understand the FTC rules.

    I’m not an expert, and not American, but the paragraph you quote seems to me to obviously apply to the content of advertisements, not the content of editorial.

  2. R P

    Most experienced investors see through promotion of sponsors. Inexperienced investors probably not. That’s kind of the problem.

    Investors have gotten wood shedded many times by charlatans and pump/dump schemes. From minisites to chips to shill bidding.

    Sometimes, when experienced investors have disagreed with bloggers or called them out for conflict of interest than bloggers delete posts. That doesn’t help build trust. It reinforces suspicion of ulterior motive.

    Balanced posts (positive and critical) along with transparency builds trust. Trust leads to higher CTR on ads served and higher CVR on clicks.

  3. Kevin Murphy

    I’d like to specifically disagree with several points in this post before I go to bed tonight, because I think this post was a massive, unwarranted diss against Shane’s blogging colleagues/competitors.

    First, the idea that “Banner ads don’t work anymore.” is horseshit. If you can’t get advertisers perhaps your content isn’t good enough.

    Second, “Bloggers have to get more creative trying to earn advertising dollars. Announcing events and making up stories”. Libelous horseshit. If you think a blogger has “made up” a story, name the story and link to it. If you have such a link, it will be to a blog I’ve never read. I have never seen a “made up” story in the blogs that I have been subscribing to these last seven years.

    “Bloggers honestly feel that their opinions don’t change because of sponsors. It couldn’t be further from the truth….” This is you admitting your personal lack of ethics. Just you mate. If you can’t separate your wallet from your ethics, you have no business writing a blog.

    1. Ategy

      Wow .. Bloggers certainly don’t make enough to deal with all the hate! lol
      .
      Seriously .. if you have spent more than a minute in online marketing/advertising then you’ll know that the click-through rate of banner ads is essentially a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what they were at the dawn of the internet.
      .
      Keeping the same thing in mind you also need to realise that advertisers focus less on banner ads now. In fact .. the ACTUAL CURRENT TREND is SPECIFICALLY product placement and “social awareness” via social influencers SPECIFICALLY integrated seemlessly into content.
      .
      I’d go on .. but it seems this is personal to you, so I doubt you’d even listen .. seriously think about informing yourself on a topic before stating someone else is wrong … otherwise nobody will take what you say seriously.

  4. Richard Hearne

    Worth pointing out that FTC rules apply in the USA, and not outside. I’m sure many domain blogs are US-based, but for those that are not the rules have zero bearing.

    1. Ategy

      While that is true .. I’m thinking most other jurisdictions have similar rules.
      .
      Also worth noting that even if the content writer is not in the USA, the server could be. Even beyond that, legally speaking, if the info reaches American end users, those laws might or might not apply depending on a whole slew of specifics.

  5. Ategy

    Shane .. I think that this sort of thing (full advertiser disclosure) is going to become significantly more regulated very soon with the Trump/Russia allegations now having Google, Twitter and Facebook all admitting a majority of Americans were exposed to Russian advertisements influencing the last election.
    .
    I seem to recall multiple times where you pointed out someone was or was not a sponsor. To your credit I seem to recall you not holding back on negative things if there were any.
    .
    As for your disclosure today, I personally didn’t feel it targeted anyone else specifically .. in fact I think you did a good job making it clear that this is one of those slippery slope type things where the likely reason is that blogs start small so don’t really care about that because they don’t even have sponsors .. but then grow slowly and add a sponsor or two and just overlook what might otherwise be obvious to someone looking in after the fact. Watched pot never boils type of thing …
    .
    PS .. Can I sponsor your disclaimer (which ironically enough .. I’ve never read .. lol)

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