Ethical, Google okay, money influenced links by Zemanta?

I’m a fan of Zemanta. It’s a handy addition to either your browser (but not Chrome, boo) or your blog that makes image discovery, tag and related link recommendation easy. Those related links can be contextual and in the footer of the blog post.

That’s right. Zemanta encourages bloggers to link to other sites.

Here I will admit an interest in the story. I got in contact with the good folks at Zemanta (and they’ve always been helpful) with regard to the Brinkwire project.

Brinkwire, the pro-blogger, press release hosting site, makes use of Zemanta’s reblog functionality. I also had chats about what Zemanta could do with their recommended link idea but I wasn’t specific.

I’ve not spoken to them since. That’s clearly not stopped the Zemanta team pushing on.
I did notice the suggestion that PRWeb had become the first press release hosting site to do a deal with Zemanta thanks to a piece written by Mihaela Lica. That’s not correct. I maintain Brinkwire got their first.

What I’ve also just noticed is "promoted content" links now appearing in Zemanta’s suggestions.

So, to be clear, no one is paying bloggers to link anywhere. That’s not happening. What we have here is a payment deal that alerts bloggers to the possibility of putting a link in. I’m not Google, I don’t speak to them and I certainly have thought “Google will be okay with this” and be terribly wrong before... but I think Google will be okay with this.

Why? There’s still editorial control. The writer of a quality blog post still gets to decide whether or not they think that link is editorially appropriate. I don’t believe that link is marked as nofollow (should have checked; will try and re-create and test) but it is marked with Zemanta’s signature so Google can ID and tweak the weight of these links should they want (and perhaps it would be appropriate to do that for the paid-for suggestions and the none-paid-for on the grounds that they’re both recommendations made to a blogger).

If you’ve not had my link/election spiel before – here it is.

Google has created a link economy but that doesn’t make link buying okay. For example, democracy creates a vote economy but it is illegal to buy votes. What’s not illegal is to money to influence people and to encourage them to vote for you. Linking works in the same way; you can hire a PR firm, who can create a media frenzy around your new product, this alerts bloggers to your product and you’ll pick up some links. In that scenario you’ve not engaged in paid linking.

I think these Zemanta links are the same scenario. You’re using your money to influence people to give you’re their vote/link. There’s still that editorial discretion that Google wants.

And if I’m wrong? Then we add Zemanta to a growing grey area of next gen services that contribute to an evolved linking model but which may cause Google to loose trust in blogs that use them. I hope I’m not wrong. I’d like to keep on using Zemanta (even if I never ever elect to put one of those promotion content links into my post.

Here’s the last question; what do you think?

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