In which a shady link-for-pay schemer offers me links but no pay. (Go to sofasandsectionals.com for more info and great deals!)

A few weeks ago, Gawker writer Hamilton Nolan wrote a fascinating post about how a shady marketer had offered him cash on the side in exchange for simply including a single link “in context” in an article. As Nolan explained it, the broker contracts with companies like Motorola and Dell to pay writers to insert links (like that) into their content, without sharing the pesky details with their editors. The companies expand their web presence, the writers get some pocket money in exchange ($175 per post in Nolan’s case!), and no one’s the wiser because the links are included “in context” — subtly, in the middle of otherwise untainted content. “We generally meet with resistance when dealing with editors,” the broker wrote to Nolan, “but bloggers aren’t paid as well and most are willing to make some extra money.” The reason he “meets with resistance” from editors is because his business totally undercuts the fundamental principles of journalism, no big whoop. Needless to say, if Nolan had gone ahead with this it should have gotten him fired.

ANYWAY. So that was interesting to me at the time.

This morning I got an email with the subject line “Free copywriting offer for Public Road.” The email was from a self-described freelance writer asking me if I ever use other people’s content on my blog, and offering her own work. She attached some clips and said if I liked what I saw, she could write something for me — for free!

Sounds like a pretty good deal for a harried blogger. Which I’m not, or at least not on Public Road, where I A) only publish my own stuff B) for fun C) whenever I damn well please and not more often than that.

“There is absolutely no charge for this and no strings attached,” she wrote. Wow! Oh, well, except there is this one TINY string. Really more of a thread, or perhaps a wisp. I barely even noticed that attached string, it’s barely worth mentioning, but fine, as long as you bring it up:

“The only thing I would ask in return is that I’m able to include a link to a site of my choosing within the article – nothing shady or unethical, just one of the professional businesses I freelance for.”

Oh, well as long as it’s nothing shady, and the businesses are professional!

So I clicked on the links she had sent me to her own work, and then did some more googling. (I’m declining to name her here; she’s obviously not the only one doing this and I’m not interested in ruining her career by having this site pop up when someone googles her.) Here are the websites that — consciously or not — seem to be accepting free content in exchange for letting freelancers insert links from third-party advertisers into their content.:

WebsiteObscure Sound.
Content: Review of Mink Freud album.
Hilariously shady sentence: “It’s one of those albums that will make you want to lie back on a recliner sectional, put your feet up, and escape into a completely alien world of soundscapes and ambiance.”
“In context” link to: Sofasandsectionals.com

Website: US Daily Review
Content: Comparison of Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison.
Hilariously shady sentence: “In the final analysis most of the people that worked with them wanted to; most wanted to stay for life and wouldn’t consider moving company.”
“In context” link to: Upack.com

Website: Organic Health Advisor
Content: Article on “superfoods.”
Hilariously shady sentence: “It might come as a surprise that some alcohol is beneficial – but before men around the world jump up from their respective sofas, this is referring to small quantities of wine rather than 24-packs of Bud Light.
“In context” link to: Our old friends at Sofasandsectionals.com

Then things got weird: I found an article by this writer that I had written about on another website. She had written a pretty good piece for a website I (previously?) admired! It had a shady link in it that I didn’t even notice at the time! I’m so tempted to name names here! But I won’t!

I have so many questions, but the big one is how much she’s getting paid for this. Her articles are not works of genius, but heck, neither are mine, and they still take some time and research to put together. If she’s offering her work for free to a podunk blog like mine, she must be getting some pretty decent cash from sofasandsectionals.com to make it worth her while.

And so ends the grimy circle of, as she put it in her email to me, “mutual back-scratching.” I sent her a medium-polite email declining her offer. And I just realized I mentioned sofasandsectionals.com four — now five — times within this post. I hope she’s getting paid for this.

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15 responses to “In which a shady link-for-pay schemer offers me links but no pay. (Go to sofasandsectionals.com for more info and great deals!)

  1. robertwallacegraham

    At least you didn’t actually LINK to http://www.sofasandsectionals.com

  2. robertwallacegraham

    Oops. Just noticed that you did.

  3. I just got the same email today. It is really shady. I write my own stuff too. Now I do have occasionally guest post for craft things, but nothing like what she’s offering. I’m not letting someone else get paid for writing on my blog. I do occasional sponsored posts too, but I also let my readers know that it’s a sponsored post. It’s against the law to do that kind of thing to without disclosing, so she’s shady and so are those companies who allow it.

  4. You seem to have committed an enormous faux-pas, as follows:

    You’re offered content including links, which you decline on the basis that it’s “shady” (it isn’t).

    Then you write your own content and include the same links using your own time.

    Then you publish a blog comment containing a malicious link to a competitor.

    Either I’m missing some elaborate joke, or you’ve just done exactly what was asked of you, and more, for even less than the nothing you were offered in the first place…

  5. Hi, Jack. Thanks for reading. First of all, this practice IS shady, for the reasons I enumerated above. If you click through to Hamilton Nolan’s post on Gawker, he goes into more detail on this.

    Perhaps the confusion is about whether I think that linking is shady under any circumstance? That would be dumb of me. In this case, I linked to these sites because it helped me to tell the story I was trying to tell. That’s the way links are supposed to be used; the *point* is that I wasn’t receiving compensation for them.

    All this should be pretty obvious, but, you know, just in case.

  6. Then I guess it depends on your definition of “shady”. Trust me, it’s nothing. Especially when compared to the link Paul has included in his comment, which most definitely is shady. Feel free to email me if you would like me to explain why you should delete it.

    The example in the Gawker piece is a different matter to the email you received, though I can see that it’s easy to come to the conclusion that they are the same. Also, I should point out that Gawker do actually accept “sponsored content” themselves, which suggests a level of hypocrisy on their part.

  7. Gawker clearly labels its sponsored posts, just like, say, the New York Times clearly labels its advertising. That’s how journalism (and other enjoyable content) gets paid for. Paul was making a joke with his link, and he wasn’t paid for it, so it’s not shady in the least.

    It’s hard for me to believe this is really that difficult for anyone to grasp, so I think that’s the last I’ll say about it. Best of luck in sorting it all out.

  8. Got the same email today so I decided to look it up and found your post.

    Thought it was pretty weird someone would offer to spend their time writing an article for my obscure blog that gets about 3 visitors per day (and that’s probably including crawlers).

    The segues to their links are always so terribly awkward too…

  9. I got the same email today, the very same words about “no strings attached” etc.

  10. I just received an email from one of them today. it just seems to be the latest way of getting around the googlebots to increase their websites profile as links have to be tied in with the post itself otherwise it does count to the ranking. This will only be around for a while until google cartches on and changes it pattern again!!

  11. And the really annoying thing is the number of people making these solicitations wasting your time. Who doesnt want to make some money off their blog but the reality of this is that you can get your site banned by Google for shady linking so the risks are very high especially “for free”

  12. Got the same email today, she linked to her “superfoods” post as one of her examples and thankfully that post had a trackback to your post here. Thanks for writing about this…

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