Just a few days ago, I read an article talking about the rise of sponsored content: when an advertiser sponsors an article on a site in exchange for the back traffic.

It's an interesting idea, and I played with it myself a couple of years ago.  I loath advertising, but I was willing to write a review of a product or service in exchange for the free use of that product or service.

This week, though, I had one of these sponsors contact me out of the blue and request I take links on my site to theirs down:

My team and I are attempting to contact the owner and/or webmaster for eamann.com. Some time ago someone working with our company may have requested or submitted a link on your website. Recently, we were notified by Google that this link on your site did not meet Google’s guidelines and was being viewed as a Link Scheme. We recommend removing this link from your site immediately to comply with Google’s guidelines and to avoid any traffic penalties.

I took a look at the (allegedly) offending article, and don't see anything out of the ordinary.

I was writing specifically about marketing strategy, and had the sponsor listed as a potential resource.  The only potential "out of the ordinary" element to the post is my disclosure at the bottom that it was sponsored content.

Troubling Development

I've never been a fan of SEO.  I think content should speak for itself and, while having proper annotations for machine indexing is important, trying to build you content to leverage specific keywords or phrases compromises the quality of the content.

Google has been quick to flag certain nefarious activities, updating their algorithms to flag blackhat SEO techniques before they take off.  Tagging otherwise legitimate links in the context of an article as suspicious, however, is troubling.

This was an actual article, written by me - not by the sponsor - with embedded resource links and a sponsorship disclosure. Having this article viewed as part of a "link scheme" makes me question just about everything else I've done.

Do links to other sites count as suspicious?  What about affiliate links embedded in content - like reviews of books? Where is Google drawing the line?