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Bloggergate: a true story about link buying and surreptitious advertising

18 February 2011 BY

Today I would like to share a little news story with you. I know we are not a newsblog ( we just got a news section though!) but I think this news is good food for an interesting discussion. I’m talking about a “scandal” in Germany, also known as “Bloggergate”.

So what happened? On the 21st of january Sascha Pallenberg, author of the blog netbooknews.de, published a tweet saying he got some interesting secret documents which will cause a “Tsunami” in the German blogosphere. In perfect Wikileaks-style he said that he will “review the material” and publish it later.

A few days later Sascha published an article called “Basicthinking, Onlinekosten GmbH and the keyword-spam“. Now maybe I should introduce some of the players in the “scandal” for our non-German readers here:

Basicthinking: Basicthinking.de is one of the biggest German blogs. It was founded by Robert Basic, but he sold it in 2009 for 47.000 Euros to the Intergenia AG, a hosting provider with labels like Server4you, Serverloft and Plusserver.

Onlinekosten GmbH publishes a news website about DSL, mobile communication and  hosting on onlinekosten.de. This company is a daughter of the formerly mentioned Intergenia AG.

Obviously the Onlinekosten GmbH is also into link buying for their clients because Sascha Pallenberg published a story about Christoph Berger, the CEO of Onlinekosten GmbH, contacting blogowners to “collaborate with Basicthinking”. Berger just used the name of Basicthinking to impress the bloggers, because at the end he just wanted to buy some links for his clients. I think for most of the readers who work in the SEO industry, this is just “business as usual”, right?

But the story continues…. Sascha Pallenberg published the contract the blogowners had to sign, which, of course, was intended to keep the deal strictly confidential with a penalty fee of 5001 Euro. (Note: 5001 because a case would go to higher court immediately which makes it more expensive). But that’s not enough: Pallenberg also published the keyword-linklist, containing the links to the clients of the Onlinekosten GmbH. The list contains known German companies like the Hotel Broker HRS, the touroperators Neckermann and Thomas Cook and the airline Condor. He accussed the Onlinekosten GmbH of “putting pressure on the bloggers” and especially he called it a scandal of surreptitious advertising.At the end the story got so big that it even came to Google’s Anti-Spam-Chief Matt Cutts’ attention.

Fig. 1: Coincidence? After publishing this information netbooknews.de got his pagerank back.

As I said in the beginning of the post this story could be the start of an interesting discussion:

- Is link buying a form of surreptitious advertising? Christoph Berger stated in an interview that Onlinekosten never influenced the content of the blogposts or bought the complete blogposts. They just bought the keyword link. In my personal opinion buying blogposts is surreptitious advertising, buying just the link isn’t. But that’s just my personal opinion. According to lawyer Martin Schirmbacher link buying is illegal in Germany because of surreptitious advertising.

- I think I can say that in Germany almost every big company that ranks for general competitive keywords buys links. And while everybody is doing this, is it possible to rank on competitive terms for a commercial site without buying links? If you are a wikipedia-style site, with lot’s of information for sure you can rank. Content is king, right.

But and I would like to quote German SEO Sistrix here, who wrote an excellent post about this: “Is there anyone who links to their bank with “credit without credit-score”?”

- And of course there’s the neverending discussion on “what is link buying?”. Sascha Pallenberg himself gained a lot of backlinks because of a competition in which participants put a backlink to his blog. I know some cases of sites who got punished for this too. As you can see Pallenberg links to his sponsors on this site to “thank them for their donation”.

That’s link selling, right?

What’s your opinion about this?

(Picture: tforgo, istockphoto.com)

AUTHORED BY:
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Evert Veldhuijzen is consulting various international brands about different aspects of online marketing. His company Netlead is in affiliate business and develops websites for his joint-ventures.
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  • http://www.netbooknews.de Sascha Pallenberg

    bollocks!

    that’s all i can say. I never sold any links and every single Engadget feature (we are the most linked german techblog on sites like Engaget, Ubergizmo, Crunchgear, Wired, etc.) gets you more traffic and backlinks.

  • http://www.concept-i.dk/ Rosenstand

    Let’s face it: You can’t keep a scheme a secret in the online business. And buying links? Who does not? To me it seems like Google now and then pick a few out to set an example but basically the whole Internet is based on (partly) paid links.

  • Franky

    sascha pallenberg makes also  an blackmail:  http://www.kalliey.de/sascha-pallenberg-von-techlounge-de-vom-enthueller-zum-erpresser/02/2011

  • Evert

    @franky We are not discussing the person mr. Pallenberg here. I know the other story, but that’s not important in the discussion.

    I want to know from our readers if they think link buying is illegal because of surreptitious advertising, if they think it’s still possible to rank with a commercial website on competitive (money-) keywords without buying links?

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