Paid links on the BBC – an SEO controversy

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A few months back I attended the excellent ProSEO Seminar in London. One of the speakers was Russell Smith, Editorial big cheese of the BBC News website. His talk on data journalism was very interesting but what stuck in my mind was a question which came from the floor during the Q&A session. Someone asked if he was aware of journalists placing out-bound links on the BBC news pages.

He seemed genuinely shocked and surprised and stated in no uncertain terms that this was a very serious allegation and totally untrue. Still, I did wonder were the question came from…

A month or so later I was carrying out some competitor link analysis and noticed that a competitor had commented on a BBC blog using a followed link to their website with the anchor text “Office space”, a very competitive keyword. “How could this have happened?” I wondered as I thought that comments on the BBC blogs could link internally only.

I contacted the BBC using the “complain about this comment” link and gave the reason that it “contains a link to an external website which breaks our Editorial Guidelines” I received a near instant reply informing me:

Further to your complaint about some of the content on on a BBC blog, we have decided that it does not contravene the house rules and are going to leave it on the site”

The blog was a debate on the state of the economy so how could a comment which linked to a commercial website promoting office space in London using keyword anchor text and not a great deal more, be of any real value to the reader? When writing this post, I found the comment (and link) has since been removed.

Then, a few days ago, I read a post on the PushOn blog entitled Paid links on the BBC? It attracted quite a lot of attention, particularly from Lewis Wiltshire (Editor of the BBC Sport website) who commented:

None of the links to external websites from the BBC’s UK-facing website are sold. All of them are editorially selected because we believe they offer useful onward reading for our audience.

I’m in no way insinuating that someone at the BBC is selling links and of course, the BBC is an institution some rival organisations would love to see the back of, but can 3 separate occurrences of this kind really be just a coincidence?

Categories: SEO

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