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Have a free bottle, link to us?

I think the blogging community is a wonderful entity, a seething body of (sometimes) knowledge-rich personal opinion which can provide an outlet for new writing talent. Some blogs are better than others of course, but the good ones should always rise to the surface.

I’ve never really considered Winedoctor to be a blog; it predates the creation of blogging software by years, I code the pages on good old html, and I think the content is more ‘editorial’ than the ‘stream of consciousness’ style that can make some blogs so fascinating to read. It also has a healthy body of advertisers who have recognised that the quality of content and regularity of update, over more than ten years, is worth supporting. Thanks to all of them!

Advertising revenue when blogging is like gold dust I think, as indeed is all income generation online – see this post by Jamie Goode in his blog, and this opinion by Tyler Colman. The latter post includes a comment from a blogger which states “but really where I ‘make money’ is off the free samples I receive that save me actually having to spend money on wine. Last year alone saved me $1000 in wine“.

I think this is the big danger for bloggers – viewing “free wine” as the primary benefit of blogging means you never turn down a bottle, and the pressure to write something favourable – so that your only ‘income’ stream continues to flow – must be immense.

This morning I found this email in my inbox – it gave me a telling glimpse into how some retailers think bloggers are to be ‘used’. I have anonymised the name of the store, by the way:

Hi Chris,

I came upon thewinedoctor.com and was wondering if you would be interested in reviewing free sample bottles from our online wine store, xxx.com. Specifically, I was thinking of a relationship where where you could choose one of our wines each month and write a review on your website. We would send you the wine free of charge. All we ask in return is a link to the wine product page (i.e. http://www.xxx.com/xxx_CHATEAU-DE-BEAUCASTEL-CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE-BLANC-750ml-2006). One small caveat: the link can be anywhere except at the very bottom of your post, because it has better SEO value that way. Please let me know if you are interested. We can set an approximate monthly target for the wine you select, i.e. $100. Again, there is no cost to you.

Very truly yours,

I receive free samples of wine (not that much considering how much I write about it – most notes come from attended tastings or home purchases) but never with the impication I have to write about them. Some bottles never make it (such as the other bottles of Beaujolais I received alongside this 2009), others receive appropriate criticism such as some of these Slovenians, or these Moldovan wines (I have even had requests for notes to be taken down, or left up but with scores removed, after my honest appraisals – naturally I refused). And of course some I rave about, if appropriate – see here!

But this isn’t what is happening on the back of this received email reproduced above. This request for blog reviews isn’t about encouraging critical review or supporting budding wine writers, it is about Search Engine Optimisation. That’s what he means by SEO – this is the process of targeting links towards a page (and many other activities) to build the ‘strength’ of the page, so that it appears higher in the results pages of search engines such as Google. The fee paid for this link is clearly one bottle of wine (which you have to write about, obviously), value up to $100. I think any blogger who accepts such a deal has zero credibility – and they will be easy to spot, as they will be linking to www.xxx.com (sorry, still can’t bring myself to release the name of this US retailer) once per month.

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