I have a strong interest in the sometimes shady world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). SEO and SEM is the use of techniques to improve the ranking of a web page in search engine results. If, for example, you have a website selling blue widgets, you want people who Google for "blue widgets" to easily find your page.
One way to enhance your search engine placement is to buy links from other websites. Google frowns on this practice and will penalize your site if they catch you doing it, but some highly ranked websites make decent money by selling links to your page.
Bloggers are also known to accept money to make favorable mention and provide a link to a website. Your hypothetical seller of blue widgets may visit a site where link selling occurs and offer $20 to any blogger who will write a post about his site.
Would you accept an offer like that? Let's say you write an average of three posts per day. If you took one paid posting per day at $20 per post and did that five days per week, that's $400 per month of income for your blog.
Where do you draw the line, though? Do you keep the advertising (and that's what it is) on topic for your blog? Do you disclose which posts are paid advertising? If you don't disclose, what's the risk of being outed?
What if the paid advertising comes not from Sam's Blue Widgets, but from somebody like, say, Wal-Mart?
The New York Times article doesn't describe that exact situation -- the article describes instances where Wal-Mart marketing has developed relationships with bloggers and sends them what are basically press releases in blog-style format, complete with HTML markups. But it's not a stretch to believe that large corporations are paying influential bloggers for favorable mention. Boing Boing, for example, is very clearly a commercial blog. I believe it's only a matter of time before their suggest-a-link form includes an option to pay for express evaluation.
So, how about it bloggers? Is a measly $20 worth the trust of your faithful readers?