Why do companies ask for sponsored posts?The way Google ranks pages in its search is somewhat a dark art, but what we do know about Google is it lists pages predominantly on the kudos it gives to them based on what I'd describe as 'word of mouth'. In order to decide how relevant a page is for what you're searching for, it goes on recommendations. So if you're searching for 'hairdressers in Bournemouth' it does the equivalent of talking to ten of your friends and asking them who the best ones are. It also does some other things, like, if one of your friends is an expert in haircare or beauty, it gives a bit more weight to their recommendation. (This is a very rudimentary explanation but it will do for now). The way Google does this is it does things like sees how many people link to a hair salon, and how many people link to it via the text you've searched for, for example if I own a haircare blog and I write 'Bob's Salon is the best hairdressers in Bournemouth' and link to the website of Bob's Salon, boom, when someone searches for that text in Google, that's a few points given to Bob's Salon that will bump him up the ranking.
Naturally, all companies want to be number one in Google as it's the first thing you click on. So after a little while, companies started to cotton on to this 'word of mouth' premise and paid links were invented. That's why we get emails from companies asking you to link to them (bump them up Google) or link to them via a search text (bump them up Google based on what most people search for) - because as bloggers we are seen as experts in particular areas, and because if we have a good amount of traffic, this means more clicks and more points.
Why isn't this okay?Because Google is a happy, fluffy company that wants to give you results based on honest, genuine information, it does not like this practice at all. In fact, it makes Google very, very grumpy. Other people whom it makes grumpy are the Advertising Standards Authority, and the Office of Fair Trading. These organisations obviously regulate advertising (which a paid link is) and protect consumers. I'll explain - say you've asked your friend which hairdressers you should go to in Bournemouth and they say Bob's Salon. But what they don't tell you is that they're working on commission and they just pocketed £10 for sending you Bob's way. If you find out you'd be pretty narked right? Bob isn't the best hairdresser and might make a right meal out of your hair, but they recommended him to you on the basis they were getting paid, and didn't tell you that. That's what a paid link is doing (unless you do certain things which I'll come on to next).