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Sponsored content (also referred to as native advertising) is content published on a blog or website that has been paid for by a third party. Sponsored content is just like the advertorials that appear in print newspapers and magazines. However, sponsored content isn't always identified as such by publishers making it misleading to the online audience.Already, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published guidelines that pertain to sponsored content in Title 16 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In simplest terms, online publishers must disclose if they've received payment to publish a piece of content and that disclosure must be easy to see and read. Unfortunately, many online publishers either don't know the law, or they are hoping they won't get caught, because a large amount of sponsored content is published without full disclosure. According to AdWeek, the FTC is watching and more regulations might come in the future.Recently, Google has been discussing its plans to crack down on all forms of sponsored content within its search algorithm. Of course, bloggers and online publishers are upset by this. Yes, paid content can artificially inflate a page's rankings in a Google search, but a blanket policy that penalizes all sponsored content is punishing the brands and publishers who publish sponsored content responsibly.Only you can decide if you want to continue to publish sponsored content on your blog or website. If it's an important income source for you, then abandoning it won't be easy. Focus on publishing high quality content---including the content in sponsored posts. The key to successfully integrating sponsored content into your site is not only just disclosing it but also making sure that the content is useful and meaningful to your audience. Don't publish an advertising pitch and call it a sponsored article.Authoritative advertisers should know the laws and should want publishers to follow those laws. They should want to get in front of publishers' audiences with great content if they understand the real value of native advertising. If they don't, you shouldn't work with them.The threat of Google penalizing an authoritative site that publishes sponsored content, even if that content is useful and not self-promotional (and is not filled with multiple Do-Follow keyword links), is unlikely to go away. The reason is simple. Google isn't able to tell the difference between a high quality sponsored article and a low quality sponsored article beyond counting keyword links and looking for words like "sponsored," "paid," or "advertorial" within the content.From an audience's perspective, useful sponsored content isn't the problem. Self-promotional and low quality sponsored content is the problem. When people visit a website, they're looking for useful information and they don't want to have to weed through written infomercial clutter to find it. The problem is publishing an ad and calling it "sponsored content" when it's actually just an ad. That's the distinction that Google cannot make but needs to make.What do you think?Follow the link to read some tips for Authoritative Content publishers related to sponsored content.Image: Alexander Kalina