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I’ve had several opportunities over the last few months to “break” new information from Google and Yahoo. For example, longtime readers will recall that I was the first to announce the Google AdWords Editor Beta, though all of the credit went to other bloggers who picked up my story (do I sound bitter?).

Most of the time, though, I choose not to break news, simply because doing so will prevent me from getting further inside information in the future. There are a lot of things that I wish I could tell you about, but I’ve got to pick my battles.

Lucky for you, however, this piece of news is one that I can release. Starting in late April, Google is going to launched a program their PR department is calling the “Preferred Bloggers Program.” This is going to be a great way for top bloggers to get the inside scoop on developments at Google and – get ready for it – actually make money doing so!

As with all Google launches, this one is still in beta (well, actually alpha) so things will change a lot in the next few months. But here’s the basics of the program:

  • Google will approach blog writers that they wish to invite to the program. The criteria for invitation will be: the readership of your blog, frequency of postings, demonstrated expertise on Google, and history of posting breaking news about Google. Having your blog hosted by Blogger, or using AdSense, will not be factors in Google’s decision-making;
  • Bloggers will be required to sign a modified non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to participate. More on this later;
  • On a weekly basis, bloggers will receive an email from Google with announcements of recommended Google news and announcements for the coming weeks. I saw a sample email and it contained a few items like: “Google to launch Google Pack”, “Larry Page Visits Stanford Computer Science Department”, “Did You Know? Google Executive Restroom Inspired By Architect Frank Gehry” and “Google in the News This Week” (a list of press clippings);
  • Each blogger will have a tracking code specific to each story (this is basically taken from Google Conversion Counter);
  • Bloggers who mention any of these announcements can qualify for payment, based on the following: how soon the post was released, the number of times the post was viewed, whether the post was favorable or not to Google. All of this is tracked by tracking URLs provided to the blogger. Google has developed a relatively simple algorithm to determine payment. It is jokingly (I think) being called ‘BlogRank.” The algorithm is mostly based on page views (basically a CPM format), but you can boost your CPM via the other two factors. Note that Google does not expect anyone to get rich through this system. I was told that the estimated CPMs will probably be in the $3 to $5 range, so if one of your posts gets read by 50,000 people, that’s at most $250;
  • The NDA I mentioned above prevents participants from posting blogs that “clearly portray Google or Google products in a defamatory, libelous, or negative manner.” On first glance, I thought that this was a bit draconian. After all, if you can’t portray Google in a “negative manner” that essentially means that you have to put a positive spin on everything (or not post at all). My source at Google told me that they were aware that this provision was a bit unusual, but she pointed out that this program is only focusing on bloggers who have a history of writing laudatory articles about Google, or blogs that tend to repost Google announcements with little analysis. She also noted that the “punishment” for any blog violating this NDA was simply to have the blogger removed from the program, so the consequences weren’t that significant;
  • Preferred Bloggers will also get a few other cool benefits. The coolest two are: an annual convention once a year, all expenses paid. The 2006 meeting is scheduled for Las Vegas in September!; also, one exclusive interview a year with a Google executive (to be determined by Google PR, you don’t get to choose which executive you want to speak to);
  • You cannot “apply” to this program, at least not now.

At this point, you may be asking yourself – why would Google bother? After all, there are already plenty of blogs that republish Google press releases verbatim and give any Google news (no matter how small – like Google announcing maps of Mars!) massive coverage.

The problem – from Google’s perspective – is control. As blogs increase in readership, it’s important that Google’s brand be accurately depicted in the blogosphere. By having preferred blogs, Google can funnel news through trusted sources, effectively reducing the influence of ‘rogue’ blogs that are analytical or critical of Google’s decisions. Thus, it’s a win-win for both Google and the preferred bloggers. Google gets accurate coverage online, and top bloggers get the inside scoop, more readership, and maybe even a few bucks for their trouble!

So, if you’ve got a popular blog, if you’re quick to post positive news from Google, and if you’re blog is more news-focused than it is analysis-focused, you might get a call from Google PR in the next few weeks. Note that I cannot do anything to get your blog reviewed for inclusion! Good luck!