On Tuesday, Google had to penalize it’s own web browser, Google Chrome, for violating Google’s guidelines against paid links. The action was taken because of blog posts that were part of a marketing campaign for Chrome gone bad. As the story unfolds, it looks like Google agreed to buy online video ads but did not approve the sponsored posts campaign.
Aaron Wall of SEO Book wrote a blog post on January 2 pointing out the paid links. The marketing campaign included paying bloggers to write generic, favorable posts about Google Chrome that linked to a video about the benefits of using the browser for small business. Wall pointed out that when he searched “This post is sponsored by Google”, over 400 results were found, giving scope to the size of the marketing campaign and the number of links it generated. That disclaimer itself, usually found at the beginning or end of the blog post, also linked to the Google Chrome download page in at least one case.
By paying those bloggers to write favorable posts about Google Chrome, Google was also paying them to include the links. Since the blog posts also included the video, it can be said they were also buying views of the video. Per Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, “Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results.” To prevent paid links from impacting search engine results, Google suggests that paid links should contain a “nofollow” tag, which prevents the link from affecting PageRank. However, not all of the offending blog posts used “nofollow” links.
People in the industry are upset not only because of Google buying the links. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land explains in his coverage Google’s fight “against paid links and ‘thin’ content,” both of which the campaign produced. PageRank not only takes into account quantity, but also quality of links. The sponsored blog posts are said to be examples of the “thin” content that the Google Panda update was supposed to fight against.
Google’s stance on paid links received a lot of attention last year, when Google banned companies such as JCPenney, Forbes, and Overstock for using them. As for Google Chrome, a Google spokesman released this statement via email: “We’ve investigated and are taking manual action to demote www.google.com/chrome and lower the site’s PageRank for a period of at least 60 days.” The head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts says in a post on Google+, “After that, someone on the Chrome side can submit a reconsideration request documenting their clean-up just like any other company would.”
As a result of the punishment, Google Chrome went from the second result of a search for “browser” to the bottom of the fifth page of results and has been reported sinking as low as position #73. Search Engine Land also reported that Chrome’s ranking lowered in searches for other terms such as “web browser” and “internet browser.” The Chrome download page doesn’t even rank when searching for “chrome,” “chrome browser,” and “google chrome.” Instead, a help page on Chrome installation has become the top result. When the Chrome download page does appear in results, it does so only as a sitelink.
Do you think this punishment Google placed on itself is fair? With only one violation found so far, do you think it’s too harsh, or is it appropriate for Google to place harsher punishments on itself, who “should know better”?