Google has penalised itself and will drop the search ranking of its Chrome website for at least 60 days after it apparently violated its own rules when paying hundreds of bloggers to spruik the web browser.
Some of the paid blog posts promoting Chrome – several of which contained irrelevant “garbage” text – included links to pages where people could download the browser and therefore violated the search engine’s rules around paid links.
Typically this would see sites banished from its search engine index for between a month and a year. The search giant does not like companies trying to game search results and artificially pump up their Google rankings by paying other sites to link to them.
This time, Google hasn’t banned Chrome, and partly blamed the advertising companies it partnered with, but said today it would reduce the page ranking of Google’s Chrome home page as a penalty.
Several of the blog posts Google paid for to promote Chrome contained text that had nothing to do with Chrome above a link to the Chrome download page. They also contained a Google video ad that didn’t even mention Chrome.
This is known as “thin” or “garbage” content – low quality content that is of little value to users but can attract eyeballs via search engines. Google’s recent updates to its algorithm were specifically designed to penalise sites offering “thin” content and reduce their search rankings.
Danny Sullivan, of Search Engine Land, said he found 400 examples of blog posts that Google sponsored. He called the campaign “jaw dropping”.
Google’s rules state that links to websites in sponsored posts should include the “nofollow” tag, meaning they are not used to determine a site’s ranking on the Google index. Sullivan discovered examples where this rule was not followed.
“Potentially, all this means that Google will have to ban the Google Chrome download page over paid links,” wrote Sullivan, noting that it would be poor timing as Google has been busy running ads for Chrome.
Aaron Wall, of SEO Book, said: “You can say they didn’t require the links, that the links were incidental, that leaving nofollow off was an accident, etc … but does Google presume the same level of innocence when torching webmasters?”
Last year Google banned one of its own acquired companies, BeatThatQuote.com, for violating its search guidelines, and it has also penalised Google Japan in the past for paid posts.
In response to the Chrome scandal, Google said it only agreed to do paid ads and had “consistently avoided paid sponsorships, including paying bloggers to promote our products”, because those kind of promotions were not transparent.
This confused tech bloggers as Google was clearly behind the sponsored posts campaign, and each post was tagged “sponsored by Google”.
One of the digital media agencies working with Google on the campaign, Essence Digital in London, said Google did not know a sponsored-post campaign would be run and only agreed to buy online video ads.
Sullivan questioned this statement and pondered why Google would need to pay a company for advertising given its own ad network is very effective.
Unruly, the video promotion company that appears to have been the one that actually carried out the campaign, appeared to suggest Google had in fact deliberately bought a sponsored blog campaign but the paid links violations arose because sometimes “bloggers will unfortunately pen a post that deviates from our guidelines, as here”.
Again, Sullivan was sceptical, pointing out that Unruly pays bloggers based on how much they can pump up a target site’s Google PageRank.
Today Google said it had investigated the matter and posts which violated its rules had been removed.
“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,” Google said.
“While Google did not authorise this campaign, and we can find no remaining violations of our webmaster guidelines, we believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site.”
– © Fairfax NZ News