Google penalized its own browser’s search rankings Tuesday over a marketing campaign that went bad, the company confirmed.
“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,” a Google spokesman said yesterday in an email.
The decision to demote Chrome’s PageRank — the rating Google assigns to sites based on how many other sites link to them — came after bloggers Aaron Wall of SEO Book and Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand revealed a marketing campaign that paid other bloggers to create generic posts which linked to a video touting Chrome to small businesses.
The problem, said Wall and Sullivan, was that Google’s own rules prohibit paying for links.
In at least one case, said Sullivan Monday, a link in a paid-for blog led directly to Chrome’s download site . That particular blog post has since been taken down.
Google has been hard on others who have violated its no-paid-link rule. Last February, for instance, it buried results for JC Penny after it decided the retailer had scammed the system.
On Monday, Sullivan noted Google’s efforts to quash the practice of raising sites’ PageRank through paid links, and wondered whether Google would do for the goose what it had done to the gander.
“We strive to enforce Google’s webmaster guidelines consistently in order to provide better search results for users,” said the Google spokesman Tuesday. “While Google did not authorize 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.”
Computerworld has confirmed that a search for “browser” no longer shows Chrome as the second item on the first page of results — as it was prior to the demotion, said Sullivan — but instead has dropped the Chrome download page to the sixth item on the fifth page.
Mozilla’s Firefox now leads the results of a search for “browser.”
Searches for other combinations, including “google chrome” and “chrome” still show the browser as the top-most result, but the link is to a help page that describes how to install Chrome, not to the download site.
Matt Cutts , who heads the Google team responsible for monitoring possible shenanigans, weighed in Tuesday on Google+, saying that the Chrome download site’s PageRank would “also be lowered to reflect the fact that we also won’t trust outgoing links from that page.”
On Wednesday, Chrome’s download site PageRank was 0 — the lowest possible score in the range 0-10 — according to several tools.
Cutts said that after the penalty period, Chrome’s download page could be returned to its search good graces. “Someone on the Chrome side can submit a reconsideration request documenting their cleanup just like any other company would,” Cutts said.
It’s unknown how the two-month penalty will affect Chrome’s download, installation and usage numbers.
Chrome is on track to crack the 20% share mark this month or next, and will probably pass Firefox in March to become the second-most-used browser.
During 2011, Chrome grew its share by 8.8 points to 19.1%, representing an annual increase of 71%.
Google demoted the Chrome download page search ranking, burying it on the fifth or even later results page.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg’s RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Read more about internet search in Computerworld’s Internet Search Topic Center.
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.”
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