Search giant downgrades its own browser from web index after 'paid links' for videos lead back to Chrome promotion.
Google has radically downrated its Chrome browser in its search index, effectively giving itself a slap on the wrist, after it became the object of “sponsored posts” where bloggers were paid to promote a video about it.
Google fell foul of its own rules after it hired a company called Essence Digital to promote its Chrome browser through a series of video ads, featuring a YouTube video ostensibly about a small business that has been helped by its web presence.
The task of placing the video ads was then handed on to Unruly Media, which recruited bloggers who posted the video – and in a number of cases also wrote some text to go with it, often with the phrase: “This post is sponsored by Google.” In at least one case, the blogger also linked directly to Google Chrome.
That breaks Google’s rules on paid promotion to push links up its own search index, and so it has penalised itself – just at a time when it had been seeking to drive greater adoption of its own browser.
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s team which fights web spam, wrote in explanation:
Even though we only found a single sponsored post that actually linked to Google’s Chrome page and passed PageRank, that’s still a violation of our quality guidelines, which you can find at http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769#3.
In response, the webspam team has taken manual action to demote www.google.com/chrome for at least 60 days. After that, someone on the Chrome side can submit a reconsideration request documenting their clean-up just like any other company would. During the 60 days, the PageRank of www.google.com/chrome will also be lowered to reflect the fact that we also won’t trust outgoing links from that page.
The decision means that Google has declined to give itself special dispensation, even though it insists it was not directly responsible for the creation of the sponsored posts.
In a statement, a Google spokesperson 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.”
In a search by the Guardian, “browser” does not return a link to Google’s Chrome in the first 10 results, (although an ad for it is the top on the right-hand side). No link to it was found in the first 50 results in a search by the Guardian. Searching for “browser” on Microsoft’s Bing.com turns up a link to Google Chrome as the fourth result, as well as an advert.
A link to a page explaining how to install Google Chrome is still the top result in a Google or Bing search for “chrome”, as well as having an advert for the browser placed above the search results.
Cutts insisted that the intent of the campaign was “[only] to get people to watch videos – not link to Google”. But it is unclear why Google would pay an agency to get bloggers to post a video if it did not expect that it would have some broader benefit to its product’s visibility in web rankings.