Google Conundrum As Company Violates Its Own Rules
January 4, 2012

Google Conundrum As Company Violates Its Own Rules

Google has acknowledged that a marketing firm it hired to develop ad campaigns for its Chrome browser may have violated Google´s rules on paid links, putting the Internet search giant in the thorny position of having to decide whether to block its own browser from its search index for up to one year as a penalty.

The issue was brought to light on Monday by Aaron Wall and Danny Sullivan of the search marketing blogs SEO Book and Search Engine Land, who noted a number of sponsored blog posts that identified Google as the post sponsor.

Such attribution, which represents proper marketing disclosure, would not be remarkable were it not for the fact that the posts linked back to Google.

Because Google uses links in its PageRank algorithm to determine where sites appear in search results, there's a clear incentive to try to manipulate Google's system by creating such links in large quantity.

Google discourages this practice through its advertising rules, which state that "buying or selling links that pass PageRank is in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines and can negatively impact a site's ranking in search results."

However, it appears that the Google Chrome campaign was actually paying bloggers for links that would help the company inflate its search results for Google Chrome.

Another issue, Sullivan wrote in a subsequent post, is that the posts seemed to be the type of low quality paid content that Google typically frowns upon.

That is “just embarrassing to Google, when it has busy trying to prevent this type of content from ranking in its own search engine,” Sullivan wrote.

Google has long criticized companies for implementing ad campaigns that used paid links to slant search results, and the company has aggressively sought to avoid the perception that Google´s search advertising rules for itself are different than those it sets for clients.

Google was emphatic that they did not request posts that broke the company´s rules.

The company´s corporate communications team released a statement saying Google had “never agreed to anything more than online ads.”

“We have consistently avoided paid sponsorships, including paying bloggers to promote our products, because these kind of promotions are not transparent or in the best interests of users. We´re now looking at what changes we need to make to ensure that this never happens again.”

Scott Burton, chief executive of online marketing company Unruly Media, one of the firms hired by Google, also rejected any claims that his firm promoted search rank manipulation, saying it requires bloggers to take steps to make sure their links to paid advertisers don´t affect search engine traffic

“Unruly always requires that bloggers clearly disclose any post, tweet, or other reference to the video as being sponsored and we provide guidance on how to do this,” Button said.

"Unruly never requires bloggers to link to an advertiser's site, and we didn't ask for it here," Button wrote in a comment posted to the blog of online marketer Andrew Girdwood.

“We also request that if they do link anywhere they us nofollow [which prevents links from affecting search rankings], both because that´s best practice and also because it´s in their own interest to do so,” Button wrote, referring to the rel="nofollow" attribute in the anchor tag, which is part of the Web page HTML code.

However, the posts identified as "This Post Sponsored By Google" lacked the nofollow attribute, meaning Google appeared to be doing precisely what it prohibits other websites from doing.

Digital marketing firm Essence Digital, another company involved in the creation of videos promoting Google Chrome, released an apology to Google through its Google+ account.

"Google [was] subjected to this activity through media that encouraged bloggers to create what appeared to be paid posts, were often of poor quality, and out of line with Google standards," the company said.

"We apologize to Google who clearly didn't authorize this."

Google's Chrome campaign is one of many the company launched recently to build brand affinity at a time when Google's corporate image is being hard hit by rivals.

During a recent interview with The New York Times, Google´s vice president of global marketing confirmed a strategy shift to reach out more effectively to consumers.


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