BP Snaps Up Search Terms from Google, Bing, Yahoo

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-09

BP Snaps Up Search Terms from Google, Bing, Yahoo

Do a search on terms such as "BP" "Deepwater Horizon" and "oil spill" on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Bing these days and you're bound to see a sponsored link to BP Plc's Gulf of Mexico response Website.

The company that unleashed the worst oil spill in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico has purchased key search terms from search engines to ensure that searchers see its efforts to help however it can in the catastrophe it created.

BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, working off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico, was rocked April 20 by an explosion that killed 11 rig workers, injured 17 more and caused the drilling platform to sink.

The explosion damaged the wellhead, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 barrels per day are befouling the Gulf. Birds surface each day covered in oil and the fishing industry in the Gulf has been incalculably impinged.

BP has capped the busted wellhead, but it is unclear how effective the measure is and the company's image has mightily suffered.

BP has been the subject of jokes and satirical Websites, including the sardonic BP account BPGlobal PR on Twitter. The company has also been derided for spending $50 million to repair its image in TV advertising.

The company purchased search keywords to ensure its response Website rides high on Google, Bing and Yahoo, which together command 95 percent of the world's search engine market.

BP admitted to paying for search keywords so its response Website would rank high in search engines when users look for terms related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

While BP did not to respond for eWEEK's request for comment June 9, a spokesperson for BP told Reuters the company wanted to make it easier for people who were trying to access information on the BP Website to find it.

"We know people are looking for those terms on our Website and we're just trying to make it easier for them to get directly to those terms," the spokesman told Reuters.

Google, which has been tracking the BP developments with its Google Earth application and NASA satellite images, offers keywords for bidding to buyers through its AdWords program.

BP Spinning the Oil Spill with Keywords for Website?

However, the company declines to discuss advertisers who buy keywords without their permission. A Google spokesperson told eWEEK:

"Google AdWords allows companies, political candidates and advocacy groups to get their message in front of consumers who are searching for relevant information, via paid search ads sold through our AdWords auction; BP has the same access to these platforms as every other advertiser."

However, those who pay for "sponsored links" advertising on Google (or Bing and Yahoo) are a matter of public record.

Users can do a Google search for various terms and if a BP ad appears in the shaded box (with the 'sponsored link' indicator) above the search results, or on the right-hand rail of the search page, that indicates that those terms are part of BP's Google AdWords campaign.  

Neither Bing nor Yahoo responded to comment about BP's keyword purchases, which many in the industry view as spin control.

Search and marketing experts told ABCNews it was a smart, shrewd move on BP's part to control messaging around the company at a time when BP is most vulnerable to scathing critique.  

When asked if BP's paid keywords showed the oil company was trying to help or control its image in the wake of an unflattering accident, Search Engine Land expert Danny Sullivan told eWEEK:

"I'd say it's much more PR. It's not hard to find BP without the ads."

The top article on the BP response Website is flattering for the company. The June 8 press release notes that it will donate the net revenue from oil recovered from the spill to create a fund to restore and protect wildlife habitat along the coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

"The creation of this fund is over and above BP's obligations under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990," the statement adds.

Rocket Fuel