Google Demotes Chrome Web Page for Violating Own Guidelines

Google endured some hot water over paid links to its Chrome Web page, with Essence Digital and Unruly Media defending the search engine provider.

Poorly crafted paid blog posts hawking the Chrome browser have painted Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) as hypocritical, racking up some early bad publicity and spurred the company to demote its Web browser's home page.

SEOBook noted Jan. 2 that a search for "This post is sponsored by Google" retrieved more than 400 pages of iffy content as part of a Google marketing campaign. At least one of the paid blog posts linked directly to a Web page where users can download Chrome, a no-no among Google's own Webmaster guidelines for paid links that influence search rankings.

Specifically, links in sponsored posts should use the "nofollow" code tag to prevent them from passing credit to Google's ranking algorithm. Google punished JC Penney, Forbes, and even its own BeatThatQuote property for using paid links. JC Penney, for example, allegedly manipulated organic search results to make itself the top listing for some apparel items.

Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan called out Google, noting that some blog posts violated the company's own procedures for paid links and were of low quality.

What happened? Google laid the blame on its Chrome ad partners Unruly Media and Essence Digital, telling eWEEK it agreed only to online ads on its behalf, not how those ads would be conveyed.

"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," a Google spokesperson said. "We're now looking at what changes we need to make to ensure that this never happens again."

Unruly Media and Essence Digital absolved Google of guilt. Unruly said it was mistake, while Essence wrote on Google+ Jan. 3:

"We want to be perfectly clear here: Google never approved a sponsored-post campaign. They only agreed to buy online video ads. Google has consistently avoided paid postings to promote their products, because in their view these kind of promotions are not transparent or in the best interests of users.

In this case, Google were 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. We apologize to Google, who clearly didn't authorize this."

According to a follow-up post by Sullivan, Google said it is demoting its Chrome Web page in results for roughly 60 days, in accordance with Google's own Webmaster policies. Google told Sullivan:

""We've investigated and are taking manual action to demote and lower the site's PageRank for a period of at least 60 days. We strive to enforce Google's Webmaster guidelines consistently in order to provide better search results for users. 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.""

Sullivan, who noted that the Chrome page's PageRank ranked 9 out of 10 as of this writing, said Google's demotion will reduce the Chrome page's ability to rank well for certain terms.

The misstep points to a slippery slope for Google. The company, the premier online ad destination in the world, is trying to use its search engine as a platform to promote products such as Chrome, which has been gaining good market share, and Google+, the young social network that is so vital to the company's future ad prospects versus Facebook.

Google, which eschewed using traditional TV advertising to tout its products for more than a decade, turned to the medium in earnest in 2010 for Chrome and Google+.

This paid link gaffe is an example of how that delicate balance broke down. Unintentional or not, this Chrome mistake could lead to rivals accusing Google of unfairly favoring its own Web services, an accusation the company is trying to face down as it fends off federal scrutiny into its search business.