Google Slaps Own Wrists

Google has discovered a company was breaking its rules by using paid ads to push itself up the search rankings. It’s now punished that company by manually penalizing it so that it appears much lower down. Amazingly that company was Google itself.

The search giant had hired an online marketing company, Essence Digital, to use video ads to promote the Chrome browser. Essence Digital then used another firm, Unruly Media, to place the ads. Among its tactics, Unruly paid bloggers to include the ad in posts that were clearly labeled as sponsored by Chrome.

All that was fine by Google’s rules, but the problem came when one of these bloggers decided to include a direct link to the download page for Chrome within text accompanying the video ad. That meant the Chrome page was getting an additional inbound link (boosting its “score” on Google’s PageRank system) that only came about because of a payment, which breaches Google’s rules.

After sites including SEOBOOK highlighted the breach, Google investigated the issue. It didn’t find any problems with the video ads themselves, but did confirm the post linking to Chrome was a violation. Following the rules it would apply to any other company, it’s taken two steps as a result:

  • the page with the blog post itself has now been ranked as untrustworthy for Google search purposes, which removes the tiny boost to the Chrome ranking it produced;
  • the Chrome site has been manually demoted in the rankings for 60 days, after which its managers will have to formally request it be re-ranked.

The Chrome site has not been removed from the rankings altogether. Instead its PageRank value has been reduced, which effectively acts as a handicap to its “natural” ranking. The penalty has already had an effect: for terms such as “chrome”, “google chrome” and “browser” the site is already well outside the top 50 results for many users, though the precise effects will continue to vary from user to user.

There’s also nothing to stop Google giving itself prime position in the sponsored results that appear at the top of the page, which appears to be the case for some of the affected terms.

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