According to SEO Book (via Tech Crunch), Google and its marketing firm Unruly paid bloggers to write posts "sponsored by Google" as part of a marketing campaign for Google Chrome for small businesses. This wouldn't have been a problem if the posters had followed their own policy by including a "nofollow" tag in the link, which helps ensure that search results are not manipulated in favor of paid content.
Here are some of the issues SEO Book reports seeing with the posts:
- Some of those sites are paid posts and have live links in them to Google Chrome without using nofollow & talk about SEO in the same post as well;
- Some of those posts link to the example businesses Google was paying to have covered;
- And all the posts are effectively "buying YouTube video views" for this video www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFLP7HD1s7k
Tech Crunch notes that the posts should talk about how Chrome can be of use to small business owners but really don't provide "details on Chrome features or how the browser can actually benefit small businesses." To Tech Crunch, this means they are "garbage posts."
Both Tech Crunch and SEO Book note that the at least one "nofollow attribute" not included in the post could have been left out by mistake. All Things D reported Tuesday that Unruly CEO Scott Button said it was in fact a technical mistake, which was corrected as soon as it came to their attention. Button says that the paid blog posts are part of a campaign that the company ran for Google through the end of December. All Things D has more from Button's email response:
We’re always completely upfront and transparent with bloggers that we are running commercial campaigns and who we’re working for. We always require that bloggers disclose any commercial incentive to post video content. We always require that bloggers disclose even on related tweets that they might do off their own bats.
It’s also a key part of how we operate that we don’t tell bloggers what or how to write. It’s really important that opinions expressed and the tone of voice belong to the author not the advertiser. Occasionally that leads to human error, as here, so we’re always really happy to have these kinds of example flagged and will sort them out as quickly as we possibly can.
SEO Book reports that Googling "This post is sponsored by Google" returns more than 400 posts that are part of the marketing campaign. All Things D goes on to report that Unruly's ad campaigns for Google generally reach 725 million people per month.
Search Engine Land points out that several companies came under fire by Google last year for violating this policy and poses the question if Google will ban Chrome:
Paid links drew much attention last year, after Google penalized JC Penney, as well as Forbes and Overstock for using them. Google even banned BeatThatQuote, one of its own companies last year, BeatTheQuote, over the issue. In 2009, Google penalized Google Japan for its own search results for the same issue, not removing it but reducing its ability to rank for 11 months.
Potentially, all this means that Google will have to ban the Google Chrome download page over paid links.
The New York Times (via Search Engine Land) also ran an article Monday with details about Google's increasing self-marketing. The Times reports Google's VP of Global Marketing Lorraine Twohill as saying that with the company's growth and new products, advertising was important to help people see it as more than just a search engine. The advertising campaigns, the Times reports Peter Daboll, a chief executive of the firm Ace Metrix that evaluates advertising, as analyzing the campaigns that "make you feel something about search, as opposed to just relying on it as a useful tool.”