If you go to either Google or Yahoo and type in terms that are related to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig- things like “oil spil”, or “gulf disaster”, at the top of the thousands of results that are displayed, highlighted in a yellow box will be BP’s official website, with the tagline “Info about the Gulf of Mexico Spill. Learn More about How BP is Helping”.
Both Google and Yahoo offer sponsored link boxes that appear at the top of search pages when certain keywords are used. The company purchasing the sponsored links chooses the keywords that it wants to be associated with. In an effort to spin the cleanup efforts in its favor, BP has purchased several key search words on both Google and Yahoo, like “oil spill”, which have consistently been among the most searched for terms on Google since the April 20 explosion.
Toyota employed a similar strategy when it was faced with massive recalls to fix faulty brake pads. Searches for terms related to “Toyota brake pads” brought up sponsored links to dealerships.
Although the ethics of the move have immediately raised objections, many search engine analysts are calling the move “smart”.
“If you look at it from BP’s perspective it’s a brilliant move,” Kevin Ryan, CEO of Motivity Marketing told ABC News. “The other option BP had was to just not do this and let the news interpret what’s going on. They’re getting so much bad press that directing traffic to their own site is a great PR strategy.”
According to Ryan, marketing research shows that most people can’t tell the difference between a sponsored link like the ones BP is paying for, and actual news.
Compared to the massive operation, and the incredible costs that will be accrued over the coming years, the costs for purchasing spots on the top of search results are relatively minimal. One estimate claims that BP is paying around $10,000 per day on the sponsored links, which is an insignificant sum compared to the billions of dollars that it will begin to pay for cleanup.
“The search terms, everything, it’s probably not a bad idea for the company to do,” Ryan said. “Is it right? Is buying these terms ethical? That’s another question.”
BP, however, is putting a positive spin on the sponsor ad purchases.
“We have bought search terms on search engines like Google to make it easier for people to find out more about our efforts in the Gulf and make it easier for people to find key links to information on filing claims, reporting oil on the beach and signing up to volunteer,” a BP spokesperson told ABC.
The newest reports from the Gulf offer a slim glimmer of hope. A recent containment cap on the undersea pipe, has slowed the oil release by around one-third, and BP is planning a new cap that might further slow the leak. Unfortunately that is the best news yet.
“I have never said this is going well,” said Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the person monitoring the response for the government. “We’re throwing everything at it that we’ve got. I’ve said time and time again that nothing good happens when oil is on the water.”