Earlier this week, Google came under fire for a pay-per-post campaign promoting its Chrome browser. In addition to being hypocritical (Google has made a lot of noise about punishing this type of spammy, page boosting, “thin” content), one sponsored blog post in particular failed to follow Google’s “nofollow” hyperlinking rule.
Google dutifully dropped Chrome’s page rank for the next 60 days and in a company statement explained that given its position, the company needs to hold itself to a higher standard.
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, has also commented on the incident and given us some background on what exactly happened. “Google was trying to buy video ads about Chrome, and these sponsored posts were an inadvertent results of that,” he says via Google+. “If you investigated the two dozen or so sponsored posts (as the webspam team immediately did), the posts typically showed a Google Chrome video but didn’t actually link to Google Chrome. We double-checked, and the video players weren’t flowing PageRank to Google either.”
Cutts says there was one exception, however, in which a blogger failed to make a link to Chrome “nofollow” and as a result Google has demoted Chrome’s page rank.
Of course it’s not just the fact that one of these paid-for-posts was unwittingly giving Chrome an SEO boost. Google is also taking heat for creating the very type of Web content it tries to bury. According to Cutts, the campaign’s intention was purely “to get people to watch videos—not link to Google.”
One company hired to produce the video ads, Essence Digital, cops to Google’s innocence in the entire situation. “Google never approved a sponsored-post campaign. They only agreed to buy online video ads. Google have consistently avoided paid postings to promote their products, because in their view these kinds of promotions are transparent or are not in the best interests of users,” the company said in a statement. “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.”
There’s been a lot of finger pointing in this debacle, with most of the blame falling squarely on the shoulders of the unnamed blogger who failed to use the “nofollow” attribute. But it’s all fairly simple: Google says it doesn’t engage with pay-per-post advertising, but it hired a couple of companies (including Unruly Media) which do precisely that. Unruly Media has explained that while it doesn’t tell its writers what to write, it does pay them for it. Still, for all the blame-shifting going on here, at least Google is demoting itself a bit, even if it’s just to appease us all.