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Google in hot water over sponsored Chrome pay-per-post promos [UPDATE: Google punishes itself]

chrome oopsAfter being accused of violating its own sponsored content policy, Google is pointing the finger at a marketing company behind its Chrome browser campaign, Unruly Media. The company, which Google hired, will have to take the blame for the blatant self-promotion.

SEO Book first discovered that the phrase “This post is sponsored by Google” returned 400 pages advertising the company. In at least one case, a post failed to follow the “nofollow” rule, which Google has instituted so that webmasters can relay to search engines not to follow certain links. This means clicking these links won’t improve their page rank according to Google. But this pro-Chrome content wasn’t using “nofollow,” with the result being that Google’s page rank would improve via its self-sponsored articles. Unruly Media has said this was a mistake. 

Failing to attribute a Chrome link as “nofollow” isn’t Google’s only foul, of course. The company has made a lot of noise in the past year about punishing this very type of content on the Web. Google Search has made it clear it wants to cut down on content farms, punish posts written entirely for SEO, and the marketing material that floods the Web.

Google’s Panda update last year was focused on eliminating these search results. “This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful,” Google search team members Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal said. “At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

When the alterations revealed that a number of Google properties had received a boosted page ranking, there was some criticism launched at the site. But as the search engine has continued to tweak these changes, sites have adapted. But these Google-sponsored, pro-Chrome posts are precisely the stuff that Google was supposedly burying—so it’s surprising that the company would be creating it in the first place. Here’s one example: a blog post titled “Google Chrome Benefits Small Businesses” From TelecommutingMommies describes the benefits of the browser, and ends with a “This post is sponsored by Google Chrome” sign-off. Not exactly stimulating or unbiased material. 

What’s more, Chrome has been killing the competition lately. The browser now has 19.1-percent of the market share, largely at the expense of Firefox and IE. Google has been making a big marketing push to promote the browser, taking out heartstring-pulling ads encouraging users to take advantage of Chrome’s various features. While these ads might not be terribly effective at reaching those interested in browser technology and capabilities (for what it’s worth, we think these promos are too focused on emotion and come off as vague and abstract), they do show that Google is intent on selling Chrome.

And the sponsored stories are just more evidence of this—many of which are now leading to 404 errors. Check out a few examples below though–you’ll notice many of them include the phrase “Google Chrome helped this small business in Vermont go global,” which indicates there was likely some sort of outline included in the blog position description. 

Despite shifting blame, this doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in Google. Especially because the pay-per-post blogging jobs Unruly Media was advertising specifically imply that the content is supposed to influence page rank. No matter how you spin this, it seems like to some degree Google intends to make the rules but refuses to play by them. 

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[Update: 3:19 p.m. PST]

As a result of the sponsored content floating around the Web, Google has punished it’s Chrome homepage. Google sent SearchEngineLand a statement explaining:

“We’ve investigated and are taking manual action to demote www.google.com/chrome 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.”

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