Will Google be forced to ban its own browser from its index?

Google’s policy of penalizing companies by removing them from its index for infringing rules on paid links may have come back to haunt it.

GOOGLE

Google is wrestling with a thorny conundrum: should it block its own Chrome browser from its search index for between a month and a year for breaking its own rules on paid links, after a mixup by some bloggers for a video advertising scheme?

The problem has arisen after Google paid Unruly Media, an international media agency, to get a number of paid bloggers to promote a video for its Chrome browser featuring a US flour company.

But while the bloggers did the job they had been asked to, and put up the video, some went beyond what Unruly Media – and Google – had expected them to, and included links to places where you could download the Chrome browser. Crucially, though, they didn’t use the “nofollow” text that Google mandates for paid links. That, strictly, took them over the line on paid links.

Update: a company called Essence Digital has now said that it acted as an intermediary between Google and Unruly Media. In a post on Google+, it said:

We want to be perfectly clear here: 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 kind of promotions are not transparent or in the best interests of users.

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.

The “sponsored” blogposts (such as this one, though it does not link to Chrome) were first noticed by Aaron Wall at SEO Book. He commented: “You can say they didn’t require the links, that the links were incidental, that leaving nofollow off was an accident, etc … but does Google presume the same level of innocence when torching webmasters? They certainly did not to the bloggers who reviewed K-Mart [who were removed from the search ranking] and the Google reconsideration request form states: ‘In general, sites that directly profit from traffic (e.g. search engine optimisers, affiliate programmes, etc) may need to provide more evidence of good faith before a site will be reconsidered.'”

At Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan wrote: “Potentially, all this means that Google will have to ban the Google Chrome download page over paid links. That would suck for Google, since it’s busy running ads for Google Chrome, which will in turn prompt people to search for it. Right now, the page appears at the top of results for searches on ‘google chrome’.”

Andrew Girdwood, who has worked in the past with Unruly Media, said: “My hunch is that individual bloggers have written editorials for their sponsored video (which is just a CPA [cost per action] ad [where bloggers would get paid any time somebody watches the ad] – like so many others, just like any affiliate deal) and put a link naturally into that text … I doubt these posts were about links.”

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