'This Post Is Sponsored by Google': Google Caught (Gasp) Buying Links?

September 14, 2017

Ever the hypocrisy cop, Aaron Wall earlier this week exposed some seemingly devious behavior on Google’s part – namely, a series of sponsored blog posts promoting the Google Chrome browser along with a product video.

Wall writes:

When K-Mart paid some small business bloggers to do sponsored posts Matt Cutts wrote a post about how he torched those small bloggers (while doing nothing to K-Mart) & equated that exercise to selling links that promote bogus brain cancer solutions.

The posts were about how great Chrome is and its many benefits for small businesses. Wall compares the practice to “BP buying ads about doing tourism in the gulf.”

Danny Sullivan quickly picked up the story and expanded on it at Search Engine Land, calling the campaign “jaw-dropping.” He points out that this is a potential violation of Google’s own guidelines against buying links, since at least one of the sponsored posts linked directly to the Chrome download page (with a do-follow link). (The post, which appeared on Humphries Nation, has since been removed.)

Sponsored by Google

As Matt McGee says, “followed links in paid blog posts are a big no-no.” Sullivan guesses, however, that “Google probably never instructed anyone to directly link to anything.”

According to a response from Matt Cutts on Google+, this is the case. Here is the bulk of Cutts’ response:

Google was trying to buy video ads about Chrome, and these sponsored posts were an inadvertent result of that. 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.

However, we did find one sponsored post that linked to www.google.com/chrome in a way that flowed PageRank. Even though the intent of the campaign was to get people to watch videos--not link to Google--and even though we only found a single sponsored post that actually linked to Google’s Chrome page and passed PageRank, that’s still a violation of our quality guidelines, which you can find at http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769#3 .

In response, the webspam team has taken manual action to demote www.google.com/chrome for at least 60 days.

This doesn’t, however, address Sullivan’s second worry, which is that Google is paying people to produce “garbage” content – in other words, thin content that serves websites rather than users, “the same type of garbage that its Panda Update was designed to penalize.”

Google also sent Sullivan a direct response, saying “Google never agreed to anything more than online ads.”

Essence Digital, a media agency Google was working with, also issued a statement of apology and reported that “Google never approved a sponsored-post campaign.”But, Sullivan points out, Essence Ditigal didn’t actually execute the campaign – a video promotion company called Unruly did. (“Unruly” indeed.) Sullivan also wonders why Google would need to hire an agency to execute video ads, when it has its own video ad network.

Google’s own penalty is now preventing the Chrome browser from showing up on the first page for queries like “web browser.” Search Engine Journal’s David Angotti writes:

Although it may seem harsh to penalize Google Chrome for actions they did not specifically authorize, any other action would be hypocritical concerning they have penalized major brands in the same situation. Matt Cutts, the webspam team, and the rest of the Google team, you are sending the right message by penalizing Chrome. By imposing the penalty, Google is clearly communicating that outsourcing marketing is not an excuse for webspam.

Todd Bailey, in a (sponsored, ironically) guest post on Marketing Pilgrim, suggests that “Google may not be doing enough to account for their actions.” In light of recent criticism from a senate subcommittee, he writes, “Google has done the minimum to respond.”

I guess “everybody does it,” but like Sullivan, I’m surprised that Google would need to outsource this kind of marketing. I’m also surprised they even need links to get high rankings. I mean, Chrome IS Google. Whether it’s hypocritical or not, I pretty much expect that Google products are going to get a free ride when it comes to rankings. I mean, can’t they just manually set all their PageRanks to 9? Am I right?

More Web Marketing Highlights

Elaine at Trada has published a list of New Year’s resolutions from various internet marketers (including little old me!). Check out the full list.

SEJ’s Melissa Fach interviews the lovely Joanna Lord and gets some great tips for PPC beginners, including blogs to read and tools to try.

Ryan Sammy at BlueGlass shares 16  simple changes that can boost your blog marketing efforts, including layout improvements and ways to make your blog more sticky.

Logo and branding lovers, I recommend Brand New’s two-part post on the best and worst of logo (re)design in 2011, including IFC and Starbucks (good) and JCPenny and Qwikster (very, very bad).

While we’re on that subject, I enjoyed this Quora thread on the best logo ever created. Apple? Coca-Cola? Fed-Ex? Playboy?

One more – Marketing Land rounds up Google’s best logos of the year.

Not marketing-related, but I enjoyed this post on the Everywhereist about a bad experience in a Lego store, including a list of snappy comebacks developed after the fact.

See you next week!

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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