The topic of paid links is in the headlines once again, and ironically, Google is the accused. As WebProNews previously reported, Google was recently caught up in a controversy after it violated its own Webmaster Guidelines as part of a marketing campaign for Google Chrome.
Aaron Wall, the author of SEO Book, first reported on the news after someone posted about it in one of his forums. As he explained in the above interview with WebProNews, the campaign was designed to relate Google Chrome to the Internet and tell why small businesses should use it. However, the posts were not of very high quality. Danny Sullivan, in fact, called the content "garbage."
"Basically, all these posts exist for no reason other than they are paid, they're very low quality, and they're flowing link juice," Wall pointed out.
While Google admits the campaign is theirs, it says that it did not intend to do any paid sponsorships. Apparently, Google hired Essence Digital, a digital media agency, for a video ad campaign to promote Chrome. Unruly Media, which is another media agency, was involved in the ordeal as well, and, from all indication, appears to be the company that actually executed the campaign.
I'll give the short summary, then I'll describe the webspam team's 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. After that, someone on the Chrome side can submit a reconsideration request documenting their clean-up just like any other company would. During the 60 days, the PageRank of www.google.com/chrome will also be lowered to reflect the fact that we also won't trust outgoing links from that page.
Did Google fairly punish itself? Let us know what you think.
A Google spokesperson also sent us the following statements:
"Google never agreed to anything more than online ads. We have consistently avoided paid sponsorships, including paying bloggers to promote our products, because these kind of promotions are not transparent or in the best interests of users. We're now looking at what changes we need to make to ensure that this never happens again."
Regarding the action:
"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."
According to Wall, because Google is such a big company, it is possible that all departments don't know what other parts are doing. For this reason, he believes that Google should be more "lenient" when dealing with other individuals and companies regarding similar issues.
"The big thing is, if all this stuff can happen to Google and they're the one that makes those guidelines, then, of course, it can happen to tons of other people," he said.
Should Google be more lenient on the issue of paid links? What do you think?