Google Promotes Chrome At Cost Of Search Quality

    January 3, 2012
    Chris Crum

Google is the subject of some controversy related to sponsored links. They involve posts promoting Google Chrome for small businesses.

Are you OK with Google’s Chrome promotion strategy? Let us know in the comments.

As you may know, Google has strict guidelines against paid links that don’t carry the nofollow link attribute. They have been known to ban sites for the practice, and now it has been discovered that Google has been participating in a bit of this itself, at least indirectly.

Peter Kafka at AllThingsD discovered that it was not actually Google handling the campaign itself, but rather, while the company dominates online advertising, it hired Unruly Media to do so. Either way, it’s still Google’s campaign.

The whole thing was brought to light when SEOBook’s Aaron Wall discovered some paid blog posts showing up in search results. Some posts, he said, are paid and have live links in them to Google Chrome without using nofollow, and talk about SEO in the same post. He notes that all of the posts are “buying YouTube video views”. They feature this video:

The video actually links to the Chrome download page though:

Chrome download

“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?” asks Wall.

Kafka shared a response from Unruly Media after failing to get any direct response from Google itself (he cites the holidays as a reason for this). In the response, Unruly Media CEO Scott Button says:

…we don’t ask bloggers to link to the advertiser’s site. It’s just not part of our business model. We help advertisers distribute video content and that’s what we get paid for. All links from the video player itself are wrapped in Javascript, so although Google can follow them, they don’t influence search engine rankings. Even though we don’t ask bloggers to link, we do advise them to use nofollow if they do link to the advertiser’s site. This is really important and they should do it to protect themselves as much as the advertiser.

As far as I’m aware, there was one link in one post that was not marked nofollow. This was corrected as soon as we became aware of it…

Former Googler Vanessa Fox said, “JavaScript links do in fact pass PageRank, although Google does try to detect when the links are ads and doesn’t pass PageRank when it detects that.”

Google’s Matt Cutts picked a great time to take a “digital break”:

I’m thinking about doing a “digital break” where I don’t tweet for a week. So if you see me not tweeting, that’s why. 3 days ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Here’s a sample of what Cutts has had to say on sponsored links in the past:

Clear disclosure of sponsorship is critical, and that includes disclosure for search engines. If link in a paid post would affect search engines, that link should not pass PageRank (e.g. by using the nofollow attribute). Google — and other search engines — do take action which can include demoting sites that sell links that pass PageRank, for example.

Tom Warren at The Verge reports: “Google says it is now looking at what changes we need to make to ensure that this never happens again,’ but no word on whether the company plans to penalize its own Chrome download page, a process Google follows for guideline violations.
It’s unclear if there really was only a single link that was wasn’t nofollowed, as there are hundreds of pages of results that feature the “articles” in question. But even if that is the case, and Google is not treating these results any differently than it would any other sites, there is a whole other issue.

As Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land points out, many of these posts appear to be the kind of thing Google’s Panda update was designed to eliminate – thin, low quality content. But here we see, not only these results flooding Google’s SERPs (again, there are hundreds of pages of results), but Google actually sponsoring these results.

Look at this page, for example, which ranks right at the top for “chrome small business benefits”. This is the entirety of the text, which is followed by the above video:

Many of you Moms who follow the blog here are not only working work-at-home jobs but also involved in work-at-home businesses or even a traditional brick and mortar small business. I love supporting women in small business because to me the benefits of working from home or running your own business are the same- having a flexible schedule and allowing more time to spend with your family. I know from experience, however, that starting up a business is not an easy feat, especially in today’s economy. Many years ago I started up my side business, Sign & Play, where I offer parent and child sign language classes. I had no idea where to start with getting the word out about my business and wasted a lot of money on advertising that did not work. I know all of my Telecommuting Moms out there are like me in thinking that wasting money is never a good thing. We all love saving money for our families and since the internet arrived, it sure has made that easier. Finding deals, coupons and ways to save is a whole new world now. As a small business owner, you always want to look for ways to save and wasting money can be painful. You have to prioritize spending and ensure that every dollar is spent wisely. These days, having an online presence is an essential step in starting a business, no matter how small it is. Ensuring that potential customers can find your business online is vital and a first step in establishing your web presence. This is where Google Chrome comes in, they offer a way for small businesses to get started easily and get their business name in to the online and social media world without spending a fortune.

Google Chrome helped this small business in Vermont go global. What can Google Chrome do for your future?

I’m guessing that’s not really the best result for finding out about the benefits to small businesses of using Google’s Chrome browser. In fact, I would think Google would have some content of its own, which would be much more helpful.

Chrome Benefits

There is no link in the article at least, other than the YouTube video linking to the download page.

The quality problem is really more concerning than the sponsored link issue, though, if you ask me – in terms of general user experience. I’d rather have sponsored content that is actually useful than content that isn’t helpful at all appearing at the top of my search results.

We are probably about due for another Panda update though. We’ll see what happens.

What is your take on Google’s Chrome campaign here? Let us know in the comments.