Early this month, Google was caught up in some controversy related to paid linking. It's funny how the Internet works. That seems like such a long time ago, and so many Google controversies ago. Since then, Google has sparked heated debate among users and the media around both Search Plus Your World and its new privacy policies.
But anyway, some search results were showing up, leading to sponsored blog posts from bloggers talking about the benefits of Chrome. At least one was found to have what appeared to be a paid link, leading to sharp criticism that Google was not playing by its own rules.
Google ended up putting out the following statement (via Danny Sullivan):
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.
Google's Matt Cutts said in a Google+ post:
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...
Unruly Media was the company behind the campaign. They're also known for successful viral campaigns like the Evian Roller Babies and the Old Spice "Man Your Man Could Smell Like".
One Googler said the whole thing illustrated "why you should pay attention to what any marketing, advertising, or SEO companies might be doing on your behalf."
Danny Sullivan is sharing an email that Unruly has emailed to partners to avoid another fiasco. The email points to guidelines and terms of service. Within that email, the firm says:
This is really important. Be very, very careful if you add any of your own links. If you want to link to the advertiser’s site in an article, post, or tweet, only use the redirect links that we provide you that are also safe. If you don’t do this, you may be in breach of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (Google guidelines). If you’re not sure, just don’t link. The video player links so you don’t have to!
Second, let’s talk about disclosure. Unruly’s video player always has a disclosure underneath it making it totally clear that the video is sponsored. This is fine if you just embed the video in a column or area reserved for commercial content. However, if you embed the video in a blog post, you should always put the phrase ‘Sponsored Video’ as the first two words of the title of your post. If you link to a page containing the video in a tweet or status update, you should mark it #ad. It doesn’t matter that you’re not being paid to tweet or post the video – Because you stand to benefit commercially every time someone watches the video on your site or app, you need to make sure you disclose this clearly.
Interestingly, at the height of the whole Google controversy, Unruly announced a new $25 million round of funding.