Here at Browser Media, we’ve always taken a strong stance against the use of sponsored links in order to promote a clients website. Not only are these links often of poor quality, but they also go against Google’s Webmaster rules, something that can have severe consequences for a website as reinforced by Google’s algorithm update (Panda) last April.
That’s why it was particularly shocking when it was revealed early last week that Google had seemingly violated these guidelines, with hoards of blog posts showing as ‘sponsored by Google’ appearing on search engine results pages.
It has since emerged that Google’s intentions were not to engage in black hat techniques, but instead the campaign which was managed by a marketing agency, and not Google itself was intended to get people to watch videos rather than link to Google. The simple fact that third parties entrusted by Google to manage it’s marketing activity had gone against Google rules was enough to justify a punishment in Matt Cutts’ opinion:
“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”.
The more cynical amongst us could argue that Google had no choice but to penalise itself, after all it hasn’t hesitated to issue punishments to other sites that have violated their guidelines in the past, whether it be through their own intentions or bad advice from rogue companies. It’s also brought about an argument as to whether Google should alter its algorithm to penalise sites that use black hat techniques before their rankings change in search engines – something I can imagine will only gain momentum in the coming months.
It also touches on the issue of Google having its own sites ranking well organically (think price comparison sites such as beatthatquote.com, Google Flights, etc.) – this is surely going to russle the feathers of existing brands, most of whom pump a LOT of money into Adwords. It will be interesting to see if there are definite signals of prioritisation / favouritsm / blatant monopoly in the coming year…
At the very least it’s been a tough and slightly embarrassing lesson for Google and hopefully an eye-opener to sites that are tempted to cut corners where SEO is concerned – black hat techniques don’t bring good results.