Last year, Google implemented one of its more ambitious changes to its core consumer products (that would be search, in case you lost track) with Panda, an effort to reduce the amount of pointless and low-quality review sites and the like from the top of Google’s search results. Interesting, then, that there’s hints Google is actually generating garbage content to promote Chrome, as SearchEngineLand and SEO Book. Or is there a more reasonable explanation? Update: And this is why – rightfully so or no – Google tends to get more love than, say, Apple or Microsoft. The company has announced that even though the sponsored posts were not the company’s fault, Google will still penalise the Chrome browser’s homepage, lowering its pagerank for at least 60 days.
So, what’s going on here? Do a Google search for “This Post Is Sponsored By Google Chrome” and you came across 400 or so posts that seemed to be sponsored by, well, Google (now it’s just a whole load of news stories on this subject, of course). The posts were supposed reviews of Chrome, but usually contained like two lines and a video – and it’s always the same video. This obviously reeks of an organised campaign.
This is exactly the kind of behaviour Google’s web spam team lead, Matt Cutts, frowns upon. It’s also the kind of content the Panda updates were supposed to address, so it seems a bit strange that Google would pay people to write such content. While I certainly wouldn’t put it past Google to do such a thing (I mean, they’re a company after all), there’s an additional reason why it’s very, very stupid.
You see, Google has already penalised several companies for this exact same behaviour, such as JC Penny, Forbes, and Overstock. Heck, Google even penalised itself, when BeatThatQuote and Google Japan engaged in this kind of behaviour. In other words, they’re petty strict about it, and it would be monumentally stupid if the Chrome and/or marketing team pissed off the search team.
While we wait for Google to release a statement, there is another possible explanation for this. Back in the day, Google used to run an affiliate link program for Firefox with the Google Toolbar installed, where Google paid website owners money for every download of the Firefox+Google Toolbar package. Considering the wording of the download links in the garbage content, this seems like a likely explanation, especially since “This Post Is Sponsored By Google Chrome” seems a bit off – Google Chrome can’t sponsor anything; only Google can. This seems like a disclaimer to ward off any FTC concerns.
So, who’s behind all this? SearchEngineLand got into contact with an author of one of the garbage posts, and as it turns out, these people are offered $40 in Amazon gift cards if they watch a video about Chrome and then write whatever they want on their site – this particular blogger was made aware of it through The SITSGirls. Similar campaigns have been run for T-Mobile and the American Cancer Society, both organised by a company called Unruly Media, as SearchEngineLand found out.
The question now is this: is Unruly Media running this campaign on behalf of Google, or is Unruly Media just doing this without Google’s consent, abusing an existing affiliate link program? If the former – Google is being a massive hypocrite; if the latter, I’m pretty sure Unruly Media is going to be in some serious trouble.
In any case, this seems appropriate.