You’d have to be living in a cave to have missed the story that Google has ‘demoted’ one of its own following some less than honest online marketing tactics.
It seems Chrome decided to boost the profile of the browser by hiring an external agency to produce some video content as part of a wider marketing campaign.
Sounds pretty simple? Unfortunately, the agencies used methods that didn’t exactly meet Google’s usually high standards of conduct and landed them both in a bit of hot water.
Although most of the activity appeared above board and focused on guiding users to specific video content via blogs and forums, it appeared that this was achieved by paying bloggers to ‘review’ the web browser, something which Google states is clearly outside of its quality guidance.
As it believes in rewarding quality content, having products promoted by what should be an independent source is a vital part of how Google judges what is and isn’t useful to us as users. And so any interference with this process is bound to cause some controversy.
The upshot of this violation is that Google have penalised the Google Chrome site by dropping its page rank and demoting it in the search rankings. This means that Google Chrome is no longer appearing on the first page of search results and will continue to lag for the next 60 days, at which point it will be able to apply to Google to reconsider the levy against it.
This is Google sticking to the rules and making a very public example of a high profile site. It’s clear there’s no room for error in Google’s world and any violation of its quality guidance will not go unpunished, even if this means hurting one of their own.
Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam gave the following statement:
‘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.
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.’
Opinion has been split between praising Google’s actions and questioning the effectiveness. On the surface it appears that the action was indeed justified and necessary, showing that Google will apply it’s principles to anyone who dares to cross them regardless of whether the actions were carried out by a third party.
However, I can’t help but be a little sceptical about all this. For one thing, removing Chrome from the first page of search results doesn’t really achieve anything. It’s now not ranking for its most popular search terms, but given these are terms such as ‘Chrome’ or ‘Chrome browser’, the impact will be on the user who now has to look harder to find what they’re looking for. If the user is actually looking for Chrome then it’s unlikely they’ll be put off finding the site just because it doesn’t appear at the top of the results. This doesn’t hurt Chrome, it inconveniences the user.
Did everyone else spot that the top paid result for the terms ‘Chrome’, ‘Google chrome’ and ‘browser’ is an ad for Google Chrome? Hmmm……
This also makes Google look incredibly rigid in its application of the guidelines. While it’s important to demonstrate a zero tolerance approach to those deliberately flouting the rules, allowing room for genuine error and working with websites to support them in getting the best out of their campaigns while delivering them in a way that works for Google must be the ideal scenario.
This action against Chrome looks to me more like a publicity stunt which has only served to increase online discussion about the web browser and make Google appear inflexible and unapproachable. Instead of patting itself on the back for implementing its rules so consistently, surely this must highlight the need to be more willing to allow room for genuine mistakes to be made and learnt from.
You can read the full statement from Matt Cutts on Google’s blog.
Written by Felice Ayling