January 4, 2012, 10:41 AM

Pot, kettle, black: Google violates its paid link policy for search results

The search engine punishes itself for a paid link promoting its Chrome browser.

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Google Inc. says it has punished itself over the use of a paid link promoting its Chrome browser in search results. Google generally frowns upon the use of paid links to boost search results, and has punished retailers over the practice.

The problem stemmed from Google buying video ads about Chrome, writes Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, in a blog posting last night. Of those two dozen or so sponsored posts about Chrome, one linked to www.google.com/chrome in a way that affected search results, Cutts says.

“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,” Cutts says.

Cutts says his team has demoted Chrome in search results 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,” he says.

“Lowering the PageRank value is not the same as removing or banning the page from Google,” writes Danny Sullivan, who operates the search engine news site Search Engine Land. “Potentially, however, a lower PageRank value will reduce its ability to rank well for certain terms. That’s what’s happened as a result of this.”

Last year, Google punished Overstock.com Inc., No. 27 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, for encouraging links from university web sites in a bid to boost its search rankings. The retailer offered discounts to linkers.  Overstock estimated the Google demotion resulted in a 5% revenue loss for the penalty period, which was from Feb. 22 through April 21.

Around the same time, J.C. Penney Co. Inc., No. 20 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, fired its SEO marketing vendor after it was accused of using paid inbound links to boost rankings for a variety of products sold by the merchant.

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