For the next 60 days Google searches for the words “browser,” “Chrome” or even “Chrome browser” will not include a link to the main Google Chrome download page. Google removed the Chrome download page from its search results after it discovered that one of its own sponsored post campaigns had violated its webmaster guidelines.
Because no one likes spammy links in Google search results — least of all Google — the company has penalized its own Chrome browser just like it would any other company using the same tactics. Searching Google for these terms will still bring up links that can eventually lead users to the Chrome download page, but there is no direct link (there are links to the Chrome beta download page in some results).
Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan discovered the suspicious links in Google’s search results and pointed out that they seem to violate Google’s webmaster guidelines, which prohibit “buying or selling links that pass PageRank.” All of the pages in question clearly stated that they were sponsored posts (created with Google’s implicit blessing as part of a campaign from Unruly Media) which means, according the Google’s webmaster guidelines, all the links should have been using rel=”nofollow”. Most did use nofollow, but one did not.
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, responded to Sullivan’s article saying that the webspam team had manually demoted the Chrome downloads page:
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, 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.
While Google’s response may seem extreme, it’s not the first time the company has punished its own. Google previously banned BeatThatQuote (one of its own companies) over almost the same issue last year. And of course it also deranked JC Penny and Forbes for similarly shady tactics.
Clearly Google doesn’t have a double standard when it comes to violating its own guidelines, but, as Sullivan points out, that the company paid Unruly Media to run the ad campaign in the first place is troubling. “Google’s paying to produce a lot of garbage,” writes Sullivan, “the same type of garbage that its Panda Update was designed to penalize.”
The “Panda Update” involved tweaks to the way Google’s algorithms rank search results which heavily penalized co-called “content farms.” Google defines content farms as “sites with shallow or low-quality content.” In other words, sites just like the ones Google was paying Unruly Media to create.