5 Times Google Penalized Itself For Breaking Its Own SEO Rules


Make no mistake. Plenty of sites — big brands included — willingly do things in an attempt to rank better on Google that go past SEO tactics that Google itself considers acceptable. However, there’s also no better poster child for how complicated and confusing Google’s rules can be than the fact that Google has had to punish itself with penalties over and over again.

Below, a look back on times when Google took action against itself. FYI, this is a companion piece to our related story on Marketing Land today: 10 Big Brands That Were Penalized By Google. Be sure to also check that out.

And now the list, counting backwards chronologically….

5) Chrome & Paid Links

google-chrome-logo One of Google’s big sins is when people buy links in hopes they’ll generate better Google rankings. However, Google found itself buying links as part of a campaign to promote its Chrome browser. The links were obtained as part of a video campaign that was run involving two different promotion companies.

The companies and Google made apologies all around, saying the links were more accidental than intentionally sought. No matter: Google decided however it happened, it was a violation that required the Google page for Chrome to be penalized. It was knocked out of the top rankings for searches on “Google Chrome” for two months.

  • When: January 2012
  • Violation: Paid links
  • Penalty: Single page, the Google Chrome home page, had rankings lowered
  • Penalty Period: 2 months

4) Beat That Quote & Acquiring A Problem

google-beatthatquote-banned spaceRightWhen Google acquired financial comparison service Beat That Quote, it also acquired a problem. SEOs and places like SEO Book were quickly buzzing that Beat That Quote had been buying links and doing other tactics against Google’s guidelines.

Google responded by penalizing Beat That Quote to the degree it no longer ranked for its own name. Two weeks later, the Beat That Quote penalty was lifted. Then the next day, it was applied again. How long it remained in place after that, at this point, seems undocumented.

  • When: March 2011
  • Violation: Paid links
  • Penalty: Rankings degraded; no longer made first page for own name
  • Penalty Period: 2 weeks, at first, then uncertain extension after that

3) Google AdWords & Cloaking

google-adwords-square-logoGoogle found itself violating its own rules against “cloaking” — showing its web crawlers something different than a human would see — for help pages relating to AdWords. When this was noticed, Google penalized the AdWords help pages so they no longer ranked well for searches on topics like “adwords help.”

Google didn’t, however, similarly penalize other Google help pages that were doing the same thing. How long the AdWords pages were penalized is unclear. I can’t find that anyone reported when they were back again.

  • When: July 2010
  • Violation: Cloaking
  • Penalty: Rankings degraded
  • Penalty Period: Unknown

2) Google Japan & Paid Links

google-japan-featured spaceRightGoogle got in trouble with itself when Google Japan admitted to buying links to help promote a Google widget. When the news emerged, Google’s search spam team reduced the PageRank score for Google Japan from PR9 to PR5.

PageRank is a value of importance that Google assigns to pages and one of many factors that influences if a page ranks well. But in this case, it really had little impact. People seeking Google Japan could still find it. After 11 months, the PageRank score rose to PR8, indicating the penalty seemed to be lifted.

  • When: February 2009
  • Violation: Paid links
  • Penalty: PageRank dropped from PR9 to PR5
  • Penalty Period: 11 months

1) Google AdWords & Cloaking (The Original)

google-adwords-square-logoRemember above, how Google penalized itself because of cloaking involving its AdWords help pages? That was actually the second time the AdWords support pages had been involved with cloaking. The first time was also the first time Google ever took action against itself.

Someone at Google had hidden content on the pages in a way meant to help those using Google’s own internal search tool. However, because those changes were seen by Google’s main search engine, that meant they were in violation of guidelines. After this was spotted and discussed, Google had the pages removed from its index. For how long, as this point, I can’t locate.

  • When: March 2005
  • Violation: Cloaking
  • Penalty: Pages removed from Google
  • Penalty Period: Unknown

Again, be sure to see our companion story on Marketing Land:

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: SEO | SEO: Spamming | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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