Matt Cutts twittered that Google.co.jp was penalized for paying for blogger reviews. If you look at the FriendFeed details, you will see Matt first said, “Google.co.jp PageRank is now ~5 instead of ~9. I expect that to remain for a while.” And then when he was questioned if this was a paid link penalty, he said “yes.”
Google Blogoscoped has more details about the why with their story named Google Japan Reportedly Bought Blog Posts in Promotion Campaign, Now Issued Apology.
Akky Akimoto at the Asiajin blog recently reported that Google Japan was paying bloggers to review a new Google widget. Using pay-per-post service CyberBuzz, blog posts like the following popped up, strangely resembling each other, as Asiajin reports.
The Google Japan blog’s apology translated into:
Google Japan is running several promotional activities to let people know more about our products.
It turns out that using blogs on the part of the promotional activities violates Google’s search guidelines, so we have ended the promotion. We would like to apologize to the people concerned and to our users, and are making an effort to make our communications more transparent in order to prevent the recurrence of such an incident.
How long will this PageRank penalty last? Matt Cutts of Google said, “I expect that to remain for a while.” Any takers on what “a while” means?
Postscript From Danny Sullivan:
Official: Selling Paid Links Can Hurt Your PageRank Or Rankings On Google and The 2007 Paid Links War, In Review from Search Engine Land are past articles that provide further background about how Google has actively campaigned against sites either buying or selling links and implementing a range of penalties against those that do, including Google Toolbar PageRank decreases.
While it might seem amazing that Google is penalizing itself, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Back in 2005, help pages for Google’s search appliance product were found to be cloaking content, showing Google’s spider something different than what human visitors see. When this was noticed, Google removed the pages from its index and required the team in charge of them to file a reinclusion request.
The penalty now applied to Google Japan will certainly help Google be seen as enforcing its rules fairly, even against itself. But I’d also expect it will reignite the paid link debate once again. If Google itself, however it happened, found itself in this situation — how are ordinary web sites to be expected to know the “rules” about what they can or cannot do?
I’d warn against anyone from seizing upon this as an excuse to buy or sell links, however. The bottom line in such cases — when someone has been caught — is really how important a site is to warrant inclusion. Large and important sites generally get a mild slap on the hand, just as Google is, in this case. They do not get banned permanently, as that would hurt the relevancy of Google’s results. Smaller sites that won’t be noticed if they go missing indeed might find themselves missing.
Matt’s on the Ask The Search Engines panel tomorrow at our SMX West conference, and has been busy there attending all this week. I expect he’ll likely address the issue a bit more on the panel and knowing Matt, I’d also expect he’ll probably do a fairly comprehensive review of the situation on his blog after getting clear of the show. I could be wrong, of course, and I’m not trying to set expectations. That’s just what he’s tended to do with these types of issues — so if you were hoping for something longer from him other than a Twitter mention, I’d hang in there.