Google: Yes, Sponsored Post Campaign Was Ours But Not What We Signed-Up For

It’s been about a day since we covered Google’s sponsored post campaign to promote its Chrome browser, a campaign that produced posts that violate Google’s guidelines against “thin” content and potentially those against buying links. Yes, it was a Google campaign, but not what the company says it signed-up for. One agency is falling on its sword; another is saying no paid links were purchased. Let’s piece through what we’ve got.

Google: We Only Meant To Buy Online Ads

Google has sent me this statement:

Google never agreed to anything more than online ads. We have consistently avoided paid sponsorships, including paying bloggers to promote our products, because these kind of promotions are not transparent or in the best interests of users. We’re now looking at what changes we need to make to ensure that this never happens again.

That seems odd, at first, because it has become clear that Google was behind a campaign that paid bloggers to promote its Chrome product. Otherwise, the web wouldn’t be littered with all these posts that say “This post sponsored by Google.”

Essence Digital: Google Thought They Were Buying Video Ads

The email I received from Google also pointing to a statement from Essence Digital, a New York/London digital media agency. The statement:

There’s been some recent attention in the news involving a Google campaign (see linked article). Here’s some context on what happened.

We want to be perfectly clear here: Google never approved a sponsored-post campaign. They only agreed to buy online video ads. Google have consistently avoided paid postings to promote their products, because in their view these kind of promotions are not transparent or in the best interests of users.

In this case, Google were subjected to this activity through media that encouraged bloggers to create what appeared to be paid posts, were often of poor quality and out of line with Google standards. We apologize to Google who clearly didn’t authorize this.

In other words, Google seems to have contracted with Essence Digital to have a video ad campaign be run across the web. Apparently, Google had no idea how Essence Digital was going to actually run the campaign or make the video ads appear across the web.

Why Did Google Need An Outside Firm To Buy Video Ads?

Why Google needed an agency to do this for them is really weird, since Google’s own video ad network is a pretty effective way to place video ads across the web and in far more places that this campaign did.

So, a big question here remains: what exactly did Essence Digital promise to Google? What was so compelling about its pitch that Google wanted to go for it?

Unruly: We Didn’t Ask For Links & Don’t Care About Them

Meanwhile, as best I can tell, Essence Digital didn’t actually implement the campaign. Instead, video promotion company Unruly was used, as I suspected when writing my story last night. Unruly’s been in touch with me to say:

As Andrew Girdwood points out, Unruly never requires bloggers to link to back to an advertiser’s site. That’s because we’re in the business of video advertising not search engine marketing, so we couldn’t care less about link juice. We don’t ask for it, we don’t pay for it, and we don’t track it.

In line with FTC and EU regulation Unruly always requires that bloggers clearly disclose any post, tweet, or other reference to the video as being sponsored and we provide guidance on how to do this. We also request that if they do link anywhere they use nofollow, both because that’s best practice and also because it’s in their own interest to do so.

Unruly is committed to an ethical, legal, and totally transparent approach to online marketing. It’s crucial that posts are clearly marked as sponsored and that links are marked as nofollow. And it’s crucial that opinions belong to the author, which is why we never push an angle or opinion, and also why, occasionally, bloggers will unfortunately pen a post that deviates from our guidelines, as here. Where that happens, we’re very happy to have it pointed out and will cure the infraction as fast as possible.

As I said in the story, I didn’t expect that Unruly would ask bloggers to link to the site. No smart company trying to buy links would do that, hoping instead that it would just happen naturally.

Unruly Doesn’t Care About “Link Juice” But Has Terms About PageRank?

However, to say that “we couldn’t care less about link juice” is obviously not true. In Unruly’s terms and conditions, as I wrote about yesterday, there’s this statement:

Monthly earnings caps for Your Site(s) are determined by the Google PageRank of each Site and such other factors as Unruly Media may consider form time to time. You will be notified by email when one of Your Site(s) is approaching its monthly limit and again when the limit is reached;

There’s no reason to talk about payment based on Google PageRank unless you expressly care about link juice. It is Google’s own measure of the ability for a page to pass along link juice. But a comment from my earlier post from who seems to be Unruly CEO Scott Button addresses this:

On the reference to PageRank in our Ts&Cs, Unruly uses a number of data sources and statistical techniques, that may include PageRank checks, to protect our advertisers from low quality video views. These measures are in place to protect the revenues of high quality sites and to ensure that views of the video represent genuine user interest – they have nothing to with search engine marketing

OK, but it’s hard to argue that Google was delivered high-quality views from the campaign that was just run, I’d say. Also interesting, I’m virtually certain this section of the Unruly terms was added after my story was posted:

where you write an editorial post linking to or embedding a Branded Video any links within this post or associated with it which link to the Advertiser’s website need to be marked with a ‘nofollow’ tag in accordance with Google guidelines. Any infraction of this rule may result in any payment being suspended or withheld.

I don’t recall seeing this yesterday, because I did a keyword search against this page for both nofollow and Google. I found nothing about nofollow mentioned (otherwise, I’d have written about that). I did find a mention about Google, but only the single one that I noted. The Internet Archive also shows that this wasn’t part of the page last year.

It might be that Unruly, in this particular campaign, wasn’t concerned about gathering up link credit. I’d certainly agree that was probably not the intention.

But in other campaigns, with terms like that, it suggests that Unruly is trying to buying links. That sort of means that Google is potentially doing business with the same type of drug dealer it’s trying to put out of business, though it has an intermediary involved.

JavaScript Might Not Block Link Credit

Unruly also did an interview with AllThingsD, talking about, as in the statement I received, that no one is asked to link, but if they do, they’re asked to use nofollow. Further, the company said, “All links from the video player are wrapped in Javascript, so although Google can follow them, they don’t influence search engine rankings.”

As I covered in my earlier story, wrapping links in Javascript doesn’t necessarily block credit from being passed (and see also here). Only Google can really tell us what the situation is. So, we’re waiting for Google’s spam team to weigh in (which might be delayed, as I know that the head of that team, Matt Cutts, is currently on vacation).

I’m hoping to see both the exact instructions that the bloggers were given, as well as learning more about what exactly Google thought it was buying. It’s likely there’s plenty of wiggle room for Google to claim that if any paid links did end up being purchased, it wasn’t its fault — an excuse that hasn’t saved others from penalties like JC Penney, so the Google Chrome page might still face a ban.

Biggest Issue Remains: Garbage Content

The bigger issue in all this, as I wrote before, is that the campaign produced a lot of garbage content. That doesn’t mean that Google Chrome gets banned. Rather, it’s just embarrassing to Google, when it has been busy trying to prevent this type of content from ranking in its own search engine.

Postscript: See Google’s Chrome Page No Longer Ranks For “Browser” After Sponsored Post Penalty

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Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Chrome | Google: Marketing | Google: SEO | SEO: Spamming | Top News

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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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  • http://www.edeninteractive.com S.E.M.

    As posted on Aaron Wall (Seobook)

    Maybe Google needs to be transparent on the process of penalty flagging..via Webmaster Tools ..I’m starting to wonder if the end decision at Google still uses human editorial, not the algo, which is why it appears to be favoritism (Big Brands)?

    It would be nice if Google could let site owners get warning flags, with say a 15 day response to fix issues or respond…or at least give the owners of the site time chew out the 3rd party that violates the rules.. Maybe even a public penalty score..(Shaming) which decreases after a period of good behavior. All site owners should be able to query if linking sites are in good standing, and terminate them..not exposing domains to spammy sites. I doubt Google would do this, but it would be fair and transparent.

    If a site is violating the rules or reported by competitors- Google sends its penalty bot over.

    Are we sure this is not a case of a 3rd party company “Unruly” just doing its thing, with no oversight. Like all the other agencies who got caught. the response on your site above said they’re a video company? Google is so big, how can it possibly keep track of everything its partners do?….. This looks like a “too big” to be that stupid scenario…like JCPENNY.

    IF Google built a transparent penalty process, then I will believe, otherwise Aaron and Danny Sullivan may be right.

    Searchengineman

  • S.V.

    This has been happening for a long time. Online advertisers use Minifreelance and other crowd sourcing platform to get positive reviews about themselves or negative reviews about their competitors.

    Facebook likes are blatantly purchased. All sorts of things happen. They come in light only when they get caught.

  • ytsirklin

    Google needs to treat itself no different than it treated JC Penny . I am sure JC Penny didn’t sign up for what they got from their agency.

  • http://Moravek Moravek

    This doesnt surprise me, and if you look at search for CAPTCHA and try to use ADWORDS, you virtually cant get on the page since Google pushes REcaptcha(the one you use below)

  • http://pachollini.posterous.com/ pachollini

    I’ve seen couple of those blog spots and besides they are stupid, they don’t always contain the link, just the video. So they’re probably saying truth that tha campaign isn’t about links, but it’s still pretty crappy.

  • H.L.
  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan

    What was the name of the marketing company Google used?

  • Louise

    Thanx for Google’s Jaw-Dropping Sponsored Post Campaign For Chrome & Google: Yes, Sponsored Post Campaign Was Ours But Not What We Signed-Up For – two sinfully enjoyable reviews of Google’s online campaign.

    On balance, I feel kind of sorry for Google. People have made their fortunes on Google! Before 2008, the history seems to be, regular people made easy $$. Even after, people who are smart about SEO or have had an online presence for years have an advantage. Google has trouble ranking in its own search engine, using regular white hat methods.

    I wish in this case, Google would simply have hired professional browser-testers or enlisted from in-house someone to start a small business on the side and record Chrome features which proved useful or not, something practical.

    With all the ad $$, howcome we can’t get an authentic user experience of the benefit of Chrome to small business?

    Google does alot for small business other than chrome, which I don’t use, so I can’t say anthing about it.

    It’s like, everybody on this planet is against actual work of developing true content, so that someone like me entering the market – the time is already past for easy $$ which my business needs so badly. My content hangs well in Google, because it is true content, and I haven’t got around to placing ads. Google favors its own ads, so clean sites with few to no ads are favored the highest to supply info to hang the search results ads around! Sites where I put Adsense get penalized in Google. Sorry to divurge – that is a different topic.

    But, in the end, I feel sorry for Google for all the businesses it has helped which used spammy techniques, but Google is not allowed to profit in that way. It’s a double standard. Thankn you for listening.

  • TimmyTime

    “On balance, I feel kind of sorry for Google. People have made their fortunes on Google! Before 2008, the history seems to be, regular people made easy $$. Even after, people who are smart about SEO or have had an online presence for years have an advantage. Google has trouble ranking in its own search engine, using regular white hat methods. ”

    On balance I feel sorry for you, you are a lost cause. To start Google is making twice as much money as in 2008 so feel sorry for others not them. That major increase has come at someone’s expense so maybe you should feel bad for them. You also assume that people would not have made money online if it wasn’t for Google. That’s not even worth a response, it’s so flawed.

  • http://txtbrkr.com T.B.

    As Danny mentioned, “the biggest issue is that the campaign produced a lot of garbage content.” For me, the question is how could Google have avoided the bad content issue? I have four ideas on simple things that either Google or its agencies should have done to prevent the weak
    content from going out on our blog here- http://bit.ly/zqUnqZ.

  • http://www.kobashicomputing.com K.C.

    Ok so it produced garbaged content. But what doesn’t when you hand over content to bloggers who are paid to get video views? if anything, the blog owners who created the spammy comments should be embarrassed and their sites penalized. But really, that is all subjective even though you and I can both see it through manual means.

    The reality is, there will always be an issue of quality of content in relation to the advertisement at hand. In a contextual perspective through text, the technology is there via Adsense. However what about video or music. Good luck through automated process. It still requires manual review for any accurracy. And noone is going to sit there watching a 8 minute video and read a blog post to see if they correlate one to one, then, do that for every video that exists on the planet.

    In no way does this indicate that Google was trying to game for search engine results. Its obvious to me they simply purchased video advertising. The rest is what happens when money enters the picture.

    Welcome to the Internet.

  • http://www.atmedia.co A.T.

    Is this google some how trying to prove that they are ethical and don’t try to game the search results?

  • warren

    I think its a bit harsh to say that Google using an outside network is weird and to use this as evidence for inconsistencies in the story. Just recently Google have been attacked for prmoting themselves too much in natural search. Too much of their search page is Google product related etc etc etc. I personally don’t agree with this at all. Google can post whatever they want on their search results as long as its labelled well enough. But now they are trying to avoid the negative press they receive when they promote their own products with their own products by using an outside agency to create a campaign to advertise chrome without using any website within the Google network and you attack them for it. No wonder issues like this arise when someone in the blogiverse will negatively comment on basically anything a big company tries to do.

  • gbfhsghtr

    Chanel and Elsa were equally excited to soak some rays while meeting with some of their biggest fans who lined up for hours to get a spot by the pool. The decorations were full of neon hot pink, light purple, ocean blue, lime and hot orange decorations including inner tubes, towels and Chanel Sunglasses for guests to take home.

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