Google’s Jaw-Dropping Sponsored Post Campaign For Chrome

pen-moneyGoogle, the company that has been fighting against paid links and “thin” content, seems to be behind a campaign that’s generating both on behalf of its Chrome browser. File this under “what were they thinking.”

“This Post Sponsored By Google”

Aaron Wall wrote about the campaign today at SEO Book, spotting how a search for “This post is sponsored by Google” brings back over 400 pages written apparently as part of a Google marketing campaign:

We’re checking with Google for confirmation that the company is behind the campaign, but expect a response to be delayed, as Google’s PR department, like much of Google, is off today. But it certainly appears to be Google-backed.

Google Buys Links

The campaign is odd in two major ways. For one, it potentially violates Google’s guidelines against paid links.

The head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, has been quite vocal that sponsored posts shouldn’t be a way for people to gain links in response for payment, that any links in such posts should use the nofollow attribute to prevent them from passing credit to Google’s ranking algorithm.

And yet here, we see one of Google’s sponsored post doing exactly that:

The arrow points to a link leading to the Google Chrome download page. This is a straight link, not blocked with nofollow. It only appears in this post because the post is part of a sponsored campaign by Google, as noted at the bottom of the page. Therefore, both the author and Google itself are in violation of Google’s guidelines and risk being banned by Google.

The video itself is also a link. It’s not hosted on YouTube, nor does clicking on it bring up a video page. Instead, it leads to the Google Chrome download page, through a JavaScript link that Google would understand.

Will Google Ban Google Chrome?

Paid links drew much attention last year, after Google penalized JC Penney, as well as Forbes and Overstock for using them. Google even banned BeatThatQuote, one of its own companies last year, BeatTheQuote, over the issue. In 2009, Google penalized Google Japan for its own search results for the same issue, not removing it but reducing its ability to rank for 11 months.

Potentially, all this means that Google will have to ban the Google Chrome download page over paid links. That would suck for Google, since it’s busy running ads for Google Chrome, which will in turn prompt people to search for it. Right now, the page appears at the top of results for searches on google chrome:

A ban would make it disappear for anything from a month to a year, based on how Google’s handled past penalties.

From the posts that I’ve reviewed, most do not seem to have links to Google or the Google Chrome page. In addition, I expect that Google probably never instructed anyone to directly link to anything.

The campaign — most likely run by third-party Unruly, based on where the video is hosted and handy if Google wants to pass the blame — probably had instructions that just said people should write about whatever they want, positive or negative, with the only requirement being that the Chrome video be included as part of their post.

Google’s Garbage Content Campaign

That’s perhaps the bigger problem with this campaign, much more disturbing to me. Google’s paying to produce a lot of garbage, the same type of garbage that its Panda Update was designed to penalize.

Consider the post above that I highlighted, which says:

Having a small business, I have found Google to be a key element in getting my business out to the online community. I have put so much money into advertisements and at the end of the day, my analytics show that Google is still the top referrer to my business. That has said a lot to me and I started to invest a lot of time into SEO. If you do your SEO it right on your website, Google will propel your business to another level. As a small business, my voice is bigger and better because of Google. It takes me from just being a local business to working with clients world wide.

What’s that got to do with the purported focus of this post: “Google Chrome Helping Small Business.” The author is saying nothing about how Google Chrome has helped her business or any business she knows of. Instead, Chrome only gets mentioned at the end, with text that seems pretty boilerplate to this campaign:

Google Chrome helped this small business in Vermont go global. What can Google Chrome do for your future?

Avoid These “Reviews” Of Google Chrome

A different post is entitled “Review: Google Chrome” and says:

I wanted to share a quick note on Google Chrome; more specifically, I want to share how it can change your small business. It is no secret that there are endless ways to expand your small businesses; however, what is the best way to accomplish that? These days, it’s hard to know who to trust, but with the name Google, you know you are in good hands. I am sure most of you are familiar, but check out this video! It will inspire you to do more.

Ready for that in-depth review? Here it comes:

Google Chrome helped this small business in Vermont go global. What can Google Chrome do for your future?

Fortunately, if you search for “google chrome review,” that post doesn’t make it into the top results. However, consider this search for google chrome benefits:

Imagine you’re someone trying to understand the benefits to using Google Chrome versus other browsers. Out of 21 million possible matches, two of Google’s sponsored garbage posts make it into the top ten results. Here’s what one of the top ranked posts says:

“The Benefits Of Google Chrome,” the post is entitled. And those benefits?

The Internet has many wonderful tools for helping us save money. There are great blogs written by passionate people teaching us how to use coupons effectively. There are budgeting tools to assist us with maintaining a healthy financial life. There are small businesses who are available to provide quality products made locally. Whatever financial information it is you are looking for, you are bound to find it on the Internet. And Google Chrome can help you.

See anything there that’s Chrome-specific? I mean, Internet Explorer and Firefox could help you with all of these things, as well. So what are the unique benefits that Google Chrome will provide, from this author’s experience and knowledge?

Google Chrome helped this small business in Vermont go global. What can Google Chrome do for your future?

Ah, yes, that boilerplate text and video again.

Here’s what another post in the top results says:

The opening paragraph has 295 words generally about saving money and finding those who want to save money. None of it is about Google Chrome until you get to the last sentence, with 35 words that say:

This is where Google Chrome comes in, they offer a way for small businesses to get started easily and get their business name in to the online and social media world without spending a fortune.

After that, there’s no review of Chrome’s features. There’s no review of how Chrome can actually be used by small businesses. There’s just the standard copy about that Vermont business and the video.

The Video Isn’t Even About Chrome

How about the video itself that Google’s pushing? You may have seen on television already. It has nothing to do even with how Chrome actually helped the Vermont flour producer featured, King Arthur Flour, succeed. Here, watch it yourself:

YouTube Preview Image

Since King Arthur Flour has been online since at least December 2006, I’m willing to bet it got its start through the Internet Explorer browser. It sure wasn’t Chrome, which didn’t exist at the time.

By the way, while the company’s Google+ page gets featured in the ad, it’s not important enough to King Arthur Flour to be featured on its home page alongside the company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, as you can see on the right.

So what have we got? Google’s paid for a content-light post that’s not a review of Google Chrome, nor a review of how Google Chrome helps small business, pushing a video that also doesn’t show how Google Chrome helps small businesses.

Perhaps Google’s Ads Need Less Emotion & More Quality

Ironically, the New York Times had a great article today talking about how Google is working harder than ever to advertise itself, in particular to help promote Chrome. From the article:

“If we don’t make you cry, we fail,” Ms. Twohill said. “It’s about emotion, which is bizarre for a tech company.”

Actually, Google makes me want to cry for all the wrong reasons, such as an ad about Google Chrome that never explains what the hell Google Chrome is. Maybe that’s all about the curiosity Google’s trying to push:

Like Google’s events, its TV ads are light on details about products’ features. Instead, they are meant to evoke curiosity and emotion, Ms. Twohill said.

The first ads for Chrome, aimed at frequent Web users, were online and discussed the browser’s speed and security. But when it came time to take Chrome mainstream, she said, Google turned to television to reach those “who don’t get out of bed in the morning and think, ‘I’ll get a new browser today.’ ”

If they don’t get out of bed thinking they need a new browser, there’s a good chance they don’t even think about what browser they currently use. So perhaps an ad that actually does explain the product features of Chrome might be more useful.

At the very least, if you’re going to do a sponsored post campaign, then make the posts have content that also explain the product, not a campaign that produces posts that violate your own content guidelines. Because when I read in the New York Times about the care taken to pick tablecloths for the Google Zeitgeist event for advertisers:

“Google is a very clean, simple brand,” she said. “Linen gets sloppy. It gets dirty; it’s hard to sit under. I take a lot of inspiration from our home page. It’s just simple.”

Then this type of campaign feels like those linen tablecloths that Google wanted to avoid, sloppy and dirty.

Postscript: I heard back from one a blogger I contacted who had done one of these posts. She told me that she’d heard about the campaign through the SITS Girls community. After some searching, I can see that two pay-per-post campaigns run by Unruly have been offered there. One was for the American Cancer Society; the other for T-Mobile.

Both asked that bloggers watch a video and decide if they wanted to do a post about it, saying whatever they wanted, and embed the video on their blog. Payment was $40 in Amazon gift card credit for each. I can’t find that a Google campaign was offered this way, but it seems identical to the other campaigns that the community runsin conjunction with Unruly.

Also, the sign-up terms on the Unruly site have this interesting section:

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; or

These are general terms and might not apply to this particular campaign that Unruly appears to have run on behalf of Google. But regardless, it suggests that Unruly is indeed running campaigns with the intention of gaining better search rankings through paid links.

I say this because there is absolutely no other reason to link payment to the Google PageRank of a site unless you are trying to influence rankings.

Postscript 2: See our follow-up story, Google: Yes, Sponsored Post Campaign Was Ours But Not What We Signed-Up For.

Postscript 3: See Google’s Chrome Page No Longer Ranks For “Browser” After Sponsored Post Penalty

Related Articles

(Stock image courtesy of Shutterstock. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Chrome | Google: Marketing | 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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  • Nicole Miller

    I would be very surprised to learn that Google is behind this. The lack of Google’s style in these ads suggests that the company is an innocent victim of a weird scam.

  • Angel Leon

    sounds more like google is paying a bounty per chrome installs and here comes the indian/western european/chinese content factories

  • Dave Holowiski

    OMG you act like you’ve never seen an affiliate program before.

  • Sam

    I personally know a handful of mid-level, 30-something year old Googlers. i play poker with them once a month and asked about this.

    They said the greatest trick the devil ever made was to make people believe he didn’t exist. In other words, Google can’t police and really doesn’t care about paid links. They can’t violate your freedom to help out a friend who wants to pay you for example.

    Have fun guys!


  • Danny Sullivan

    Dave, I’ve seen plenty of affiliate programs. This doesn’t appear to be that, at all. For one, Chrome’s not known for having an affiliate program. For another, affiliate programs don’t typically push affiliates to do a pay-per-post model for a video, that in turn generates a click. Rather, this looks identical to the type of sponsored post campaigns that the head of Google’s web spam team has warned people not to do. And that makes it pretty notable.

    Almost certainly, this will be the case of one part of Google not knowing what the other part was going. But then again, if Google itself can’t figure out how to do marketing in a way that doesn’t violate its own rules, that doesn’t lend a lot of support that outsiders should somehow know better when they get slapped out of Google rankings, as happens.

  • jhuman

    Hi Danny, happy new year!

    I enjoy reading most of your posts but this one was way out there..are you still inebriated from NYE celebration? I would take a closer look at Google Guidelines as you mentioned above in your post; especially the part where it says “not all paid links violate our guidelines.”

    It’s hard to imagine that the pre and post blog world where so much economic activity is taking place in the digital world that a paid link strategy would be out of question for it’s owners to develop a strategy to boost their marketing efforts on a product that, in my opinion, is worth taking a look at.

  • C.A.

    I was going to post something then I noticed that this post was written by you, so I had to double check what I read.
    Google does not seem to have violated the terms if they did not ask people to link to back. The video appears to use javascript links and while Google crawler understands this, it does not pass page rank (i.e. is not against the webmaster terms). JavaScript remains one of the recommended ways to link to sponsors.

    The only link that you found also appears to have been removed. There is a chance that it was an error by the blogger and should not be linking directly.

    As for garbage, it is true that this campaign does create a significant amount of index spamming, garbage is not against the webmaster terms, if anything the blogger sites should be demoted by the Panda engine and the posts would be treated as such.

    I think Google’s problem is in their inability to catch all the violators of this policy rendering it simply a way to punish the good guys and reward the cheaters
    (I just found yesterday some guy Tweeting an Amazon Kindle giveaway if you link to his website!) how will they catch scenarios like this?

  • Giorgio Marandola ®

    Ehm, good morning everybody and happy new year, I would like to point out that the video in your screenshot is part of the Unruly Media advertising platform, and also the “Sponsored by Google” link is part of it.
    Is a player that you can embed in sidebars or posts and Unruly Media think about pushing video ads on it.
    You can see it in action on my blog actually the video in the sidebar is sponsored by Samsung, but I have no relationship with the brand, I’m paid for the number of visualizations.
    Sometimes happen that the video is published singly in a post and the provider add a short description that is easly cutted and pasted. That’s why the Google Chrome link is not “no follow”, because is a common link in a blog post.
    My suggestion is to understand the actual revenue models for bloggers, that is beyond the old times AdSense.

  • Andrea Pernici

    C.A., jhuman, Sam…I think Danny want to make clear that while Google is trying to kill any form of paid post punishing some poor and small website owners IT can’t use the same for own products.

    The stupid thing about paid links war is that it’s a fail itself. I think in any other place that is not the Web People and Businesses buy visibility and there’s no other Business that can block or decided how to spent their moneys.

    Google punishes the intent and punishes in a random way when penalizing for paid post so this is a great AutoGoal and a great fail even if the link is not explicitly bought by google.

  • T.C.

    Is anybody else worried about the power Google holds over us all?

    All we do is spend our lives trying to figure out the next update, trying to guess the algorithm, trying to move up the rankings…. and then all our time is wasted and work undone when Google decide to change the rules.

    We (the web) are controlled by Google and it’s time something was done. They have too much power and, in my opinion, are not even that good! The results I get when searching in Google are nothing like as relevant as those provided by Bing. The power of marketing at it’s best!

    We need to stop pandering to the requirements of Google and recognise the control they have over the web. They are nothing short of web-police deciding who ranks, where and for how long.

    It is Google that needs moderating not us.

  • Jake Rainbow

    A similar video/blog style can be found by searching “sponsored post by Bing UK”. The content is lacking in this case but the video and tagline are the same.


  • scottjamesbutton

    Great post and good to see social media advertising practices brought under the spotlight.

    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. 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.

    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

    Unruly is committed to an ethical, legal, and totally transparent approach to online marketing. It’s crucial that posts are clearly market 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.

  • S.V.

    Apple uses crowdsourcing platform minifreelance to get negative ratings of Kindle Fire on amazon’s site.

  • Durant Imboden

    With or without “nofollow,” the “sponsored posts” are embarrassingly hamfisted advertorial (as sponsored posts tend to be). I agree with Danny that this is probably a case of the left hand’s not knowing what the right hand was doing, and one can only hope that the PR or marketing types who came up with this idiocy will be sent to a re-education camp.

  • Fred Joly

    How can anyone trust a corporation whose motto is “Do no evil”? Like any other corporation, it’s all about making the most money possible for its shareholders regardless of any rules, rights and responsibilities.

  • Vanessa Fox

    C.A., you said:

    “The video appears to use javascript links and while Google crawler understands this, it does not pass page rank (i.e. is not against the webmaster terms). JavaScript remains one of the recommended ways to link to sponsors.”

    But actually, as I wrote about in 2009, once Googlebot began crawling JavaScript links, this method of noting a paid link went away and Google began recommending nofollow attributes or blocking via robots.txt rather than JS:

    See the section called “What About Paid Links” where I quote a statement from Google:

    “Our onclick processing is becoming more widespread, but keep in mind it’s still an area where we’re constantly improving. We already detect many ads generated by onclick events.
    To prevent PR [PageRank] flow, it remains a good practice to do things like have the onclick-generated links in an area that’s blocked from robots, or to use a url redirector that’s robots.txt disallow’d.”

    As noted in that article, JavaScript links do in fact pass PageRank, although Google does try to detect when the links are ads and doesn’t pass PageRank when it detects that.

  • F.E.

    Well how else do you expect Google to make up the $12.5 billion they paid for Motorola Mobility? That’s roughly 1.5 years of profits. They certainly won’t be making any money on Android pad sales.

  • Jeff Ferguson

    Wow, it appears that Google actually, gulp, goofed up… or at least somebody working for Google did… which happens. I know it’s fun to think that Google is run by robots or a tribe of perfect people, but it isn’t…

    They are just regular old humans who goof up… let’s not get too nuts about this…

  • K.C.

    Much ado about nothing. Google has the right to advertise its products and services online just as much as you and I do. And of course websites are going to get paid either directly or in this case, through a third party. That is online advertising, plain and simple.

    To say that this was done intentionally within the framework of “paid links” is misleading to your reader The evidence shows Unruly publishers created spammy posts to promote Google Chrome.

    The bigger picture is that the keyword phrase “google chrome” is Google’s own product and is a notable brand. Everyone on this planet would expect to see Google owning the #1 position for that keyword phrase.

    If this was about attempting to rank for the keyword “browser” this would be a different story.

    Your example above showing the anchor tag link “google chrome” is not indicative through the web pages I looked through.. That the site owner chose to place that as a link in his/her blog entry is not of Google’s nor of Unruly’s doing. And even if they did, so what? It wasn’t part of the ad copy.

    If anything, there is a lesson to be learned. When you hire a third party to promote your products online, make sure that a periodic review is made of the pages the ad is placed on and that it is part of the contractual obligation of the third party to make sure it is enforced. Further, make it part of your organizations effort to also do the checking.

  • Marcos

    Interesting post from Matt Cutts who says that only 1 sponsored post out of the ones they checked contained a link that was passing PageRank.

    My questions are:

    1) Is it OK to pollute the web with poor quality sponsored posts and videos without passing PageRank?

    2) Would any penalty have been applied if no posts were found that were passing PageRank.

    3) Does this confirm that brand mentions (without links) do not affect the algo in any way? (Given how the only reason for a penalty was the link that passed PR)

    4) Does Google consider 400 low quality sponsored articles with videos an acceptable marketing strategy if no PR is passed?

  • Rajiv Srivatsa

    >>“If we don’t make you cry, we fail,” Ms. Twohill said. “It’s about emotion, which is bizarre for a tech company.”

    That’s not true. There is a certain emotion that different tech companies have tried. Apple is associated with pride (if you don’t have an iPhone, you don’t…) Google’s ads in India trying to target Chrome at the common man (given that the early influential audience has shifted to Chrome), and a different emotion is certainly needed. Which is very similar to the flour company example. And these ads were well shared and appreciated and common people did related to it (don’t know exact conversions etc. finally).

    >>If they don’t get out of bed thinking they need a new browser, there’s a good chance they don’t even think about what browser they currently use. So perhaps an ad that actually does explain the product features of Chrome might be more useful.

    This is not true either. The common man is not going to think features, he does not understand it. You need something else to target him/her. And that has to be success that he relates to from humble beginnings. Features will target tech people well. The common man probably does not understand that the ad was less about Chrome and more about Blogger, Google+, AdWords etc. possibly.

  • Saleem J. Yaqub

    Hey Danny. I have skimmed through this post but I don’t see the significance of the 2nd and 3rd images. Yes they are using their product / brand name as the anchor, but its not a keyword like browser. And again Google Chrome ranking for their own name is normal and expected.

  • GatherineKraham

    It’s a joke that Google is now going to ‘penalize’ itself. That’s like saying the Supreme Court will look into Clarence Thomas’ familial connections to health care companies. Yet because its CEOs are chummy with Obama and the search engine’s so dominant, nobody’s will take them on. It’s really disgusting and frightening how much power the company has. They are an affront to small business owners and publishers who are beholden to them for web traffic. Can’t wait until karma kicks in.

  • saso

    Well Google is the leader of the market at the moment so he thinks that we all have to play by his rules , but can you make Google to play on his rules? That is the most important question.

  • John Kirks

    Great article! There is a lot to be explored in terms of sponsored posts. Many people are in the dark and aren’t aware of such opportunities, and if they are, they might not be up to speed on how to correctly execute them.But thanks to this article now we can be able to execute our ideas.
    sponsored posts

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