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
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.
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.
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- Google Loses “Backwards Compatibility” On Paid Link Blocking & PageRank Sculpting
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- Google’s Holiday Gift To Webmasters: No Panda Updates Till Next Year
- Google & Bing Have “Won A Major Victory” Over Content Farms, Study Says
- Google’s Jaw-Dropping Sponsored Post Campaign For Chrome
- Google’s Chrome Page No Longer Ranks For “Browser” After Sponsored Post Penalty