Google’s Jaw-Dropping Sponsored Post Campaign For Chrome

Danny Sullivan on
  • Categories: Channel: SEO, Google: Chrome, Google: Marketing, Google: SEO, SEO: Spamming
  • Google, 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:

    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

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

    About The Author

    Danny Sullivan
    Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.