Google Punishes Itself After Inadvertently Doing ‘Evil’

Google penalized its own Chrome browser's search rankings on Jan. 3 after a blogger-based marketing campaign was found to be in violation of the company's own search-rank rules.

The decision to demote Chrome's PageRank—the rating Google assigns to sites based on how many other sites link to them—came after bloggers Aaron Wall of SEO Book and Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand revealed a marketing campaign that paid other bloggers to create generic posts which linked to a video touting Chrome to small businesses, according to Computerworld. In its own guidelines, Google discourages webmasters from engaging in the practice of buying and selling links that pass PageRank, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. 

Essence Digital, the media agency hired by Google for the Chrome campaign, wrote on its Google+ page Tuesday, “We want to be perfectly clear here: Google never approved a sponsored-post campaign. They only agreed to buy online video ads. Google has 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. We apologize to Google, who clearly didn’t authorize this.”

Nevertheless, Google took disciplinary steps against Chrome's search rankings. "We've investigated and are taking manual action to demote and lower the site's PageRank for a period of at least 60 days," said a Google spokeswoman in an e-mail to Computerworld. "While Google did not authorize this campaign, we believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site."

Google's corporate guidelines state “You can make money without doing evil,” and this apparently applies to committing inadvertent evil acts. This self-punishment was honorable, smart and, not incidentally, newsworthy.