Google's gotten some attention for its new marketing direction lately, but a series of sponsored blog posts and video placements for Chrome has some accusing the company of violating its own guidelines on paid advertising links. Search Engine Land and SEO Book discovered over 400 pages containing the phrase "this post is sponsored by Google," and at least one of the pages contained a marketing video for Chrome and a link back to the Chrome download page. The link didn't use the nofollow attribute that Google requires for paid links, meaning the search engine would index the link and improve Google's own page rank through a sponsored post.
Google lays the blame squarely on a company called Unruly Media, which it hired to conduct the campaign. "Google never agreed to anything more than online ads," said a Google spokesperson in a statement to us. "We have consistently avoided paid sponsorships, including paying bloggers to promote our products." We have asked the company to clarify whether it was directly involved in the December campaign and we're waiting on a response. Unruly Media CEO, Scott Button, confirmed the ad campaign to us in an email statement on Tuesday, and said it was all just a mistake. "We don't ask bloggers to link to the advertiser's site," explained Button. "As far as I'm aware, there was one link in one post that was not marked nofollow. This was corrected as soon as we became aware of it."
Google says it is "now looking at what changes we need to make to ensure that this never happens again," but no word on whether the company plans to penalize its own Chrome download page, a process Google follows for guideline violations.
Update: Essence Digital is also taking responsibility. In a Google+ post they state that "We want to be perfectly clear here: Google never approved a sponsored-post campaign. They only agreed to buy online video ads."
Update 2: Google has stepped up and done the right thing. In a statement to Search Engine Land, the company said that it would "lower the [Google Chrome] site's PageRank for a period of at least 60 days." In other words, that should offset any added placement the company's own page may have received from the campaign. It added "we believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site." So "strict," in fact, that Google's page for Chrome doesn't appear on the first page of Google's own search results for "Browser."