Google downgrades Chrome search results for breaking own rules

Google is giving itself the digital equivalent of 100 lashes by downgrading the search result ranking of the company’s own Web browser, Google Chrome, for 60 days.

The decision came after recent reports that a marketing company workingfor Google encouraged bloggers to write about Google Chrome forcompensation. The practice of creating sponsored posts with the primaryintent of gaming search results runs afoul of Google’swebsite quality guidelines.

So, just as Google would do with any other company that broke itsrules, the search giant punished Chrome’s site ranking in Google searchresults–known as a site’s PageRank. Punishing its own Webbrowser maymake up for Google’s faux pas in the eyes of the media and may evenmake Google employees feel that their company is doing the right thing.But for the average user, Google’s self-flagellation makes it harder tofind and download Chrome, even if you’re specifically searching for thepopular Web browser.

Google reportedly bought online video ads from a digital media agencycalled Essence Digital. Essence then reportedly hired another companycalled Unruly to carry out Google’s video ad campaign, according to SearchEngine Land. The end result was that a number of blogs wrotepositive posts (with the video embedded) about Google Chrome forcompensation–the reward was apparently Amazongift cards, SEL said in a separate report.

Problem with paid posts
Google doesn’t specifically state it will punish a site’s PageRank forcreating sponsored posts. The problems start when paid posts startlinking back to the sponsored Web site–in this case www.google.com/chrome.

Links pointing to a specific site are one of the primary ways thatGoogle judges a site’s PageRank. The more links a site has pointing atit, the thinking goes, the higher quality it must be. Let’s say Acmecompany is paying for bloggers to link to acmecompany.com. Google couldsee those paid links and determine that acmecompany.com was a popularsite on the Web and thus increase its PageRank.

In reality, however, the fictitious company I made up to illustrate a point, Acme, was artificially boosting its Google ranking to attract more customers. To fight against this type of abuse, Google’s own watchdog team says it will penalize a site’s PageRank if it is caught participating in a paid link scheme. Last February, for example, Google downgraded department store retailer, JC Penney after The New York Times uncovered an apparent paid link scheme. JC Penney denied any direct knowledge of the PageRank efforts claiming a third-party was involved.

Penalty causes Chrome confusion
In Chrome’s case, the decision to downgrade the browser’s PageRankappears to be more about the principle of paid links than actualmisdeeds. Matt Cutts, Google’s chief webspam fighter, said his team foundonly one paid link pointing back to Chrome’s landing page,hardly enough to affect Google’s search results.

Nevertheless, that one link violates Google’s quality guidelines so nowit is a little bit harder to find and download Google Chrome using aGoogle search. In my tests, Google.com/Chrome ranks on Google’s fourthpage of results for the search term “web browser” and the sixth pagefor “browser.” Chrome typically ranks on the first page for bothresults.

The annoying problem starts when a user searches for “Chrome” or”Google Chrome.” In those cases, the first result is currently a Googlesupport page called “Download and install Google Chrome” instead of thetypical first result, Google.com/Chrome. So instead of a top searchresult that gets you directly to where you want to go, you end up on ahelp page that has a second link you have to click to get to the pageyou really want.

Google dodges hypocrisy charges
Two mouse clicks (plus a little bit of reading to find the link youwant) may not be such a big deal, but it adds another hassleforusers in what should be a relatively easy process. I suppose Google wasin a difficult position with this choice. If the company penalizesChrome, then users will have a slightly harder time using Googlesearch. But if the company doesn’t penalize Chrome it will be accusedof hypocrisy, or worse, favoring its own sites at a time when federalregulators are looking at Google as a potential antitrust target.

So for the next 60 days users will have to muddle through a slightlyless useful Google search result in the name of fairness. Unless, ofcourse, your primary search engine is Microsoft Bing where the currenttop search result for “chrome” and “google chrome” is currently,Google.com/Chrome.

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