Peter Kafka

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Google’s Ad Company (Which Isn’t Google) Explains What’s Up With Those Chrome Ads

Google is paying bloggers to run posts promoting its Google Chrome browser.

Is that a big deal? Depends on whom you ask.

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, who sussed this out yesterday, has two big problems with the notion.

The first is that in at least one case a blogger’s post linked to Google in seeming violation of Google’s policy against so-called “paid links.” Sullivan’s bigger beef is that the content of the posts themselves consists of a video ad and some barely sensical text — the kind of thing that Google is trying to flush out of its search results by tweaking its algorithms.

So what’s going on? I’ve asked Google reps for comment, but I’m still waiting for them to get back from vacation. [UPDATE - they have, see below] But Unruly Media, the London-based company which ran the campaign for Google, was happy to answer. (Yup – Google, which dominates both Web advertising and Web video, relies on an outsider to promote its Web video ads.)

There’s nothing wrong here, says Unruly CEO Scott Button, except for what appears to be a one-off technical mistake by a single blogger. Here’s his email response:

Yes, it’s a campaign we were running at the end of December.

There’s a good response by Andrew Girdwood here.

Andrew’s absolutely right — we don’t ask bloggers to link to the advertiser’s site. It’s just not part of our business model. We help advertisers distribute video content and that’s what we get paid for. All links from the video player itself are wrapped in Javascript, so although Google can follow them, they don’t influence search engine rankings. Even though we don’t ask bloggers to link, we do advise them to use nofollow if they do link to the advertiser’s site. This is really important and they should do it to protect themselves as much as the advertiser.

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.

We’re always completely upfront and transparent with bloggers that we are running commercial campaigns and who we’re working for. We always require that bloggers disclose any commercial incentive to post video content. We always require that bloggers disclose even on related tweets that they might do off their own bats.

It’s also a key part of how we operate that we don’t tell bloggers what or how to write. It’s really important that opinions expressed and the tone of voice belong to the author not the advertiser. Occasionally that leads to human error, as here, so we’re always really happy to have these kinds of example flagged and will sort them out as quickly as we possibly can.

Note that Button doesn’t address Sullivan’s complaint that the text in the bloggers’ post is barely better than garbage. That stuff may not be elegant, but it does seem to work — Unruly says its ad network reaches 725 million people a month.

UPDATE: Google has offered a response, and it doesn’t sync with Button’s. Here’s a quote from a Google spokesperson:

“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.”

And here’s more along those lines, via Essence Digital, another Google ad vendor, this time posted on a Google+ page:

“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.”

All of this back-and-forth finger pointing might seem odd to the outside world, but it’s not uncommon in online ads, where money and marching orders pass through multiple points on their way from the original customer to the site that runs the ad.

Here’s the video ad, by the way. I guess I should disclose that Google is not paying me to post this:


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— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo