Google Chrome demoted in search rankings after online advertising fiasco

In an effort to prove that Google plays by its own rules, Google Chrome has seen its PageRank demoted and no longer appears on the first page of results for the term "browser."

Never let it be said that Google doesn't play by its own rules. The Google Chrome homepage yesterday had its pagerank in search results temporarily demoted for no less than 60 days following a fiasco involving the browser's online advertising campaign's violation of the search giant's ban on paid links, Search Engine Land reports.

Search Engine Land tracked the Google controversy closely, and I strongly suggest taking a look at their blow-by-blow coverage if you're curious. But the upshot is that Google contracted outside firm Essence Digital to handle their online video ad campaign. In turn, it seems that Essence Digital hired Unruly to do the actual implementation of the campaign.

What Unruly delivered instead were a series of sponsored posts, where bloggers were paid to link to a video that extolled the virtues of Chrome to small businesses. At least one of those paid posts included direct links to the Google Chrome download page without the required "nofollow" attribute, which means that it was affecting the all-important PageRank algorithm.

The problem: Google's own policies prohibit the practice of paying for links, under risk of demotion in search results. Google says that it didn't know what it was in for when it contracted Unruly. But it's penalizing itself anyway.

Google gave SearchEngineLand the following statement on the Chrome PageRank demotion:

"We’ve investigated and are taking manual action to demote and lower the site’s PageRank for a period of at least 60 days. We strive to enforce Google’s webmaster guidelines consistently in order to provide better search results for users. While Google did not authorize this campaign, and we can find no remaining violations of our webmaster guidelines, we believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site."

And now, if you do a Google search for "browser," Chrome isn't even on the first page of results. The top hit is for Mozilla Firefox, followed by the Wikipedia entry for "browser." That's rough, but when Google is under scrutiny for the alleged practice of promoting its own sites above those of the competition, fairness (or at least the appearance of fairness) under those rules is absolutely paramount.

There are still some lingering questions around this incident: Google already has an entrenched video ad network. Why did it need Essence Digital and Unruly at all? And what exactly did Google think it was buying? A Google+ post from Matt Cutts of Google's Web Spam team sheds some light - essentially, Google claims that it wanted people to watch the videos, not boost hits to Google Chrome directly - but doesn't tackle those issues head-on.

In 60 days, the Google Chrome team can appeal the demotion. But until then, Firefox is getting an unexpected leg up in search listings.