On Monday, we covered an embarrassing pay-per-post campaign Google launched in Japan with the aim of boosting awareness of a new keyword hitlist box on the Google Japan top page. It now turns out the move, which was (to my knowledge) first brought to light by Japanese super bloggers Masato Kogure and Akky Akimoto, triggered a number of repercussions.
The aftermath in a nutshell: The campaign is now stopped, Google is embarrassed, apologizes and penalizes the Japanese site with a PageRank reduction.
Just a few hours after the Japanese version of the TechCrunch article went online Tuesday, Google Japan issued a half-baked, vague apology on the official Google Japan blog, basically saying the Japanese subsidiary was unaware of their own terms of service. The campaign was halted and Google Japan ordered their outside PR agency to remove all existing paid postings in question.
An email Google Japan sent out to bloggers asking for a comment states the following (the second half of the last sentence is a winner):
Our internal guidelines have been violated in two ways:
First, the blog posts were connected to Google (via the outside agency which we contracted), but failed to fully disclose that relationship. Our internal guidelines are committed to transparency, and this was not sufficiently transparent.
Second, we have strict rules against doing anything that would
artificially promote the ranking of our own sites — or even be
perceived as artificially promoting their ranking. Having outside
blogs write about our gadget and linking to our site may have had an
impact on our own ranking, which is not acceptable under our
At Google, we believe in being open and transparent with our users,
and do not condone these kinds of opaque communications. We would
like to apologize for this episode, and express our gratitude to the
community of users and bloggers who brought this to our attention so
that we could put a stop to it.
But the apologies obviously weren’t enough as Google has imposed a PageRank penalty upon itself, busting down the rank from 9 to 5 (Google.com has a PageRank of 10, while TechCrunch still stands at 8). Matt Cutts, head of Google’s anti web spam team, tweeted that he expects Google Japan’s lower rank to remain as is for a while.
Considering that Google stopped the campaign after a little more than 24 hours, the funding was openly acknowledged in the posts and apologies were issued, the self punishment may appear a bit too harsh at first sight. But Google is actually just replicating a punishment strategy it pursued against other sites that violated company policies in the past (Google Japan’s PageRank hasn’t been reset to zero, however).
I doubt Google will lose any significant search traffic in Japan in the process, but think the measure is better than no measure at all. It should be OK now anyway as the company has been heavily scoffed at in the last few days and will probably have to live with a damage to its image for a while. But it’s Google, after all, and worse things than this PR meltdown could have happened.