Photograph by Kimhiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images.
Google is putting Chrome, its own Web browser, in the search-results timeout corner for the next 60 days.
The crime? Apparently the company broke its own quality guidelines and paid bloggers for links in order to improve search rankings. The blog Search Engine Land, which helped break the story, has more on what the campaign entailed and how it happened.
The punishment imposed on Chrome will significantly lower the results ranking of the main download page for the browser. Google regularly punishes sites who violate the company's quality guidelines in order to get a favorable treatment from their search analysis algorithm, PageRank. The practice of gaming the rankings is often referred to as Black Hat SEO, and it's something Google has publicly worked hard to combat.
Some of these penalties are high-profile: last year, the New York Times published an expose of JC Penney's mystifying ability to appear at the top of many relevant and semi-relevant search results. JC Penney was punished, but not before making it through a holiday shopping season with the top search spot.*
As the Washington Post notes, a search for "browser" in Google doesn't pull up Chrome in the top results anymore.
Here's how Google responded to the embarrassing gaffe, in a statement sent to Search Engine Land:
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.
The Post explains that Matt Cutts and his Google webspam team found one sponsored blog post that broke the rules, prompting the demotion. Chrome will be able to submit a reconsideration request, Cutts explained, "just like any other company would."
But Google seems to be using itself to set an example. An updated statement from Tuesday night reads, "We believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site."
As CNET notes, this actually isn't the first time Google has punished itself for violating the guidelines. Previously, Google Japan was demoted in rankings after it hired a company to pay bloggers to write about Google features.
Correction, Jan. 4, 2012: This article originally misspelled the name of the retailer JC Penney. (Return to the corrected paragraph.)