Google Dishes Out Widespread Penalties For Advertorials

Feb 25, 2013 • 8:35 am | comments (25) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

mourning flowersOn Friday, I reported three times at Search Engine Land on a widespread penalty Google dished out over advertorials.

In short, Google penalized Interflora, a very popular UK flower seller, for using advertorials as a way to boost their site's ranking before Valentine's Day. Then we noticed that Google not only penalized Interflora but also the news sites that were placing the advertorials on their behalf by downgrading their PageRank to zero. Then later in the day, Google's Matt Cutts posted on the Google Webmaster Blog a warning that buying advertorials that pass PageRank is against Google's Webmaster guidelines.

He wrote:

Please be wary if someone approaches you and wants to pay you for links or "advertorial" pages on your site that pass PageRank. Selling links (or entire advertorial pages with embedded links) that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines, and Google does take action on such violations. The consequences for a linkselling site start with losing trust in Google's search results, as well as reduction of the site's visible PageRank in the Google Toolbar. The consequences can also include lower rankings for that site in Google's search results.

Then on Saturday, Danny Sullivan covered via SEO Book that not only was Interflora using advertorials in a way that is against Google's webmaster guidelines but so is Google. They are doing so to promote Chromebooks, Google Analytics, AdWords and Google+. Danny asked Google will Google penalize Google like they've done in the past? Google said of course.

Google responded to Danny's question saying:

We'll investigate this report just as we would a report about any other company, and take the same action we would for any other company.

Google has penalized themselves many times in the past, so this would be nothing new.

I can't imagine how frustrating this is to Google's search quality team but it just shows sites make mistakes both intentionally and unintentionally. Either way, they may end up having to pay for it.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld, Google+ and Cre8asite Forums.

Image credit to BigStockPhoto

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02/25/2013 02:06 pm

Google become real evil monster. It must penalize themself for placing their media companies offline and online.Also peoples need to remove all links to google to prevent 'being banned' for 'unstable, unreal google team behaviour'.

Praveen Sharma

02/25/2013 02:23 pm

Google will penalize for this... Google will penalize for that... Is there anyone who can penalize Google for placing too many ads above the fold (too many adwords ads above natural ones as in the attached image)?

Jim Christian

02/25/2013 02:40 pm

How much Google can a Google Google if a Google could Google GOOGLE! More Bing please.


02/25/2013 02:58 pm

Yeah right ....... Not only are all SERPs in any competitive niche like this they deceive users by almost cloaking the fact that they are in fact Ads with an almost off white color. Is this better for the user ? Can i do this on my website ? All of the things that boggle the mind at how absurd and evil google have become. Lets not even discuss how little quality content counts. Its all one big joke if you see how some of the results are appearing but i guess it serves the purpose of increasing effectiveness of Adword campaigns coz the poor user aint gonna find it easily in any organic results.

Chris Beasley

02/25/2013 03:33 pm

I think one of the problems is the need to do something. You have people who need to justify their jobs. If they do a good job their hours do not decrease. This type of thing happens all the time. Self perpetuating bureaucracy more or less. There is a whole psychology thing about it, and I don't remember the exact terms from my college psych course, but I do remember the example used. The March of Dimes. The March of Dimes was founded to cure polio. They succeeded. So did all the employees and officers (and the top officers at non profits tend to make serious cash) pack up and go home and say job well done? No, they perpetuated themselves by changing their mission, to birth defects, and even later, generically to "babies." You see the same sorts of behavior with security firms, though it is slightly different, more a generic scare tactic. They try to tell consumers they need to install software to protect themselves from evil cookies and all this other stuff that isn't harmful in the least. They have to justify their need to customers. So what happens when Google's Web Spam team goes to Larry Page and says "Hey boss, so SERPs look good, not a lot of spam, no no threats, people rank the SERPs well, we're all going to go play golf." So of course, they're always finding something new to go after, even if, the end result, is them looking overzealous. PageRank is neat because it shouldn't, theoretically, need all this human meddling. If a newspaper sells an advertorial, and humans dislike it, the newspaper will lose links, traffic, and PageRank, making the advertorial less valuable. Like a free market finding a price, the system self corrects. But because they need to justify their job they're constantly tinkering, and probably making it more complex than it needs to be. They don't do this on purpose. It isn't malicious. Which is why it was discussed in a psychology textbook, it is merely human nature. This is one of the reasons for double blind studies in science because researchers too, even with the best intentions, fall into a natural bias in the need to have their research find something, in order to justify their profession/work/grant/funding. When have you seen a researcher say "I spent the last 5 years on this study, and found nothing important, nothing conclusive, it was a waste of time." They'll always latch onto something and try to justify it as a discovery. People have a natural psychological bias to justify their importance and the necessity of their position to their employer/sponsor/etc.


02/25/2013 04:22 pm

About damn time! Lets make all those advertorial writers suffer and make them get real jobs.


02/25/2013 04:56 pm

Why have you posted a comment that is not related to the article? The article is about webmasters gaming Google through advertorials, not ads above the fold. And by the way, Google can do what it likes, it really is one rule for them and one for everyone else, if you want to rank with them. Learn to live with it, or do something else.

Michael Martinez

02/25/2013 05:21 pm

Searchers can penalize Google any time they wish simply by changing search engines. According to various studies through the years, about 70-80% of searchers do that regularly.


02/25/2013 09:57 pm

agree with you. Google now passing the point of no return.


02/25/2013 11:03 pm

also long time no panda update. Sure, what google working on new big filth for webmasters.

Andrew Futcher

02/25/2013 11:57 pm

You guys are missing the point... Mr. Cutts said it himself: links and advertorials that "pass PageRank"... i.e. If you use the rel="nofollow" attribute in your link tags, you need not worry about it and you can host as many advertorials you like. Google is going to continue to wage this war on unnatural links, if you site is not yet already affected by it, it will be soon.


02/26/2013 12:28 am

Not even God can do that!


02/26/2013 03:29 am

Yes sites like Search Engine Land will be affected.. Would love to see that!


02/26/2013 06:16 am

I have not gone off the track. But, if Google has some rules for quality results for the users, then these rules should be followed by Google as well. They can penalize the webmasters for violating their guidelines, but what when they violate by their own. Doesn't this act of Google affect quality of results?

Andrew Futcher

02/26/2013 06:20 am

Why do you think otherwise? Typically sites like Search Engine Land only link to related content, meaning the links are natural (unlike spammers). I have no doubt the guidelines apply to them too. You need some better on-page content analysis tools... Makes things a lot clearer.

Emma North

02/26/2013 09:32 am

I was surprised to see that Google didn't take down their own non-compliant editorials before inflicting this penalty and making such a big deal about it - surely they would have known people in the industry would make the connection pretty quickly! Regarding Interflora, if you're going to publish 150 advertorials in a month, you've got to expect to be made an example of by Google.

Sanket Patel

02/26/2013 09:56 am

Google penalized themselves many times in the past, it was not new for it. Right now google not penalize interflora but also news sites that were placing the advertorials on their behalf by down their pagerank.

Gregory Smith

02/26/2013 11:35 am

What a mess!

Emma Bellamy-Bertouche

02/26/2013 12:18 pm

How can you take place in genuine advertorials and make sure you don't get penalized ? Is it purely by using rel="nofollow"?

Gabriel Sita

02/26/2013 01:02 pm

I wish bing was big.

Jimmy Maddox

02/26/2013 03:30 pm

I guess everbody needs to have 3 seperate unique domain names for every business. Incase one ot two of them get hit by Google penalties at least you will have some traffic/revenue from the remaining sites. It sounds stupid but having to triple up is protection for those who rely ong Google so much.

Liam Fisher

02/27/2013 09:47 am

"Selling links (or entire advertorial pages with embedded links) that pass PageRank violates our quality guidelines, and Google *does take action on such violations*." Really? Or does Matt just mean that Google does take actions on such violations when committed by high-profile brands? Anyone who has spent any amount of time link building knows that this is happening *everywhere*, with big brands and small. Of course, I'm not saying that makes it okay, but it shows how inconsistently these rules are being applied, and that's not really very fair.

Peter Watson

03/03/2013 04:02 am

Interflora had to expect this with over 150 advertorials in 1 month. But on another note, can anyone tell me what is a safe link? Is it even possible to get 'natural' high quality related links? I own a 'business for sale' website and sometimes when an advertiser uploads a business for sale listing, they will then link to their advertisement from their business website (to help promote the sale). This is a 100% natural link, but they are 100% not related and usually low quality sites.

Tyson Stevens

03/04/2013 09:12 pm

Will Google PR0 themselves?


06/24/2013 05:45 pm

Yes, he is bigger than Big G. The 3 letter word that starts with very BIG G.

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