This has to be one of the more bizarre SEO stories of the year. Google have penalized one of their own sites, Google Japan, after they were caught paying bloggers to write positive reviews about their services.
Google have taken the drastic move of dropping the PageRank of Google.co.jp from a 9 to a 5 after reports emerged, and Google Celebrity Matt Cutts stated, “I expect that to remain for a while.”
So how did this come about? Let’s look at the story of Google Japan.
Firstly, it should be noted that Japan is one of the few countries where Google is not the dominant search engine. Yahoo! rules in Japan with 51.2% market share compared to around 39% for Google.
In order to compete with Yahoo!, Google have been releasing a number of Japan only services, including a recent widget for blogs that displays the top 10 hot keywords from Google Japan searches.
To let people know about this service, Google hired internet marketing company CyberBuzz to promote the keyword feature in a pay-per-post campaign. This effectively means Google was paying bloggers to write about and praise their new service – something that’s strictly forbidden in their webmaster guidelines.
After this story was uncovered across various blogs, Google’s Matt Cutts came in and confirmed that Google Japan would be penalized. He stated:
“Google.co.jp PageRank is now ~5 instead of ~9. I expect that to remain for a while.”
Google Japan have since offered an apology for the incident, which has been translated by Asiajin:
Google Japan is running several promotional activities to let people know more about our products.
It turns out that using blogs on the part of the promotional activities violates Google’s search guidelines, so we have ended the promotion. We would like to apologize to the people concerned and to our users, and are making an effort to make our communications more transparent in order to prevent the recurrence of such an incident.
If there’s been one positive for Google out of this, at least they will be seen as enforcing their rules fairly, even against themselves!