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A Content Lesson From the Google Chrome Backlink Scandal

Google has been going against their own guidelines in advertising their new browser, Google Chrome. We’ll focus on the content portion of this issue as a lesson in how a campaign can go off the rails.

Today, news broke that Google has been going against their own guidelines in advertising their new browser, Google Chrome. SEO Book broke the story and Search Engine Land has done interesting analysis on this topic.

There are two contentious points in this story – one is “buying” links, and the other is the “light” content included in the posts.

Since this blog is about content, we’ll focus on the content portion of this issue as a lesson in how a campaign can go off the rails.

Google itself has said that they want to highlight good content and bury bad content, and we’ve seen fluff content decline after Panda.

We don’t have the actual instructions that were given for this campaign, and unfortunately, many of the sites that originally had the posts have deleted or removed the offending posts, so we’ll have to go off Danny Sullivan’s observations, which included boilerplate, fluff, and off-topic material.

Leveraging the passion and power of the crowd can help get exposure and give an outside recommendation of the product. However, that recommendation has to be believable and authentic. Generalities are neither. Copy that doesn’t actually answer a question or deliver on the promise in the title doesn’t help your company or the blogger. If the point of this exercise was to promote Chrome as a trustworthy browser, it failed.

So how do you control that message, especially with outside bloggers?

  • Always give detailed, clear instructions. We see a lot of content here at Textbroker, and content like this usually comes from requests that are vague, like, “write about Google Chrome.”  The more details you give, the better the content should be. If the instructions had been to give an example of how Chrome has helped the blogger’s business or blog, then the posts should have been on-topic and relevant. The controversy wouldn’t have been over thin content, just over despicable linking practices.
  •  Boil down boilerplate. A quick tagline can bring together the diverse experiences of a crowdsourced campaign. Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” series of ads is a pretty good example of using a tagline without being redundant. In Google’s case, we have a two-sentence tagline for the video, not the post or campaign itself. If you want to use a tagline, find one that fits the scope of your project, not one specific video or case.
  • Check items before publication. A quick check by the project manager would ensure that the posts truly accomplish the marketing goal instead of causing a PR nightmare. If you’re sponsoring the finished product, you have the right to know what’s being published. This is where those instructions come in – bloggers who don’t address the topic requested need to either re-work their post or don’t qualify for the offer.
  • Respect individuality. When you’re working with bloggers, you shouldn’t get the standard corporate patter. This is part of the authenticity that you’re looking for. Allow the crowd to highlight negatives as well as positives, but don’t let the crowd ignore or subvert the original campaign concept.

It’s disappointing that the industry leader hasn’t held itself to its own standards. The excuse that “This isn’t what we paid for” doesn’t quite work. The idea of spelling out exactly what you need and the requirements of project completion applies to companies of every size – especially Google’s size. Those companies then have the right and obligation to check that their projects are being run correctly. Let’s hope that in the future, Google does those checks before their projects go live.


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