Remember how Google ended up penalizing its Chrome browser in its own search results because of a sponsored video campaign that violated Google’s own paid link guidelines? The company behind that campaign, Unruly, has now emailed instructions to those in its network to help prevent that type of thing from happening again.
How Google Penalized Itself With Unruly’s Help
Unruly was hired by Essence, which in turn was hired by Google to help promote the Google Chrome browser through video ads. The campaign that emerged had a video about Google Chrome appearing in posts that had little to do with Chrome itself.
Technically, these posts violated Google’s guidelines because a few of them had links leading back to the Chrome site in a way that passed link credit that could help that page potentially rank better in Google. Because these were sponsored posts, these were considered paid links, and so a penalty was applied.
The bigger issue was always, in my view, that the campaign itself generated a bunch of garbage content. It would have been cleaner if Unruly had just hired a bunch of bloggers to clearly say they were posting a sponsored video, rather than effectively hiding the sponsored video in a post that had little to do with the video’s actual content.
Don’t Link — But If You’re Going To Link, Use Our Safe Method
The new instructions from Unruly address the first issue but not really the second.
Partners are being discouraged from adding their own links to advertisers. Instead, if they want to link to an advertiser, they’re encouraged to use links that Unruly provides. These apparently redirect to the advertiser’s site in a way to prevent potential ranking credit from being passed.
Write What You Want, But Say “Sponsored Video” In Title
As for the content issue, Unruly isn’t suggesting that better content be written, or that partners simply give up the idea of embedding the videos around content.
It is, however, saying that any post with a sponsored video have the words “Sponsored Video” as the first two words of the post’s title.
Whether by “title,” Unruly means the main headline of the post, the HTML title tag or both is unclear. I’m guessing it means the headline, which in turn is often used that the HTML title tag.
The New Instructions
From the email:
Dear Unruly Partner
Please read this email carefully because you need to make sure that you’re religiously following Unruly’s guidelines and terms of service
At Unruly, we’re really proud of the amazing sites, blogs, apps and games we work with, whether it’s a mini-media empire like Mashable, fantastic niche titles and communities like Skiddmark and BuzzFeed, or more personal but awesome blogs such as The Green Familia and jasonslater.co.uk.
When we’re distributing great content from brands we need to make sure that this is done in a way that is completely transparent, honest, and ethical. This is not about enforcing minimums, it’s about being as transparent, honest, and ethical as possible. About being whiter than white.
This is really important. Be very, very careful if you add any of your own links. If you want to link to the advertiser’s site in an article, post, or tweet, only use the redirect links that we provide you that are also safe. If you don’t do this, you may be in breach of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (Google guidelines). If you’re not sure, just don’t link. The video player links so you don’t have to!
Second, let’s talk about disclosure. Unruly’s video player always has a disclosure underneath it making it totally clear that the video is sponsored. This is fine if you just embed the video in a column or area reserved for commercial content. However, if you embed the video in a blog post, you should always put the phrase ‘Sponsored Video’ as the first two words of the title of your post. If you link to a page containing the video in a tweet or status update, you should mark it #ad. It doesn’t matter that you’re not being paid to tweet or post the video – Because you stand to benefit commercially every time someone watches the video on your site or app, you need to make sure you disclose this clearly.
We have been working over the past few days to strengthen our internal audit methods and processes. We hope this is helpful. Think of us as a second pair of eyes, helping you stay true to your readers and to your principles!
As a consequence, some of you may start to receive notices from us over the next few months if our audit procedures discover something that needs to be brought to your attention. We hope you will review these notices and make any changes that are necessary.
We’re really proud at Unruly to be working with such a great family of bloggers, app developers, film makers, website owners and game developers. We’ll do everything we can to improve our service, to bring you more videos, to earn you more money, and to ensure that, together, we hold ourselves to the highest standards.
Change May Help Others Like American Cancer Society From Penalties
The bottom line is that Unruly is cleaning up its act in the area of paid links, a smart move given that among other things, it recently raised $25 million in investment. You don’t want those investors worried that your social video advertising model is going to be torpedoed by violations of Google’s paid link policies.
It’s also good news for potential advertisers, because consider this:
That the same type of campaign that Google penalized itself over. In this case, it was for the American Cancer Society. The arrow points to a direct link passing credit from this sponsored post to the American Cancer Society home page.
Technically, the American Cancer Society is subject to the same penalty that Google gave itself. I don’t think anyone wants that. The new rules from Unruly should help avoid that.
Even better would be if Google itself stopped looking at whether links are paid for or not on a technical basis and instead looked at whether the intent was somehow to mislead its algorithm. My post from 2007, Time For Google To Give Up The Fight Against Paid Links?, explains more about that.
- Google’s Jaw-Dropping Sponsored Post Campaign For Chrome
- Google: Yes, Sponsored Post Campaign Was Ours But Not What We Signed-Up For
- Google’s Chrome Page No Longer Ranks For “Browser” After Sponsored Post Penalty