Michael Arrington posted on his site an email from the company, soliciting him into this paid blog post campaign. The campaign instructs bloggers to write about their experience with using the new Internet Explorer and link to the brand page, but, at the same time, provide disclosure that the sponsored post is paid.
In the instructions, there is no indication that the bloggers must use nofollow attributes in the link. As you may know, passing links via sponsored posts or other paid methods is against most search engine guidelines, including Google’s and even Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing. There are no instructions that explicitly say the blogger should prevent link credit from passing for search ranking purposes.
This is somewhat comical because, back in January 2012, Google ran sponsored posts for Chrome, their own web browser. They ultimately admitted to the campaign but said it wasn’t implemented as they expected. This lead to Google penalizing themselves in their own search engine — where Chrome would not rank for the search query “browser” for a period of time.
Will Google and Bing, Microsoft’s own search engine, penalize Internet Explorer in the same way for running these campaigns? Well, it is clear that Google’s head of search spam is investigating.
Matt Cutts tweeted at SocialChorus about the issue and they confirmed they received it. So Google is looking into it.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) June 18, 2014
What will happen is not exactly clear. It depends on where the bloggers were asked to link to. Was it just rethinkie.com or the Internet Explorer brand page or other Microsoft brands? That is unclear.
The instructions page does mention other brands they work with including ESPN FC World Cup, Assassin’s Creed Pirates Demo, 22Tracks, Everest Rivers of Ice, Atari Arcade, and Hover. And SocialChorus has to be doing similar efforts for their other clients.
The big question for search engines is if the paid links were nofollowed using the nofollow attribute, which would result in the links not passing any search ranking benefit. If not, then both Bing and Google may indeed serve up a penalty to the page these bloggers were instructed to link to.
Postscript: A Microsoft spokesperson sent us the following statement:
This action by a vendor is not representative of the way Microsoft works with bloggers or other members of the media. The program has been suspended.