Google ends Chrome search rank penalty period

Unclear whether self-imposed punishment affected Chrome's usage share

Google this month released Chrome from the penalty box and reinstated the browser's PageRank after a 60-day self-imposed sentence over a rule-breaking marketing campaign.

At some point during March, Google lifted the penalty it had imposed on Chrome the first week of January, when it demoted the search ranking of the browser's download page, www.google.com/chrome. It's unclear when Google restored the browser's search rank; SearchEngineLand first reported the punishment's expiration on March 16.

The decision to reduce Chrome's PageRank -- the rating Google assigns to sites based on how many other sites link to them -- came after SEO Book and SearchEngineLand revealed a marketing campaign that paid bloggers to create generic posts that linked to a video touting Chrome to small businesses.

Google forbids sponsored links, and the company has aggressively punished violators in the past.

On Jan. 4, Matt Cutts, who heads the Google team responsible for monitoring linking rules, announced that the Chrome download site's PageRank would be downgraded and kept there for at least 60 days.

Google demoted the download page's search ranking to 0, the lowest-possible score in PageRank's 0-10 range.

On March 24, several PageRank tools put the Chrome download page at 7.

Computerworld confirmed the improved PageRank by running searches using words such as "browser." That term now pulls a results page with Chrome in the third spot on the first page. During the penalty period, Chrome's download site was pushed all the way down to the sixth result on the fifth page.

Mozilla's Firefox remains the top result of a search using "browser."

Although Web metrics company Net Applications blamed the punishment for the largest-ever decline in Chrome's usage share during January, numbers from Irish measurement firm StatCounter told a different story.

According to StatCounter, Chrome's share continued to climb during the penalty period, increasing by 1.1 percentage points in January, 1.4 points in February and 1 point so far this month. The gains were very much in line with StatCounter's tracking of Chrome increases during 2011, which averaged just over 1 percentage point each month.

StatCounter current has Chrome at a 30.8% share, second only to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Meanwhile, Net Applications put Chrome's global share at 18.9%.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer , on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com .

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com .

Read more about browsers in Computerworld's Browsers Topic Center.

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