Google Chrome made a booboo, and now its own company is punishing it. Yesterday, the news broke that bloggers were being paid to use SEO spam tactics to boost the Google Chrome website’s page ranking in search. Hundreds of paid articles, many of them totally incoherent, were used to promote Chrome. At least one of them violated Google’s policy against paid links. As Google’s search guru Matt Cutts wrote in 2009, “paid posts should not affect search engines.”

So that was awkward. Fortunately for Google, the infraction could be blamed on Unruly Media, the third-party company Google hired to promote Chrome. Links from the paid posts were supposed to use the rel="nofollow" tag, so they wouldn’t affect page rank. At least one blogger didn’t, even though Unruly “advised” them to. In order for Google to get out of this mess, it would have to punish itself as it has done to others. Sure enough, Google says it will reduce Chrome’s page rank.

From the statement Google sent to Search Engine Land:

“We’ve investigated and are taking manual action to demote www.google.com/chrome and lower the site’s PageRank for a period of at least 60 days. We strive to enforce Google’s webmaster guidelines consistently in order to provide better search results for users. While Google did not authorize this campaign, and we can find no remaining violations of our webmaster guidelines, we believe Google should be held to a higher standard, so we have taken stricter action than we would against a typical site.”

At least Google won’t come out of this looking like a hypocrite. It goes to great lengths to punish sites that play games with search ranking, and it already takes heat for favoring its own sites. PR-wise, there was no way out of this for Google but to punish the Chrome site.

But it sure does look sloppy. Google’s left hand didn’t know what its right hand’s hired hands were doing. If the Chrome team knew that paid links were a violation of the search team’s policies, it should have been more careful to avoid this. Google is relentlessly tweaking search, its core product. It’s making its other products, particularly Google+, more important. Getting caught in this old-school SEO trick is not what Google needed to instill trust.

Now that the story has broken, the results look very different, but check out what a search for “This post is sponsored by Google” turned up before:

Image, follow-up, pretty much the whole scoop via Search Engine Land