Ecocho.com.au, which launched just one week ago, acts as a Web portal between users and popular search engines Yahoo and Google. It claims to neutralise carbon emissions through the purchase of carbon offset credits which go towards planting two trees for every 1000 searches made through the site.
Since launching, the site has enjoyed tremendous success and was expecting to hit the million visitors mark in its first month, according to Ecocho founder Tim Macdonald. But that may all change now that Google has decided to pull its support from the site.
“The site was going great guns in terms of traffic numbers and then yesterday it suddenly halted on us,” Macdonald said.
According to Google Australia spokesperson, Rob Shilkin, Ecocho was stripped of the Web giant’s search capability because it violated Google's AdSense policies.
He said that Ecocho violated one of AdSense’s golden rules that prohibit publishers from compensating third parties when users perform searches. In this instance, Ecocho’s promise to plant trees in exchange for Web searches was the site’s undoing.
“We universally and uniformly apply that policy of not allowing cash for searches or benefits of searches,” Shilkin said. “In accordance we have disabled the ads and searches on this website [ecocho.com.au].”
A bewildered Macdonald expressed his disappointment with the timing of Google’s decision, claiming that the Web giant had known about the site for months but had not once raised the issue with the Ecocho founders.
“Because Ecocho was going to be a high profile project we went to Google months in advance to make sure we did everything by the book. We let Yahoo and Google know in advance and made sure the concept was absolutely fine by their senior management,” Macdonald said.
“I’m disappointed with the lack of disclosure from Google – that they are making it out like they never knew about this project and then as soon as they saw it they flagged it as a policy violator. But back in January, before we even came up with the logo for the site, we asked if Ecocho was a goer or goner from Google’s perspective and they said it was all good.”
An email trail dating from January 21 which details Ecocho’s dealings with Google was forwarded to iTnews and appears to back up Macdonald’s claims that the Web giant was well aware of the site’s intentions from an early stage.
Although the email chain-of-events does not contain explicit assurance from Google that Ecocho would get the green light from AdSense, Macdonald said a series of subsequent phone calls with senior Google AdSense staff sealed the deal.
“[Our emails] were followed up with a phone call from Julian [a senior Google AdSense staff member]. He told us that Google had decided to not grant us with Adsense Premium (a special AdSense product for major publishers) but that we could implement Google Custom Search Engine with AdSense. This was followed up with a subsequent phone call offering to provide technical support to help with implementation customisation if we needed it,” Macdonald said.
Macdonald also questioned why Ecocho was singled out when a raft of similar sites such as searchgreener.com and veosearch.com appear to operate on similar principles.
"We don't believe there were click quality issues for advertisers because otherwise Google would have told us immediately if this was the issue. Like Ecocho, there are many websites that use Google's search technology to generate funds for good causes," he said.
Despite Macdonald’s bewildered pleas, Google’s Shilkin said Ecocho’s violations run deeper than this latest gaffe.
“Ecocho is run by a search optimisation firm called the Found Agency,” Shilkin revealed. “They have a network of thousands of websites that contain AdSense. We have warned them on multiple times that they have violated the policy of encouraging users to click on ads or do searches which is in clear violation of our policy.”
In fact, last May, the Found Agency saw its Google ranking take a significant dive after Google judged it had unfairly manipulated its search rankings.
“This is actually a pretty sophisticated search engine optimisation company that is pushing the limits and has got caught,” Shilkin said of the Ecocho incident.
Macdonald did not hide the fact he worked for the Found Agency and admitted the company had previously received violation warnings from Google. However, Macdonald said that each incident raised by Google was swiftly dealt with in an appropriate manner by the company.
“Previously we have had incidents with Found Agency where Google has said there were problems with certain sites. But we abided by their instructions and fixed any problems immediately,” he said. “If the reason for banning Ecocho is related to Ecocho then Google should at least communicate the problems to us. But it’s not fair to simply ban us because we have a connection to the Found Agency.”
Google ditches green search engine for planting trees
By Mitchell Bingemann on Apr 24, 2008 11:23AM