BP Buys ‘Oil’ Search Terms

BP Buys ‘Oil’ Search Terms to Redirect Users to Official Company Website. There are several sources to back up this, talk about a media spin.

First up, our friends @ CNN:
BP buys Google, Yahoo oil spill search terms
By Hibah Yousuf, staff reporterJune 7, 2010: 6:37 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — As BP continues to try to stop the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the energy giant is also dealing with a public relations nightmare.

That’s why the company is snapping up search phrases like “oil spill” and “oil spill claims” on Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) and Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500). The strategy, says a company spokeswoman, aims to “assist those who are most impacted and help them find the right forms and the right people quickly and effectively.”//

For instance, when a user searches “oil spill” on Google or Yahoo, there are millions of results — but the first link on both search engines is a sponsored ad that leads to BP’s “Gulf of Mexico response” page that provides resources and information about the spill.

“In any crisis response situation, one of the first things you do is look at what’s happening on Google — it’s a pretty cut and dry tactical move,” said Kent Jarrell, a senior vice president at Washington consulting firm APCO Worldwide who handles crisis management. “I do it with all of my clients, because if we aren’t buying the terms, somebody else is.”

And the advertisements are clearly highlighted as “sponsored links,” said Terry Heymeyer, who teaches crisis management at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Management. That means that users will know that they’re clicking on a BP (BP) website, and can choose not to do so.

“Most companies that are smart are buying relevant search terms to increase their visibility on the Internet,” he said. “As long as they are providing factual and timely information in a transparent way and doing interviews with other media sources as well, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be buying search terms.”

While BP, Google and Yahoo declined to comment on how many search terms the company purchased or how much BP has spent on the advertisements, Yahoo spokeswoman Rachel Carr said ad words cost as little as 1 cent per user click and can go up from there. The cost depends on a combination of criteria, including the category of the search terms and the demand for them.

It may be standard operating procedure for companies in crisis to buy Internet search terms, but that didn’t stop the company’s critics from taking a stab at the strategy.

The mystery individual behind the fake BP PR Twitter account quipped: “We’re paying Google a lot of money to make sure you only have access to the best possible info on the oil spill: our info.”

Next up ABC:
BP Buys ‘Oil’ Search Terms to Redirect Users to Official Company Website
BP Spokesman Acknowledges Purchase ‘To Make It Easier for People to Find Out More About Our Efforts in the Gulf’ and Other Ways to Help

By EMILY FRIEDMAN | VENICE, La., June 5, 2010
Be careful where you click, especially if you’re looking for news on the BP oil spill.

BP, the very company responsible for the oil spill that is already the worst in U.S. history, has purchased several phrases on search engines such as Google and Yahoo so that the first result that shows up directs information seekers to the company’s official website.

A simple Google search of “oil spill” turns up several thousand news results, but the first link, highlighted at the very top of the page, is from BP. “Learn more about how BP is helping,” the link’s tagline reads.

A spokesman for the company confirmed to ABC News that it had, in fact, bought these search terms to make information on the spill more accessible to the public.

“We have bought search terms on search engines like Google to make it easier for people to find out more about our efforts in the Gulf and make it easier for people to find key links to information on filing claims, reporting oil on the beach and signing up to volunteer,” BP spokesman Toby Odone told ABC News.

But several search engine marketing experts are questioning BP’s intentions, suggesting that controlling what the public finds when they look online for oil spill information is just another way for the company to try and rebuild the company’s suffering public image.

According to Kevin Ryan, the CEO of California-based Motivity Marketing, research shows that most people can’t tell the difference between a paid result pages, like the ones BP have, and actual news pages.


“If you look at it from BP’s perspective it’s a brilliant move,” Ryan said. “The other option BP had was to just not do this and let the news interpret what’s going on.

“But they’re getting so much bad press that directing traffic to their own site is a great PR strategy,” he said.

Terms related to the spill, from “oil spill” to “gulf disaster” to “BP,” have consistently remained in the list of most-searched terms on Google since the spill began in April.

“If they’re not buying that link that goes back to their message, they’re kind of leaving the universe to kind of decide for itself,” Ryan said. “It’s actually pretty proactive for the brand.”

BP Paid Search Engine Companies Billions to Secure First Position on Searches

On Google, paid results are awarded to the highest bidder.


A BP sign stands outside a BP Amoco gas station in Chicago. BP spokesman Toby Odone told ABC News, “We have bought search terms on search engines like Google to make it easier for people to find out more about our efforts in the Gulf and make it easier for people to find key links to information on filing claims, reporting oil on the beach and signing up to volunteer.” Collapse (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Scott Slatin, an analyst who runs search engine marketing company Rivington in New York, estimates the company is paying upwards of $10,000 per day to maintain the various search terms.

“They paid to lock themselves into the first position against the oil spill terms, essentially putting a positive message on top of the news,” Slatin said.

But for BP, who some have estimated will spend billions on cleanup from the spill, paying for these search terms is hardly significant.

“In the grand scheme of doing damage control in a negative situation like this, keyword costs are very marginal,” Ryan said.

Still, Ryan notes that no other companies that have gone through public relations nightmares, such as BP’s, have thought to do anything similar.

Toyota Used Similar Strategy for Online After Faulty Breaks Disclosure

Toyota, for example, did not buy terms related to faulty brakes earlier this year. Instead, when users search “Toyota breaks” car dealerships pop up as well as other news results.

In addition to purchasing the search terms, BP also released a television ad earlier this week featuring CEO Tony Hayward.

In it, Hayward stares directly into the camera and explicitly apologizes for the spill, saying, “BP has taken full responsibility for cleaning up the spill in the gulf.”


“I’m deeply sorry,” Hayward says.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal slammed BP for its PR efforts, saying in a statement, “Instead of BP shelling out $50 million on an ad campaign that promises to do good work in responding to this spill, BP should just focus on actually doing a good job and spend the $50 million on assistance to our people, our industries and our communities that are suffering as a result of this ongoing spill.”

But BP’s PR campaign doesn’t seem to be slowing. They’ve hired the help of a high-profile agency, the Brunswick Group, as well as Purple Strategies, led by political consultant Steve McMahon and Republican political consultant Alex Castellanos.

Questions Arise About BP Purchasing Search Words and Phrases

Despite the criticism, Kevin Ryan, the CEO of California-based Motivity Marketing, says that BP’s fierce PR campaign is smart.


“The search terms, everything, it’s probably not a bad idea for the company to do,” he said. “Is it right? Is buying these terms ethical? That’s another question.”


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