The War on Words--BP Outbids Nonprofits in Oil Disaster Search Terms | Conservation Law Foundation

The War on Words–BP Outbids Nonprofits in Oil Disaster Search Terms

As crews battle the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a battle of a different sort is unfolding online. It’s a war of messaging, and BP is sparing no expense.

CLF is the recipient of a monthly “Google Grant,” a free marketing program that allows non-profit organizations to reach new prospects by “bidding” on keywords that are relevant to their work and placing sponsored links in a user’s search result. So, a user searching on “renewable energy,” for example, might find a link to a CLF ad in his search results, if we were successful in bidding for those keywords.

As the oil disaster in the Gulf started to unfold, we decided to use our Google Grant to promote our extensive blog coverage on the spill, a passionate outpouring of information and insight from our advocates. It turns out, we weren’t alone.

Though a number of other nonprofit Google Grant recipients had the same idea, we were all outbid on virtually every oil spill-related keyword. By whom were we outbid? By BP.

Go ahead and perform a Google search for “Gulf Oil Spill” and pay attention to the top sponsored link. It’s BP. And the link takes users to a carefully crafted page about BP’s so-called progress. No pictures of dead marine life. No unemployed fishermen. No pelicans covered in oil.

How did BP bump out the rest of us? It’s a simple matter of economics. Google Grant recipients are only able to bid up to $1.00 for various keywords. For-profit companies, on the other hand, can bid as high as their pockets allow. BP’s generous bids ensure that their sponsored links appear first in search results. And long after nonprofit Google Grant allowances are spent, BP’s seemingly endless advertising budget continues to fuel their campaigns around the clock.

I must admit that their tactic in out-bidding everyone for keywords is ingenius – and perhaps a bit sinister. Google’s mantra to “do no evil” may have inadvertently gone awry here. The worthy non-profits the Google Grants program is intended to bolster are losing the keyword battle to big oil. But if the massive public outcry about the Gulf disaster is any indication, we may not have lost the messaging war.

Before you go… CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.

Focus Areas

Climate ChangeOceans



About the CLF Blog

The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of Conservation Law Foundation, our boards, or our supporters.