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Gulf oil spill: To control message, BP buys search terms from Google

BP has purchased several search terms from Google, including the phrase 'oil spill.' A BP spokesman says the PR initiative is an attempt to inform readers of BP's clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Matthew Shaer / June 9, 2010

As BP knows, when it comes to a PR war, controlling how Web users search for information is at least half the battle. This week, BP purchased search terms from Google, in an attempt to inform readers of its Gulf coast oil spill clean-up efforts.

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Late last month, as the controversy over the Gulf oil spill was just heating up, BP tussled with the folks behind a popular spoof Twitter feed. Now comes word that the PR department at BP has forked over a healthy chunk of change to control the way Web users view the company. According to BP reps, the company has purchased a range of popular search terms – including "oil spill" – from Google, the most popular search engine in the US.

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So what does it mean to "purchase" a search term? Well, it certainly doesn't make all the negative results go away. Today, for instance, a Google search for "oil spill" returned a range of results, including a Huffington Post article and a Wikipedia entry on oil spills.

But the very top result is a shaded advertisement from BP, trumpeting the company's clean-up efforts. "Learn More about How BP is Helping," the advertisement reads.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

In an interview with Reuters, a BP spokesman said that the company was just trying to steer readers in the right direction. "We know people are looking for those terms on our website and we're just trying to make it easier for them to get directly to those terms," the spokesman said.

There's no word on how much, exactly, BP has spent on post-spill PR efforts, but President Barack Obama recently chastised BP for spending $50 million on TV advertising.

In May, hackers apparently managed to bust into the official BP Twitter feed, and posted a message referencing another very popular fake BP Twitter account. "Terry is now in charge of operation Top Kill, work will recommence after we find a XXL wetsuit. #bpcares #oilspill," the hackers wrote. The message was a nod to @BPGlobalPR, a satirical Twitter feed that has been used to skewer BP's response to the Gulf spill.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

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