Google is dismissing speculation that commercial considerations play a role in how it ranks Web sites, as a screenshot of a Google search results list with dollar values for each link makes the blogosphere rounds.
The French-language Zorgloob blog, which focuses on Google issues, first ran the screenshot on Tuesday, prompting discussions in online forums and other Web publications.
Google confirmed that the screenshot is legitimate, but explained that it came from a tool used by members of the company's AdWords sales team for purposes of prioritizing new customer acquisition efforts.
"Our organic search results have always been completely independent from our paid advertisements. We consider the objectivity of our search results to be paramount to our success and would never compromise that in any way," said software engineer Matt Cutts, in a statement sent via the company's public relations department.
The tool isn't used by the company's search quality team "in any way," he said. "We are strongly committed to maintaining the integrity of our organic search results."
Still, some Google watchers aren't completely satisfied by the Google statement, as evidenced by some of the questions and observations posted in discussion threads and blog comments in places like WebmasterWorld, Google Blogoscoped and Valleywag.
For instance, a participant in the WebmasterWorld thread wonders why, if the tool's purpose is customer acquisition, the data would be attached as well to the links of existing AdWords advertisers.
This person also questions whether Google even approaches potential advertisers to get them started on AdWords, which has traditionally been described by the company as a self-service program for which advertisers sign themselves up online.
Others are wondering what some of the data labels in the search results mean, like "GG Score," and how the values are calculated.
Google didn't immediately reply to a follow-up request for comment on these issues.