Acquired as part of DoubleClick, the division could interfere with its ranking philosophy.
SAN FRANCISCO — Facing prickly questions about possible conflicts of interest, Google will sell a service called Performics — acquired as part of DoubleClick — that helps Web sites improve their ranking on Google’s search engine.
The decision, announced Wednesday, comes three weeks after the search leader’s $3.2 billion takeover of online ad service DoubleClick.
Owning Performics thrust Google into an uncomfortable position because the service devises technical tricks to highlight Web sites among the nonadvertising results of searches.
That part of Performics’ business threatened to break Google’s long-standing vow not to allow cash to influence the order of the so-called “organic” links featured in the center of its results page.
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Landing near the top of the first search results page is prized because it can bring hordes of traffic without costing any advertising dollars.
“Our search results will be objective, and we will not accept payment for inclusion or ranking in them,” Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin promised in a 2004 letter spelling out the Mountain View-based company’s “don’t be evil” principles.
Web sites that pay Google for special treatment are supposed to appear only in sections of the results page labeled as “sponsored” links — to shopping or advertising.
Selling the piece of Performics that manipulates search-engine results will enable Google to preserve the trust of its users, according to Tom Phillips, who is overseeing the company’s DoubleClick acquisition.
“It’s clear to us that we do not want to be in the search-engine marketing business,” Phillips wrote in a blog. “Maintaining objectivity in both search and advertising is paramount to Google’s mission.”
The company intends to hold on to another part of Performics that helps Web sites manage their advertising.
The Performics dilemma could be just one of several challenges arising from the DoubleClick deal. Google also has signaled it may lay off workers, a difficult chore for a company that prides itself on pampering its nearly 17,000 employees.
Privacy watchdogs are also scrutinizing the deal for signs that Google is using DoubleClick’s ad-tracking tools to pry deeper into the Web-surfing patterns of its users.