BP is being accused of trying to manipulate the search results on sites like Google and Yahoo, as it attempts to salvage its battered image following the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.

The company is purchasing terms such as “oil spill,” “Deepwater Horizon” and “Gulf of Mexico” so that when a user types these words into the search engines, the results prominently feature a “sponsored link” to BP’s official page on its response to the spill.

Critics describe BP’s move as unethical. 

Maureen Mackey, a writer on the online news site Fiscal Times, said: “What it effectively does is that it bumps down other legitimate news and opinion pieces that are addressing the spill ... and [BP is] paying big money for that.”

The criticism comes as President Obama expressed unease at the amount of money the company was spending to counter the negative attention the company has received following the oil spill.

BP has confirmed that its digital teams based in Houston and London, together with the company’s marketing executives, are currently engaged in buying search terms. But the company sought to downplay the strategy, saying that it was aimed at helping those most affected by the spill, by providing accurate information on the correct forms to fill in and key people to contact.

When a user types any term into Google, the search engine returns the most relevant Internet links relating to that term. In addition, companies can bid against each other, so that their advert also appears in the search results. These “sponsored links” are clearly distinguished and can appear above or alongside normal search results.

Read more at the Times of London.