It will be long time before we learn what BP's (NYSE: BP) ultimate tab will be for its environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. That's not stopping the company from trying to buy back its now-tarnished reputation in cyberspace.

BP has begun snapping up paid-search ads on Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) for popular queries such as "oil spill" and "oil spill claims," according to CNNMoney.

BP's website turned up as the top sponsored listing for both of those terms on Google last night. A search for "Gulf of Mexico spill" also finds British Petroleum taking top honors. The same terms on Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Bing also show BP as the top-bidding sponsor.

A spokeswoman tells CNNMoney that the strategy to turn to paid search serves to "assist those who are most affected and help them find the right forms and the right people quickly and effectively."

Really? My cynical theory is that BP is ramping up its online marketing spending to keep folks from warming up to class action lawyers, or heading to third-party news sources that aren't as flattering.

To be fair, BP isn't bidding on all of the keywords. It didn't pop up as a sponsor for more extreme queries such as "Boycott BP" or "BP sucks" last night. The company may realize that there are some Internet users who may be too incensed to listen to BP's side of the story -- for now.

However, this is just one of the many ways that BP is trying to repair its frayed image in cyberspace. I've noticed that clips from BP's YouTube channel continue to pop up as Promoted Videos on Google's video-sharing site. Those, in turn, promote YouTube's Facebook and Twitter pages.

BP is blanketing these popular sites to get its message heard. Unfortunately, it's breaking the cardinal rule of engagement. Visitors aren't allowed to post on its Facebook page or respond to its YouTube clips. Would the oil company receive a torrent of venom from users if it allowed two-way communications? Absolutely. However, it also has to realize that this one-way flow of information will ultimately send online users to less restricted -- and less flattering -- venues.

We may also eventually bump up against resentment that BP is spending all this money on website and full-page newspaper ads while there are still fishermen out of work and coastal resorts bustling with vacancies.

If BP is getting heat for simply declaring its regular quarterly dividend -- with billions in the bank -- an online marketing strategy to salvage its brand could really backfire.

Would you be doing anything differently on the Internet if you were BP? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz isn't the activist type, but he's one irate Floridian. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.