Google’s widget linking reminder: The next Google update?

This morning, the official Google Webmaster Central blog politely reminded us that they strongly frown upon Page Rank boosting tactics, by means of widget link building and concealed dofollow links.

 

Google’s widgetbait reminder:

“Today we would like to reiterate our policy on the creation of keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites.”

 

Today’s blog goes on to say that, whilst widgets are convenient and can deliver good user experience, any manipulated anchor text within a widget which cannot be controlled by the webmaster completely negates its value, and therefore deems it a violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines.

 

What does Google say to do about widget linking?

Google urges any site practising old-school SEO ‘widgetbaiting’ strategies to apply a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the widget, or remove links entirely to ensure it does not pass Page Rank, and then subsequently notify Google of the change via a reconsideration request.

Google has been advising those who accept payment for outbound links to rel=”nofollow” since 2008 for the very same reason.

Google's widget link reminder - widget example one Google's widget link reminder - widget example two

 

What does Google do about widget linking?

So far, not much. Google’s bark has been worse than its bite when it comes to ‘widgetbait’. This isn’t the first time they’ve kicked up a bit of a fuss about it, however.  In 2012, the Webmaster Central blog put out a warning about unnatural, spammy or artificial inbound links, and again in 2015, during a ‘Google Webmaster Central office hours hangout’, where Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller advised us to avoid widget link building.

 

Google working on Penguin 4.0 launch announcement

According to Search Engine Land, Google is actively preparing their announcement of Penguin 4.0.

John Mueller said: “We are working on an announcement for that there, so like when it’s ready we will let you know.”

On Tuesday, September 6th 2016 hangout on YouTube Live.

 

Could Penguin 4.0 and Google’s widget reminder spell the beginning of the end for ‘widgetbaiters’?

Issuing warnings with little follow-through is par-for-the-course in the world of Google, but the rumours of a Penguin 4.0 announcement coinciding with this reminder seems a tad too coincidental.

It seems that those who practice this grey-hat technique will have to be extra vigilant in future, as this could be a pre-cursor to a complete ‘widgetbait’ lockdown.

Sites like TripAdvisor and Houzz have cropped up as some of the rumoured offenders in this area, and may need to tone-down their strategies.

 

Does TripAdvisor use “Certificates of Excellence” widgets for link building?

One forum discussion on Reddit’s dedicated SEO section, suggests that TripAdvisor has rolled out a large-scale SEO widget linking strategy using their “Certificates of Excellence” badges and review widgets, which they supposedly award to accommodation providers and tour operators in a bid to gain greater link juice, build ranking and gain authority.

The main Redditor of this thread even goes as far as to state that, “If a [TripAdvisor] widget is manipulated code-wise in any way, i.e: with the intention of having nofollow added to the HTML, it breaks and becomes unusable.”

TripAdvisor widgets: We couldn’t find any keyword-rich dofollow links

nofollow tripadvisor widget example 2

nofollow tripadvisor widget

We did a little bit of digging into this, however, and found that all of the widgets we came across on TripAdvisor did, in fact, incorporate a nofollow link (see images from hotel provider websites below). The image within the widget, on the other hand, did link back to the TripAdvisor site – but to the hoteliers’ relevant profile page. What’s more, we could see no hard-coded links, or keyword-rich anchor text – meaning that TripAdvisor wouldn’t get a great deal of relevant link juice from these widgets anyway.

TripAdvisor: Backlink breakdown

TripAdvisor widget link building strategy

Based on our Backlink Analysis tool (using Majestic backlink data), we found that the majority of Tripadvisor’s links do, indeed, come from images, but we also found that their top anchor text appears to simply be their brand name – so not too keyword rich.

 

Does Houzz use ‘Slideshow’ widget link building tactics?

According to a super lengthy linkbuilding study carried out by Viperchill, it would seem that the multi-billion dollar home design giant, Houzz, has been practising widget link building tactics, by embedding hard-coded links into the sites of its users (see image below), on and off for the last few years. Those super-sleuths!

houzz-widgets

 

Houzz: Backlink breakdown

Houzz widget link building strategy 3

Looking at the backlink profile of Houzz, we found that the majority of their links are text-based – and looking at the top anchor text, it would seem that they’re receiving a lot of backlinks for the pertinent and medium-tail query: ‘remodeling and home design’.

 

But, is there really anything wrong with keyword-fuelled, dofollow widget links?

Some would see it that there’s not essentially anything wrong with a dofollow link within a widget, so long as the content being linked to is relevant and of high-quality. If someone is wanting to use a site’s widget, you might think that this suggests they are happy to be associated with this site. This is where the boundaries start to blur.

 

So what should ‘widgetbaiters’ do in response to Google’s warning?

The above sites (if indeed practising widget link building), and any other ‘widgetbaiters’ should perhaps think about reigning in their strategies and staying below the radar in the coming months, not only because of the looming Penguin 4.0 update, but also because of the recent testing and fluctuation in Google (i.e. the suspected September 2nd Google update, and local pack testing).

 

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