Google red flags widgets with embedded links

As mentioned last week, it looks like Google recently made an update to its core ranking algorithm. However, apart from confirming that this was not a Penguin update, Google has remained tight-lipped on the matter.

The last Penguin update is getting close to two years ago which, by Internet standards, is an exceedingly long time. (Internet years are like dog years).

The Penguin algorithm is used by Google to detect and penalise websites that have indulged in manipulative link building practices that violate Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Sites hit with a Penguin penalty can clean up their act by removing and disavowing problematic links. However, unlike manual link penalties Google notifies webmasters about, simply cleaning up the mess and submitting a re-inclusion request doesn’t fix things and make the Penguin penalty go away. (Re-inclusion requests cannot be submitted for Penguin penalties).

The penalty remains in place until Google next does a Penguin update…

And, as mentioned above, it’s been a very long time since the last update. This is why being hit with a Penguin penalty can be so debilitating and even the death knell for some websites.

Not surprisingly a great many website owners who have previously been hit by Penguin and since cleaned up their links are now anxiously awaiting the next Penguin update. Their hope is that once this happens Google will remove the past penalty and they will start to recover lost rankings and the associated traffic and conversions these bring.

Late last week Google issued a stern reminder to webmasters about the risk of links in widgets which violate Webmaster Guidelines and can result in manual penalties being imposed by Google.

Widgets are third party elements website owners embed into their website usually to provide additional functionality or to make it more engaging to users. One example is travel distance calculator widgets that are frequently found on travel websites.

Google has no issue with these per se, however, some widgets add links to a site that a webmaster did not editorially place and contain anchor text that the webmaster does not control. Because these links are not naturally placed, they’re considered a violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines. Below are examples Google has given of widgets which contain links that violate Webmaster Guidelines:

Widgets with unnatural embedded links contravening Google Webmaster Guidelines

Google warns if they find these on your site they may take manual actions against unnatural links. When a manual action is taken, Google will notify you through Google Search Console. If you receive a warning about unnatural links you need to sort them out and then submit a request reconsideration to Google.

Google’s advice to webmasters who use widgets on their sites is to check those widgets for any unnatural links. And if they find these widgets do contain embedded links add a rel=”nofollow” attribute or remove the links entirely from the widget.

Google doesn’t necessarily appear to be taking its own medicine, however. Many websites utilise the Google Translate widget shown below to automatically translate their website into other languages.

Google Translate widget

This widget features a link to https://translate.google.com/ using the anchor text “Powered by Translate”. This is a dofollow link embedded into the widget by Google and so, on the surface, would appear to contravene Google’s own guidelines. A check in AHREFS shows about 3,000 backlinks to https://translate.google.com/ from this embedded widget link.

Why should you care?

Given this notification by Google, it’s likely to be a heads up warning that Google will shortly be taking action against websites using widgets with unnatural links. So take the hint if your site uses widgets — check them now.

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About the Author Mark Sceats

Mark is a Partner and Senior Consultant at SureFire which he founded back in 2002. Prior to establishing SureFire he worked for KPMG Consulting. Today Mark heads up SEO, embracing the challenges that can come with complex website implementations. Outside of work, his interests beyond his family are running, snowsports, diving and fishing (badly).

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