Eric Enge posted an interview with Matt Cutts of Google’s spam team. Within the interview Matt addresses the issue of widgets, luckily I will be able to include this info into my session about widgets and seo.
Here is the widget part of the interview…
“Eric Enge: What are your thoughts on using widgets as a promotional tool, and ways of going about doing that?
Matt Cutts: Widgetbait is like linkbait in some ways. We talked about it at the You&a sessions at SMX Advanced with Danny Sullivan a little bit, but we come at it from a perspective where the first widgetbait that we saw was web counter spam.
Matt Cutts: People would sign up for a web counter, and they would have hidden links in that web counter that they didn’t even know about.
Matt Cutts: Exactly. Or an image that was actually clickable.
The clicks would go to mesothelioma, payday loans site, or something like that.
So, a few of the criteria to think about are, are the links hidden? Is the image clickable or are the links are buried in some NoScript or something like that? If so, that’s not going to be as good for users. How relevant is a widget? A good example of a relevant widget is someone had an Ubuntu widget that counted how many days until Ubuntu was released; it was just a daily countdown, and the link went to Ubuntu.com.
The people putting the widget on their site know exactly what they are doing, and it’s completely on topic, whereas something about mesothelioma has nothing to do with the web counter. It’s just completely off topic.
Eric Enge: Right. So, let’s take the next step. Let’s imagine the link isn’t hidden, but it’s still off topic.
Matt Cutts: Right, off topic. We want those links just like with regular linkbait; we wanted people to be informed of what they are linking to and we want the links to be editorial. And, if we feel like somebody got tricked into making a link; like they signed up for some service and they didn’t even realize that a link was going to be piggybacking along on this.
That’s not as good; and it’s not as much of an editorial vote for that link as we’d like. You can also look at things like what is the link target; does the link go back to wherever you got the widget from or does it go to some completely different third party? This is related to whether it’s off topic or not.
Eric Enge: Well, that could imply that the spot was sold for example.
Matt Cutts: Exactly. If it’s sold, that’s even worse.
Eric Enge: Yeah. But, you wouldn’t necessarily know that. You would know that it was a different party; that’s pretty easy to detect.
Matt Cutts: Different party, yeah. Different party, often off topic; and then you could also look at the anchor text of the link itself. So, if it’s just the name of the site, that’s a little different than if its keyword stuffed or spamming anchor text. And then, a couple of last things is how many links are in the widget, as there are a whole ton of buried links in the widget that are more of the degree nature.
One of the things that’s also interesting is how informed the publisher was whenever they put this widget on their site. Because, we have seen widgets where there was essentially no disclosure; maybe buried down in some end user license agreement.
Eric Enge: Down in section twenty-six.
Matt Cutts: And the language tells you that, by the way by embedding this widget you are linking to spam sites.
People don’t realize that. So in the same way as you think about linkbait; with widgetbait you want people to know what they are doing also, you want them to be well-informed. Ideally, it’s relevant, it’s on topic and there is nothing hidden going on. It’s all about that.
Eric Enge: Right. So, you wouldn’t advise people to start going out building WordPress templates and sticking anchor text rich link at the bottom of that there?
Matt Cutts: Right. It’s almost the exact same criteria; think about it. These payday loans buried at the bottom of the template have nothing to do with the blog. They are off topic; they are not at all relevant. Often, when you sign up for a template, you don’t see a very clear disclosure that you are going to be embedding links in that template. So, it’s still the same criteria you can use for a lot of different types of things.
Eric Enge: Right. So, I wrote a post recently on SEOmoz about getting the anchor text you want. I pointed out that there are some techniques where you can be getting editorial quality links, but still requesting certain specific types of anchor text. What’s your sense about that; I don’t know if you read the post or not.
Matt Cutts: I did read that post. I mean, you want people to be informed. Like, there have been people who talked about “Well, look at the people who link to you, and maybe the anchor text they used was yourdomain.com.
Maybe you could say “Hey, you might not know it, but this is also the name of my product. Would you be interested in changing this anchor text?
That’s certainly something you could do. The main thing is you want people to be informed; organic anchor text often has all that natural distribution that you want anyway. So, if you can get it organically, then you usually don’t have to go back and try to negotiate with people about changing this anchor text.
Eric Enge: Right. So, the example would be that you take a widget and the widget might be about a specific product on your site. And then, you would point to the product on your site with the generic industry known name for the product as the anchor text, right? So, the widget’s related; the anchor text of course is steered a little bit.
The user could change it, and, they are informed.
Matt Cutts: Yeah. It’s interesting, because when we see people trying to steer anchor text, we often see that more in the context of a link exchange and they will say, “By the way, here is the snippet to exactly copy and paste.
Often, the snippet has got some pretty spamming in the anchor text and stuff like that. So, I would definitely do this in moderation. I wouldn’t try to go so aggressively trying to get specific anchor text that it looks bad.”
I have a couple of dissagreements with what he has stated about a link being “off topic”, not in practice but rather in theory. In this interview I could not help but wonder that the advice he gives seems to create a situation where Google was spamming (using off topic links). Last year I posted about a link I found within the official YouTube video gadget that was promoting a Jason Bourne gadget. The circled link seems to fit the bill of spam by Matt’s new definition. (See screenshot)
The other problem I have is that “off topic” links are not in anyway against the Google webmaster guidelines. As an example of this I would offer Matt Cutts blog.
The title of his blog is “Google, Gadgets, and SEO”
Yet sometimes he talks about cats, and even links to cat photos. I do not believe that is spam. Blog software is an application, just like a widget / gadget is. He is a publisher putting things on the internet, just like a widget author is.
If his concern is that multiple copies of a widget are made with the same links, then he may want to ponder that his blog is seen in Google reader, RSS feeds, and widgets as well.
I do not think that the links, within a gadget displaying his blog posts are spam….
It seems odd, creepy, and restrictive to define “off topic” as bad.
Luckily, as most quality widget makers know or are finding out, there is no real need to link creatively or “seoishly” from a gadget. It really is about the user. Links have less value in the widget world than actual interaction does.