Matt Cutts and his diligent Web Spam team is always glad to receive an investigate report or tweet about those who are violating their search quality guidelines.
Todays showcase is popular mortgage and consumer financial website Bankrate.com. If you do a search for the term “Mortgage Calculator” you will find the culprit listed at the top of the organic search results.
According to the Google Keyword Planner this one search term has 1,830,000 searches a month. The number two organic search result is from Bankrate.com. No big deal right? It’s a relevant search result that actually has a mortgage calculator right?
Agreed Until I decided to dig a little deeper into the matter. What I discovered was a plethora of backlinks that came as a result of Mortgage Calculator Widgets that involved do follow backlinks pointing back to the Mortgage Calculator page (bankrate.com/calculators/mortgages/mortgage-calculator.aspx) With the specific anchor text of…you guessed it “Mortgage Calculator”. In fact the anchor text is blended in with surrounding text so specific that it says “Use this mortgage calculator to find your loan payment.”
The lovely widget below is on a page found at bestmoves.com/mortgages.html that also houses a “new House Calculator” and “Refinance” calculator. Notice the clickable text with specified anchor text for each example.
Below is a screenshot of one of the many sites displaying Bankrate’s widgets currenthomemortgagerate.com. This site not only has the Mortgage Calculator widget with the anchor text but there is also a “Mortgage Rate Averages” widget with the specified anchor text “today’s mortgage rates”. Matt if you are reading this there it continues to get better and better.
Well this site seems to be unfairly ranking through the creative use of widget spam while other mortgage calculator websites using white hat techniques abiding by Google’s guidelines may not be showing up because of this.
In case your having trouble reading the image here is what the code reads:
Whats Noticeable in the Widget Code?
Notice the emphasis on the words “To Use This” followed by specific anchor text for the words “Mortgage Calculator”? Well for those who may remember the NY Times JC Penny article this is done in an effort to game Google’s search results in an albeit creative and sneaky way. If you are reading this article then you most likely understand enough about search engine optimization that I won’t bore you with the lesser details about the ins and outs of SEO as you can ready the Times opinion on that.
As Matt Cutts says himself in this video seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chuhSmwsL7s at the 26 second mark that Widget links are not editorially placed link by choice.
Now here is the thing. If Google were to penalize this site today by devaluing all of the widget links we may very well still see the Bankrate page still showing up on page 1. Today I’d like to create a new term and hopefully it can be remembered that I came up with the term to describe the false ranking through spam that led to legitimate links and rankings but figured in the comments section you can help me pick a name for this example. You know a site ranking under false pretenses but then it gains legitimate links to rank and can thus do away with the spammy links while still maintaining those rankings.
Here is a Taste of Some Legitimate Editorially Earned Links
The question now is this. Did they earn these links as a result of ranking high with Widget Spam or not? How can Google determine this? Fellow webmasters & SEO’s if you’re reading this what are your thoughts?
Definition of the term — A website is ranking for a well-known search term through the use of spam. Since the website looks to be reputable it than gains legitimate backlinks thus lowering it’s need to produce spammy links as it then generates organic links that would not endure a Google penalty under a manual review.
Example of Sites Displaying the Widget
There are some 2,122 domains with links pointing to the Mortgage calculator page. Above are just two examples of many.
Bankrate.com running a link scheme to show up higher for other search results
Below are 6 different examples verifying a private blog network of links that helps the Bankrate website show up higher for a well known financial company that advertises on television known as J.G. Wentworth. It is not just the mortgage calculator and Wentworth terms that this is happening from when I started to dig into this a little deeper:
http://www.managingextremechange.com/jg-wentworth-exchanges-easy-cash-for-lottery-and-settlement-payments.html (Note the anchor text blended in with the content a big NO-NO)
Since bankrate is a big enough company and does have a relevant mortgage calculator like the rest of the top 10 results it will be interesting to see how the SERPS change after Matt Cutts and his team implement any sort of penalty against this creative way of driving search referral traffic.
*I do not compete in the mortgage calculator space but couldn’t help but notice this blatant showcase of widget spam.