Are PPC Ads Now Counting in Google Organic Backlinks?

In the past, I’ve said there’s no direct correlation between editorial rankings and paid advertisements. Well, it seems I was wrong. Paid search really can affect organic search.

My team recently noticed this in one of our client’s Google Webmaster Tools accounts. They saw instances of backlink anchor text that we knew we weren’t optimizing against (not requesting links with these keywords) and they seemed very promotional in nature.

When we reviewed these links, we saw that they were coming from paid search efforts. They were the titles of the ads on both Overture/Yahoo Search Marketing and Google AdWords. Yet, Google Webmaster Tools was (and still is) showing these as anchor text of backlinks to the Web site.

Our client, Bluegreen Communities (a company that specializes in land for sale) gave us permission to share this with you, so please allow me that gratuitous anchor text link to their Web site, and please don’t bombard them with e-mails.

Here’s what Google Webmaster Tools showed:

What Googlebot Sees

“Dramatic price reductions” was the third most used/found backlink anchor text. Our research showed that the only place this anchor text was used was within Bluegreen’s Yahoo and AdWords search marketing/PPC efforts. (To conduct a search to find the anchor text indexed in Yahoo for certain keywords: “dramatic price reductions.”)

Dramatic Price Reductions

That search returned some “content” Web sites that showed these ads, which stopped running on May 21, so you won’t see them currently. Unfortunately, I didn’t grab a screenshot at the time, so you’ll just have to trust me (yes, I’m asking you to trust an SEO; there are some worthy of this).

Yahoo shows 22 links to the site with that link text, “dramatic price reductions” (and there are probably a lot more than that). The majority (if not all) of these links are from Yahoo Search Marketing ads, where the ads are showing up on “parked domain names” on Web sites only showing ads to get people to click on them.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but Google’s Web crawling has been increasingly aggressive, as they’re crawling JavaScript links on Web sites (most parked domains use JavaScript links and other scripts to take the Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing ads from Google/Yahoo and display them).

Before now, the JavaScript links haven’t been a problem as they weren’t “counted” as links — but now they are. It seems the folks at Webmaster World have been seeing this, too.

Now, how do we know that this impacts organic rankings?

Well, you might say, “Do a search on ‘dramatic price reductions’ and see if the Web site ranks.” Problem is, several Web sites use those keywords in the title tag and are actually “optimizing” for that keyword phrase, whereas the Bluegreen Communities Web site isn’t. So, we’ll look at another example.

This same phenomenon exists with the fourth most-used anchor text for Bluegreen’s Web site (according to Google Webmaster Tools). That is “ga nc tn & tx land sale.”

Again, this isn’t something we’ve optimized for, nor have we asked one single Web site to link to Bluegreen Communities in this manner (not used as anchor text in social media efforts, press release optimization, or any other tactic). However, this text has been used frequently in their paid efforts recently.

How do they rank? Number one on Google.

Google Rank

This is significant because these “keywords” are not a “match” on the Bluegreen’s Web site, but they’re used — and a specific match — within the ads on the other Web sites, yet Bluegreen ranks first.

The most interesting part though is that Google shouldn’t be able to give attribution to the Web site being linked from these ads. The Overture/Google domains that traffic is directed to first, before being redirected to the destination site, have a robots disallow command in place in the robots.txt files. So once the spider hits the site, it should leave and not follow the redirection of the link, if they are abiding by the robots directive.

This method has been condoned by Google as a method of not passing link value (and as a way to link via paid links responsibly). But it would seem that Google is indeed crawling through the redirection and passing the value of that text to the target URL.

It would seem that although Google has made strides in JavaScript, there have been unintended consequences. Now, everyone shouldn’t go out and optimize their PPC ad titles just because of this phenomenon. My money is on Google correcting this.

It makes you wonder, though, how many more ill effects might be felt in the SEO world if Google can’t effectively crawl JavaScript, AJAX, Flash, etc. We tend to just assume that since its Google, they must be doing it right. Right?

Perhaps Google is telling us that they’re getting more vague in how they follow and rank links, as we just heard from Matt Cutts in regards to their nofollow directive. Is this something that SEOs who “chase the algorithm” are going to be able to handle?

Have you been seeing the same thing? If so, please leave some feedback.

Submissions are now open for the 2009 Search Engine Watch Awards. Enter your company or campaign before July 17, 2009. Winners will be announced at SES San Jose.

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