The bargain implicit between webmaster and widget maker is as follows: webmasters get a plug-and-play solution to provide their visitors dynamic content or specialized functionality, while the widget maker in return reaches a broader audience and extends its brand.

The seventh most popular travel website in France, VoyagerMoinsCher.com (VMC), goes one step further and uses these embeddable chunks of code not just to achieve a persistent presence online but as linkbait, whereby their widget contains a link with specific anchor text back to VMC to help boost their natural search visibility. The widget that VMC’s links are found beneath, however, is not their own.

VMC piggybacks off the widgets of PriceMinister, the second most popular online retailer in France, who offers them to webmasters as a way to sell products. “This is the most effective way to drive up sales. So make good use of it, and without moderation!” encourages PriceMinister. Little do the webmasters know that they also happen to be driving up sales for VMC.

The set-it-and-forget-it nature of widgets not only makes them so popular, but doubles as cover for link building. With minimal cost VMC has been able to build one-way backlinks with anchor text like “Croisière Egypte”, “Voyages Mexique”, and “Hotel Pas Cher” to the relevant landing pages on their own site. VMC ranks on the first page of Google France for those and other high-volume travel keywords thanks in part to PriceMinister’s widgets.

VoyagerMoinsCher.com link on PriceMinister widget

VoyagerMoinsCher.com surreptitiously builds links by piggybacking off the widgets of PriceMinister.

VMC was acquired by PriceMinister in 2007, which is likely when this widget arrangement got started, and later PriceMinister was acquired by Japanese e-commerce conglomerate Rakuten in 2010. As VMC’s customer acquisition funnel depends on its rankings in search engines (only 6% of French travellers book their trips completely offline), it’s a high risk, high reward strategy employing widget linkbait to maintain those rankings. Matt Cutts, head of search quality at Google, explains how his team evaluates widget linkbait in an interview with Eric Enge and in an interview with BlueGlass (below) sums up his take on widgetbait as “You want those links to be editorial. You want real people linking to real stuff, not just ‘Oh, I copied and pasted some HTML code and didn’t even know I was getting links embedded in it.’”

VMC is in a blurry grey area in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Its link beneath the Priceminister widget isn’t completely hidden and isn’t a paid link (they’re the same company, afterall), but the link does point to a page on an unrelated 3rd-party domain, is not editorially given, and the anchor text unnatural. While such a strategy keeps customer acquisition spending down, VMC also raises the risk of Google saying au revoir to their rankings.

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Weighing the Risks, Rewards of VoyagerMoinsCher.com’s Widget Strategy