How is Taboola following Google’s Quality Guidelines?
As an element on publisher’s web-pages, Taboola aims to comply with web standards in general, and Google’s webmaster policies specifically. Taboola is using varied technical solutions in order to seamlessly appear on the publisher’s web-page, while upholding those standards and policies.
Taboola is taking a stringent approach when it comes to upholding Google’s webmaster guidelines, especially when it comes to web quality concerns. Addressed below are selected frequently-raised concerns regarding compliance with Google’s quality standards, and how Taboola makes sure those standards are being followed.
Addressing Hidden Content & Links Concerns
As far as SEO is concerned, hidden content can be defined in several ways:
- Content that exists solely for search engines rather than visitors.
- Content that exists solely for visitors rather than search engines.
- Content that is visible to both visitors and search engines, but requires an interaction in order to appear.
In its Quality Guidelines, specifically under “hidden text and links”, Google addresses hidden content as a possible violation of their policies. Google offers several examples of manipulative ways to hide content on a page:
- Using white text on a white background
- Locating text behind an image
- Using CSS to position text off-screen
- Setting the font size to 0
- Hiding a link by only linking one small character—for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph
While some of Taboola’s products will sometimes hide certain page elements behind a user interaction - like the footer in the case of the Taboola Feed, or some parts of the article in the case of the “Read More” feature, Taboola’s interaction with the publisher’s web-page doesn’t hide any of the publisher’s content using underhanded and manipulative tactics, as detailed in Google’s policy.
In addition, Google offers the following advice on how to discern if content is to be considered hidden in a way that violates their guidelines:
“Not all hidden text is considered deceptive… When evaluating your site to see if it includes hidden text or links, look for anything that's not easily viewable by visitors of your site. Are any text or links there solely for search engines rather than visitors?”.
Breaking that statement down, in order to evaluate whether or not content is considered to be deceptively hidden, you will need to look for:
- Content that is not easily viewable by visitors of your site.
- Content (text or links) that exists only for search engines.
Taboola’s content recommendations meet both of these conditions.
- Taboola’s content recommendations are easily discernible by visitors, as they are also mostly aimed to benefit users in the first place.
- In addition, since Google cannot “see” Taboola’s recommendations (following Google’s sponsored policies and paid links guidelines), it doesn’t exist only for search engines.
Addressing Cloaking Concerns
In its Quality Guidelines, Google defines cloaking as “The practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines. Cloaking is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines because it provides our users with different results than they expected.”.
Cloaking can thus be broken down into two parts:
- Presenting different content or URLs to Google and users
- Presenting users with different results that don’t meet expectations
In order to understand how to investigate cloaking claims, one has to understand first how Google classifies a webpage’s content.
In their Quality Raters Guidelines (p. 10-11), Google classifies content on a webpage into three content categories:
- Main Content (MC) - Main Content is any part of the page that directly helps the page achieve its purpose. Webmasters directly control the MC of the page (except for user-generated content). MC can be text, images, videos, page features (e.g., calculators, games), or it can be user-generated content such as videos, reviews, articles, etc. that users have added or uploaded to the page. Note that tabs on some pages lead to even more information (e.g., customer reviews) and can sometimes be considered part of the MC of the page.
- Supplementary Content (SC) - Supplementary Content contributes to a good user experience on the page, but does not directly help the page achieve its purpose. SC is controlled by webmasters and is an important part of the user experience. One common type of SC is navigation links that allow users to visit other parts of the website. Note that in some cases, content behind tabs may be considered part of the SC of the page. Sometimes the easiest way to identify SC is to look for the parts of the page that are not MC or Ads.
- Advertisements/Monetization (Ads) - Without advertising and monetization, some webpages could not exist because it costs money to maintain a website and create high quality content. The presence or absence of Ads is not by itself a reason for a High or Low quality rating... Ads may be labeled as "ads," "sponsored links," “sponsored listings,” “sponsored results,” etc. Usually, you can click on the links or mouse over the content to determine whether they are Ads, as they often refer to a URL outside of that website. Ads may change when you reload the page, and different users may see different Ads on the same page.
Presenting different content or URLs to Google and users - Taboola doesn’t alter the page’s main content or URLs. The pages that host Taboola’s recommendations retain their original URLs and content. The same HTML and URL is served for both users and search engines regardless of Taboola recommendations appearing on the webpage.
Presenting users with different results that don’t meet expectations - Taboola’s recommendations aren't considered to be a part of the main content, and thus they aren’t considered in the scope of user expectations. User expectations are reviewed in the scope of the main content, as stated in Google’s Quality Raters Guideline (p. 10-12).
“In order to understand the purpose of a webpage... you will need to be able to distinguish among these different parts of the page... (p. 10) …”The quality of the MC plays a very large role in the Page Quality rating of a webpage. (p. 12).
Since Taboola doesn’t affect the main content of the page, it also doesn’t impact users’ expectations of the page.
Isn’t showing Taboola’s recommendations only to users may also be considered cloaking?
Since Taboola’s content recommendations are not being rendered by search engines, it may raise some concerns that it is considered to be cloaking.
But it is not considered cloaking, due to two main reasons:
- The way Taboola is blocking access to its content follows Google’s sponsored content policies.
- There is no intent in manipulating rankings, as the links to the recommendations are prevented from passing any PageRank.
Addressing Sneaky Redirects Concerns
In its Quality Guidelines, Google defines “sneaky redirects” as the practice of redirecting a user to “a different page with the intent to display content other than what was made available to the search engine crawler. Like cloaking, this practice is deceptive because it attempts to display different content to users and to Googlebot, and can take a visitor somewhere other than where they expected to go.”.
When a user clicks on a Taboola recommendation, Taboola does temporarily redirect the user via a 302 redirect through an intermediate sub-domain: trc.taboola.com.
However, this is not a reason for concern, as it does not violate Google’s policy regarding redirects, for several reasons:
- It aligns with Google’s paid links policies, in which Google actively recommends redirecting sponsored content via an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file.
- The purpose of the redirects is purely technical in order to align with Google’s sponsored links policy mentioned above. It does not carry any intention of manipulating the search engine’s ranking algorithm. In addition, all links to the redirected pages are marked with a “nofollow” rel attribute, to prevent the passage of PageRank.
- The redirect’s goal is not to attempt to display different content to users and to Googlebot. The final landing page the user reaches is the same page that they expected to arrive at. The redirect only functions as a temporary step in the user’s journey to the expected destination.
Addressing Link Schemes Concerns
In its Quality Guidelines, Google defines “link schemes” as any behavior that “manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site”.
Google provides both examples and solutions to help site owners to properly align with their quality standards regarding links.
Google provides the following examples for links schemes:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes:
- Exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links
- Exchanging goods or services for links
- Sending someone a "free" product in exchange for them writing it and including a link
- Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.
- Requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service, contract, or similar arrangement without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of qualifying the outbound link, should they wish.
- Unnatural links (links that weren't editorially placed or vouched for by the site's owner on a page), such as:
- Text advertisements that pass PageRank.
- Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank.
- Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
- Low-quality directory or bookmark site links.
- Keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites.
- Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites.
- Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature
Google clearly states that as long as the links doesn’t pass PageRank to the buyer of the ad, ad links won’t violate their guidelines.
“As long as you don't pass PageRank to the buyer of the ad, your pay-per-click (PPC) advertising links won't violate our guidelines. You can prevent PageRank from passing in several ways, such as:
- Indicating the link is sponsored adding a qualifying attribute to the <a> tag
- Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file
Taboola is actively practicing both of those methods to prevent the passage of PageRank.
- All of Taboola’s content recommendation links indicate their sponsored nature by using both the “nofollow” and “sponsored” <a> tag attributes.
- Taboola is redirecting the links to its content recommendations through an intermediate page (trc.taboola.com) that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file.