Google JavaScript Changes Put Publishers in Violation of Sponsored Link Guidelines

Last week at the Google I/O developer conference it was announced that Google is now able to execute JavaScript onClick events, which basically means that links in JavaScript that were previously inaccessible can now be read and pass PageRank. Vanessa Fox did an extensive write-up for Search Engine Land that covers the changes in detail.

While it’s good news that Google is continuing to improve its ability to deal with JavaScript this change also impacts the way that many publishers display sponsored links on their sites. In addition to the nofollow attribute using JavaScript has long been a popular way to ensure that sponsored links adhere to Google’s guidelines by making them inaccessible to crawlers, as seen in this example:

sponsored links in JavaScript

To be clear, selling sponsored links is a perfectly legitimate business practice and an important part of most publishers’ advertising sales strategy. What Google doesn’t want is for those links to have SEO value which is why their guidelines dictate that paid links are coded in a way that they will not pass PageRank.

Previously, sponsored links in JavaScript such as those in the example above could not be read by crawlers and thus were in compliance with Google’s guidelines. Now those same links can potentially be read and pass PageRank, which means they are technically violating the rules.

Is Google going to run out and start penalizing sites with sponsored links in JavaScript? I can’t imagine they would, especially when virtually no one outside of the developer and SEO communities is even aware that this change has taken place.

That said, there are some simple ways to ensure that JavaScript links do adhere to Google’s guidelines so it’s best to address this now and ensure that your site is in compliance. It can be done by redirecting the sponsored links to an intermediate page that is blocked via robots.txt or by applying the nofollow attribute to the JavaScript links (see the Vanessa Fox writeup as well as the second half of this article in SEL for more detail).

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