Would Google Offer Embedded Search Links to Site Owners?

There are a number of advertising services on the Web that offer contextual search link sevices, which identify terms on a site and embed links within them pointing to advertisers’ pages. A Google patent granted earlier this week describes a way that web site publishers could identify parts of their pages that they would allow links on from Google, which would point to Google search results pages.

This system could be set up so that if someone clicks on one of those links, and chooses an advertisment, the owner of the page the link appears upon might receive compensation based upon the visitor’s click.

The patent is:

Method and system for dynamically generating search links embedded in content
Invented by Jeffrey Kenn Eddings, John Fu, and Grace Kwak
Assigned to Google Inc.
US Patent 7,788,245
Granted August 31, 2010
Filed: June 16, 2005

Abstract

A search engine link provider receives content of a document from a remote computer. Topics for the content are identified and search terms are generated based on the topics. Search engine links are generated based on the search terms.

The search engine links are embedded into the content for matches within the content to the search terms. Selection of a search engine link by a user initiates a search for the search term associated with the search engine link.

The page owner might mark certain parts of a page as available for receiving embedded search-engine links. On a page that includes a text article, a navigation bars, sidebars and a footer section, for instance, those tags might be set up only to mark the article as the section that should have search-engine links embedded within it. Or the page could be marked so that links could be placed in the whole document.

Alternatively, tags could be used to negatively designate certain parts of a page that links shouldn’t show up in, such as an author description or a copyright notice

There may also be a way for a site owner to tell the search engine not to embed links that cover certain topics or terms, such as particular sensitive or negative topics, or terms that might be related to the page’s competitors. This might be set up either on the page or in a separate file which would be referenced in the document.

The patent says that pages that allow embedding of search engine links might be identified by Google when it crawls the Web, but I think it’s more likely that anyone who wants to participate in this would signup for it, like they would to participate in Google’s Adsense.

If Google finds a page that allows such embedding, it might analyze the content of the page to identify terms on the page that are appropriate for embedded links, using techniques such as keyword extraction and frequency analysis. It might look at the text on a page, as well as images, audio, and video. For example, if the text on a page is about a pet show, and mentions dogs and cats, and has a number of images of dogs and cats, the links generated for the page might involve pets, dogs, and cats.

If only a portion of a page has been designated by the page author as being open to having embedded links, the search engine might still look at the other sections of the page to determine which topics and terms are appropriate for those links.

The generated search terms might include terms that appear in the content of the page, and terms that don’t. So, the page about cats and dogs might include search terms related to specific breeds mentioned on the page, and it may include links to things like “dog food,” which may not have been specifically included within the content of the page.

The links would lead to Google search results, which could include advertisements and news items.

Embedded links may include an information box that appears above the link when you hover over it, and tells you more information about the link.

Conclusion

This patent was originally filed back in 2005, and I’m a little curious if Google might feel differently about embedded links like this that might be seen as a way for site owners to make money off advertising.

I really can’t see myself including embedded links on my site in a manner like this, unless I could limit the search results that were shown in some way, perhaps tying them to a site search through Google Custom Search.

Like any process described in a patent, it’s possible that Google might decide not to offer this technology.

But if they did, would you let Google embed search-engine links into the content of your pages?

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38 thoughts on “Would Google Offer Embedded Search Links to Site Owners?”

  1. Howdy Bill,

    I think a really interesting application for this type of technology would be Wikipedia! I could see Google adding them to the top vertical bar next to “news”; and in return, I could also see Wikipedia enrolling in the Google Content links.

    I think both instances would lead to improved user experiences. Do you think that scenario is even plausible?

  2. This sounds like the [[bracket]] type linking that some sites employ. They work more like tags than regular links.

    I hope and I doubt that Google will use the horrible and not so user friendly hover aspect that seems to ruin the flow of reading content. I like to use the cursor to guide my eyes as I read text on the web and when I hit one of those hover pop-up things it’s frustrating. This is just not a good idea and I definitely would not use it.

  3. Very interesting stuff Bill… reminds me of another recent award (second time out, firs was filed in 04)

    http://appft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO2&Sect2=HITOFF&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsearch-bool.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&co1=AND&d=PG01&s1=20100153422.PGNR.&OS=DN/20100153422RS=DN/20100153422

    That one was updated this year… makes one wonder what they were thinking about with all of this. Done via toolbar? Were they thinking of an editor/cms at one point? Hosted content? Or was it just for use with Google properties? Hard to tell….

    All in all, an interesting approach that rasies the curiosity. Luv those…

  4. Absolutely! I’m seeing this on forums now and it’s really confusing for me to tell which are links dropped by the author of the thread vs. those generated dynamically. On web 2.0 sites (think Squidoo), this sort of thing has been going on for quite awhile. I’m pretty sure Google will offer this to their publishers at some point in the future. Although, it may be only available to sites who really have a lot of authority already in place (E-how, wikipedia, etc).

  5. I agree with James – I hate those hover text ads. Apart from being annoying – they never seem to be relevant either. If the Google link appeared as a standard link without JavaScript (like a AdSense or AdWords link?) I guess it would do quite well for Google, as it wouldn’t look like a paid link or quite as suspicious. I’m guessing they would have problems with tracking it like this. I’m sure affiliate sites that are strong on content and visitors would be interested in implementing this as a publisher. From an SEO perspective would it be classed as another outbound link or hidden from the source code… added dynamically once the page has loaded?

  6. Hi Rosenstand,

    I’m not sure that I like the idea much either. As I mentioned in my conclusion, the only way that I would consider something like this might be as part of a custom site search that only included pages from my own site.

    Google is going to have a presentation later this week where they are supposedly going to make some announcements regarding future features they may offer. Don’t know if this is going to be one of them.

  7. Hi Donnie,

    I’m not sure if wikipedia would do this. Many of the pages of wikipedia do a pretty good job of including links to other wikipedia pages when specific people, places, and things are mentioned, and they also do a decent job of providing categories for articles there.

    Wikipedia seems to have a past adversion to advertising in the form of things like adsense. To some degree these embedded search links would be a method of advertising in that if they included these links and people clicked upon them, and then choose one of the ads in the search results, wikipedia would be entitled to some percentage of that ad revenue.

    It’s possible that Google could potentially offer embedded links like this on Google Knol pages.

  8. Hi James,

    There is an element of “tags” to this approach. The links wouldn’t go directly to a specific advertiser or information site, but rather to Google search results. But unlike tags that website publishers put on their own pages, Google would be deciding which words to embed links with.

    I don’t like those hover type overlays in a number of places that I’ve seen them before, like the Snap thumbnails – I really don’t like it when I’m moving my cursor while reading and those pop up and obscure what I am trying to read. I would hope that if they do decide to embed links like this that they make it easy for visitors to a page to identify them as different from the links that the author of a page might have included on that page.

  9. Hi Brent,

    Where I’ve noticed links from contextual advertisers, they’ve often used double underlines to distinquish those from links that an author might have left. I do agree though – I’d like to be able to tell the difference between the two.

    I would guess that if Google offered something like this, they might apply the same kind of filtering of who could use it, and who couldn’t in a similar way to how they offer adsense to sites.

  10. Hi Dave,

    It’s funny but when I read the title of this patent, the one that you link to in your comment was the first thing that I thought of.

    This patent does mention that they could also modify what a page looks like on the client side, which might be possible if Google had its own browser, which it now does with Chrome.

  11. Hi Matt,

    Good points and questions.

    How would the FTC look at embedded links like these if part of the point behind them was to get people to click on ads in the search results that they point to? How does the FTC look at embedded contextual links that are ads from other companies? I’m not sure.

    Affilite sites with strong content could potentially do well, but they might have to consider if they were better off sending people off their pages through links like these or through their own affiliate links.

    From an SEO perspective, I don’t think that search engines would consider these search result embedded links at links to consider in ranking pages since they would point to Google search results pages. And I don’t think that search engines would consider the existence of those links on a page when ranking it.

  12. I’m sure they would, but surely the reason they don’t let adwords users hide the links, is so a reader has a fair chance of staying on the page and not being redirected to another, so surely this would negate that whole policy too

  13. I cannot see using this feature for my small e-commerce site. My head says this would take a fair amount of work to understand, setup, and monitor. If my head is correct (who knows the answer to that one), then that much work would exclude small sites.

  14. If Google does offer this sort of inline sponsored links I couldn’t imagine it being particularly useful to the average site. The site would need to have regular visitors and reasonably varied content. I don’t expect businesses to sign up for it but I’m thinking that a blog or review site could use it as a way to cover running costs.

  15. Jeff Eddings was working for the Google AdSense team at the time this patent was filed. I believe the patent applies to the evolution of AdSense technology and probably nothing more.

  16. I don’t think many people would want this since their competition would then be visible on their website, wouldn’t it? Or am I getting this wrong?

    I mean obviously if you have a regular, non-business website it might not bother you – but otherwise I could see it being problematic.

  17. “I don’t think many people would want this since their competition would then be visible on their website, wouldn’t it? Or am I getting this wrong?”

    A-D-S-E-N-S-E

  18. Hi Steve,

    I think I would expect that most people who are considering clicking on a link might realize that they are going to leave the page that they are presently on. I’m wondering though, if the reason why Google says they might show some kind of popup with more information about one of these links is to provide the kind of warning that you’re suggesting.

  19. Hi Ray,

    I think you’re right that these might not be ideal for every site. If you have a website where you’re hoping that visitors take some kind of action, like sign up for a newsletter, or purchase something, or contact you about a service of some type, it’s often a good idea not to also include some kind of alternative path for those visitors to follow, like including adsense advertising. Those can both be a distraction and a way of keeping your visitors from making the kind of conversion that you’re hoping for.

    But if one of the intentions behind your site is to not only inform, but also possible make some money from advertising, then these kinds of embedded links might make some sense.

  20. Hi Allen,

    I agree. If embedded links like this might distract your customers from the products that you offer on your pages, then they probably won’t be a good fit for your pages. That doesn’t mean that they might not be helpful to owners of sites that are more informational in nature, whether non-commmercial, or interested in possible advertising dollar.s

  21. Hi Michael,

    Nice background information on Jeff Eddings. Now if Ramanathan V. Guha’s name was on the patent filing, I’d have more hope in seeing something like this used as part of custom search from Google since he’s one of the main inventors in that area from Google.

  22. Hi Andrew,

    A very good point, and one that really isn’t addressed in the patent filing in any way.

    I do think there’s a point where too many links can make the content of a page unreadable. The patent doesn’t really describe how they would try to address that problem, not detail how they would avoid putting too many embedded links in any one section of a page.

  23. Hi Jernej

    These links wouldn’t go directly to other sites, including competitors’ sites, but would rather go to search results from Google. Now it’s a very real possibility that competitors might be listed in those search results, especially since the topics chosen for the search results would be relate to what you’ve written about on your pages.

  24. Hi Michael,

    The similarities between this and Adsense even come down to the ability to tell Google not to cover certain topics, including ones that might be more likely to lead to results that include competitors, much in the same way that you can tell Adsense not to show advertising from certain sites.

  25. I think its possible that Google may not link to search results but instead display series of ads like it does with Google link unit in adsense.

    But taking them to Google results page will not be something I would opt for on my blog personally. I personally limit the amount of out bound links on my posts. I don’t want any unnecessary links appearing in my posts.

    I am an adsense user if they do come up with this one in near future, I won’t use it.

  26. Hi chakkravarthi,

    But that would end up being just a set of link text ads, which this patent just really doesn’t cover.

    I imagine that if Google did decide to make this available, that there would be people who would use it.

  27. So this is basically like Adsense’s link units except instead of showing only sponsored results on the next page it shows them regularly? Interesting, I’m interested in knowing what kind of revenue this could bring in. Also, just a suggestion, but I think you should write a post on Google’s new instant search, that will surely effect SEO, right?

  28. If I was looking to monetize a site I would certainly consider it as an alternative to AdSense, but for me affiliate marketing produces much better results, so payout rates would need to be convincing.

  29. Hi Chad,

    The links would be text based links, but they would be in the content of the page they appear upon, and if you click upon them, you wouldn’t go to an advertiser’s landing page, but rather to a set of Google search results which may or may not include sponsored ads.

    I have written a number of posts on the predictive search results that you see under a search box, including one from 2005 that describes how Google might change the search results as you type as well. I have been thinking about a post on Google Instant, and have identified a few significant changes that I really haven’t seen anyone write about yet. I probably need to do a little more testing before writing that post.

  30. Hi Steve,

    I’ve been thinking about your comment and wondering if these kinds of embedded links would possibly harm affiliate marketing practices or act as a complimentary alternative for people who might be less inclined to click on affiliate links, but willing to click upon Google links that provide them with search results. Under the right circumstances, that might be a possibility. I guess the only way to find out is to test.

  31. If I as a web publisher sell text links to third parties outside of google and google becomes aware of it, they will penalize my site. Now it appears google is about to engage in conduct which they themselves discourage third parties from doing. If google enters the contextual link game, then their activities in search engine optimization appear to be anticompetitive vis a vis the market for text links.

  32. Hi jjray7,

    Google isn’t against paid links themselves, but rather is against paid links that aren’t clearly marked in some machine readable fashion such as using a rel=”nofollows” in a link. They aren’t going to pass along PageRank to search results pages.

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