Footer Links: Bad for Google Rankings, Bad for Clients
Google Says it’s Forbidden and it’s Bad for Clients
(So Why are Agencies Still Doing It?)
While working on our own WordPress SEO, we’ve learned that site-wide footer links have always been dicey at best (you know, “Designed by Denver SEO Company” in the footer of a website). They were easy to detect both visually and algorithmically, and like any site-wide link, they generate potentially thousands of inbound links from one IP/Website. In-content links (one or two from a website’s content rather than hundreds in the footer or sidebar) were always more desirable. TastyPlacement.com has many examples of in-content links throughout the site.
Examples of Obvious Footer Links Are Easy to Find
Here’s an example from an Inc. 5000 company that touts its work for the NFL and Canon, with a footer link on a client website bearing the simple-minded anchor text “Website Design”:
The previous example is from an NYC design agency that ranks number 1 for “New York Web Design”.
Does Google Hate Footer Links?
Well, maybe. Google certainly has warned against it. In an October 2012 revision to its webmaster guidelines, Google warned about “[w]idely distributed links in the footers of various sites.” A valuable discussion on Webmaster World regarding footer links followed. Certainly, the use of footer links, especially when used with aggressive anchor text, should be undertaken with caution. Just as certain though is that footer links can still generate strong rankings.
Footer Links and Client Responsibility
There’s another facet though to this question, and that is the question of taking footer links on your clients’ websites. If you are a website designer or an SEO, when you take a footer link on a client website, you doing a few things:
- You are using your superior knowledge of the search algorithms to get a link from someone who trusts you; they might not give the link so willingly if they knew all the facts and consequences.
- You are exposing your own web property to an inbound link that violates Google’s written webmaster guidelines.
- You are exposing your client’s website to a potential Google violation.
- You are taking Page Rank from a client and giving it to yourself.
- You have a more effective and safer alternative, an “About This Site” page or its equivalent–still sorta’ sleazy, but maybe not so obvious.
If you want the possible referral business that a prestige web build might generate, you can always achieve that with a simple text citation, with no link.
I say screw Google and their requirements. If you think a footer link is beneficial to anyone, use it. I see zero problems for a web agency or any other type of service provider to use footer links, as long as they explain to the client what they are for and ask permission. Most clients, assuming you did a good job, will be more than okay with it. To the user, a clickable link is much more user-friendly than a line of text, which is pretty useless. If someone likes the website design, they are going to want to click-through to the agency to find out who’s behind it, not have to copy and paste a line of text into Google.
How do you think Godaddy rose to prominence so quickly in the organic results (before the Danica Patrick campaign)? They were super aggressive with footer links, embedding them in virtually all their products with varying anchor text. This helped them get to the top for a ridiculous amount of competitive phrases. This continues to work through today, and they’re not the only ones taking advantage. Look at companies such as Wix. If you type “website builder” into Google, who do see you at the #1 and #2 spots?
I tend to agree with Alex, I often see great building work that has been carried out locally where the company leaves a sign giving their details for a month or so afterwards – not much difference.
Business needs to generate business, that’s how we work – it’s advertising. We have it set into our terms that we want our link in the footer of client designs, if they wish to protest we will talk, until then it’s part of the deal.
I do both SEO and Web Design and I tend to sit on the fence in regards to the issue of footer links. Are people using this method successfully to rank their website? absolutely. Is it being penalised by Google? Not yet. Could it be a target for the future? Sure. For now I’ve decided to remove mine. I think if you’re going to do it then it should be home page only rel=”nofollow”
I’ve considered doing the “nofollow” thing on those links, but it still hurts the client site. Not as much as a followed link would, but they’d still be leaking pagerank for the benefit of the very company they paid to build the site.
That is true…sends the pagerank down a black hole.