Ok, so if you run an agency that services the website needs of a client (web design/dev, SEO, etc.). Then you likely have a great opportunity to build links as you service your clients.
Nothing new here; what I’m talking about are footer links. You’ve seen them I’m sure of it. Visit a few sites and scroll all the way to the bottom and look for something like
Website Design by AwesomeInternetCompany.com
Likely, you’re already implementing them on the sites you service or build for your clients (with their approval, I hope). But let’s take a look at how you can better make use of those links to rank for search terms you’re targeting.
I also want to look at the debate from a few views (of course with my opinion in there) and explore a few warnings/caveats.
we are going to start with the debate because it’s important to understand where people usually stand with this.
The Don’t Do It Crowd
Some pros think that you shouldn’t even do it. Not many, but they are out there. And their reasoning isn’t invalid.
Those guys/gals say that you are placing links on the footers (a place that is justifiably believed to be discounted by Google), which will turn into sitewide links (really known to be discounted by Google), on sites that aren’t likely to be relevant (that plumber’s site you built isn’t really related to website design).
These are all great points, but I think there’s a way to handle it appropriately.
The Do It Too Much Crowd
There is another set of companies/pros that swear by footer links, so much that it is a major part of their link-building campaign. Their reasoning is that it’s a great way to rank for some of the terms you’re having problems with, or build up from scratch.
They usually argue that with enough of the right anchor text, they will rank. Regardless of what Google says (they say this doesn’t work too well), it really does work. But there’s a risk involved, so I think it’s important to handle it with a little more delicacy.
The Me Crowd
Finally, there’s the ‘me’ crowd. We are right in the middle, and because I fall into the ‘me’ crowd, I inherently feel that it’s the most appropriate method of using footer links to gain rankings. I’ll show you how in a bit, but let’s move into the caveates and warnings.
Caveats and Warnings
Before we look at implementing a footer link-building campaign, let’s talk about a few things of which you need to by mindful.
Without going into technical search engine workings details, it is widely known that sitewide/footer links are largely discounted by Google. After years of watching this stuff, it’s known that links in the footer are usually reserved for exactly what we are putting there, and don’t constitute giving too much credit. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
This also falls into the “template algorithm” which is basically Google’s way of saying:
See this set of stuff in the sidebar of this site? That’s the exact same on every single page. It must be a part of the site’s overall template, and not the ‘meaty content’ part. We should sorta move that to the side for a bit and concentrate on discerning the meaty content part.
Another issue you should be wary of is the amount of “SEO anchor text” links you’re getting. This is a tricky topic right now because we see a lot of Google saying stuff like:
Hey, every single link to your site has these set of awesome keywords for the anchor text. This is obviously done on purpose due to your link-building efforts. We can’t just give you tons of link credit for it.
So the thought is that if you have nothing but links with SEO anchor text, then you’ll actually be optimizing your way out of rankings. It doesn’t look natural.
That being said, take a look at your competition, and run a few link scans (I suggest OpenSiteExplorer). If you’re competition is pretty tough, you’re likely to see a lot of “garbage” links to them, all with SEO anchor text. And they rank. Hmmm…
I also see cases where the footer links look something like:
Website Design and SEO and Social Media Monitoring by ShadyInternetCompany.com
Yeah, so don’t do that.
If you’re interested in seeing how we SEOs complain about this stuff (and understand a little more about what the problem is) check the post by Will Reynolds called How Google Makes Liars Out of the Good Guys in SEO.
The thing is, you’ll want to be as conservative as you can with this. I think a mass of SEO anchors will make you rank, but these aren’t stable rankings. Guys like me can take those away within a single contract for a client.
Depending on your situation, you’ll also want to be careful with the number of new links that point to your site in a short amount of time. If you grow by thousands of links overnight (and you aren’t a news site that just broke an incredible story) Google is going to wonder about your methods. Let’s try to fly under the radar.
Let’s Get to the Good Stuff
Ok, warnings and such out of the way, let’s talk about how you should be working those footer links. We will work our way up from scratch.
Usually, this is what I see:
Website Designed by CoolWebCompany.com
That link goes to Cool Web Company’s homepage. This will get you bunches of links from all those clients that you service, and those links will gain value over time (as the site ages, and as your client gets links to their site thus adding that value to your site).
But we should be making a better use of that opportunity to gain links with anchors that we need in order to rank.
So check this one out:
Website Design by Cool Web Company
2 things to note here. First, you can see that we made the “website design” part the link. This tells Google that the linked-to site is about website design. Simple enough. But we did one more thing here as well.
We also changed the domain name mentioned in the footer to the actual company name. The reasoning here is a bit much for just this blog post, but we are basically trying to tie in the association with that link to the actual company name; which is in turn found through our other marketing efforts. It’s a little nit-picky, but every point counts.
That “website design” link will not go to our home page, rather it will go to the page on our site that talks about our website design services, thus improving the rankings for that page (which is what we want).
It will also help to prevent spreading of keyword focus. Having the “website design” link point to the homepage will make it tricky for Google to decide which page should rank; the homepage, or the page that has the title, description and content optimized for the term “website design.”
Seriously, that’s it. Simple enough. But wait, there’s more!
Let’s talk about a few different scenarios to help understand how we should handle this.
Remember that we don’t want our links to grow too quickly.
If you have a few hundred clients from the last several years, and haven’t been placing links to your site on theirs, you might be working on this for a while. You don’t want to shove all those links at once. Instead, make a plan to do so over the next 3 – 6 months. You might feel like you’re only adding one link to one website, but it’s a sitewide link that will appear on all of the pages of a site. Ecommerce clients are especially inflated websites.
If you’re a bit small time (like maybe under 50 clients) you could probably get away with updating this in a shorter period.
Remember that we want our links to look natural.
If you have a few hundred clients from the last several years, and you have been placing links to just your homepage you’ll still want to plan a strategy to implement better anchors; but again you’ll want to do so over a length of time.
Also, you’ll want to mix the anchors up. Not only to get the value passed to certain pages, but also to look as natural as you can.
Consider the following footer links I would place on a client’s website (assuming I offered these services).
Website Design by SEO Factor
SEO Services by SEO Factor
Internet Marketing by SEO Factor
Each of those would go to their respective pages with those super-awesome links. But, I want to make things look natural to Google, so I would also throw a few of these out there.
SEO by SEO Factor (to the homepage, and a little more vague/natural)
Powered by SEO Factor (again to the homepage, with a vague "powered by").
Why? Because we want to keep from bombing Google with those anchors. Again, you’ll probably rank rather well, rather quickly for those terms if you stick to SEO anchors, but again those aren’t stable rankings. Take it nice and slow and reap the benefits for a much longer period of time.
I’ve heard that a ratio of 7:3, non-targetted to targetted is best. I hate to give numbers for this sort of thing (like keyword density or duplicate content issues) but I like that one. It’s pretty safe, and if you have a lot of clients on which to place these links, that 3 part is still going to be pretty big.
On that, you’ll also want to be careful not to cannibalize your keywords. By that I mean, don’t accidently get anchors to a page that would be a better fit to a different page.
Bonus Tip – Remove them
If you’re reading this you likely fall into 1 of 2 types of people.
1. This is pretty new to you, and you are super happy and greatful for the information I just bestowed upon you. To you I say “you’re welcome, and thanks for the kind words.”
2. You knew all about this stuff, and you’re wondering why I made you waste your time reading such a blog post. To that I say “you made it this far before you realized that?” But I also say “here’s a situation in which I’ve had to reverse this method” so you get something out of all this meandering.
Completely Remove Them
This was such a weird situation, but there was one time that I had a large client remove all of the footer links in one action. It was a drastic suggestion (and scary as hell), but 3 months of endlessly pouring over data and implementing solutions that simply didn’t work (and a few nights in which I cried myself to sleep) spawned the idea and I told them to pull the trigger. Remove all the footer links from all their clients’ sites.
We aren’t talking a few sites. We are literally talking a few thousand. Most were really small sites, but 10 page websites multiplied by that many clients…you get the idea.
2 days later I was cussed quite a bit. But I’m patient, I know how this stuff goes. One week later they sent me an unexpected bonus. A big one.
Obviously rankings dropped even more than they had previously (causing them to call on me in the first place). I almost never suggest making such big changes like that. But it was just one of those. A few more days and not only did rankings come back, we were suddenly sitting pretty on some amazing keywords.
We ended up rebuilding footer links somewhere around 4 – 5 months later, but a lot more slowly, and with more attention.
1. These links don’t mean the world, as they are discounted by Google…
2. …At least they are supposed to be, but it’s not always the case
3. Try to match SEO anchor texts to links that point to specific pages…
4. …But remember to mix it up a bit and make it “look natural.”
5. Take your time and build those anchors slowly; make a plan…
6. …But again these aren’t the greatest links in the world, setup a plan, implement, move on. Don’t waste time, just get it going.
Bonus 7. Don’t let this be the only way in which you get links to your site. They aren’t from relevant websites (usually). This should be a small part of your link-building efforts.
And there you have it. But hey, one more thing. This stuff can get tricky and you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot (unless you’re trying to go home for the day, then link all your clients to a porn site).
Either way, if you have any questions get with your SEO. He or she should be able to help you get a plan in place. If you don’t have one, (get ready for a shameless solicitation) I advise on this stuff, and much more when I perform one of my SEO audits.
Oh, alright. I’m also a pretty nice dude, so feel free to contact me if you have a quick question. I can usually help out a bit.