LINKS IN FOOTER SEO

Matthew Carter
Hello friends, my name is Matthew Carter. I’m a professional link builder for a large SEO agency in New York City.

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Every WordPress-powered site that doesn’t have a custom design uses a theme. Those themes almost always have a credit to the author of the theme down at the bottom, right? For example, one of the themes by ElegantThemes in a live demo, if you scroll all the way down, you see “Designed by Elegant Themes, Powered by WordPress” , with both Elegant Themes and WordPress linked.

This is where the question arises: do those links count for SEO, and do they do it in a positive way or a negative way?

Influence is proportional to the existing value of the site. A small, brand new blog isn’t going to give much value to any site it links to. A huge site like Forbes is going to give a ton of value to any site it links to.

If you determine that Page C is low quality and you don’t want it getting your link juice, you can nofollow it. The result is that your page links to pages A, B, and C. A and B both get 33% of your link juice, and C gets nothing. The remaining 33% of the link juice just goes nowhere.

Consider setting open in new window functionality. One way that these site links can hurt you is through your increased bounce rate. If a user lands on your page and decides they want to click a link in your header, that link can lead them away and is basically a bounce for your site. By making it open in a new window or tab (using target=”_blank” ) can help with this problem by keeping the window with your site open.

What Google Says.

Page 1 links to Page A, Page B, and Page C. 33% of link juice flows to A, to B, and to C. If all three are followed links, all three get 33% of the link juice and the corresponding boost to SEO.

Determine if the link is valuable. The second judgment you need to make is whether or not the link is important enough to keep its position. Links to off-site CTAs, links to networked sites, and other links that are valuable for the business or for the user are often fine, though they might need to be nofollowed. Links to random “friends of the site” are much less valuable to both Google and the user, and should definitely be nofollowed, if not removed entirely. Remember: the more value it has to a user, the more likely it is to be safe.

The way links work, any time you link to a site from your site, that destination site gains a little bit of your SEO value. Conversely, any site that links to you gives you a bit of their SEO value. This “link juice” is the core of how Google’s algorithm analyzes the web and ranks sites, though there are well over 200 other factors that contribute to this algorithm.

“Sitewide header and footer links are not a very great weight in general.” – Source.

Thus, Google must make an exception for these kinds of links. And, indeed, they do… somewhat. Here’s what Google has to say, at least as of a couple of years ago.

This is bad in part because it has been used as a spam technique in the past. It has been used willingly as part of link wheels and private blog networks. It has also been used unwillingly, when hackers would compromise a site but do nothing other than adding their link to site-wide navigation, often hidden in a way that makes it give SEO value without being visible to users. These are both spam and both will give the linking site a search penalty.

One of the reasons these links are generally low value or even ignored is that, in the past, they were abused. Here’s something you might never have thought of, but which happened years ago.

Now, one thing to mention here is that links from web hosts or registrars are, usually, considered part of the “spammy free host” SEO attribute and can penalize your site. Free web hosts used to do this to get free advertising, but it’s now penalized and it’s rare to find a host that still does it.

The exception to the exception is when the site links to the pages in an authoritative way. Facebook won’t give you much value if it’s just some user’s post linking to you, but it will give you a lot if it’s part of the Facebook Newsroom linking to you.

First, Some Examples.

The sponsor here didn’t really contribute much. In fact, you might argue that all they’re doing is paying for a ton of links they didn’t earn. And, indeed, that was the problem and is why Google decided to penalize it.

If you’re a seasoned SEO professional or a novice marketer with a little knowledge of how links work, you’re probably immediately skeptical of these kinds of links. You might, however, intuit that they can’t be too terrible, because they’re pretty common.

If the link is essential, keep it there. Chances are it’s nofollowed by default anyway, and it won’t hurt you.

Determine if the link is essential. Some site-wide links are essential, in that they’re legally mandated to be there. Usually, this is a “credits” link for a platform or designer. WordPress having the “powered by WordPress” link, a site theme mandating their credit like “powered by Elegant Themes”, and occasionally links added by a web host or domain registrar all count for this. If you use the service you need to follow the service’s rules, and if those rules say not to remove the link, don’t remove the link.

The primary solution to most link-based SEO puzzles is simply going to be liberal usage of the rel=”nofollow” attribute.

Google knows that those links exist, and they know that sometimes they’re part of site structure, and sometimes they’re part of webmaster-added advertising. As such, they dialed back their value – both positive and negative – way down low.

Intuition and Inference.

Now let’s add a bit of critical thinking to the situation. Site-wide links are easy to set up and feel like a good idea. If you have a partner site, you want people to know that the partner site exists, so you add it to your site-wide links on a sidebar or in the footer. Google knows that this is a common technique, and they also know that footers are often used to give credit to site designers and architects, platform hosts, or what have you. Every WordPress site that has a “site hosted by WordPress.com” or a “theme by X” link at the bottom would be hurting itself if these links caused a negative SEO penalty.

If this sounds like a waste, well, it kind of is, and it’s a discouragement from linking to sites that aren’t worth it even if you use nofollow. It’s also a discouragement to keep people from sculpting their SEO flow. You can look up “pagerank sculpting” for more information on that.

The links are not completely worthless. They still pass some link juice. However, that link juice is usually just a very small positive boost. It’s only when there are confounding factors, like the relative value of the sites, that it can be twisted into a negative.

There are exceptions, of course: a site like Facebook or Wikipedia isn’t going to pass much value with links, because users can create those links. You can just go make a Wikipedia account and link to your own site in various pages. Sure, it’s against Wiki rules and those links may be removed, but any that survive would be very valuable. Wikipedia cuts down on value so they aren’t constantly spammed. Facebook doesn’t care, but also doesn’t pass much value, in Google’s algorithm.

Every website has two types of content on each page: the unique content and the site-wide content. Site-wide content is essential for good website design and navigation flow, but with it comes a question: are the links in those places good or bad for SEO?

However, there’s one thing you see on SEO Roundtable that you don’t see on Neil’s site: links to other sites. In particular, they have links to three sites: Rusty Brick, Creative Commons, and YouTube.

If your site has a “powered by WordPress” or “powered by phpBB” or whatever link at the bottom of it, that link isn’t going to hurt you one way or the other. You’re linking to a huge, trusted name. Google and users can rest assured that the destination on the other end is safe and that the link isn’t there as part of some kind of spam campaign. This is broadly true of every “credit to the designer” style link, though some may have less value than others.

Remember, the purpose of footer links should be to help users with navigating around your website.

If you have external footer links pointing to third-party websites, you’ll want to ensure those are websites are related and in the same niche.

Google wants to understand whether you’ve added footer links only for SEO purposes, or if they exist to help the end-users in their navigation process.

The footer of a website serves many purposes, and one of those also directly ties in with your website’s ranking and performance in organic search results.

Let’s take a look at best practices for managing those links when it comes to optimizing for search.

Footer Link Types.

This is an example of a good usage of footer links for SEO:

Footer links are definitely an overlooked factor when it comes to SEO.

Footer links are considered site-wide links, or by another name, boilerplate links.

If for example, you have 100+ footer links set up pointing to different locations throughout the US, you’re probably going to want to switch that strategy up.

If Google determines those links were added to help users navigate your website, they are considered a positive item and Google will crawl those links. If these links are added strictly for SEO purposes, this will be seen as a negative in the eyes of Google and certainly something you want to avoid.

Linking is an important aspect of SEO, as with what you do with the links that are living on your footer.

Striving to become the best possible search marketer on the planet. Passionate about helping B2B and multi-location businesses dominate Google. 12+ years in SEO, 400+ businesses helped 1-on-1, 55 countries visited and 4 languages learned. Creating content based on everything I know to share and help you along your search journey.

You don’t want to add a ton of external links to the footer to all types of different sites, as this will look unnatural.

Above the page there’s already a ton of links from the header and in the actual content (80+).

This is going to devalue the link value that is passed to other pages.

Why do footer links matter?

These types of links are links that appear on nearly every page of a website. These types of links are normally header links, footer links or links that appear on the sides of a website (floating widgets, and so forth).

This is a bad example for the usage of footer links:

Sitewide links are devalued now, and really don’t pass value in terms of link authority.

Internal linking structure is very important for SEO, and also for helping users navigate your website in a natural way.

Generally, it’s fine to include the following types of footer links:

Just remember – you don’t want to go overboard with footer links. If a page already has 70-80 links, you don’t want to have 30+ footer links.

The footer of a website serves a purpose.

External Footer Links.

You’re going to want to add a “nofollow” tag to these external links.

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