What’s on your feet matters.
Whether you’re wearing a crisp pair of street sneaks or shiny, polished dress shoes, what’s on your feet completes your look—or destroys it.
Not that I really know anything about shoes.
The thing is, you don’t need any fashion sense to know the same rule applies to your website and its footer.
The footer is an ideal place to toss in vital information about your website.
You can add terms of service, copyright information, FTC disclosures, a shout-out to your web designer and even a well-placed link or two.
The Question of Footer Backlinks: Yay or Nay?
If you want to do linking the right way, the best idea is to have a clear-cut linking strategy so you don’t go astray.
You need to know what kind of links can be valuable and what can damage your site in Google’s eyes (meaning: you get a nasty Google penalty).
More than anything, you need to be aware of the paths that you’re creating for website visitors. When you add a link somewhere, you’re sending visitors out to other pages or websites—where are you sending them and why?
Your own SEO and business goals need to be the core of this strategy. That’s why you’re thinking so hard about footer backlinks in the first place, right?
The case of the web designer backlink
The big question, when it comes to footer backlinks, usually has to do with your web designer. Is it alright to let them add a backlink to their own professional website or portfolio in your footer?
It seems to be common practice, but it still raises an eyebrow or two.
You might even be a web designer yourself, wondering whether it’s alright for you to add a backlink in your client’s website footer or not. After all, you’ve designed the page and would like credit for your work. It only seems fair.
And a footer backlink scores you a valuable sitewide link.
Plus, it isn’t all too rare to find websites that have sitewide footer links appearing on every page.
Will a footer backlink hurt your client’s site? Is there a way to make it safer? Do you even need to tell your client you’re adding your backlink?
Let’s answer these questions once and for all.
Footer Backlinks: Everything You and Your Web Designer Need to Know
Are Sitewide Footer Backlinks Good?
For starters, you should know that there are four main types of links, those being:
- nofollow external
- nofollow internal
- dofollow internal
- dofollow external
Internal links are ones that go between pages on the same website. External links send site visitors out to other websites. Nofollow links don’t pass link juice—and avoid any potential penalties—while dofollow links pass all their SEO power.
Dofollow external backlinks in footers can have big SEO value because they appear on every single page of a site—they’re sitewide.
The problem with sitewide backlinks of any kind, including footer backlinks, is that it’s easy for them to be seen as a bad or spammy approach. People have abused them to obtain their SEO power over the years, and Google is wise to the game.
As we know, the algorithms for all big search engines, the most popular one being Google, are constantly evolving in order to create the best quality and experience for their users.
This means that they’re very good at recognizing the difference between natural links and forced ones.
Which is why you need to know how to use any link, including those footer backlinks, properly.
Why Did Footer Backlinks Become Worthy of Google Penalties?
The fact about every search engine is that the people behind it attempt to provide their users (those searching for information) with the best quality results. This means that the links that appear in the results should be as natural and relevant as possible.
Therefore, if you’ve built your backlinks in a way that the search engine’s algorithm deems unnatural, underhanded or pattern-like, your website is bound to get penalized. They don’t want their searchers to stumble across spammy, poor-quality sites that don’t deliver the information they’re searching for.
For example, there’s an obvious pattern in having multiple backlinks with the same anchor text. If you have 100 backlinks and 99 have the exact same term, such as “best online pet store toys food,” as their anchor text, they’re going to think that something is up.
In the case that the sitewide footer link you’re placing is on a big website with many pages, you’ll end up with a huge amount of backlinks that have an identical anchor text—after all, that backlink of yours will be present on every single page where that website has the footer present.
This is the danger of footer backlinks. As you can assume from what we’ve discussed thus far, this isn’t the way to go.
Why the Nofollow Attribute Can Help with Footer Backlinks
What the nofollow attribute is all about
For as long as backlinks have been a ranking signal for Google, link spamming has existed right alongside them.
Back in the day, it was a common black hat SEO trick to make use of blog comments as a way to throw in links that have a high PageRank and lead back to their websites.
In 2005, Google came up with the nofollow attribute.
So, if you tagged your link with nofollow, it would no longer be visible to search engines. While it would, of course, remain active, the link “juice” would no longer be passed from one site to another.
When Google’s Penguin update was introduced in April 2012, the role of the nofollow tag became more important, in order to protect sites from accidentally getting themselves in trouble by linking out to the wrong sites.
A lot of people in the SEO field became paranoid about their rankings. Due to this paranoia, the nofollow tag was added to all outbound links on many, many sites.
Today, almost everyone knows how nofollow came to be, but there’s still a large number of people who have no idea when they should and when they shouldn’t use it.
How nofollow helps your footer backlinks
If you think that it’s really necessary to use a sitewide backlink, like a footer backlink, the best idea is to tag it with a nofollow attribute. Just to play it safe.
It tells Google not to pay attention to your hyperlink, turning your action into a white hat effort. However, if you simply must have a home page dofollow link with the intention of passing the link juice, you need to be very careful.
Generally, a dofollow link to your business or domain name (e.g., “Joe Smith Web Design”) shouldn’t be a problem. The problem arises when the anchor text is complicated and rich with keywords (e.g.,”best web design freelance business hire”) which makes it look very unnatural in the end.
Other Considerations When Adding Footer Backlinks
The trouble with link exchanges
Exchanged links, added with the goal to achieve something for both parties, are often considered unnatural, especially if the two sites are unrelated thematically.
If you designed a website about organic baby food, added a link to your design site in the footer, and then added a link back to the baby food site from your professional design website linked in the footer, this could look bad to Google but it will probably slip by unnoticed—it’s just one link.
If you do this on hundreds of thematically-diverse websites that you design, this could be the perfect storm to cause a Google flagging.
Branded anchor text
When it comes to brand anchored footer links, you should generally be careful. The link may look like something that the webmaster has put there with an intention instead of a natural editorial link, then it might easily end up being seen as spam.
Google has pointed out that linking your brand name is generally an okay practice and doesn’t require a nofollow tag. But if your branded anchor text looks manipulative, like, for example, “Cheap SEO Consulting Toronto,” a nofollow tag is the best way to go.
Consider your brand name and how spammy it might look to the outside world. For a normal brand name that doesn’t look like a string of keywords, you should be fine.
Asking permission to add footer backlinks
Any experienced web design company will tell you that placing “design by” footer links in your clients’ websites, as a way to forward PR to your site, is something that you need to make sure that the people you’re doing it for are aware of.
Unfortunately, there’s a large number of companies that tend to hide the link in the footer or find another way to conceal it.
You don’t want to be that person.
If you want to advertise this way via your client’s website, you need to make sure that the link is tagged as nofollow, and that people can click on it and be fully aware of where it leads to so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to click.
Putting a dofollow link there without your client’s knowledge is basically a manipulative way of gaining link juice, which neither the people nor the search engines appreciate.
Therefore, you need to make the client aware that the link is there for your own advertising purposes. Tagging it with a nofollow attribute makes it valuable anyway, because people can still find your site and learn about what you have to offer.
The downsides of footer backlinks
Sitewide footer backlinks come with some downsides that you should consider.
First of all, nofollow attribute makes it valuable anyway is the one with the anchor text that matters the most. So, when it comes to footer links, no matter how well you optimize them, they’ll come second in line and have less of an impact.
Furthermore, since such links are the least visible on your page, they don’t get a lot of traffic. Basically, they have a low click-through rate and don’t affect SEO like some other aspects of your web pages.
Finally, there’s the problem that they tend to go beyond what’s considered a healthy link total. If you have a page that already has about 80 to 100 links, having even more embedded links in the footer will lower the value of every individual link.
Basically, the best approach to sitewide footer backlinks is to be ethical when it comes to SEO efforts.
Avoid dofollow links with keyword-rich anchor text at all cost.
Linking to your brand name is fine unless it can be seen as a keyword itself.
Finally, ask permission from the webmaster. Make sure that the owner of the website is not only aware that your link is there, but that they approve of you adding it.
To sum it up, if you’re following the rules, and not being manipulative, you should be fine.
Ronald is a business consultant for small Sydney-based web design companies, recently he and a couple of his friends started a website on which he works as the head writer, on his free days he likes to read books and walk his dogs.