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Sneaky Footer Links and Other Footer Abuses That Google Dislikes

January 16, 2013
             
By

Photo Credit: OnTaskIn my "18 SEO Killers" article from the end of last year, I mentioned footer links as a potential SEO problem. I know this confused many people because I didn't explain what I meant by them. I didn't mean that it's bad to have any links in the footer of your website. But there are many specific types of footer links that Google's Panda/Penguin filters do seem to have a problem with. In fact, it's not always just links in the footer that can cause problems, but abuse of the footer area in general.

Let's face it, most of your site visitors are never going to see stuff that is way, way, way down. Especially when there's some visual indication that the page has ended. When a reasonable person sees your company address, copyright notice, and phone number at the bottom, they assume that's all there is.

Is It for People or Search Engines?

If your pages still have a bunch of stuffed content or links below the normal viewing area, there's a good chance you (or someone on your behalf) placed them there just for search engines. In fact, you probably don't want the visitors to notice what's down there. And who could blame you – most of the time it looks like crap! In fact, back in the old days you probably would have done it invisibly by making the text or links the same color as the background.

But today we all know that blatantly hidden content or links is just asking for trouble. So why don't we think the same way about links and/or text that are so far down the page where most people won't see them? Their specific placement at the bottom is not much different from actually making them invisible. Surely the intent is the same.

I've run across at least 5 footer abuse issues:
  • Content well below the fold.
  • Keyword phrases placed in the footer.
  • Lists of keyword-stuffed links in the footer.
  • Footer links that use different anchor text from the main navigation.
  • Links from other sites' footers.
Let's look at each of these in more detail.

Content Well Below the Fold

This is an old technique usually implemented because the website designer or perhaps the CEO simply doesn't like text on the page. They believe that web pages look more aesthetically pleasing when they're visual. Yet they know search engines need content to provide some context as to what the page is all about so they compromise by putting some way below the fold.

And for many years this seemed to work perfectly fine. The search engines got content and the designers got their fancy-schmancy look. Well, guess what? People like content, too! And Google knows this just as well as you do. So they finally cracked down on pages where the text content was placed where the average person was unlikely to see it. Most of the time when I see this technique being used, the footer content is fairly keyword stuffed. But I believe it may still get discounted because it's way down below the fold, even if it's the best written, most relevant content in the world.

Recommendation: If you've been doing something like this on your site for whatever reason, I'd highly recommend removing the content altogether if it's keyword stuffed and spammy sounding. If it's professionally written, then redesign the page itself so that there's an area where people can read it. They really do want to know what your site is all about! In many cases, you don't need 250 words (or any particular amount). Just a few sentences at the top of your pages is often plenty to provide context for both people and search engines.


Lists of Keyword Phrases Placed in the Footer

I've seen these range from just one keyword phrase...

Keywords in Footer
...to an entire list of keyword phrases. Some are even so bold as to explain to both people and search engines that what they're listing is just keywords:
Keyword Stuffed Footer
There's obviously no reason other than search engines to do stuff like this on your website. And again, like most techniques that got Pandalized/Penguinized, they may have worked at one point, but Google got smarter.

Recommendation: If you're doing this, STOP! If those words are important to explain what the page is all about, then they should be featured in the page content itself. If they're not relevant, then that particular page of your site shouldn't show up in Google for those keywords anyway because it's a bad user experience.


Keyword-Stuffed Links in the Footer

This can range from just a few extra footer links to hundreds of them. Many times they're just on the home page, but sometimes they're on every page. The theory behind this technique is that people mistakenly believe that the home page of a site has some special power to pass extra link popularity to the pages linked from it. So they try to increase the rankings of some pages that would otherwise be buried by linking to them in the footer.

In some cases, the pages they link to are simply doorway pages and not even a real part of the site (yes, in 2013 even!) with the only link to them in the footer. Often they link to auto-generated, keyword-stuffed junk pages that don't even make sense. The scary thing is, I've seen reputable companies do this as a way to pick up additional keyword traffic that they wouldn't otherwise get. The problem is that today's Google may not just ignore or penalize the bad pages, but could potentially penalize the entire site. Even if you're linking to the real pages of your site in the footer, if they're not a duplicate of what you're linking to in your main global navigation they could be suspected of being there for search engines only – especially if they're keyword stuffed.

Keyword Stuffed Footer Links
Recommendation: Of course it's fine to simply repeat what's in your top navigation down in your footer so that people don't have to scroll all the way to the top to get around. It's only when you've got a lot more going on downstairs than upstairs that it may cause Google problems. Obviously, if you're linking in your footer to auto-generated pages, you need to remove those links (and their resulting pages) ASAP. If you're linking to actual pages of your site that aren't already contained within your global navigation – WHY? If they're truly important pages, you should be linking to them from the global navigation. If you're just trying to push some extra internal link popularity to them, you may be doing the exact opposite. By linking to so-o-o-o many pages of your site, you're giving every page of your site less link popularity because you're spreading it too thinly. And if you feel it's a great way to get new pages crawled and indexed, you'd be much better served by submitting an auto-generated XML sitemap to Google using your Webmaster Tools account.


Footer Links That Use Different Anchor Text From the Main Navigation

We all know that in the past Google has given lots of weight to anchor text (the words in the clickable part of a link). Therefore, some people duplicate the links contained within their top global navigation in their footer, but with different anchor text. I can't say for sure if this is a problem in and of itself, but chances are it could set off some red flags with Google. Even more so if the anchor text is repetitive or keyword stuffed from link to link. The fact that those particular keywords are being used where fewer people will see could certainly look suspicious.

Recommendation: Keep the anchor text fairly similar to what's in the global navigation, if not totally the same.


Links From Other Sites' Footers

This type of footer link isn't on your own site, but on someone else's. Many sites will sell links, but they don't want them to be prominently featured because they don't want their users clicking away to someone else's site. So they stick them way down in their footer, usually in a fairly light text and/or small font. In other cases, the business owners own lots of different sites, so they link to them all in the footer. Many of the latter sites seem to exist only in order to cross-link to other sites. Again, while this may have worked like a charm in the past, it's most likely going to cause you grief today.

Recommendation: Of course it's fine to link to your own sites where it makes sense within your other sites, so don't worry about that. But if you don't want to link prominently to them, it's likely not a link that Google will want to count for anything. And of course if you've paid for links from other websites' footers, you'd be better off having them removed at this point. There's rarely a good explanation for a tiny link in someone's footer other than strictly for fake link popularity purposes.

In general, I like to think that my advice on footer links and footer content is common sense. However, I was consulting with someone the other day who told me that there were two schools of thought about it. She had spoken with another SEO firm who told her it was a good thing! Rest assured that there are not two legitimate schools of thought on this topic. Anytime you're doing something on your site that you hope real people don't actually see, it's "web spam" plain and simple. Thankfully, Google has finally figured out how to combat most of it.

If you've lost a good percentage of your targeted Google traffic, review the footer area of your site to ensure that you're not abusing it.

Jill

 
Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of Jill Whalen High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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Post Comment

 Tyler said:
Almost all of these techniques still work, some of them really well. So I don't know why you're saying stop.

Until Google actually does something about it it's business as usual. Plus, I'd see no reason why they'd give a penalty for most of it unless you're blatantly keyword stuffing, they'll probably just devalue links in certain areas of a page, which, most likely, they already do.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Tyler, it could be that when you're doing any or all of the above in conjunction with some of the other things Panda and/or Penguin look it, that's when things get filtered. I always see the footer problem done with other not so good things as well.

Or it could be that Google just haven't gotten around to catching all the sites using this "trick" yet. Personally, I wouldn't want to wait for the next Panda/Penguin update to find out :)
 Jason said:
I have to agree with Tyler's first point - this is still working, at least in my industry. My company does not operate this way, but most of our competitors do (really all of them), and it still seems to be working. I've reported the worst offenders to Matt Cutts and team, but so far my complaints have gone unheard. Guess I can just hope the next cute animal who rampages through the SERPs killing bad sites will catch these ones...
 Scott said:
Hi Jill,

I agree with your post, footer links have run wild. However, so many huge reputable sites maintain them.

Speak to what the #1 retail website in the World does in their footer, if you would. That is exactly what you speak of. They show little constraint and link to third party websites with anchor text.

Thanks+
 Jill Whalen said:
@scott, I would imagine that if you have everything else going for you than a little footer spam may not hurt. Doesn't mean it's helping though.
 Dianna Huff said:
Thanks for this, Jill. You answered all of my questions. As to whether or not these footer tactics work, maybe they do, but my position always has been to do what's right for my clients -- and using these questionable tactics is plain lazy and shoddy workmanship.
 Scott said:
Hi Jill,

I kind of knew you would say that... :-)

My point is; when, how much and proximity to above the fold. is it ever considered a good practice?

The largest OS provider in the World links out as well. In fact, I can find droves of publishing, ecommerce and other well known sites that engage in footer links. The links all show up in reporting, so how is one to say it is ok?

Like with anything, what is good for one may not be good for others. Determining those thresholds/guides is what I am after.

Would GOOG frown on them? Those large sites still practice such methods...

Thanks+
 Jill Whalen said:
To me it's common sense. Will most people viewing the page see them? If so they're probably fine.
 Jon said:
Jill - I'm a web developer and for many of our sites we put a "Handcrafted by My Company Name" graphic in the footer. It's not done for search engines but for showing who created the website. Do you think this is harmful?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Jon no I don't.
 Jon said:
Jill, I forgot to mention that a link to our site is used. No spam words or different alt text is used.
 Finn Skovgaard said:
Jill, would it be possible to convince you define what you understand with "the fold" on a web page? As I see it, the concept travels badly from paper to the web, as there is nothing wrong with contents below the fold in a newspaper. It's confusing to read that part of the advice when you don't know what "the fold" is on a web page. Do you mean the footer? Then why not just say "the footer". Do you mean the end of the first screen visible? Hmm, don't think so. Thanks.
 Jill Whalen said:
As I said in the article to me it means "where the average person is unlikely to see it."
 Ray Watson said:
You might want to talk to Karen about this ... I downloaded one of her articles on SEO and she recommended using kw in the footer.
 Paul Turner said:
As Ray said above you hear that this can be a good thing ( as long as its not overly done ) and then others saying its poor practice. I have seen sites topping the rankings using these methods and as you say they are done clearly for the search engines...
 Craig Chant said:
I'm very bewildered by this latest article, especially the implication of comments such as below the fold and important links in the footer.

Firstly define footer, is this physical content at the bottom of a page which could be seen as content when viewing the page source and resides in mark-up that is at the bottom of the html page? Or what can be seen at the bottom of the page when it is viewed in a browser, I can add content in the mark-up at the top of the page, but display it at the bottom?

Secondly define 'fold', above or below the fold is relative to the screen size of the device it is viewed on and the resolution of that screen. The fold on my 24" main monitor at full HD resolution is not the same as my portable laptop or mobile device!

Lastly, what does this comment mean "If you're linking to actual pages of your site that aren't already contained within your global navigation – WHY?"

Why on earth would anyone want to put BS legal pages such as cookie disclaimers, T&C, privacy policy etc. in the main navigation of your website. Many of these paes are not for your visitors, they are a requirement by law and rarely of interest to the person visiting the site.

There is no way I want to totally redesign my site, just to include navigation in the main menu to these pages that have no bearing on what my site has to offer, nor what my visitors want easy access to. The best place for such pages and only place for such pages are in the footer "that's WHY!".

Either you are mistaken Jill or Google is DEAD!
 Jill Whalen said:
Craig, I'm not talking about privacy policies, etc. I'm talking about links that are below the normal footer...usually lots of them and usually keyword stuffed.
 Craig Chant said:
Thanks for clarifying, though your comment did state "actual pages", which T&C / Privacy etc.. are. Just not pages of actual interest to visitors.

Clarification of what 'fold' really means would still be appreciated.

As I mentioned if G! is going to be so anal about footer links I can always place them at the top of the HTML and position them via CSS / JavaScript at the bottom if you think this will help?

Regards,

Craig.
 Jill Whalen said:
I've already clarified it in an above comment. And G isn't anal about it at all.

Bottom Line: Just use your common sense. This isn't rocket science.
 Jim said:
still works fine to my amazement - just requires mass and diversity... i wouldnt do it but i am on one of my 'disposable' sites right now as seeing my competition dominate for all keywords across the board doing this ... (and yes i was very surprised it works) but i have my top quality sites - not one, not with how google is - way way to scary to me the thought of having one site or one linking method these days...

i have at least 30+ sites in my niche going strong and a chunk of those have to be treated as... admittedly in greyhat parlance as 'churn n burn' ... its just the truth. and honestly i have no moral qualms about it, the sites im ranking are good quality but there is no way to compete in my niche unless you play this way.
 Jim said:
... that said i dont think it will last. OR it may result (will) in temporary success then crashing... but it may keep working after as has been the case with penguin - dirty link profile sites / domains just become new sources to wash out and use as new still powerful new sources of links for their replacements.... im trying to build up some pretty clean and glimmering authority sites (meaning whitehat in every way) but ive yet to be convinced its a silver bullet of any sort - .. none of this is commenting on trying to rank crap or anything ... but to rank anything anchors are still vital - just a MUCH more diverse mix... and links from domains with trust - usually i dont buy i build my own with old sites....

and if anyone wants to wag a finger, honestly i see nothing less manipulative about so called 'link prospecting' - or link baiting or whatever the heck else is considered OK... its all the same thing... just the 'approved' way in infinitely less efficient....
 Gavin said:
Hi Jill,

I would like to know if a linkback at the bottom of free WP theme would be a disaster and probably will hurt my website?
 Craig Chant said:
Jill, Where? I've read the 'above' several times, please point me to where exactly, as I seem to be missing it.

Isn't using nofollow considered PR shaping?

Personally I think this footer article is baloney, as upon clarification, it seems it's simply don't link spam or tag cloud in footer, I thought that was bad practice anywhere on the page!

It's also been stated that this is about putting things below the 'normal' footer, err the footer is the bottom of a page be it web or paper, you cannot have anything below the footer otherwise what you are calling the footer isn't a footer, that's a contradiction in terms, there can only be one footer and it's the bottom of the page!
 Suzanne Delzio said:
I worked for a BIG ecommerce site that focused almost exclusively on footers for their web content. I was always thinking they would get dinged someday, but heck if they're not still doing it! I wonder if that won't be the next area G targets . . .
 Igor Mateski said:
Interesting post. I've never been a fan of overly crowded footers with tons of links. But how about links from client sites, eg. "SEO and Web Development by ...". I have this on client sites that I've built and run their marketing. Can such a small "signature" count as a bad footer link?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Igor, in my opinion as long as the company name is the anchor text it's probably okay. But I'm not Google.
 Chandis said:
Really good post! I've got to say I have never been a huge fan of footer links and now with a site of over 20,000 pages it would be a pain to remove them all. Nevertheless certainly worth digesting your suggestions for the future.
 Jill Whalen said:
Why a pain to remove? They're likely just in the one footer template.
 Darius said:
I think well placed footer links are quite valuable. I would put just as many links in the footer, as I had in top or side navigation.

Though any more than the combined amount of those 2, I'd say you are walking on thin ice. Especially if the links go out to a ton of places not sitting on your IP cluster.
 Xavier Hildegarde said:
Thanks for the interesting article, been ill so only just got round to reading it.

I have a small niggle. Now we are not 'allowed' to have a list of keywords clearly available for search engines who do not look at the keyword metatag, and for 'real' people wanting a shortcut to a page's content, how do the Tag lists that appear at the end of items fit in?

These Tag lists look mighty like keyword lists to me, so how does Google decide between a good word set - Tags - and a bad one - keywords?
 Anne said:
Hi Jill

Thanks for the article! I have a question regarding the whole footer Google thing. Our corporate website has an enormous footer, which is there not for Google purposes but because about our visitors love it. They leisurely scroll through the whole thing when trying to find what they are loooking for. We know this because we have extensively usabilitytested our site. However, due to your article I am wondering if this footer could actually be damaging to our Google ranking, although all links are duplicates from the ones that can be found in the main navigation. You can find our footer on www.nba.nl. Thanks for your help!

Anne
 Euan Robertson said:
Interesting article. It's certainly common practice in the web design industry to put a small signature link at the bottom of clients' sites and this is a reasonable place to put it. Wondering how G will determine what's legit and what isn't.
 Scott Bateman said:
I suppose having a company name in a footer link is good and acceptable, such as a Web production company's name in the footer of a site it built. I have the impression that Google favors branding.

Another way to play it safe is by using code that blocks the link from appearing on any page except for the single most relevant page.
 Tom said:
I noticed that you have footer links with SEO value at the bottom of this page.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Tom, not sure what you're talking about. How else would you label my links?
 Uttoran Sen said:
It's certainly common practice in the web design industry to put a small signature link at the bottom of clients' sites and this is a reasonable place to put it. I saw that many webmasters sells this kinda links , but i guess that such sites are hacked and they sell backlinks illegaly there. So yeah - footer links are dead now.
 Suzanne said:
As a website developer, will we be penalized if we say we developed the site, (in the footer) and link it back to our own website for new leads?
 Jill Whalen said:
No Suzanne. But I would do it only on the home page and with the anchor text the name of your company.
 Matt said:
Jill,

Changing my footer links right now! I wasn't stuffing or anything but our global navs aren't our keywords so we had changed our footers to match our keywords better. You are scaring me :) Thanks!
 Matt said:
Jill,

Would you mind commenting on what exactly you SHOULD put in your footer and why, and is there anything that can help your SEO down there? Thanks.
 Tudor said:
Web designers need to put a link so that if someone wants to know who made the site, they can contact the web designer. Do you think that this might be affected negatively?
 Jill Whalen said:
No, that's fine.
 Jim said:
Jill, I am bit confuse about footer links concept because currently i have links in footer with exact match product names which are my targeted keywords and also the same products are located in primary menu in website. I want to know that if i remove those footer links, then will this change hurt my ranking?

Please provide me needful suggest as i am hit latest penguin 2.1 update and I believe that the following reason is the major one in my website.

Advance Thanks to you Jill
 Jill Whalen said:
Jim if they're the same as what's in your primary navigation, then it's probably not the problem.
 Mihayl said:
Jill, "people mistakenly believe that the home page of a site has some special power to pass extra link popularity to the pages linked from it". That's a strange statement. Do you suggest that home pages don't pass more authority/PageRank to linked to pages?
 Jill Whalen said:
Yes, that is what I'm saying. In many cases the home page may pass more (if it has more to pass) but it's not a given just because it's the home page.
 Luke Kist said:
Jill my question is as follows with footer links, From what a gathered from your post there shoud not be any footer links since if we reapet the same links as the head nav then we are simply spamming the links again on the page. And if we use other anchor tags that are not found in then head nav then we are simply penalized for this action. In you honest opinion it would make senses not to put links inside the footer of the site.
 Jill Whalen said:
Luke, it's fine to repeat the same links in your footer as what's in the head navigation.
 Teasa said:
Hi Jill,

There is one good reason for having different anchor text in the footer. For example, when you have product names that are long, they don't look nice when you take the whole product name and add them in the footer. In such cases it's more friendly to shorten the name. This has nothing to do with SEO, but it's done for humans. Besides, this I love this article, as it's a very complete analysis regarding footer links. Thank you.