Oct 27, 2011
Can you use links in the footer of your website to improve search engine rankings? If those footer links go to internal pages on your own website, the answer is absolutely yes.
I have read on some SEO sites that footer links are not as helpful to SEO as they once were. This is probably true, given that Google has become more adept at determining when links are being used as navigation on every page as opposed to an “editorial” link that appears in the body of a page and is being used by the author as a way to specifically recommend another web page or a piece of quality content.
However, I have direct confirmation of the power of a footer link to improve search ranking – and also to improve the click-through rate of the listing that appears in a Google search engine results page (SERP).
Rand Fishkin has written one of the most popular posts about footer links: Footer Link Optimization for Search Engines and User Experience. He thinks footer links are no longer a great asset to SEO, but they do count for user experience. Still Rand concedes that links in a footer can be used to advantage if they are not abused.
One very good way to improve SEO for your blog posts is to add a Latest Blog Posts or Latest Comments widget to the footer of your site. You can see examples of these footer links at the bottom of the mcbuzz.com home page. These are effective primarily because the link text contains keywords that are highly relevant to the topic of the post.
Footer links still carry weight with Google as indicated in a post by one of the top authorities on Link Marketing, Debra Mastaler, where she says emphatically, “Avoid buying or selling footer links.” Linking from the footer of your website to another site, or soliciting or paying for a link from someone else’s footer to a page on your site, is not what I’m talking about here. But if you read Debra’s post, you’ll see there’s good evidence that, even though it may be true that footer links don’t have as much significance in the Page Rank algorithm as they once did, Google does continue to pay attention to the content of footer links and to the way those links are being used.
There is one case in which a footer link is almost essential to good SEO: if you are forced to use images or Flash for navigation links/buttons. In situations like these, you would be foolish not to put text links to the main pages of your site in your footer.
Does Google like footer links in some cases? Here’s proof that Google loves footer links when they provide a really useful clue as to what the page being linked to is about:
In SERPs for one of my client’s sites where Flash is used for the main site navigation, Google actually picks up the text of the footer link to create the title of the search result listing!
The actual text has been changed to protect my client. For my example, I’m using a keyword that’s kinda sorta like the keyword my client ranks on page one of Google for, but here’s what that looks like:
FOOTER LINK: luxury hotel seattle
TITLE IN GOOGLE SEARCH ENGINE RESULTS PAGE LISTING:
luxury hotel seatlle – Seattle Hotel Accommodations
The words luxury hotel seattle are not in the page’s title tag or in the visible header on the page. There’s no doubt that Google is pulling the text from the footer link because it’s lower case, and there’s nowhere else on the site that the keyword appears in lower case but the footer link. The page the link points to is strongly related to all things “luxury hotel seattle” and – I know from Google Analytics – when visitors come to that page with a search on keywords related to “luxury hotel seattle” there is a low bounce rate. Visitors find what they are looking for, in other words.
Google sees the frequency of clicks on the result in the SERPs and the low bounce rate and is happy to continue to serve up the listing high on its search results pages. In fact, Google goes so far as to create a customized listing using text from the footer link. Obviously, this is good for users. They are more apt to click the listing, and when they do, they get what they want from Google and from my client’s website.
The bottom line: Don’t be afraid to use links in the footer of your website with keywords in the anchor text, especially if you have site navigation that uses images or Flash, as long as those links point to internal pages or posts on your site. Ideally, you should not use images or Flash for navigation, but you may not be able to change that. So, put those text links in your footer!
Even if you have text links in your main site navigation – as is the norm today, thank goodness! – you can boost search engine optimization for internal pages and posts on your site by including keyword-rich text links to those pages in your footer. Adding a Recent Posts widget is one easy way to do so.
Footer Links SEO: More Strong Evidence That Footer Links Improve SEO
For further strong evidence of the power of footer links, we turn to SEO guru and all around great guy, Joost de Valk, aka Yoast. “GoDaddy’s spammy link building techniques” makes an excellent case that, with enough keyword-rich footer links pointing at your website, you can improve search ranking spectacularly for those keywords – no matter if the content on the linking sites is related to the keywords or not! GoDaddy uses its Website Tonight software to insert links to its own web pages (and these links have carefully targeted keywords in the anchor text) into the footer of every website that uses Website Tonight to build its web pages. The outcome, as Yoast notes, is top ranking for GoDaddy pages for nearly all of the targeted keywords.
I agree with Yoast that Google should not reward this kind of practice. It’s a clear abuse of links as a factor in search rankings. The reason Google gives weight to link text is that many genuine links are an indicator or “vote” for the authority and usefulness of a web page. When I link to Yoast’s post above, I’m doing so because it serves my readers and it helps to make my case. GoDaddy’s links do nothing of the sort.