The Problem with Footer Links in SEO

October 20, 2010


Footer Links

Most people who are familiar with SEO know that not all links are created equal. In addition to the “nofollow” tag, there are many ways that a webmaster can value or devalue a link, intentionally or unintentionally.

This includes everything from the keywords included in the anchor text to the HTML formatting that surrounds the link. However, there is one aspect that is often overlooked, especially by those relatively new to SEO: the position of the link on the page.

Though a link can be stuck anywhere on a page, the search engines quietly judge links based on their location. One spot in particular – the site footer – has drawn their attention, and not for good reasons, so much so that Yahoo secured a patent aimed largely at devaluing footer links, and anecdotal evidence suggests Google is penalizing sites that rely on them heavily as well.

This makes it worth looking at your linking strategy and seeing if the footer is really the best choice.

The Problem with Footer Links

For search engines, footer links tend to be a bad deal. The reason is that the webmaster who uses them has already devalued the link by putting it in a part of the site rarely seen or clicked on by humans. Since the webmaster has heavily devalued the link, it only makes sense that the search engines would as well.

Yahoo has already admitted that they engage in this behavior and it is almost certain both Google and Bing do as well, especially since the template systems for most content management systems make it easy to tell where the footer is and then respond.

Worse still, too many footer links can be detrimental to the page that has them, often times pushing a page over the recommended number of links. This can harm both the ranking of the page and the value of all links on it.

In short, leaning heavily on footer links is unlikely to benefit either the pages/sites being linked to or the page doing the linking.

Areas to Focus on Instead

Rather than loading up links into the footer or trying to get inbound links in the footers of other sites, it’s best to focus on the areas of the site that visitors actually see, as they are the sections most valued by search engines.

This first and foremost includes the content area but also the navigation menu and sidebar.

None of this is to say that you can’t include links in your footer, but the question has to be asked if the links are genuinely worthwhile for your visitors. For example, most expect a copyright page, privacy policy, etc. to be in the footer, but not links to main pages on a site or links to external sites (save perhaps a link to the theme designer).

Using your footer links wisely and putting the most important links where visitors and search engines alike will value them will not only ensure that they get the SEO bump they deserve, but also that they don’t sink the page doing the linking.


Fundamentally, search engines are looking for one thing, sites that provide good user experiences. If your footer links truly are in the best interest of your visitors and not an attempt to game the search engines, they will see that and respond appropriately.

You most likely can’t fool the search engines or pass along too much benefit using footer links so it is best not to try. The risks of attempting such a move far outweigh the potential rewards.


Vee Sweeney
Oct 20, 2010

Only speaking on a guess here, but I am guessing that many website owners place all their links in the footer area because let's face it, links are not often pretty. Putting them in the areas where users see the most on the site takes away from the visual appeal of the website. With that said however, it has been known for a long time now that Google likes things on top- keywords, important information and links as well. For all of these reasons, I think links will become harder and harder to get even more so than they are now.

Oct 20, 2010

Meh, its something that doesn't impact the user experience or the visual design of the site as they mostly site below the fold, but yes they aren't always perfect.

I'm sure placing the links at the top of the page will impact on the clients business so not really advised. The point is that most people are trained to look at the bottom of a website to see who built or helps market their site.

If it is not malware/spam/fraud links at the bottom i'm not sure there will be a dramatic shift but surely gradually Google/Bing will shift the focus/value away...

Oct 22, 2010

Well there're plenty of footer links here at wordstream and the site seems to be doing exceptionally well in the SERPs. That tells me having 50 something footer links is OK, at least at the moment.

Ken Lyons
Oct 22, 2010

Well, the author's views are his own.
And, you're pretty damn perseptive, Ian, about our own footer practices. ;)

Elisa Gabbert
Oct 22, 2010

Thanks for the compliment, Ian! I will note that our footer links serve as a kind of site map to our own content, and the guest post, I think, mostly addresses the issue of linking out to third-party sites in footer links.

Tom Kline
Oct 24, 2010

I like the article, most SEOs definitely overlook the importance of link positioning. I think that using the footer to link to key pages on your site isn't exactly the greatest idea to begin with since it can affect the user experience. The fact is most readers want to find what they're looking for in the shortest time possible. But if footer links provide a better experience for the reader than the top of the page or the rails, so be it. Just look at Mashable, seoMOZ, or WordStream. All make use of a decent amount of footer links but are very well optimized.

Ken Lyons
Oct 26, 2010

Hey, Tom.
Thanks for commenting. I think it's critical to strike a balance between SEO and usability, which is often easier said than done.

Time Tracking
Nov 02, 2010

Thanks to Ian for pointing the footer links @wordstream out, as I hadn't even finished the article before scrolling to the bottom to view what was going on here. Also, Lior mentions what people expect to see in the footer (privacy policy, etc.), however, if more and more designers are placing links in the footer (see below, for example), wouldn't this alter public perception? And if so, wouldn't the big three adjust accordingly?

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 04, 2010

Hi Time Tracking,
As noted above, our footer links are to our own content; they are internal links. The article addresses the value of third-party links placed in the footer.
Thanks for stopping by.

Kyle Alm
Nov 16, 2010

Too many people get confused by this point, when SEOs talk "footer links" they don't mean your footer nav. They are talking about link building. It's also where hackers usually inject SPAM.

If you are trying to get a link to your domain or page or whatever make sure it's in the body, preferably near the beginnning of that document or page.

Elisa Gabbert
Nov 17, 2010

Yep, we were talking about link building, not internal navigation. Thanks for chipping in!

Dec 30, 2010


Great Article !

According to Matt Cutts… footer links do count and will still pass some link juice.

Brandon Corbin
Jan 07, 2011

Is there any penalty for external links in footers that are on Every single page of a site? I've seen on my own sites, when I cross promote that Google shows them as links for about 3 weeks then boom they're gone. Any ideas?

Nov 30, 2011

Really nice tips and good informative article to talk about. Thanks! 

Jan 05, 2012

I bet you're really upset about your footer and you try to get some developers attention =). Ironically, I found this article looking for big footer sites.Otherwise nicely written. I couldn't agree more.Thank you,Levi

Time Clock
Jun 14, 2012

I would just ask: Are the footer links ignored by search engines? or not given any importance?Moreover, we have those links to improve the navigation and thats about it. Why should one worry about search engines in this case?

Jun 23, 2012

I wondered where I should put links on my websiteSo I created special pages for them - Seo engineer told me to take pages down as there was no placefor those sort of pages Post Panda. So where do the links go ?

Sep 26, 2012

Really nice tips and good informative article, this post is so helpful for me.Thanks for sharing.

Apr 13, 2014

Looks like a llot of backtracking going on!The article doresn't specifically mention external links - it says:"For search engines, footer links tend to be a bad deal. The reason is that the webmaster who uses them has already devalued the link by putting it in a part of the site rarely seen or clicked on by humans. Since the webmaster has heavily devalued the link, it only makes sense that the search engines would as well." Wordstream must be the worst example of the above!Your footer links will rarely be seen by visitors - they are there for SEO only.Luckily you've got a lot of other things working in your favour, but it goes to show that SEO does not apply equally to all sites.   

Grosir Busana Muslim
Jun 24, 2014

I'm learning a lot about SEO this article is helpful to add my insight. Thank you

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