This is a guest post by Lior Levin, a consultant for online task management company producteev.
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.
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.