Do optimised footer links work for SEO?

Most SEO ‘experts’ are divided on this question. Rand Fishkin argues that they have little or no value and in some respects I have to agree with him. Just.

Rand points out five pretty good reasons not to get too caught up spending hours and hours optimising your footer purely for SEO reasons.

Rather than re-write everything Rand says, I’ll list them directly:

1. Footer links may be devalued by search engines automatically
Check out the evidence – Yahoo! says they may devalue footer links, Bill Slawski uncovers patents suggesting the same and anecdotal evidence suggests Google might do this (or go further) as well. Needless to say, if you want to make sure your links are passing maximum value, it’s wise to avoid the footer (particularly the footer class itself).

2. Footer links are often not the first link on the page to a URL
Since we know that the first link on a page is the one whose anchor text counts and footer links, while anchor text optimised, are often a second link to an already-linked-to target, they are likely not to have the desired impact.

3. Footer links get very low CTR
Naturally, since they’re some of the least visible links on a webpage, they receive very little traffic. Thus, if algorithms like BrowseRank or other traffic metrics start to play a role in search rankings, footers are unlikely to have a positive impact.

4. Footer links often take a page beyond a healthy link total
Many pages that already have 80-100 links on the page are going to lose out when they add a footer with another 30-50 links embedded. The link juice passed per link will go down and the value of each individual link is lowered.

5. Footer links can be a time suck
The time you spend crafting the perfect link structure in the footers could be put towards more optimal link structures throughout the site’s navigation and cross-linking from content, serving both users and engines better.

They’re all good, solid reasons not to deploy an optimised footer but personally I think optimised footer links transcend SEO simply because they can help people better navigate your site. Not everything should always be focused towards search engines, people matter too.

If the content on a web page is good enough, I often find myself reading (or these days scanning) right to the end. Without wanting to state the bleeding obvious, that’s usually at the bottom of a page, and I often click the footer links to find additional and related content (if there’s a footer there).

But from an SEO perspective, do they really hurt as much as Rand says?
Personally, I think not.

Let’s look at Google.com for a minute; the gushing well-spring of search itself.

ct-16.4.10

Google has (for all intents and purposes) an optimised footer promoting some of its own services.

And guess where they both rank at Google.com for their declared search terms, “Business Services” and “Advertising Programs”?

ct-16.4.10-2

Yep, you guessed right. First and first.

The point here is that anchor text rich footer links can and do work.

And if you have a large website, it means you have a large number of internal links all pointing to each target page, which I don’t think can be a bad thing.

A little off-topic, but one thing I immediately noticed about Google’s own result for itself is the search result snippet. This ties back into last week’s blog post about DMOZ editor descriptions showing up in your Google results.

ct-16.4.10-3

See the similarity?

If Google can’t get this right, then what hope have the rest of us got?

Till next week.

 

For more Online Sales expert advice, click here.

Chris Thomas heads up Reseo, a search engine optimisation  company which specialises in creating and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.

 

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