Promotional Links or Spam?

To have a successful site, in terms of search engine optimisation, a site needs to rank in search engines for key products or services. As every man and his dog know, high quality links are needed from related sites and the best types of links are those anchor text links that contains your most important keyword/s. There are literally thousands of link building guides that comprehensively explain in gritty detail what others have considered to be the key to their success, whilst on the other hand, there are guides that have successfully prompted search engines to remove sites from the index because they have either linked to or been linked from a bad neighbourhood.

web design

In terms of links, we all know what activities can attribute to spam; participating in link farms (communities of pages referencing each other), using hidden links, spam blogs or the practice of page hijacking. There is also the creation of multiple web sites at different domain names that all link to each other to generate traffic and links (doorway pages). It has got to the stage where everybody is very precious about who they link to and use PageRank as a guideline as whether a site is trusted or not.

So what about the links from a web development company stating in the footer of each site they have built “Web Development By [Company Name]” or “Web Design By [Company Name]”? The ethical question that comes out of using such links is whether these promote the work of the web development company or are purely a link building exercise?

web design

This is a common practice amongst web development and web design firms and often results in hundreds of links from just one site. If you take into account multiple client sites that also have the link it can account for thousands of quality keyword anchor text links. It is clear that the use of a link in the footer is a good opportunity to promote the work of a web designer or web developer and theoretically it could bring more leads as the website is a testament to the quality of their work. However many would consider a link on every footer of the page of a website a bit excessive and even label it as an elaborate ploy to gain a large sum of text links containing important keywords. Is it not considered to be “spammy” having multiple links from the one website with the same anchor text (similar to links between domains with multiple doorway pages interlinking with each other)? Even if the anchor text was slightly modified differently for each page this would indicate that the links have been modified purely for SEO purposes rather than the promotion of their work.

One would think that Google would lower the value of multiple links from multiple pages in one domain but research (just do a search for “web development” in Google Australia) reveals that currently sites employing this tactic are being rewarded in rankings. According to Google Webmaster Help they consider a link scheme to be “Links intended to manipulate PageRank” and “Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)”. Therefore according to Google’s own definition, does “web design by …” links not fit under this classification? So with that food for thought, what does the general SEO community think about this issue?

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Comments (10)
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10 Replies to “Promotional Links or Spam?”

Interesting, never thought of it like that

@Chris – You could hardly call them editorial, the developer has placed them there – often coded so they cannot be removed via the CMS, they are not given by the owner in editorial context.
Most web developers also have a portfolio page linking out to their clients’ sites. So, most of these links can also be considered reciprocal – meaning they should pass even less value. Combined with the fact that footer links are already devalued, there shouldn’t be much juice passing through these.
A worrying trend I have noticed lately is developers placing more than one text link in the footer, for example ‘Web Development Sydney’, ‘Web Design Sydney’ – which is an obvious (spammy?) attempt to manipulate rankings, albeit a misguided one as both links often link to the same page (the text in the first link will only be considered).
/end rant


IMO if I was Google I would prefer the sites to nofollow these links as they are not editorial, shouldn’t be counted as a “vote”, and may or may not be intended to “manipulate” PageRank.
Having said that I don’t think anyone is going to get penalised since this is such a common practice, so as Sonny said above you can safely get away with it.

Walte Call

Thanks a lot for your superb post.

You could argue that these footer links are editorial in the sense that they are an endorsement of the services that such companies provide and therefore are justifiable in the eyes of Google (though they may be overweight given they are sitewide).
Though with that said I know with every web site I have paid for to be designed I have always requested that such links be removed given that I’m paying for the service (as well as the strategic element – mentioned below).
I imagine that going forward as more companies become savvy to SEO they may be more inclined make a similar request, or request that the link be nofollowed (though this may not benefit either party then).
I think also moving forward companies will become more protective of their SEO or web design “suppliers” and won’t be as willing to openly display who they work with which would open the door for head hunting. So there may be a strategic element moving forward as well. I know I protect my web design “supplier” these days just because good ones are just so hard to find.
I think at the end of the day Google would probably be better off modifying their algo (if they haven’t already) to reflect that links in footers not truly valuable sitewide links whereas a link in a blogroll for example might be a much more editorial supportive link yet still sitewide…?

Hi Grant,

I would definately recommend to any web design company that they tag their clients sites if they can get away with it.

You may not necessarily get much value from the links in the footer but its better than no link at all. The sitewide link demonstrates a deep level association between the two sites, helping to improve domain authority of the linked site.

Yes this strategy is very 2005, however the results achieved by the companies that rank highly for ‘web design’ speak for themself.

Another point to note would be that the search engines will never penalise you for doing this, they will only discount the value of the link, so at the end of the day, you’re going to rank above the guy next door who isnt doing this.

My point goes to footer link idea

Jan Dunlop

IMO a better method which has less of a chance of a penalty is to link the footer links to a single page on the client’s site which then links off to the web developers site. Better for the client and better quality links for the web developer.

Hi Allison, thanks for your comment. I wouldn’t call having one link on a clients site as spam at all. In fact that’s how I believe it should be done.


Interesting debate Grant. I’m a web designer and whilst I do include links on clients sites to showcase my work I only place one link on the homepage. This could not be spam could it?


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