Seeing as they’re at the bottom of a webpage, footers are far too often overlooked. But did you know they can have a huge impact on your SEO efforts?

Linking, especially internal linking, is the backbone of any good SEO strategy. Unfortunately, if used improperly, sitewide backlinks can fall under the category of ‘forced link building’ and do some major damage in the eyes of our search engine overlords. So how can we find the right balance?

Today, we’re going to dive in and explore what footer links are, why there’s such a debate around their use, and how you can use them to your advantage. 

The lowdown on links

Before we can understand whether footer backlinks are good or bad (or somewhere in between), we need to have a grasp on the different types of links involved. This includes internal links, external links, follow links, and nofollow links.

Internal linking

Internal links are pretty much what it says on the tin – links that take you to different pages on the same site. This plays a huge role in how users and search engines navigate your site, helping them understand how the different pages relate to each other. In particular, this helps search engines index your site and all the different pages it may contain. 

External linking

External links are links that lead outside of your website. This can include manufacturer sites, parent companies, links to reviews or certifications, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube. 

Follow links

Follow or dofollow links tell a search engine that they should follow the link, passing the authority or ‘link juice’ from one site to the next. By building a number of reputable follow links, you can boost your website’s authority and consequently your ranking. 

Source: Neil Patel

Nofollow links

In the wild west that was pre-2005 Internet, a common strategy to get backlinks was to comment on blogs, throwing in high-ranking links and leading back to your website. To curb this, Google introduced the nofollow, an attribute that tells search engines to ignore a given link. 

Nofollow links do not pass on authority, meaning they cannot be used to help your SEO efforts directly. That being said, knowing when to use the nofollow attribute can make quite a difference to your overall linking strategy. 

So what are footer links?

When we talk about footer links, we mean this little section at the bottom of a page:

The content on your website is broken up into two categories: unique content that can only be found on that page, and consistent sitewide content, like the header or footer. This can be a useful navigation tool for users, telling them where to go next, and ensure that they have easy access to important pages wherever they are on your website. 

There are four types of sitewide link variants:

  • nofollow internal hyperlinks
  • dofollow internal hyperlinks
  • nofollow external hyperlinks
  • dofollow external hyperlinks

Links shouldn’t be anchored to generic text (‘click me’ or ‘here’). Instead, make sure to use descriptive anchor text or keywords that tell the user exactly what they are clicking on. 

Are sitewide footer links good or bad for SEO?

This is a question that has divided SEO experts, mostly because the answer seems to keep changing.

In the aftermath of Google’s Penguin updates, link building practices have seen a major shift. Penguin 2.0 in particular was ruthless when it came to targeting unnatural link building, with 75% of all Google penalties due to sitewide links.

Of course, time moves fast in the world of algorithm updates. In general, most SEO specialists believe that (at least for now) Google ignores sitewide external links in 2021. That being said, one can never underestimate the importance of a tailored and well thought out linking strategy, which can either help or hinder the rest of your SEO efforts. 

Best practice for sitewide footer links

At the end of the day, like much of SEO, it all comes down to purpose. Google wants to determine whether you’ve added footer links to help your users find the information they’re looking for and navigate your site or whether they are simply there to boost your SEO. If it’s the former, then this can have a positive impact, both in terms of indexing and user experience. 

In general, you should avoid unnecessary linking in your footer as this can confuse search engines regarding which information is the most important. It can dilute the power of internal links, meaning that they won’t be as effective for your SEO efforts. 

If you do include external links, you’ll want to make sure that these are in the same niche as your business and that the pages are related to yours. Too many external links will look unnatural and are sure to earn you Google’s wrath. When in doubt, it is best to make these nofollow links. 

If you do have a lot of external links you want to implement, a useful strategy can be to create an internal page to host all these links and then place a sitewite link to this page in your footer. 

So what can I put in my footer?

‘Safe’ footer  elements include:

  • Your web designer
  • Sitemap
  • Call to action
  • Social media widgets
  • Copyright or private policies
  • Contact information
  • Locations
  • Opt-in forms
  • Graphics
  • Logins
  • Search tool
  • Testimonials
  • Gallery
  • Latest blogs/articles/pages
  • Associations and awards

TLDR: Internal links are safe to use in your footer, provided you don’t overuse them. In most cases, you should only link to your most important pages. External sitewide links are generally considered bad practice; if you need to have them, make sure you use a nofollow attribute. 

For more SEO tips and tricks, check out our Blog. If you have any questions about footers, SEO or web design, feel free to reach out to our team for a free consultation!