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Everyone has seen them: websites with a bunch of footer text that obviously only exists to manipulate search engines. I don't think I need to call any names here. This phenomenon is visible in any industry and on all types of sites but somehow it especially strikes me on ecommerce sites. Oftentimes the text is even greyed out as if to make its intent even more obvious. Nobody is supposed to read it. So while the following may be a bit of an extreme stance, I do believe it is a good general guideline:

If you include text below the copyright notice in your footer you're probably doing it wrong.

The reason why I see this so often on ecommerce sites may be that for those types of sites it can be especially challenging to write compelling copy to attract visitors. How do you come up with meaningful text for, say, category pages? Unfortunately, some folks fall for the wrong answer and that's why we have to look at ugly footers on a daily basis.

I mean, the obvious answer would be to describe the content of the particular page in a unique and meaningful way. The terms "add value" and "unique content" seem to often be taken in the wrong way by people though, to the extent that their meaning is completely detached from reality. Instead of adding value for their visitors, which will then automatically be recognized by search engines, they try to add value exclusively for search engines. And that always means trouble.

Another common mistake we see people make is what David Harry described as "The other guy is doing it, so it must work". People come up with all kinds of crazy tactics, so while it is of course necessary to know what is going on in your particular query space and what competitors are up to, more often than not blindly copying other people's strategy does more harm than good. There are basic best practices that have emerged out of actual experience of people inside the SEO industry over many years, and these are usually the very same tactics search engines themselves recommend (see Google & Bing).

Sure, guidelines can be interpreted in different ways but a little bit of thinking helps:

  1. if someone talks about methods that seem to good to be true, they probably are
  2. would you do the same thing if search engines did not exist?

I think especially question #2 is very helpful and should be stuck onto every SEO's monitor.

TL;DR

The footer on a webpage has a very specific purpose. Stick to that and include your copy where it's supposed to go instead: above the fold. Find a way to come up with compelling copy that adds value and everybody wins: users get interesting information to read and search engines are able to give you the traffic you reserve. Also, you won't have to hide your content from your visitors anymore. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Jonathan Schikowski

About

Jonathan has been involved in search engine marketing on both agency and client sides since 2004. Jonathan maintains several German websites. He tweets @schikowski.

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