Are Web Designer Backlinks Undermining SEO?

Yes.  Those ubiquitous “Website designed by” backlinks undermine SEO results by sapping page authority, displaying unrelated anchor text and linking to irrelevant websites.

Sapping Page Authority

Every followed hyperlink from a client’s website transfers a small amount of page authority or reputation[1] to the destination website.  Multiply this transfer by the number of pages that contain the link, and the loss of authority adds up.

How much?  You could try using the SEOmoz Open Site Editor (OSE)[2]
to measure the page authority before and after adding a link.  In theory, the difference between the two measurements is the size of the loss.  In
practice, the difference is small in relation to other determinants of page
authority; as a result, using OSE is more an act of faith than a reliable way
to assess the loss.

Does using a nofollow link help?  No.  Google subtracts the amount of page authority it would have transferred.  Follow or nofollow, adding a web designer link to a client’s website saps page authority.

Displaying Unrelated Anchor Text

Web designer backlinks display anchor text that is unrelated to the topic of the page.  Instead of strengthening the page’s message, unrelated anchor text weakens it.  For example, a Kirkland, WA-based web design firm added “Seattle Webdesign by” to every page of its client’s website.  Granted, the client is located in Seattle, but its financial services website is unrelated to web design.

Linking To Irrelevant Websites

Whom a client’s website links to says a lot about its online business neighborhood.  For example, when a financial services website links to a consumer credit website, the linkage reinforces its retail finance neighborhood.
On the other hand, linking to a multi-industry web design website can undermine it.

Doing What Is Right for the Client

Minimizing the use of web designer links is about doing what is right for the client.  The client already paid once for the web design services rendered.  Where is it written that clients have to pay (albeit a small price) in perpetuity?  As
trusted SEO advisors, let us do what is right for clients and recommend they:

  • Limit the number of web designer backlinks to
    one (1) per website.
  • Locate the web designer backlink on a Vendor or
    Partners page.
  • Use anchor text that contains at least one
    keyword from the client’s industry.
  • Link to a client’s page on the web designer’s
    website.


[1]
Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, P. 23

[2] SEOmoz
Open Site Editor (OSE), http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/


 

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