The biggest SEO tactic to avoid

Not all SEO tactics are good—or ethical. Do you leave “tramp stamps” on your client’s websites?

There comes a time in every link builder’s career when he comes up with a technique that seems too good to be true. It seems so darn simple he can hardly contain it.

If the idea seems a little suspect, it probably is. Search Engine Land posted about Google “releasing a new search algorithm it hopes will better catch people who spam its search results or purposely do things to rank better.” Let’s hope your brilliant idea isn’t a search engine optimization (SEO) tramp stamp!

What is an SEO tramp stamp?

SEO tramp stamps are links back to your site in the footer of your client’s website. Footers are the collection of links you see at the very bottom of a website. SEO tramp stamps are a shameless form of self promotion, and they speak volumes about the types of links you’ll shoot for in client campaigns. The SEO tramp stamp is sketchy link spam, and here’s why you should say no to it.

1. Your link spam throws you under the bus.

Your tramp stamp is arguably link spam because Google relies heavily on its link-based algorithm, and the links you plop in the footer aren’t there because of merit.

Wait, isn’t spam bad for SEO?

Yes it is, but not everyone considers it so because it produces ranking results. You might argue that a bunch of other shady link-building techniques produce ranking results, too. I bet the same link builders who tramp stamp footers would balk at other spammy techniques, but for some reason, this one prevails.

This technique is bad is because it shows spam is not beneath you, and that you may not be good at gaining links editorially. Editorial links are much more meaningful, valuable and long lasting.

If spam is your strong point, your short-term victories aren’t scalable and won’t produce long-term results. We know long-term results mean everything to the business owner who wants to make a prolonged, sustainable profit. If your clients barely stay in business, how can you?

2. Your stamp hurts the trust and relevance of your website.

I’m all for quick wins when it comes to link building, but a quick-win link doesn’t have to compromise your client’s or company’s integrity. You wouldn’t link to your client from your footer because the link is irrelevant—it provides no additional value to your site, and you know you could strategically use the link juice elsewhere. You don’t like link-juice leaks, and neither does your client (if it knows better).

Do tramp stamps work?

Sure they do.

I’ll give you an example. I recently came across a SEO/Web design company that is killing it in the local search engine results pages (SERPs). I do, however, know of other local companies that deliver a higher caliber of work with their SEO consulting and design chops.

I jumped into Open Site Explorer and, in a mere five seconds, saw that the majority of backlinks on the first two results pages came from keyword-rich anchor text in its clients’ footers. The average page authority of each link was 49, and the average domain authority was 53.

This isn’t the highest page and domain authority, but if the company got a ton of these links over the years from a multitude of aging .coms and .orgs, that surely helps them rank well, at least locally.

So yes, tramp stamps work. They have for a long time. When will Google drop the guillotine on this tactic? Google is already dropping the hammer on less than valuable/relevant links, so the tramp stamp can’t be far behind.

SEO tramp stampers: your link popularity will fade. Work on increasing your quality signals now before it’s too late. Get to know the Google over-optimization penalty. SEOmoz has a video you should watch.

Bad neighborhoods breed bad link karma

Unless you’re actively involved with link building for each client that has your link in the footer, you’re asking for trouble. You have no idea how the client builds its link profile, or if it is of high quality.

For all you know, the client is out buying links, attaining them from low-quality pages, and creating a bad neighborhood for you to be linked to. You could regularly check every client’s backlink profile, but you could spend that time building quality links back to your site instead! The latter would be much more beneficial to you in the long run.

Recently, Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive posted about how he was banned in Google for 12 hours. He commented, “Oh one more, watch which clients you link to, that’s all I’m sayin.” If you link out to a site involved in shady practices, the bad link karma can go both ways.

People hate to get burned

How many times has your site gotten spammed? Your e-mail?

Just as we can’t stand getting caught in the quagmire of spam, clients can’t stand it either. Some SEOs, though, take advantage of a client’s site only to get more business for themselves. Those who succeed at self promotion with footer-link spam only prey on those who don’t know any better—clients.

  • If you were hired to implement an email campaign for a client, you wouldn’t slip an ad for your SEO business in it, would you?
  • If you were hired to run a social media campaign for your client, you wouldn’t tweet about your business would you?
  • If you create an infographic for a client, you wouldn’t link back to yourself, would you?

Spend time on quality self-promotion and links

Rhea Drysdale, CEO of Outspoken Media, recently shared a link building spreadsheet. Even if you already looked at it, it deserves a second and third look. If you haven’t seen it, download and use it because there’s no excuse for crap links. You’ll know what works, how much time you need, and who to get the links from.

Let’s look at a short list of things you can do to promote yourself and get quality, meaningful links back to your site:

  • Create engaging, meaningful and sharable content.
  • Create educational content.
  • Give something away.
  • Create tools, widgets and badges.
  • Sponsor events.
  • Use PR outreach.
  • Participate in social media marketing.
  • Write guest posts.
  • Create contests.

Joe Schaefer is the SEO manager at Outspoken Media, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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