Search Engine Spam

GoDaddy’s spammy link building techniques

GoDaddy’s spammy link building techniques

December 15th, 2011 – 184 Comments

Search Engine SpamOver the last few months, I’ve seen GoDaddy rise up in the rankings for a lot of hosting related terms. At first I suspected they were finally using their very strong domain in a smart way, but then I noticed they ranked for terms I know you can’t rank for without a lot of external links, no matter how strong your domain. Let me tell you how I figured out that they got those external links by embedding links in their clients websites.

Today I was sick and tired of getting beaten on some rankings I was working hard for, so I decided to dive a bit deeper and see why GoDaddy was ranking as well as they were. When I looked into the link profile for those high ranking pages, I found a lot of homepages linking to these landing pages with highly optimized anchor text. These were anchor texts like “ssl”, “bulk email”, “web hosting”, “web hosting companies” etc. Stuff like that just doesn’t happen by accident, so there had to be a reason for those. I was baffled when I found what they were doing.

Want a Website Tonight, anyone?

You see, GoDaddy offers a service called “Website Tonight”; this service allows you to quite easily create a website by offering you an editor and all sorts of widgets. Not exactly the power of WordPress, but nothing wrong with it from the users perspective. What is wrong is what I found when I created such a website: when you create such a website it has an image in the footer by default saying “Powered by Website Tonight”. It’s possible to turn this image off, but most people don’t bother as in the editor it looks rather harmless, like this:

WebSite Tonight banner

Now, if it were just that, I don’t think I’d be all that bothered (not the border is because the image is selected). The issue is, that on the live test site I created, it looks like this:

website tonight logo with embedded link beneath it

That link wasn’t there in the preview… That’s called deceiving your customer. Note that by default, the image is black, you can switch it to white or you can switch it off, but in the editor it’ll always show. This is probably the reason why some people choose to use the white version, as they think they can’t disable it and want a version that’s less ugly on their design.

Example time

Ok it’s time I show you some real live examples of these I guess, these websites all have ugly links like that in their footer:

But those links don’t work, right? Wrong.

Google has been telling us for quite a while now that footer links etc. are not that important. Well guess what, that’s not true if you have enough of them. Using SearchMetrics I ran a report for the top keywords they rank in the top 3 for. Each and every keyword in there that is not their brand name, from website hosting to webhosting to website builder, to domain name registration and more: all of those landing pages have exact match anchor text links pointing to them. All coming from these types of domains, thousands if not tens of thousands of clients who are paying for a service, are unknowingly also helping GoDaddy’s business by helping it rank.

These links are on by default. They are not editorial. It’s not the first time this happened, Hostgator has been caught adding links to their clients websites in the same way, I mention that in my WordPress hosting article. The issue is that Google rewards these kinds of practices with top rankings, which they shouldn’t.

How well this works, well by my estimate they started doing this more aggressively in September / October of this year, see how their visibility according to SearchMetrics almost doubled:

godaddy visibility according to searchmetrics

This would correlate well with the Majestic SEO‘s historic back link data:

Majestic SEO backlink history for GoDaddy

For hosting related terms like the ones GoDaddy targets, doubling your search engine visibility like that is worth a fortune. To show you even more how blatant these links are, this is a screenshot of the top pages report in Majestic, after doing an advanced historic report, look at the anchor texts and notice that the two with a flag on the right are reported wrongly, the anchor text for the link in fact is email marketing there as well. You can click for a larger version:

Anchor text distribution of GoDaddy backlinks

Some of these sites however already show these links a the beginning of 2011. See this archive.org example and this one to see that, they even changed the link in the meanwhile… What I think happened in September / October that made me catch them was that they started doing this for more keywords.

The long and short of it

GoDaddy is playing this game a bit too aggressively in my opinion, and Google should really start discounting those links. The right way would be for GoDaddy to ask their customers whether they’re allowed to insert a link and make them choose where it points. No single customer would, by own volition, link to an email marketing page…

I am, though, disappointed in Google’s filtering of these links; there are far too many spammy links pointing at those pages that:

  • have a very unnatural anchor text distribution
  • they’re all in the footer of these sites
  • are distributed over only a select number of IP’s.

Those 3 things combined, I can’t believe they didn’t catch that.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying anything that GoDaddy does here is illegal from a legal point of view. In my opinion it’s against search engines guidelines and they’re not transparent towards their customers, so I’d call it bad karma.

Thanks goes out to Dixon Jones of Majestic SEO and Marcus Tober of SearchMetrics for helping me figure all this out.


184 Responses to GoDaddy’s spammy link building techniques

  1. Kyle Suss
    By Kyle Suss on 15 December, 2011

    Should we really be surprised that companies do this when it still works so well? Of course I’d love to believe that all SEOs are completely ethical, but like you said Joost, doubling search visibility for a company like this is worth a fortune. Even if their links get devalued, they still had x amount of time on top.

    • Keith
      By Keith on 15 December, 2011

      Most CMS theme developers fall in this category too, a ton of them in WordPress (adding footer links to multiple websites), then giving them away for free to gain massive adoption. The backlinks alone are worth it.

      • William
        By William on 17 December, 2011

        At last I understand the economics behind free themes.

        • Paula Mooney
          By Paula Mooney on 22 December, 2011

          :-) Yep, makes me want to create a free theme…

          But I thought Google had long ago bombed people for using the same anchor text over and over again, like when John Chow discovered that the “make money online” anchor text linking to him gave him a ton of searches.

          I thought Google only looked at more varied anchor text these days.

          • William Alvarez
            By William Alvarez on 22 December, 2011

            Yes and no. Don’t get intimidated by all the things that Google (read Matt Cutts) says. They like to scare people but the truth is links still play an important role for rankings. Pus, these companies like GoDaddy vary the anchor text from one site to the following.

            Isn’t this tactic the same idea behind using badges on your site, or other people using them with a link back?

          • Dan
            By Dan on 27 December, 2011

            People tend to believe the old seo methods such as same anchor text disappear over time, but this is simply not the case as I have discovered many old methods working just fine.

    • tony Khatemi
      By tony Khatemi on 20 December, 2011

      I am trying to hold my cool while writing this. As we the little guys try our best to help the small businesses, I think lultimately and after the Panda update, organic search is really a big joke. For those of us depending only organic search for visitors, the time has come to start looking at other options more seriously, like video and social media. The big guys, the brands will own most search terms an will dominate the first page of Google and the bread crumbs “left overs” are not enough to sustain any small “non brand” guys.
      Thank you for this great share
      Tony

      • Keith D Mains
        By Keith D Mains on 22 December, 2011

        Tony
        I can’t help but think you are missing something Sir

        Brands. As they are sooo important get one! Buy a TM!

        That way you will have the name the mark the brand that is registered as a TM. You will own it for 10 years and you can trt it as you wish, you can even licence your TM.

        In the UK a TM costs circa £250 so rather than bemoaning how all these “Big” guys and their “brands”, get yourself a brand.

        I did and believe you me Eric Scmidt was not joking when he implied that Google is using this one little factor to add to the mysterious algo’s somehow.

        You do not have to be “BIG” to be a brand but 10 years is the commitment that goes with a Brand. Now as I recall registering a domain for 10 years also is a factor in some things along the line in some regard, so imagine the Power a 10 year registered TM along with a 10 year registered domain name gives you as a start point.

        It does not however take a “Bog Guy2 it takes about £300 GBP (well in the UK it does/would).

        • Keith D Mains
          By Keith D Mains on 22 December, 2011

          PS
          Excuse typos my 5 year old wants to see me unwrap my new keyboard Xmas day as that’s her present to Daddy and so for now (the next 3 days my keys are sticking)

          Merry Xmas one and all!

      • JR
        By JR on 27 December, 2011

        I COMPLETELY AGREE!!!! Google is just a sell out and it will only get worse as time goes, this brand favoritism has been building for the last few years and with each algo update it just gets worse.

    • JR
      By JR on 27 December, 2011

      No surprise here, just more of the same big brand BS and G looking the other way and making exceptions like that did when Jcpenney was caught buying links and all the other cases.

      But, of course small website owners would never get away with this and would have been plummeted to the Google black hole.

      It’s all crap and it pisses me off!

  2. Jochem Vroom
    By Jochem Vroom on 15 December, 2011

    The new link building: Buy a webhosting company with a ‘website tonight’ feauture, hit up a good link in all footers and sit and relax when people build their websites. :)

  3. Moses
    By Moses on 15 December, 2011

    Good find!

    I wonder if we could measure the success rate and how much Godaddy has been making $$ just from this strategy.

    I would understand a link in the footer if it were free hosting, BUT paying for hosting and yet having a footer link? wow.

  4. Ujjwal Kumar
    By Ujjwal Kumar on 15 December, 2011

    This is clearly lame :/

  5. Paul Salmon
    By Paul Salmon on 15 December, 2011

    The interesting thing is many companies have tried this before, and they got caught. Working online is a cut-throat business it seems, and everyone is willing to do things that seem “unnatural”.

    I think tactics such as this will continue going forward, and may even become more prevalent.

  6. Autocrat (Lyndon NA)
    By Autocrat (Lyndon NA) on 15 December, 2011

    I can see why you are irked … but at the end of the day … this sort of thing is a long standing practice.
    Many “free” systems, setups, tools and widgets do similar – and have done for years (Credit/Attribute links existed before Google).

    The addition of link text … you’ll likely find it covered in the ToS or such, somewhere, buried.
    All technically perfectly legit and above board.

    As for hte link placement …
    … well, here’s the thing;
    You cannot take what Google tells you “literally”. You have to sit there and think about what words they didn’t say, what they did say and why in that order etc. etc. etc.
    Further – we all know that it’s Quantity over Quality – it’s Always been that way. Get enough links you can get away with most things. Even if G do devalue the questionable stuff – if you were smart, you’d have immediately followed your spammy campaign with a more legit one.

    In this specific case … those are likely to be genuine sites, based on ssolid businesses and mroe than trustworthy.
    Why would they no count?
    (Yes, G does seem to devalue links based on placement … but has it not occured that G may also alter the value passed via a link based on it’s trust of the link source (as well as location, relation, PR of page/section etc.)???

    I think the real problem here is … peopel have fallen into the trap of thinking G either stands still, or only does 1 thing at a time.
    Did people really expect G to simply stick to identifying repeat/boilerplate stuff? Did they not consider that G could look at the “groups” of sites with such links for similarities (If you have X SEO sites with SEO links to your SEO site, do you not think that will count a lot more???).

    People need to stop looking at what G has done and is doing … and instead take a step back, and look at where G is intending to go.
    If you do that, and use a dose of common sense … it’s fairly predictable :D

    • Batfan
      By Batfan on 15 December, 2011

      “Many “free” systems, setups, tools and widgets do similar – and have done for years (Credit/Attribute links existed before Google).”

      While you can setup a free/ad-supported WebSite Tonight site when you buy a domain with GoDaddy, the bulk of WebSite Tonight sites are actually paid plans.

      • Autocrat (Lyndon NA)
        By Autocrat (Lyndon NA) on 16 December, 2011

        Okay – how about a minor rephrasing?
        Any time you use something that you did Not explicitly create, from scratch … anytime that you use something that was created/built/developed by someone else,
        then there is a good chance that there is credit due/acknowledgement due – and many will request a link, leave a link in their code etc.

        This appleis across the board, CMS, Templates, Menu systems, clever CSS setups, spam blocking scripts etc. etc. etc.

        So again – nothing new or that uncommon.

  7. Matt
    By Matt on 15 December, 2011

    Even if Google does something about it now, GoDaddy will be back up and ranking in a month or two. Google supposedly hit Overstock, now they’re back. JCPenney pretty much ranking like nothing ever happened. 1800flowers, FTD, the list goes on and on.

    Google turns a blind eye to the “brands” and beats the snot out of the little guy. Unfortunately I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon, if ever.

    Great post none the less. Hopefully with a bit more pressure one day things will change, however I won’t hold my breath.

    • Brendan
      By Brendan on 15 December, 2011

      Couldn’t agree more Matt. If a brand much smaller than GoDaddy had been doing this on a relatively smaller scale, they’d have been whacked by Google.

      • Andrew Smith
        By Andrew Smith on 22 December, 2011

        The issue here though is that the majority of users expect to see those big brands ranking for their queries. Mr average doesn’t care about SEO or why a site is number 1 for a query. They simply expect Google to serve them relevant results they can trust. SERPs without these big brands to the average person offer a poorer user experience, hence Google has to reinstate them. If users don’t care about some tin pot site that isn’t ranking, then why should Google’s algorithm!?

        With GoDaddy it’s the same story – Do users expect to see GoDaddy ranking for the queries Joost highlights? I expect so. And there is no doubt Google has a truckload of user engagement data which confirms whether GoDaddy’s rankings are providing a better user experience than other sites. Personally I don’t see anything wrong with what GoDaddy are doing, it’s a scalable approach to link building that can’t really even be considered greyhat, when it’s no different to widget or wordpress theme creation and distribution. The fact they have a platform customers are utilizing to expand the impact of this simply makes it more effective, not more unethical.

        • Brendan
          By Brendan on 23 December, 2011

          It absolutely IS different to widget or theme distribution. These are paying customers who don’t even see the link when previewing their site. It’s deceptive.

  8. Pranjal
    By Pranjal on 15 December, 2011

    Now this is really surprising and interesting, too ;)

  9. Pete
    By Pete on 15 December, 2011

    Personally I’ve not so much an issue about the way they have got the links – however if this has been done without website owners permissions that is a different kettle of fish and opens up a whole new can of worms.

    At the end of the day, if Google are not able to pick up simple link frameworks like this is it any wonder they are trying to dominate the serps with their own shit

    • Keith
      By Keith on 15 December, 2011

      You have to define “permission” though as most people using free web hosting are doing so because they don’t have a clue what they’re doing, they have no idea what anchor text is.

    • Alana
      By Alana on 29 December, 2011

      I agree with Keith. The ones who are leaving the footer link in could probably care less as it doesn’t hurt them – so what if they get credit – that’s a smart tactic. It’s still Godaddy’s product regardless. You still have to pay a monthly fee. I would only have an issue if the footer link was permanent (no option to remove it). If you know it’s there and don’t want to give credit – take it out.

  10. stan oppenheimer
    By stan oppenheimer on 15 December, 2011

    Wow..I did a simple image search for the Go Daddy Logo example, Using Googles Image Site Search.. I got 147,000 pages just on that result alone. And there are multiple versions of the logo.
    I hope Google enforces its own..rules.

    Searchengineman

  11. Halfdan Timm
    By Halfdan Timm on 15 December, 2011

    Always enjoy reading your posts, and this one as well. I have hosting at GoDaddy too, so I had to check if this applied to my sites. Luckily, their build in WP and not in Website Tonight..

  12. Rhea Drysdale
    By Rhea Drysdale on 15 December, 2011

    Hate to say this isn’t a surprise. Footer links like that still work EXCEPTIONALLY well in many industries. We see it working everywhere and for super competitive phrases. It’s just the method that varies. They have a large network that they’re taking advantage of, I kind of respect them for finally thinking of it. We see it happen with hit counters, widgets, sponsorships, etc.

  13. Dan Corkill
    By Dan Corkill on 15 December, 2011

    Yeah interesting this stuff still works so well. Even if they get discounted in SERPs they will probably still do it just to get the clicks.

  14. Robert Rolfe
    By Robert Rolfe on 15 December, 2011

    Yeah this kind of stuff really isn’t good. The fact that Google doesn’t discount those links makes it impossible for hosting companies like mine to rank for any of the major search terms for our industry.

    Sadly you would think that Godaddy would have enough domain authority that they wouldn’t have to use these shady tactics to get their site to rank.

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 15 December, 2011

      They wouldn’t need it indeed… It’s just plain stupid.

  15. Gareth
    By Gareth on 15 December, 2011

    Let’s not forget that Google partnered Godaddy, providing widgets for ‘websites tonight’ like search boxes and easy webmaster tools access.

  16. tommy
    By tommy on 15 December, 2011

    Bad Karma….so many things in this life are traded upon for so many opportunistically questionable reasons: I wonder how many realize how important Karma really is (or at least should be)…I suppose in many minds the end does justify any means.

    Great post

  17. Rev. Voodoo
    By Rev. Voodoo on 15 December, 2011

    Yeah, that’s pretty crappy on paid hosting. Many people using website tonight are just starting out, and have no idea how this stuff works. GoDaddy is simply taking advantage of them. I’ve hosted with GoDaddy for 4 years, and grown more and more annoyed. This year’s hosting ends in February, I’m jumping ship, as much as the thought of moving hosting scares the crap out of me!

  18. G.ZEKI
    By G.ZEKI on 15 December, 2011

    powered by blogger
    powered by worpdress
    powered by godaddy
    powered by shaking ass :P

    • Terry
      By Terry on 18 December, 2011

      You don’t have to spam websites with backlinks to rank for your name.

    • Ejaz Siddiqui
      By Ejaz Siddiqui on 19 December, 2011

      There is nothing wrong if you are getting a free thing, but when you pay and still get these links then its bullshit.

      Powered by GoDaddy and it takes you to the Godaddy then its fine.

      The problem starts, when you target a GENERIC keyword for your benefit e.g.

      Best Hostng and it takes to the hosting company landing page.
      This is what GoDaddy doing without the explicit consent of the owner of the website.

      • Uncle Demotivator
        By Uncle Demotivator on 20 December, 2011

        The problem starts, when you target a GENERIC keyword for your benefit e.g.

        Why? It’s still a link – just like a branded one. The only difference is in anchor text – why not to take an additional advantage of it, if you are already placing links on clients websites? It’s business after all – it’s not about being nice to everyone else (including competitors), it’s about making money and taking any advantage you can get (within law boundaries). If you have a problem with that you probably shouldn’t do business.

        The real problem is not putting an SEO optimized link, but putting it without consent knowledge (who reads TOSes anyway?) of the clients – if this link would be visible during webiste design process it would be totally OK, no matter what Google or its cultists tell you. It’s business not “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” or “Care Bears”.

        • Ejaz Siddiqui
          By Ejaz Siddiqui on 23 December, 2011

          Generic keyword is not like a branded keyword, Because it has an element of deceive. Branded link says it would take you to the brand website (which it does).

          I would agree with you, even powered by links should also have a consent from the client.

        • Fred Fnord
          By Fred Fnord on 29 December, 2011

          > it’s about making money and taking any advantage you can get (within law boundaries).

          This kind of thinking is what leads to increasingly polluted waterways in large parts of the US (where national environmental law is spottily enforced and local law overly permissive… say, Texas), increasingly polluted air, rising global temperatures, and so forth. And online pollution, such as GoDaddy’s, is leading to similar effects online: it is now literally impossible to search for certain things and get a useful result, because the first thousand or so results are those of people gaming the system. As companies such as GoDaddy get better and better at this, and Google falls further and further behind, the Internet will get less useful for everyone.

          Another good parallel: in the US, companies are increasingly moving the people who do the actual work overseas. This leads to, increasingly, nobody in the US having any money to spend. Which damages the companies themselves. Just like in that case, GoDaddy is damaging the internet, making it less useful, in order to gain some money. Their competitors now have to do the same thing, and stake their claims to as many search keywords as they can, related to their business or not. Eventually, you end up with search engines that vomit up a list of twenty thousand advertisements when you search for ‘weather in san francisco’.

          Even today, try finding a real online review for a newly released camera via a search engine. The last time I tried, using a search term of the camera model name and ‘review’, the first 300 results were all companies that were selling the camera. I eventually found three reviews, but only by going to the web sites I thought they would be on and searching there. If you didn’t know about those sites, there is no longer any way to find a good, in-depth review via a search engine.

          (Oh, of course, some of those first 300 results were *fake* reviews. So it often LOOKS like you got what you wanted…)

  19. Devin Walker
    By Devin Walker on 15 December, 2011

    Can’t say I’m surprised by GoDaddy… they’ve been kinda shady in the past

  20. Rajesh Namase
    By Rajesh Namase on 15 December, 2011

    Very Good find, interesting! This is bad Karma. I think they will get penalty in next PageRank update.

  21. Sam
    By Sam on 16 December, 2011

    Those dirty rascals, but I’m not surprised. Nice research work.

  22. Jonathan
    By Jonathan on 16 December, 2011

    Fair play to Godaddy, they leveraged something in their armoury to help out rankings. You have to take advantage of stuff like that.

    Kinda think this post is bitter lemons really, I’d expect that from someone new to SEO who has become all disillusioned but you’re a seasoned pro man.

    It’s no different to a badge strategy really. Except it doesn’t require sending 300 emails to mommy bloggers telling them they have an awesome blog. Sure it’s a little devious, but it works.

    Will this call out make a difference and get those links devalued? I guess you have a fair bit of influence in the world of search. But really if someone types in “web hosting” then serving Godaddy as a result is hihgly relevant. Should the site that’s getting beat win purely because it’s following all the rules? Narrow minded view.

    Of course you can argue Godaddy are not the best, servers get overloaded like crazy, and companies ranking lower are far more ethical and what not. But a query like “web hosting” suggest the searcher is somewhat new to the area so regardless of everything else, Godaddy is a decent starting point for them due to price and ease of setup.

    • Andrew Smith
      By Andrew Smith on 22 December, 2011

      Thoroughly agree. This is no different to theme, widget or badge distribution. GoDaddy simply have a platform which makes this approach to link building much more scalable and therefore more effective.

  23. Nathan
    By Nathan on 16 December, 2011

    Your diligence in research is superb. I use Godaddy for domain registration, but have never used them for hosting. Having some experience in the industry, I can tell you that simply registering a domain with Godaddy can end up costing you more than it should with all there up-sell tactics, so these shady linking tactics do not surprise me.

    All though I completely disagree with what they have and are doing here, it makes perfect business sense. A tactic like this will never do more harm than good at any level. The Godaddy target audience is the first timer and not the seasoned. Even if Google did the right thing here, what is the worst that will happen to Goddady? A drop in rankings for those words and phrases? The size and power of Godaddy ensures that tactics like this hold no real business risk and it really surprises me they did not make this move sooner.

    You can’t kill an 800lb Gorilla (Godaddy) with a fly swatter (link penalties). Just not going to happen. Any potential drop in rankings will only be temporary when you have millions to invest in seo and marketing.

  24. Jim Christian
    By Jim Christian on 16 December, 2011

    Joost,

    Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns about Go Daddy’s Product Badge.

    Go Daddy stands behind our current search engine usage. We are however working to make a change in our user interface which will show the advertisement included with the WebSite Tonight badge.

    We expect this modification to be implemented by the end of the month.

    We appreciate your dedication to SEO.

    Jim Christian
    Director, Search Engine Optimization

    • Nathan
      By Nathan on 16 December, 2011

      The real penalty is not going to come from Google, but from the loss of respect and trust from current and potential customers. Even in war ethics come into play, why should seo be any different.

    • Paul
      By Paul on 22 December, 2011

      I don’t think the concern was specifically about the “badge”. LOL. Nice try, though.

  25. Darryl
    By Darryl on 16 December, 2011

    Sounds like sour grapes to me. Since when has SEO been fair.

  26. Jonathan
    By Jonathan on 16 December, 2011

    Super interesting process of large scale link building. I’m really keen to see how this plays out in the long term. I actually place my own links in footers as ‘powered by my company name’. Don’t know why I didn’t think to place anchor text. I agree it’s wrong to decieve people though. They should definitely show it correctly in the preview.

  27. Jerome
    By Jerome on 16 December, 2011

    How does this apply to free WP themes, should or shouldnt we keep the developers link in our footer. Feels right to me but may it hurt my Seo

  28. Dave
    By Dave on 16 December, 2011

    Great report, more to the point, a much needed one.

    There are plenty of categories online that Google seem to be turning a blind eye to in regards to these types of links.

    I’ve watched sites go up in PR yet have 15 or more SEO text links in them for over the past 2 years.

    One wonders how or even if Google really monitors this effectively

  29. John
    By John on 16 December, 2011

    I don’t think Google are as clever as they would have you believe! After all, it’s just an algorithm (albeit a very sophisticated one) and it’s making calculations. Even something of low value will have a major effect if you have enough of it – it’s just maths.
    I think it’s a bit low for GoDaddy to force the badge onto the site (or make it difficult to remove etc) but from a business standpoint it’s obviously been a winning strategy.
    You also have to remember who these websites are targeted to – small businesses with little understanding of SEO. Do these business owners even care that the badge is there…?

  30. Ryan
    By Ryan on 16 December, 2011

    I agree with others, sour grapes. Not sure about the ethics of a respected SEO outing another company.

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 16 December, 2011

      Ryan, when all I can do is out them or start using “illegal” practices myself, I chose the first.

      • David
        By David on 16 December, 2011

        I’m with Joost on this and agree they should be “outed”, but at the end of the day Google will see them as a “brand” and will no doubt allow them to get away with it.

        • Jonathan
          By Jonathan on 16 December, 2011

          Put it this way, if you’re working for GoDaddy would you say no to this tactic?! Risk/Reward.

          Person A: “I think we could use footer links on our website tonight packages to boost rankings and to help generate masses of revenue in other areas of the business”

          SEO Eco Warrior: “No, its against Googles rules, and they always put us first with the decisions they make so should do the same”

          Decision Maker with Common Sense: “Let’s do this!” £££££

          • Alexis
            By Alexis on 23 December, 2011

            Product Manager: Hey Guys? Customers won’t dig the fact that we’re putting hidden ads on their “free” web pages. Sure some won’t catch on but when they do this has the potential to blow up on us. Given the fierce competition in hosting maybe we should court a little user goodwill and pass on the spammy linkbait?

            (anyway as an ex-product manager this is what I would have said….)

      • Axel
        By Axel on 29 December, 2011

        Hmz… It’s reason for sour grapes and people taking the trouble calling this sour, got to be pretty sour themselves.

        The YouTube White Label Shortcode plugin has an option to leave a link to author hidden from public view. It’s the only back link I turn on, since most other thank you links are just too ugly. I wouldn’t mind if all plugins had this.

        But for plugins who do a mayor job and are available for free like your WP SEO, Joost, I don’t mind to add a link in the footer. Your article made me think about how important it is. I notice you use “#utm_source=…”

        When adding a link manually, is it helpful to do it like this: “http://yoast.com/wordpress/seo/#utm_source=someurl.ext”, or would you prefer all links to the main url http://yoast.com/ ?

        TY!

  31. Jonathan Walker
    By Jonathan Walker on 16 December, 2011

    Hi Jerome.

    I’d see do it with caution,as I have seen websites fall off the face of the rankings with theme footer links being the probable cause.
    If you are going to do it, I’d suggest playing it safe and avoid any kind of keyword anchor text and use your name/brand instead.

    Just about every web agency has “designed by” in the footer of websites they create, I haven’t seen any that do so with their brand name getting “punished”

    • Jerome
      By Jerome on 16 December, 2011

      Thanks Jonathan.

  32. Olaf Lederer
    By Olaf Lederer on 16 December, 2011

    I remember me that TemplateMonster got a penalty for this kind of techniques. They offer ready made affiliate sites to to their partners and in the versions they used before, a link to their homepage was included.

    I hope that this article is read by people from the search quality team (Hi Matt).

  33. Maciej Fita
    By Maciej Fita on 16 December, 2011

    Those footer links do look quite spammy. Is it a sign a desperation on GoDaddy’s part?

  34. Brad Dalton
    By Brad Dalton on 16 December, 2011

    Good that you have exposed this sought of stuff Joost. Godaddy neds a kick in the arse! And so does Google for allowing it to work

  35. Jeff Downer
    By Jeff Downer on 16 December, 2011

    It’s not just Website Tonight clients. When you register a domain with Go Daddy, they provide a free web page for that domain.

    If the domain owner takes advantage of the free webpage a full width banner Go Daddy advertisement with several links is embedded in the header, not the footer.

  36. Chris Gregory
    By Chris Gregory on 16 December, 2011

    It’s no different than the makers of free wordpress widgets inserting their domain in the header code. You get what you pay for.

  37. Muskie
    By Muskie on 16 December, 2011

    This article would be better if you fixed the following:

    2nd paragraph “getting beating” should be “getting beaten”.

    3rd paragraph “It’s possible to turn this image of” should be “off” not “of”.

    You lose credibility before you even get to make your argument.

    Cheers,

    • Luke McGrath
      By Luke McGrath on 20 December, 2011

      Very petty Muskie. Joost is one of the most credible SEOs on record, I wish I wasn’t getting beating by other SEOs but then I have no crudabilitee

      • Muskie
        By Muskie on 20 December, 2011

        Nothing petty about it.

        These are glaring mistakes in the first paragraphs. When I see poor writing I either stop reading the article or I try to help someone improve it.

        You’re reading way too much into this. I was trying to help. Poorly written publicly posted articles do affect your credibility. If you think it is cool or funny to be ignorant or incoherent when attempting to communication online in the English language, maybe you deserve the beatings you claim to be getting in the search engine rankings for whatever terms and keywords you think will enhance your “crudabilitee”.

        If I was going to hire someone to audit my website and provide advice and services to improve the performance of my website in search engines I’d look into that persons credibility. In fact I’d make a point of researching their name, company name, clients, even former co-workers and employees. I’d also look at their philosophy and track record. I’d want to see proven results. I’d also want to see the ability to string together two sentences or heaven forbid three paragraphs without blatant grammatical errors that even Microsoft Word’s wizard would catch.

        If you’re not smarter than a Microsoft Wizard why would I want to pay money to hire you?

        So before you call someone petty, when they take the time and effort to provide feedback and actually spend their time correcting someone else’s mistake you might want to consider how insulting someone online and deliberately being ignorant will affect your personal credibility and reputation, even your placement in the search engines.

        Go bother someone else now.

        • Joost de Valk
          By Joost de Valk on 20 December, 2011

          Well “Muskie”, you seem to have a hard time reading yourself as you’re not using your real name, which is explicitly requested in the comment rules :)

          I appreciate the feedback though, I’m not a native speaker and do sometimes make stupid mistakes :) *goes off to fix*.

          • Keith D Mains
            By Keith D Mains on 20 December, 2011

            crudabilitee

            someone is yanking someone’s chain me thinks!

            I have this incedibubble feeling

          • Muskie
            By Muskie on 21 December, 2011

            I know you’re not a native English speaker, yet another reason to help you out. Muskie is my name. Surely someone named Joost wouldn’t make fun of someone’s name.

            That’s me in the picture too. Though it is a few years old now. Changing it isn’t a priority.

            Cheers,

        • Joost de Valk
          By Joost de Valk on 20 December, 2011

          I do not by the way believe I lose credibility over that, at least not any more than by using a name like “Muskie” to leave a comment with :)

          • Keith D Mains
            By Keith D Mains on 21 December, 2011

            Maybe Joost change name to Toast! LOL

            It’s no toke I can tell you this tintenet “thing”!

          • Keith D Mains
            By Keith D Mains on 21 December, 2011

            I meant to write Yoke really I did !!

        • Luke McGrath
          By Luke McGrath on 21 December, 2011

          There’s such a thing as helping with grace, especially when helping a non-native speaker. Maybe starting a comment with “Great article, I noticed a few spelling mistakes” or even e-mailing Joost.

          I’m actually a Level Omega Wizard.

        • Brian Cooper
          By Brian Cooper on 22 December, 2011

          Muskie,

          Did you purposely write,

          “If you think it is cool… when attempting to communication online”

    • Chris Hanratty
      By Chris Hanratty on 22 December, 2011

      Muskie, I also noticed the spelling and gramatical errors in this post, but Joost is not a native English speaker, so in my experience and opinion this does not distract from his credibility in any way. Perhaps you are not used to working with multinationals, but where I come from, Australia, we are frequently working with people from all over the world, and its accepted that perfect english isn’t always going to be the case. It is considered incredibly unprofessional and rude to question somebodies credibility and expertiese on the basis of their grasp of the English language. We appreciate that they work in English at all because like most English speaking nations, are pretty crap at every other language. I presume you are Canadian? and speak and write perfect French and English no?

  38. Steve Hards
    By Steve Hards on 16 December, 2011

    Is anyone surprised that GoDaddy – the masters of confusion marketing – are stooping to ‘gray hat’ SEO?

  39. Christopher
    By Christopher on 16 December, 2011

    Ah! strange to know that godaddy is using such SEO trick.

    • Keith D Mains
      By Keith D Mains on 21 December, 2011

      Why is that then did you think they we’re fully asleep instead of only have asleep?

      Sorry couldn’t resist that – Why would this be a surprise though really?

  40. Ken
    By Ken on 17 December, 2011

    20,000 footer links > 100 major links

    The war on rankings is usually won by the company with the best automated process and resources to support the strategy.

    No different than Adobe’s agency reaching out to bloggers who use their specific targeted keywords and asking for backlinks. link building is link building, you build links, you win.

  41. Jerry
    By Jerry on 17 December, 2011

    So I just need to launch a web hosting business using AWS or something and offer one-click web sites and I can boost my pagerank.

  42. Chris
    By Chris on 17 December, 2011

    Not sure if you own w3-edge.com, but isn’t giving them an anchor text link rich (WordPress Experts) in your footer akin to the same thing?

  43. Rxbbx
    By Rxbbx on 17 December, 2011

    You should be neutral. Every big company plays it this way. It’s Google who has to decide, not yoast because of some serp’s. Great blog by the way, but this article is not worth it.

  44. Cristian
    By Cristian on 17 December, 2011

    Would you be surprised if Godaddy pays money to Google to let this trick happen? Google is a money machine! I have no reason to see Google like a guardian angel.

    • Cioara
      By Cioara on 18 December, 2011

      It would be really easier to pay money to Google to take some specific places instead of paying for a permision to put smamy links, don’t you think? :)

  45. Keith D Mains
    By Keith D Mains on 18 December, 2011

    Google have been saying footer links don’t count for much Google also have been supposedly saying they don’t use meta key words but I have a lot of evidence to the contrary

    I think a lot of what is said in many of these regards is pure bull

    If Google don’t use meta keyword then WTF are they using them here for then > view-source:http://www.html5rocks.com/en/

    People talk a lot of smelly stuff

    I recently used footer links to snatch a load of page ones myself so I know first hand that’s another perpetuated sniff of that smelly stuff called hut hum bull (cough) shshh IT

  46. Akbar Amri
    By Akbar Amri on 18 December, 2011

    Large sites often times it wants to improve their website ranking. Already evidenced by Godaddy and HostGator. It’s actually an unethical way, but it has often done. However, every time there are also customers who still use it. So, maybe this is something that dilemma.

  47. Michael Kern
    By Michael Kern on 18 December, 2011

    Joost, I am just wondering, is it considered spam to put a link to your company web site if you are a website designer. Or are you up in arms because they are manipulating anchor text? It seems all web design companies are putting a link in the footer

  48. Vic Dinovici
    By Vic Dinovici on 18 December, 2011

    that’s crazy, never thought GoDaddy is doincg such things like spamming. Just weeks ago I was helping a small company from here, Toronto to put a new company website up and guess what, they were using this GoDaddy tool for their old website.

    Maybe they have to thank me again for helping them switch to WP.

  49. Reno
    By Reno on 18 December, 2011

    I just think it’s ridiculous that companies spam like this. I know there is way too much black hat stuff going on and it’s frustrating. Good article.

  50. Ron
    By Ron on 18 December, 2011

    Deceitful no argument there, but smart? Yes. GoDaddy isn’t exactly known for fair play.

  51. Mike Haydon
    By Mike Haydon on 19 December, 2011

    I wouldn’t have a problem with this if they just put the link in there and left it to the customer to delete it. But those screen shots reslly tell a damning story of deceipt and misdirection. Good catch Joost

  52. Lucas
    By Lucas on 19 December, 2011

    The problem with this kind of stuff is that it works. If Google was more effective at screening it out, companies like Go Daddy wouldn’t bother with it. When you combine these kinds of stories about things slipping through with the stories of quality sites crippled by Panda updates, it becomes more and more obvious they’re struggling to stay ahead of the spammers.

  53. Michael Dorf
    By Michael Dorf on 19 December, 2011

    This is disgusting. Since Google isn’t smart enough to detect this type of thing, I hope they are at least fair enough to rank THIS article high on “GoDaddy” related keywords. More people should know how much “integrity” this provider has before giving them their business.

  54. S K Mat
    By S K Mat on 19 December, 2011

    Ha..Ha.. Nothing is free in life

  55. Dan
    By Dan on 19 December, 2011

    Interesting find there. I occasionally come across clients who still use GoDaddy Website Tonight as their primary web builder, first thing we do is get them off of that. It’s a pretty bad service to begin with, let alone the GoDaddy graphic+text link.

    GoDaddy shouldn’t charge for their Website Tonight package since they are obviously getting a big boost from the SEO value of their customers using the service.

    • Keith D Mains
      By Keith D Mains on 20 December, 2011

      LOL smart thinking RE the client thing Dan though RE the Website tonight comment – let’s look at the upsell cross sell thing on GoDaddy a sec hmm nope can’t see them forgoing that income stream in a hurry me thinks especially not with really big SEO bonus this link building godaddy page is about here.

  56. Caravan Club Network
    By Caravan Club Network on 19 December, 2011

    Yeah this is not the first time big companies have used this technique of ontaining backlinks without website owners permision. All those links should be cancelled.

  57. Eric Ward
    By Eric Ward on 19 December, 2011

    Outstanding article. Here’s the way I see it.

    – These links should not impact search rank.

    – These links would be fine if they did not impact search rank.

    – These links are positively impacting search rank for some, but not all, sites that try them.

    – This encourages others to try it.

    – S.E.’s need to ignore all footer links for rankings purposes. Not some, not most. All.

    – Nobody puts high importance content links at the very end of a web page, and then does it over and over on other pages. If all footer links were removed from rankings calculations, the results would be better and the collateral damage would be minimal.

    – This will happen in 2012

    • Illiya Vjestica
      By Illiya Vjestica on 21 December, 2011

      Let’s hope so Eric. I completely agree with all those statements.

  58. Luke
    By Luke on 19 December, 2011

    I can remember 5 years ago finding those links at the bottom of websites. They’ve been doing it for a long time and apparently it’s really starting to payoff. Google needs to put an end to this kind of spammy link building technique. I’ve had friends who have used the service as well but I disabled the feature for them :)

  59. Chris
    By Chris on 20 December, 2011

    Inmotion Hosting, I suspect is doing something unnatural too.
    Chris

  60. Illiya Vjestica
    By Illiya Vjestica on 20 December, 2011

    Well said Joost! It’s not just GoDaddy who do this technique. A lot of web design agencies use this practice as sneakily by always putting a ‘website by’ or ‘designed by’ footer link with appropriate anchor text such as ‘web design agency’.

    If a client pays for their website, it should be their right to have a link there or not. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

    If you have 10,000 footer links on unrelated sites with unnatural anchor text distribution why shouldn’t they be de-valued. Still not a fair system.

  61. Michael Kern
    By Michael Kern on 20 December, 2011

    Hey Yoast I have an Idea for ya, not really sure if it is possible, but it looks like your a developer, so here it is: Make an app to crawl godaddy footer links, locate email address of site owner, auto email them a message: (“did you know your host is sucking your link juice, and undermining your business?” follow me for more great SEO info!)

    This is away to turn lemons into lemon-aid, don’t know if it is possible, but it seems like it should be

    What cha think?

  62. Thomas
    By Thomas on 20 December, 2011

    Its still he who has the most links wins. And anyway you can get them is fair game. And nothing is better than an anchor text links from many many TLD’s!

    • Keith D Mains
      By Keith D Mains on 21 December, 2011

      U sure about that Thomas?

      By posting here it may have the opposite effect – did you consider that as something you might need to worry about?

      I or U could find adding a link here has in fact not quite the desired effect link builders think it does

      I will say no more on that though as I know what I know and you can see what you can suss yourself.

      If you are posting just for links my point is that this may have other effects you may not be aware of and al is not as it seems in my experience.

  63. Steve Anson
    By Steve Anson on 21 December, 2011

    I think it’s fine for GD to include these links in the footer of their site. It’s normal practice for software and website developers to include a site credit.

    • Dmytro Antypov
      By Dmytro Antypov on 21 December, 2011

      The problem is it’s not theirs. These links were inappropriately placed on the page without explicitly asking the user’s permission. And a service called “Website Tonight” isn’t a free, so users doesn’t required to keep the footer links intact due credit to its authors.

  64. Dave
    By Dave on 21 December, 2011

    So footer links still do work! …Do you think adding an image would strengthen this strategy than just having one ordinary text link??

  65. Marloes Groot
    By Marloes Groot on 21 December, 2011

    Great post, i have seen some cases where companies really ranked lower, because of the foother links, but after reading your post, i was really surprised, i hope this post will be picked up by Google, and we will see another J.C. Penny story for Go Daddy…

  66. Olaf Pijl
    By Olaf Pijl on 21 December, 2011

    Great post, Joost! Thank you for sharing.

  67. Keith D Mains
    By Keith D Mains on 21 December, 2011

    I just got emailed tat someone had replied they think the links at the foot of sites pages should not really count for anything and tat this will be the case in 2012

    I say hogwash

    Footer links will continue to be used

    The best solution IMHO is to

    Penalise too much repetition in keyword(s) text which would be what I am assuming the generated ones will be.
    That is to say for example GoDaddy likely use maybe a half dozen or some anchor text targets let’s say.

    The manual SEO can then beat this by diversification across pages therefore not being penalised for having too many of the same links with the same text and perhaps even too quickly.

    This would be fair for everyone as I for one will continue to use footer links and will be still doing so in 2022 unless I find a good reason not to.

    The text anchor footer links are sometimes the only place for certain links and for this diversification of incoming links for pages during link building tactics.

    But then I am not adding these links personally for gaining ranks as such I just use them to provide a descriptive back link and I try to diversify. Though I to am guilty of having sites with all my footer links the same text on each page. Something I plan to address when I get Round Tuit (A round tuit > http://kd-mains.com/round-tuit.htm

    Google ought to practise what they preach with the repetition and “too much behavioural” characteristics say in GoDaddys case for example but alas is that really the way it works dya think?

  68. Razvan
    By Razvan on 21 December, 2011

    Your findings are 100% true. We also had checked Godaddy a couple of weeks ago and found the same things.

    Here is a snapshot of what i meant and it got a comparison with some of there competitors.

    https://twitter.com/#!/cognitiveSEO/status/149158481453260800/photo/1

  69. Jenn @therebelchick
    By Jenn @therebelchick on 22 December, 2011

    That is just lame. I can’t believe they are getting away with that. Just one more reason I am looking for a new hosting service!

  70. Adrian
    By Adrian on 22 December, 2011

    Good research Yoast and good to get it out into the public arena. I hope Google do see this and take some action to penalize GoDaddy for this unethical practice. I do wonder if their increased usage of this was the result of all the bad publicity they got from the elephant killing photos. Maybe they lost a lot of business as a result and needed to boost their visibility in rankings to recover from it. I have no problem with footer links when I know they are there but placing them secretly without the website owner’s knowledge or consent is underhand

  71. Eric Hansel
    By Eric Hansel on 22 December, 2011

    Iv’e also noticed them linking to goDaddy.com in the footer of premium WordPress theme’s that they sell when you use their one click install. You can change the text in the theme options(at least for a theme I had to deal with), but how many people really do that?

  72. John W. Furst
    By John W. Furst on 22 December, 2011

    Well, well, and the Godaddy hosting related sneaked in link should be rel=”nofollow” according to Google TOS.
    If not anything else as outline by you YOAST that should make it link spam by default.

    IMHO (in my humble opinion) Google ought to crank down on this one.

    Footer links in free themes are kind of similar in my point of view. Can’t be to difficult to crack down on this practice algorithmically once they have decided to do so. (e.g. number of links to specific domain from footer links of a particular site, …).

    Many think SEO resembles the old “catch me if you can” game. Always on the move.

    Thanks for pointing this out.
    Yours
    John

    • Keith D Mains
      By Keith D Mains on 22 December, 2011

      I agree with you John but think manual links here and there differentiating the text and links is OK but

      The way to penalise is penalise the auto generated links with overly repetitive links and same text

      Surely there lays the answer and such things should be a piece of PI to detect and Google do love their PI though maybe they love there Pie more than their Pi if you get my drift/.

  73. Glenn Bearsky
    By Glenn Bearsky on 22 December, 2011

    Reading this post and comments made me just want to claw my brains out.

    Congratulations GoDaddy for brilliant link-graph manipulation par excellent!

    Google: You may now DEINDEX GoDaddy completely – Like you’ve done to some of my properties. Or even better yet, send them to the Page 5-ish hell of a Minus-50 penalty for 2+ years like you’ve done to me.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go tweak the footers on ALL of my sites. :)

  74. Warren
    By Warren on 22 December, 2011

    I can name maybe 50 other ways that are way less ethical to get links. Those links appear on sites that godaddy at least has something to do with. They helped create them, why shouldn’t they benefit from it? maybe they went over board but unethical is a long way from this if you ask me. There are programs that spam comments, that spam directory sites, that spam article sites, that spam blogs, with no human interaction. Lets ignore those and focus on a site which actually provides a service to those it uses for SEO? No give it up mate.

    • Paul Schlegel
      By Paul Schlegel on 23 December, 2011

      The way I read the article, he was talking about GoDaddy’s transparency towards it’s customers. What you’re talking about has more to do with the other point of his article – how much Google devalues certain types of links.

  75. Bill (LoneWolf) Nickerson
    By Bill (LoneWolf) Nickerson on 22 December, 2011

    I don’t think that the issue here is footer links per se. Rather, it is deceptively placed footer links.

    Links with anchor text like “Powered by ZZZ” or “Site Design By ZZZ” are expected and build the ranking of the brand itself. These types of links should be factored by Google as they are an indication of the popularity of a product/brand.

    But I see 2 things that GoDaddy is doing wrong here:
    1) They are using generic anchor text, not specific to the GoDaddy brand
    2) They are not showing the user the link in the preview

    If the anchor text of the links was “This site is hosted by GoDaddy” or “Domain registered at GoDaddy” (provided that is true for that site) then that is acceptable.

    Just using text like “web hosting companies” is a text ad and the owner of the site should know about it and get paid for it, or at least make it an affiliate link for the site owner.

  76. Ryan Fortin
    By Ryan Fortin on 22 December, 2011

    Seriously man? They offer a free CMS/Website builder and get a link in exchange. This is a common foundation of the internet. WordPress.org does with every install of WordPress. Thousands of free WordPress themes and plugins will install a footer link on your site. I just can’t take this post seriously. Its nothing more than linkbait. I swear the entire SEO “blogging” industry is one giant circle jerk.

    • Paul Schlegel
      By Paul Schlegel on 22 December, 2011

      It’s not free. The lowest plan for it is $4.99/month.

    • Paul
      By Paul on 23 December, 2011

      OK. There is an ad-sponsored version & paid version. It’s not clear to me if the original article is talking about both. I’m doing my own research on it.

    • Paul Schlegel
      By Paul Schlegel on 23 December, 2011

      The examples he gives in the article appear to be from the paid hosting plans. The free one uses a different link at the top of the page that says:
      “This page is hosted free, courtesy of GoDaddy.com® along with”:.

      “Visit GoDaddy.com for the best values on: Domain names, Web hosting and more! See product catalog.”

  77. Keith D Mains
    By Keith D Mains on 22 December, 2011

    You are right Bill you “nail on the head” hitter you!

    I think an advert is an advert in it’s self and therefore a commodity – it always baffled me at school as to why people liked advertising sports brands for free and bragged about the latest 2in thing” (Hey I was young back then in the 70’s)

    But this is a bigger liberty as it also ha the effect on search results.

    It is as big a liberty in fact as Facebook using peoples like status on products to advertise thoise products.

    It was in UK TV recently and it doesn’t affect me as I never really like anything and certainly not on Facebook LOL. But it is an absolute abuse of peoples naivety just like GoDaddy’s use of this actual text link addition in the “Website Tonight’s” case.

    • Keith D Mains
      By Keith D Mains on 22 December, 2011

      In fact I rename Facebook as

      “Face Stealing Book”

  78. Dale
    By Dale on 22 December, 2011

    Good luck getting Google to discount Godaddy’s inbound spam links. A couple of years ago they teamed up together. I learned this through one of Godaddy’s phone support techs.

    • Paul Schlegel
      By Paul Schlegel on 23 December, 2011

      Any idea of how that deal was structured? Was it just GoDaddy using Google’s services, or was it an official partnership.

      Here’s what it says on the Google Blog:
      “Go Daddy, the world’s largest domain name registrar and top web hosting provider, has made it easy for website owners to integrate Google Custom Search into their websites through its WebSite Tonight product.

      “WebSite Tonight is a do-it-yourself service that lets users create, design, update and publish websites without requiring any knowledge of HTML. The product offers 1,500+ design templates and enables you to very easily add widgets to your web pages. WebSite Tonight was named for its ease of use—you can create a website as quickly as one night.

      Now, you have the option to add high-quality search across your website using Google Custom Search, simply by dragging and dropping a search box widget into your template. You can select from a set of predefined search themes, so the search results can be in harmony with the website’s design.”

      There’s a 1/11/2011 MarketingPilgrim article about it.

  79. Derek Blandford
    By Derek Blandford on 22 December, 2011

    Ok, maybe I’m going to play the Devil’s advocate, but is this “wrong” by Go Daddy or actually extremely “smart” by Go Daddy?

    The way I see it is it’s Go Daddy’s company and Go Daddy’s services. Therefore, it’s THEIR rules. If you choose to use their services then you agree to THEIR rules. If you don’t like the links then don’t use their services.

    It’s really no different than wordpress sites saying, “Powered by WordPress”. It’s just that Go Daddy saw an opportunity to get targeted anchor text links that count more in the search engines. Bad or extremely smart? You decide.

    Plus, you mentioned that users are able to turn these links off. Just because most people don’t “know about it” or “don’t pay attention” isn’t Go Daddy’s fault is it?

    Now, the fact of them appearing or not appearing in the preview is a different story. Obviously I think they should appear in the preview the way they will appear on the site. Whether that’s a “bug” or on purpose by Go Daddy, only Go Daddy knows.

    To me, this is just like when marketers get pissed off at Google because they suddenly change the way they rank sites. It’s THEIR search engine. It’s THEIR rules. They can change anything at anytime and when they do so they are doing NOTHING wrong. If you’re going to rely on SEO and Google, you have to know and accept that.

    Now whether these links should count significantly toward rankings is a different story that Google’s algorithm will have to address. Honestly, they probably count very little individually, but in sheer numbers they obviously have power. Most of us simply can’t get hundreds of thousands of links like that to see any improvement in our rankings.

    But if Go Daddy wants to put a link on every site someone makes through their website builder, then more power to them.

    If you don’t like it, use a different service. It’s that simple.

    And I’m not sure I agree with this sentence, “The right way would be for GoDaddy to ask their customers whether they’re allowed to insert a link and make them choose where it points.”

    Wouldn’t that be like owning a retail store and saying that you’re going to ask your customers if it’s ok for you to sell pants in your store? No. Of course not. You’re going to sell pants if you want to sell pants and if people don’t like it then they shouldn’t come in your store.

    Or am I wrong here?

    • Paul Schlegel
      By Paul Schlegel on 23 December, 2011

      A “bug”…yeh, that’s what it was…a “bug”…

  80. abozar bakhtiari
    By abozar bakhtiari on 23 December, 2011

    This site is very efficient at

  81. Bruce Jones
    By Bruce Jones on 23 December, 2011

    I just set up a SSL security certificate for a client of ours that uses GoDaddy hosting and I noticed their security validation badge you manually add to the page has the same sort of self serving link. I was able to remove the link before adding it.

  82. Krisztian
    By Krisztian on 23 December, 2011

    It is strange that Google has not picked this up yet … It must be only a matter of time before they do. Hostgator got picked up … GoDaddy will too. They should pick it up purely based on the anchor text being used so often …however they are getting a lot of other incoming links (raw links and other anchor text) so that might keep them under the radar. However the limited number of IP addresses must raise a flag sooner or later…

  83. Anita
    By Anita on 23 December, 2011

    thanks, this article make me (newbie) know about this

  84. Craig Jones
    By Craig Jones on 23 December, 2011

    No surprises here. GoDaddy has a ruthless marketing drive which outweighs their customer service.

  85. Amazed by this
    By Amazed by this on 23 December, 2011

    GoDaddy is taking footer link targeting to a new level, with the use of varied generic text and hiding it from their customers in the preview.

    Earlier this year when the company was sold for $2.5 billion, the CEO/founder did say that the company is going to expand to the next level. I just hope that its not with sneaky tactics.

  86. Paul
    By Paul on 23 December, 2011

    How can anyone have faith in using white hat link practices? Even short-term, prominent rankings can be worth immediate dollars and brand recognition. What’s right is what gets you noticed, regardless of Google’s guidelines.

  87. Ryan O'Meara
    By Ryan O'Meara on 23 December, 2011

    Damn. On Google’s suggestion I got rid of nearly all of my footer links on the assumption that they may in fact be harmful. Seems not!

  88. Eric Gillette
    By Eric Gillette on 23 December, 2011

    Really — does this surprise any of you??

    I mean we’ve known for years that this kind of stuff happens, but it works so well because most purchasers of GoDaddy’s Website Tonight baloney don’t pay attention.

    I’ve moved countless people off GoDaddy’s Website Tonight nonsense and to real hosting. . .ironically their “website tonight” is entirely proprietary and makes moving the website in question to any other host almost impossible.

    I had to use HTTrack to move 16 websites away from their “Website Tonight” nonsense and to a real hosting account.

    The clients were shocked to learn that GoDaddy owned the images they were using in their websites, and also did not make it easy to port their sites to a regular hosting account.

    I also explained to them that GoDaddy did this on purposes in an effort to force them to stay with them for hosting, similar to what Yahoo! used to do with the propietary RTML language that *must* be used for their hosting system — build your site in RTML, and be stuck on Yahoo’s hosting for life, because NO OTHER host supports RTML, and it’s propietary to Yahoo!

    Most people are completely unaware of GoDaddy’s tactics.

  89. Mark Brown
    By Mark Brown on 24 December, 2011

    This is another great post from Yoast. Anytime information like this from a trusted source is published it levels the playing field. Good Information always helps me make more informed decisions. Regardless of your viewpoint, knowing what is being done and how it’s being done always helps in the decision making process. Thanks for another great post.

  90. Steffen Daleng
    By Steffen Daleng on 24 December, 2011

    Interesting.. But comeon.. so whats next? Should all of us that owns web agencies then not be allowed to have our logo / text link in the bottom of a clients webpage, if it is agreed on by the client ? – People still have a free will, and they see what GoDaddy is doing this from the first second they see the site live. they DO have the free choice.

    WordPress does the same and so does a thousand other services.

  91. Mens Health Cures
    By Mens Health Cures on 26 December, 2011

    This is black hat SEO at its finest, and eventually Google will punish GoDaddy for this sneaky and deceptive SEO technique, since many customers are not aware of the tactic and have not agreed to it.

  92. Brian
    By Brian on 26 December, 2011

    Grest investigation, Joost! Though it angers me, I predict this tactic will be around for much longer. Same situation as Mingle2 though they were nailed and recovered. Yet they still use these badge tactics and succeed.

  93. Thanushka
    By Thanushka on 26 December, 2011

    I finally understood the profit behind free themes.

  94. Paula Henry
    By Paula Henry on 27 December, 2011

    It does seem the Big Dogs have an advantage of playing on a different field that the little guys. Not so level, either!

  95. Mike Baker
    By Mike Baker on 27 December, 2011

    It’s important to know if your looking for a hosting provider that uses your sites as their advertising. On GoDaddy’s part it not much worse then many of us putting designed by your firm on the bottom of created sites so other potential customers van see your work or maybe click the link.

    How many free templates for WordPress have the creators link on the site with a saying this cannot be removed, plugins as well.

    How many design firms are willing to link to other companies, or for that matter any company with the same potential customer base, not many.

  96. Tony
    By Tony on 29 December, 2011

    Go Daddy must have heard the wise saying ” Learn the rules so you can break them properly” Dalai Lama

  97. Ray
    By Ray on 29 December, 2011

    I know of another hosting company that adds their links in footers of websites if you use their auto-installer. At least they did last time I checked. I don’t know if they are removeable or not. I just know that they do it. I don’t have a problem with it so much if they were providing it for free, but when you pay a monthly free then I don’t think it is the right thing to do. I wouldn’t want it in my footer if I were paying a monthly fee. Same with templates, themes, plugins, you name it. If it is provided for free no big deal, but if you pay for it then I don’t think it is right. It is kind of a sneaky practice.

    • Andrew
      By Andrew on 7 January, 2012

      Netfirms does it with WordPress but it’s just a plugin to deactivate.

  98. ishy
    By ishy on 30 December, 2011

    I’d say godaddy has more than just spammy links to contend with since according to my research it is also host to the most concentrated barrage of cyber crime by the world’s malcontents…

    what is it with the so-called edoced 46esab lave that leaves our wp sites so vulnerable..?

    if their brains are mere egg timers where does the sand pour

  99. Emman Lijesta
    By Emman Lijesta on 30 December, 2011

    Some or most free blogger and WP themes are doing this strategy. Nothing new. Godaddy just have a big advantage or “privilege” for doing this because they are BIG. They are doing SEO on another field level.

  100. Jack
    By Jack on 31 December, 2011

    Hi!

    Even westhost is doing this. What are your thoughts about that?

  101. Stella Mccartney
    By Stella Mccartney on 3 January, 2012

    I don’t see Google de-indexing Go Daddy. These companies are business partners, every time you buy a domain via blogger,the domain is registered with Go Daddy. Care to do a google search on “web hosting” or “buy domain” and there is a big chance Go Daddy is at the top of sponsored results. Go Daddy is premium Google customer.

    Go Daddy will get off with a slap on the wrist. They will just be told to go easy on their campaign. Anyone remember JCPenny.

  102. Rhonda
    By Rhonda on 3 January, 2012

    I also have hosting at GoDaddy so I had to check if this applied to my sites. Lucky me their build in WP and not in Website Tonight

  103. Mark McLaren
    By Mark McLaren on 3 January, 2012

    Yoast – Thanks to this post, I just noticed that GoDaddy is doing something very similar when clients add a GoDaddy “WEBSITE PROTECTION” badge to a site. The badge is intended to show that a client is using GoDaddy’s malware protection service, called “Website Protection Site Scanner”, that “performs an automated daily vulnerability scan … to detect vulnerabilities and/or security threats.”

    Underneath the badge, GoDaddy adds a completely separate link to its own home page. There’s no reason for this link other than to boost GoDaddy search visibility – at the expense of the site that displays the badge.

  104. 100 Workout
    By 100 Workout on 5 January, 2012

    Honestly I can’t see that GoDaddy is doing anything wrong here. This is no different that the footer links in templates that many above have mentioned, and if the customer is too stupid to remove this before making their page live… that’ s their fault. Ultimately I doubt G will discount these links in any way.

  105. Andrew
    By Andrew on 5 January, 2012

    I fail to see the difference between what GoDaddy is doing, and what Joost does when he puts his link in the header of every sitemap generated by his WordPress SEO plugin. What am I missing here? Isn’t this the pot calling the kettle “black”.

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 5 January, 2012

      I’ll tell you: Google can’t spider those links in XML Sitemaps, as they’re not in the XML Sitemap but in the XSLT stylesheet, which renders it to look the way it looks in your browser.

      • Andrew
        By Andrew on 7 January, 2012

        I was unaware of that, but even so, to remove it one must enter the code or use another plugin to remove the links. I don’t have an issue with credits in the footer, credits in the XML sitemap, or you blog feed in my dashboard, as I do read your blog posts and appreciate the insight it gives on various topics. However, when things are placed in a solution, that don’t need to be there, I’d appreciate a way to turn them off. If there is no benefit to user, then the links must benefit you, otherwise you wouldn’t have put them there.

        I’m not saying that what GoDaddy is doing should stand, but a link is a link. You can’t fault GD for using a link in one self-benefitting way, when you’re using a link in a different self-benefiting way. You’re both self-benefiting from someone else’s web property.

        If it’s a matter of paid versus free, then link away and charge a few bucks for a linkless version. I primarily use your plugin on client sites. I’d happily have paid the cost instead of having to go build a plugin to do the removal. Either way I don’t have to deal with any more clients asking about the “other” links in the sitemaps.

        Anyway, do what you do. This is only my opinion, and i only voiced it because I do see a close resemblance to the GD issue, even if the reasons are different. The outcome is likely the same: brand/product knowledge and increased traffic and conversions.

  106. Avinash
    By Avinash on 6 January, 2012

    I have Domains at GoDaddy so I had to check if this applied to my sites. but i hosted outside thanks for the info :)

  107. Scott Winterroth
    By Scott Winterroth on 7 January, 2012

    Joost,

    I love you like a brother I never met. But, think we need to be clear about one thing… There are certain developers that make sure their blog’s RSS feed ends up in everyone’s WP dashboards. Surprised one would throw stones.

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 7 January, 2012

      Well, brother, my plugins are A: free and not a paid service, B: if you push the X on that thing it’ll disappear, both for you and for other users on your blog.

      The analogy is quite wrong.

  108. Pritush
    By Pritush on 7 January, 2012

    this kind of spammy link-building technique is used by statpress too. here is the example of one of the code;

    class=”statcounter”><img
    class="statcounter"…

    in this case tumblr is hidden backlink it is sometime wordpress,joomla etc.

  109. Quentin Pain
    By Quentin Pain on 8 January, 2012

    I did a search for Yoast and luckily enough ended up on this page. You are very brave Joost is all I can say.

    The one thing I have never been able to get my head around is the notion that if you wanted to kill off a competitor, you could just (WARNING: DONT DO THIS AT HOME KIDS) send a load of spammy links.

    But that cannot be the case or the net would be awash with it (and G would have to ignore it all anyway). So instead G issues webmaster warnings, but as far as I can see those warnings are irrelevant (after all, if you don’t respond to a warning what is G going to do about it – especially if the links have been placed *illegally*).

    You can smell lawsuits in abundance! We know all this stuff goes on in business and not just on the web (Virgin vs BA dirty tricks case for example).

    So it is no surprise to me that GoDaddy scored a hit with this (obviously) and no surprise that it circumvents their guidelines and gets away with it.

  110. Vegas Pundit
    By Vegas Pundit on 8 January, 2012

    Wow. An eye opener, and it seems to totally unfair… I guess its up to webmasters to deactivate these kinds of links.

  111. David Saunders
    By David Saunders on 9 January, 2012

    These practice have now become standard practice in almost all webhost offering these tools. I have seen some other big names also engage in these practices.

    If I paid $ for a service then I shouldn’t have to carry the burden of having to advertise your site along with.

    If Google takes any action on this it had be a second double hit after reddit boycotting godaddy last month.

  112. Henrik
    By Henrik on 9 January, 2012

    Another bad move from Godaddy. I guess Google could manually give GoDaddy some penalty.

  113. Rajiv
    By Rajiv on 10 January, 2012

    Every free stuff,come with a price.Every one do this and nothing wrong in this.I have blogs on wordpress as well as on blogger and all custome templates i using has a footer link.

  114. Dave Felton
    By Dave Felton on 10 January, 2012

    Great find and a genuinely informative article.

    Thing is though, as many have already pointed out – Big G will continue to do this. Google is a marketing company not a search engine (about 97% of income comes from advertising). Punishing big spending advertisers and large companies is not what they are about.

    Peace.

  115. Jeff Clark DC
    By Jeff Clark DC on 11 January, 2012

    Hope Google trashes them in SEO, as well as the other search engines

  116. Dess
    By Dess on 13 January, 2012

    What amazes me is that Google says that “when you publish a site act as if there is no search engine” or something like that. But look here, if big companies do anything like this, imagine how far individuals will go. This SEO thing is really messy I think.

  117. Levi Marr
    By Levi Marr on 15 January, 2012

    Wow Joost, nice work, thx for the info, btw im not using godaddy for anything… im in hostmonster, great guys there.

  118. Andres
    By Andres on 15 January, 2012

    It’s a great deal that I have had found and subscribed to your newsletter, it’s fabulous what you do and I thank you for it since it help us who own a website.


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