You’ve seen it yourself on many accountant and law firm websites and it may be on your own website too.
Right at the bottom of the page, usually in small unobtrusive lettering, your website designer places an innocuous piece of text saying something like ‘Website designed and built by Acme Developers‘.
Most web developers place this text in the footer file which means it’s automatically included in every existing and new page into the infinite future.
You may justifiably think your website developer has done a great job for your firm (read this first if you’re contemplating a website redesign) and you may even be pleased that they want to have their name on your website as a way of showing pride in their work.
But a more subtle reason for doing this, which may not have been discussed with you, is that your developer places a hyperlink around this text pointing back to their own website’s home page (sometimes with a stylesheet applied so that the link only shows up as a link when you hover your mouse over it).
In Google’s world a link is quite valuable – under Google’s PageRank system (all other things being equal) an outgoing link like this from your own business’s website is effectively a vote for how close to the top of the search results your web developer’s own website should rank. In addition the value of the link is influenced by the text that forms the link, the ‘anchor text’ – which is why the web developer usually creates the link around the words ‘website designed and built by‘ (on the basis that people searching for website developers may use one or more of these words in combination).
A key point worth noting is that each link actually subtracts a small amount of ranking from each page on your site i.e. in aggregate there is a ‘ranking cost’ to your site in doing this.
If you are a mid-size professional services firm who writes articles, or even a small firm who writes a larger number of articles (in Australia the average law firm who syndicates through Mondaq writes 73 articles a year) this backlinking technique will result in literally hundreds of links from your website to your developer’s over time as you add more website pages.
And the really neat bit is that as your website becomes more popular and is further linked to, for example as you sponsor events, are active in social media, or list your professionals in directories, a little bit more PageRank is transferred to your web developer’s home page from every page in your site.
So the more popular your website becomes, the more you are promoting your web developer’s site, possibly even years after they last did any work for you.
Now that we’ve burned bridges with some website developers we come into contact with in our website analytics work, here’s our suggestion about how you as a professional services firm negotiate this issue with your own web design firm.
The underlying key point is that you are paying the website developer to build your website to help promote your business and not vice versa (unless you’ve agreed a suitable discount for the ongoing promotion).
Your website designer may even be surprised that you object to their link marketing scheme – many of their other clients won’t have noticed.
“But we always do this,” they may say in a somewhat injured tone (maybe a little like financial advisers who have been selling investment products with 30 year trailing commissions).
You could ask them where in the quote they provided you’re giving ongoing marketing services to them, but instead we suggest the following if you find this is happening on your site and your developer has not been fully transparent:
- remove the link in your footer (you can still leave the ‘site built by’ text) and offer your developer a testimonial on their own website. You can say that they are “the best, the fastest and very creative”.
- underneath that testimonial on your web developer’s website you’d like a small unobtrusive outgoing link (using keywords carefully chosen by you) to your own firm’s website
You might feel you’ve been pushy, but at least your developer does know why you want this and is only giving up a small amount of ranking as you’re getting a link from one testimonial page where they were getting links from every page on your site.
And best of all, if your developer was also using this technique on all their other clients’ websites, you’ll be better off from a web marketing point of view as those sites’ ranking in turn trickles down to your site.
This is not the only thing to watch in working with website designers if you’re a professional services firm (for example the importance of looking for data about what works best in site redesigns, choosing content management systems first and then your developer, or retaining existing Google Analytics accounts vs recreating one), but this is one of the most common transparency issues we come across.