How Is My Web Host Sneaking Links Onto My Site?December 13th, 2012 by Jessica Glynn
In May we warned you about the Google Penguin, an algorithm change which was intended to reduce spam results on their search engine. However well intentioned, many small business websites were punished, while other websites were able to sneak through the cracks.
One place that we have heard of businesses getting punished by the Penguin is with inexpensive (or “free”) web hosting that allows you to set up a site quickly using widgets. This can be appealing to business owners who are short on time and are not ready to make a large investment into their web site. However, when users skip reading their terms of agreement, they might end up getting what they paid for.
One of the most well-known hosting sites puts their badge on the bottom of the web sites they host, leading to a landing page. This isn’t in and of itself necessarily a bad thing. It’s how they do it that makes it a sneaky move. When their customers are using their tools, the button looks small and not obnoxious at all. However, when they look at their site in production, a large link which wasn’t in the preview is now below the button.
Keeping in mind that these are customers who have not made a large investment and are using a quick service, they may not be double checking and testing their site like a developer would. Customers are able to turn the button image off, however it always shows in the editor tools, so thinking they have not turned it off, many chose to change it from black to white to be less noticeable.
It is important to note that it is not just one company that does this. Another large web hosting company puts their link in the footer of all their sites, right next to the site map link, but in larger print.
If you had to change your SEO strategy as a result of the penguin, you know how time consuming getting the links from your previous link-building techniques off other people sites were, so what I’m about to tell you may hurt a little. Since Google considers footer information unimportant, the hosting sites that are doing this, are not being punished for it. They are ranking well in Google for key words which they should not be ranking for by using your site (which you pay them for) for free advertising.
The lesson here is, read your terms of service to know what your host can and cannot do, but most importantly always test your website after you edit it.