Home Depot To Correct Misleading Link Request

It read like one of those bad link requests you get. Link to me, and you’ll rank better. It even suggested hiding the link. But the request was from Home Depot, to its network of nearly 2,000 service providers. Now that it’s come to light, the home improvement store chain says it is correcting the mistake.

Home Depot Asks For Links

The link request was sent by Home Depot to providers it recommends for installation projects. It came to light in a Search Engine Watch forum discussion, picked up by Search Engine Roundtable and further by Bill Hartzer, who got a copy of the letter. It read in part:

The Home Depot is in the process improving our online advertising efforts for our installation services. We are using our brand authority and marketing power to increase traffic to our site and convert customers. We would like to extend this benefit to all of our business partners and are requesting that you add a link on your site to relative key words that will aid our related installation page authority. Please note that the hyperlink does not have to be visually indicated.

Linking to The Home Depot website will benefit our business partners by increasing the page authority of your website. Page Authority predicts the likelihood of a single page to rank well in search results. Ranking high in search results will assist with driving more relevant traffic to your website.

The letter went on to request a link to a particular page with recommended anchor text.

Issues With The Request

I’ve bolded the key parts of the letter that should send up red flags to anyone who knows SEO. Saying that links don’t have to be “visually indicated” is a euphemism for hidden links, and having hidden links can get you penalized by Google.

As for saying linking out will give a ranking boost, that’s pretty much a myth. If it were true, you’d see all types of low-quality sites getting immediate gains just by linking to good sites. Rankings don’t work that way.

Google: Monitoring Closely

When I asked Google about the letter yesterday, I was given this statement:

It’s simply untrue to tell vendors that linking to a specific page will automatically increase the vendors’ page authority. Likewise, encouraging websites to make hidden links to a website can lead to violations of our quality guidelines that result in demotion or removal of pages from our index. We will be monitoring this situation closely and taking appropriate action.

Home Depot: Correcting Its Mistake

Will Home Depot face a ban? Unlike situations with JC Penney and Overstock last year, this isn’t a case of buying links, so there’s no violation in that regard. Nor is it a violation to ask a network associated with your business to link back. The hidden link issue is really the tricky part, and that would depend on whether the suppliers actually implemented links in that way.

For its part, Home Depot said the letter should have never gone out. I spoke with Jean Niemi, a Home Depot spokesperson who told me:

We investigated the letter here internally, and it was a truly unfortunate letter that was poorly worded and misleading.

Niemi said that Home Depot “in no way” supported hiding links nor believes that links to its site will help service providers rank better. She said the letter had gone out to its service providers, which she says number nearly 2,000, without being vetted by Home Depot’s communications team, as it should have.

“We have pretty strict SEO standards, and that’s what we expect to be used,” Niemi said.

She added that Home Depot had contacted Google to alert it to the letter and was sending out a follow-up letter to its service providers to correct errors in the original one.

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • rdjensen9

    Sounds like the SEO is trying to pull of something shady but it could simply be that he/they/she didn’t know better. Ignorance can get you introuble when it comes to linkbuilding.

  • GraemeC

    It could also be that the SEO was just lying to the business partners about authority attaching itself to outgoing links to give them an incentive to add them. Which is pretty shady behaviour, even for a dodgy SEO.

  • http://twitter.com/YoungbloodJoe Joe Youngblood

    the real question is: if this b.s. is happening inside Home Depot corporate, what other shenanigans are bad seos talking corporate america into?

  • GraemeC

    SEO is not quantum physics. Anyone who spends 5 minutes thinking about whether outgoing links are likely to improve rankings will soon realise the nonsensical nature of the idea. Dishonesty is more likely,

  • http://twitter.com/YoungbloodJoe Joe Youngblood

    that’s exactly what happened IMO. my guess is someone at HD hired an SEO firm, they wrote the shady letter to trick vendors into linking, or at the very least provide an incentive to them to better motivate their link updating. 

    they clearly didnt realize that the 2,000 vendors would run the letter past other SEO’s and third part webmaster firms that keep those sites updated. It was a terrible tactic and an even worse job at trying to execute it.again, just my opinion.

  • http://www.seobodybuilder.com/ Russell Jensen

     Your probably right. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I have been too trusting in the past.

  • http://william.isted.me/ William Isted

    “Please note that the hyperlink does not have to be visually indicated.” means the hyperlink does not have to be visually indicated (surprise), which does not mean anything like hidden. It merely means you don’t have to have any different style to the anchor than the rest of your copy text. Meaning still visible.

  • http://twitter.com/dr_pete Dr. Peter J. Meyers

    We can only speculate what they actually meant, but links that don’t look like links and blend into copy are almost always for SEO and SEO only. Links that can’t be spotted have no value to visitors. Almost every case I’ve seen of links designed to blend in has been manipulative.

  • http://twitter.com/optimizethis Keith Brown

    Notice how they used “page authority”… SEOmoz FTW!

  • bhartzer

     Joe, my understanding is that it was not an SEO vendor who wrote the letter, it was someone at Home Depot corporate.

  • http://profiles.google.com/briank.cox Brian Cox

    Sickens me that these brands just make a statement from their PR person and all is good. Guarantee that sneaky bitch meant to send the email, exactly how it was worded.

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com/ George Michie

    Could be bad intent, but could be poor choice of words.  Had she said “If Home Depot ranks higher for the term ‘Roof repairs’ your business will benefit from a greater number of referrals from us” that would be true.  Not an SEO benefit, but certainly a business benefit.
     

  • http://twitter.com/dcjMatt matt nunes

    I’m curious to see what the follow-up letter will look like.  Hopefully more in the direction of what George Michie is pointing at.  

  • http://SEOinhouse.com/ Jessica Bowman

    I have worked with Home Depot and know their Head of SEO, this is NOT consistent with their approach to link building, nor their SEO strategy. This is an example of wrong execution by someone on the team. This illustrates the importance of ensuring everyone is operating with the same level of SEO knowledge, with great communication.

  • http://twitter.com/garthobrien Garth O’Brien – SEO

    “Hey we were just kidding. Sorry if you read that our suggested tactic could have penalized your own website. Forgives? BFFs?” :)

  • http://www.maxminzer.com/ Max Minzer

    Oh, wow! Home Depot will be watched for next couple of months. Better be good…

  • seo_grom

    Home Depot says they “contacted Google”.  I’d really just like to know how one goes about doing that.  Even if you work for a big company — who do you call?

  • http://twitter.com/ashnallawalla Ash Nallawalla

    “Contacted Google” could simply be via their PPC account manager.

    If the global population of SEOs is (say) 100,000 people, then my guess is that a couple of thousand have undertaken some form of formal SEO learning or have otherwise acquired a solid set of skills. The remaining 98% simply pick it up here and there via forums, conferences or casual conversations with other “experts” and are not up-to-date.  Whatever the real story is at Home Depot, this is a good example of half knowledge being a dangerous thing. At least it creates solid work for the 2% :)

  • http://www.discountcleaningproducts.com/ Mike Kawula

    Great article and new to this as I’m consistently told my site needs to work on building links to our site as everyone does it and just providing good information doesn’t mean anything unless we have links like our competitors. But the term  “Link Building” means someone is out there working on getting links, so really what are the rules? Just started working with LinkBuilder but still unsure. Any thoughts would be appreciated?

  • http://twitter.com/Swish_Plastic Swish Plastic

    Sprung! Someone was trying to be a little sneaky. It probably wasn’t one of the senior members of the SEO TBH, but rather someone that didn’t quite think this through.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yes, that was my understanding, that it was someone who did work for Home Depot but not that it was directed from their head of SEO.

  • hipec

    “As for saying linking out will give a ranking boost, that’s pretty much a myth.”

    I would say this is false… having the right outbound links can definitely increase rankings. Linking to Home depot well.. maybe not, but having authority links and passing pagerank to the right places is definitely something Google rewards.

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.nathaniel.bailey Nathaniel Bailey

    The person that sent out the email could have quite simply not been thinking about what they where saying or how it read/was worded.

    I have seen emails where people have worded it in a similar way and to me its quite clear they have simply worded it wrong and not thought about how it sounds until after its been sent and its too late!

    In fact, I myself have sent emails before and then thought – wait a minuet, that didn’t word quite like it should have done – but a simple follow up email to correct the wording is all that’s needed IMO, which Home Depot said they had done, so no harm done IMO.

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.nathaniel.bailey Nathaniel Bailey

    “As for saying linking out will give a ranking boost, that’s pretty much a
    myth. If it were true, you’d see all types of low-quality sites getting
    immediate gains just by linking to good sites.”
    Whilst I do agree that linking out don’t effect your rankings directly, I do believe that it can help with showing your site is doing all that it can to offer the best it can to visitors.

    Plus its always good to link out to relevant sources IMO, but that’s not whats in question here so I wont go on any more about that, I just thought it was good to point out that out bound links are important for other reasons.

  • http://twitter.com/seopeace SEO Peace

    If any one generate authority links from authority sites means if they are natural than how can Google penalized them so try to escape from over optimization and unnatural links.

  • http://twitter.com/YoungbloodJoe Joe Youngblood

    ouch. in that case my last statement stands. someone didn’t think this through and realize someone like you would find the letter and post it.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4QTLU64GNIZR6RIHNMEAHB7KOY Pauline

    my co-worker’s mother-in-law makes $87 an hour on the internet. She has been unemployed for six months but last month her pay check was $17426 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here CashLazy.c&#111m  

  • http://twitter.com/KurtHenninger KurtHenninger

    Interesting…I know from just going into their stores that they are pushing hard on “ecommerce” in a general sense…promoting people ordering online and picking it up at the stores.  It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out with the SEO efforts.

  • http://piloseo.com Mark Pilatowski

    Heh. When you spend as much on paid search as Home Depot does you have multiple points of contact within Google and they are extremely quick to help you find exactly what you need.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/J7LDKGQFZXBXOVMRAKBSW27PYM J

    Instead of monitoring other companies’ emails, why doesn’t Google just fix their f’ing low-rent algorithm?

  • http://www.agentsofvalue.com/seo-link-building/ Roy Van Rivero

     Why care? Let’s do what’s on our own table – the ethical way, based on Google guidelines – and let them do what they want.

  • robthespy

    Good thing the Google police are investigating. Nice to know that my contact w business partners is now a factor.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/U364AMDPSKHLBQCCJX5LVZQK5Q Aline

    my best friend’s mom makes $75 an hour on the laptop. She has been out of a job for eight months but last month her income was $20562 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this site CashLazy.c&#111m

  • Itshogg

    Matt Cutts in 2009: “In the same way that Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy
    sites or bad neighborhoods, parts of our system encourage links to good
    sites”

    So there is some truth to that (if you believe Cutts in the first place, of course). It obviously doesn’t automatically increase the authority of the linking page, but I could easily see it as a factor of trust. Good sites do link to other good sites.

  • http://twitter.com/Deepesh_ Deepesh Agarwal

    TripAdvisor also does this publicly, have anyone complained about that lately ?

  • AnonymousSEO

    Got a link or proof to this?  Inquiring minds want to know.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Goff/100003745805608 Adam Goff

    my classmate’s sister-in-law makes $84 hourly on the laptop. She has been fired for 7 months but last month her income was $9078 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Go to this site N u t t y R i c h dot cöm

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