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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