Home Depot Caught Promoting Questionable Linking Tactics, Spreading False Information

Home Depot, the home improvement “big box” retailer, has been caught promoting what I call “questionable” link tactics and providing false information to their vendors. In an email to their vendors (specifically those who provide installation services), a representative from Home Depot encourages their vendors to link to specific pages on Home Depot’s website using specific anchor text–and then encourages those links to be “hidden”. Furthermore, Home Depot’s email tells the vendor that linking to Home Depot will essentially increase their website rankings in the search engines.

Several “big box” retailers have been outed recently, including JC Penney, as well as even Google, for using questionable linking tactics in an effort to increase their search engine rankings. While those cases have been questionable because the companies either bought anchor text links from other websites or paid for links to their website on blogs, the Home Depot, in this case, is encouraging their vendors to link with specific anchor text and [b]encouraging those links to be hidden[/b].

The following is the email that I have obtained from one of Home Depot’s vendors. I have only edited a few parts of it (specifically the email address of the user it was sent to).

From: The Home Depot - Home Services
Sent: Monday, April 9, 2012 PM
To: [email address removed] xxxxxx
Subject: Online advertising for Installation Services

SERVICE PROVIDER COMMUNICATION
Date:             April 9, 2012
To:                All US Service Providers 
From:            Home Services Operations 
Re:                Online advertising for Installation Services

SUMMARY

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.

We look forward to working with you on this
mutually beneficial marketing endeavor.
Please refer to "Action Required" for next
steps and instructions on implementation.


ACTION REQUIRED

* Create the link using the following format: 
  < a ref = " [URL] " > [Link Text] < / a >

URL:http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/
servlet/ContentView?pn=SV_HS_Home_Insulation

 

Link Text: "Carpet Installation" or your
preferred text.  Please request the
Keyword List spreadsheet for a larger
sample of keywords to use for your
preferred text. Below is a sample of
preferred text to use for flooring: 

Carpet flooring
Carpet install
Carpet installation

Below is an example of the HTML Code
necessary in order for the link to
appear properly on your web page:

carpet installation 

* Ensure that the link is displayed in the
correct format and located on the appropriate
page related to The Home Depot's corresponding
installation category. Provide us with the
URL of the page where the link
will be once it is live on your site. 

* Please send a confirmation email to Joy Tyler at
Joy_M_Tyler@homedepot.com once you have implemented
the link on the appropriate page that includes the URL. 

CONTACT

Please email Joy Tyler team at joy_m_tyler@homedepot.com
if there are additional questions or if assistance
is needed choosing the appropriate
page for the link to be displayed.

2455 Paces Ferry Rd., Atlanta, GA 30339

While I do not have a really big issue with Home Depot using their own internal network of vendors to increase Home Depot’s search engine rankings, it appears to me that just doing so–and encouraging specific internal anchor text–is a violation of Google’s Acceptable Webmaster Guidelines. Furthermore, the fact that the Home Depot is encouraging (or even mentioning) the fact that the links do not have to be “visually indicated” is again a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. You should NOT hide links from users, under any circumstances.

Another issue I have is the fact that Home Depot is almost “demanding” and REQUIRING that the vendor place the links to Home Depot’s site. What if they do not comply?

Finally, Home Depot is spreading false information to their vendors: in the email, they say that “Linking to The Home Depot website will benefit our business partners by increasing the page authority of your website.”. Well, in fact, that statement is completely false. I do not believe that linking out to someone will increase YOUR page authority of YOUR website, it will in fact potentially increase the page authority of the site that you’re linking out to. Granted, I do believe that it is a good practice to link out to trusted sites, especially when you mention them by company name or want to provide an example to your readers (such as I have done so in this post).

However, with so many rumors and false information being spread nowadays by so-called “SEO Experts” and “Internet Marketing Gurus” out there, we don’t need a big box retailer spreading false information like this–and it’s just flat out WRONG to encourage hidden anchor text links to your website.

Hat tip goes out to John W at Rank Solid for help with this post.

Comments

  1. DJGL says

    I don’t blame Home Depot for trying to improve their rankings regardless of what Google’s inconsistently applied webmaster guidelines and rules say. Any company tries to use whatever advantages they have, so I don’t blame Home Depot for putting a subtle bit of pressure on their smaller partners to benefit themselves. That’s business. The only issue I have with what Home Depot did here is the following phrase “visually indicated”. If they would have said that the links didn’t have to be “visually prominent” that would be one thing. But implying that they want people to put invisible links all over the place is dishonest. Over time though, because of a lot of stuff like this emerges and because Google has wielded too much power in the past, I see more of a move to alternatives like social media and this is what a lot of startups are focusing more on. The key thing is to understand that good developers build quality SEO into projects right from the get-go with clean URLs, using tags semantically the right way, making sites’ data structured logically, etc. You get 95% of the way there just by doing things the right way. But I’m not sure how much longer SEO is really going to be a focus of the market just based on how much hype social media is getting lately. When CEOs see how much Facebook’s IPO goes for, when they see the sheer number of companies listed at buyfacebookfansreviews .com that do nothing other than promote Facebook pages, when they see the impact of social media on the culture, they really start to emphasize that over anything else. Part of the fault here is with Google that has such a complex set of rules and offers zero customer service to anybody that wants to get in touch with them about any real issues. Over time, this is a big part of the death knell of Google because people are going to be focused on them less and less and using stuff that they understand better.

  2. William Gallahue says

    Home Depot could avoid a lot of ranking issues by cleaning up their site. The insulation page has a terrible URL, more than 7000 lines of code, not to mention a stuffed meta keywords tag.

    Everyone wants links because its a measurable metric they can give to a CMO. No one works on site architecture because it doesn’t sound as appealing.

  3. james says

    sadly if some small time site did this they would get nailed so hard, and never return.

  4. DKD says

    “links do not have to be visually indicated” could very well mean an image link. Just sayin…….