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 encouraging those links to be hidden.
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: [Link Text] 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.