Recently, I came across some online bickering about whether web development and web design companies should place link-backs on the web sites they work on. Surprisingly, the more impassioned rants I came across were against this practice, citing everything from "it's not really good for SEO, anyway" to "that's free advertising for a company when all they did was build a web site." Well, I'm very much a fan of the link-backs, so I wanted to write up my rationale for including them.
One commenter's main analogy was: "If a construction company builds your house, would you put a sign in their front yard for the life of your home thanking them and advertising for them?" Well, obviously, the answer there is no. But, that's hardly an apples-to-apples argument. It's simply not customary, and never has been, to run a sign in your front yard, forever, when you're getting a home built. That would also be equivalent to a web designer basically putting a watermark across an entire web site. Completely different thing...
What about cars? How many cars have a dealer name on them somewhere (either on a license-plate holder or a decal or an emblem riveted to the exterior)? In fact that's quite common.
Or, if you don't like car dealers... how many sporting shoes come without a visible brand name or other identifying mark? I can't think of a single one -- and for many, the brand name is the main visible feature of the shoe! In the world of marketing, that's Branding 101. So, it's no surprise that the savvier the web dev agency, the more they'll be aware of this.
Another commenter proclaimed: "Google thinks such links placed down in a footer area are less important (or off-topic) and, therefore, it's a waste of time/space." Thus spoke yet another expert on SEO. Want 10 different opinions on SEO? Just ask 10 different SEO professionals. My take? Well, I'm old-school; I actually believe still (and yes it's 2016 now) that link-backs count for something.
The Larger Picture
All of that aside... Look, doing a few web sites -- maybe even making your living from that for a couple years or more -- isn't all that tough. The tech is learnable for many people, there are an abundance of clients out there, and plenty of ways to low-ball or do whatever it takes to get established in the early years.
But, sooner or later, a web developer / designer needs to make a decision: Am I doing this as a career -- as a serious, long-lasting business? Or, am I just surviving, one site to the next, until either the work dries up and/or I take a corporate job? This is a critical question that too few web designers ask themselves because the answer informs many other aspects of one's approach toward this business.
This is all important because, what most clients want (and I want this as a business owner, too) is to partner with other businesses, where needed, who will be around for a while. Web sites for serious businesses are long-term projects. Yes, there's the initial build and the initial push -- and yes that's where much of the budget is spent. But business owners know that their businesses tend to change over time, and they'll need their sites to grow and change as well. So, it's in the client's best interest to help ensure, in any way that they can within reason, that the web development company stays in business, and even prospers.
I get asked this by potential clients regularly: Are you planning to be around for many years doing web development?
So, yes, businesses do pay for the web site build, and that alone is the immediate work you're doing for them, and you get paid for that. But, if said business owner isn't proudly accepting of this small, time-honored token of appreciation, which costs them likely nothing, is discrete, and yet may contribute to your being in business longer, and thus serving them longer, then the business owner isn't seeing the self-interest angle of this whole scenario.
So, again, it's not just a web development company getting "free advertising"; it's a business owner helping, in a very small, painless way, to ensure that his or her team will remain in place for as long as possible. Any business that resists this is simply searching for a commodity and not a true marketing partner. I know of few successful entrepreneurs who think this way, though.
Be careful with commodities... My company has picked up numerous clients who once took a low bid, got the site done, and then the developer vanished -- not infrequently because the site was built with poor practices. (This is especially true within a CMS environment like Joomla or Wordpress where one shouldn't just "hack the core" to get the functionality desired. That locks clients into an inability to update, so it's no wonder the developers run for the hills as soon as the checks clear.)
Designing Discrete Web Credit Back-Links
Okay, enough editorializing... What about that back link? Should it be an H1 tag on the home page, a huge banner ad, or the aforementioned site-wide watermark? Good god, no... Look, I've had some back-links on major web sites for years, and I'm not sure if anyone ever clicked on them. But, you know, you just never know... someone might like a site and want to hire the same developer. And, despite any reported preferences from Google about thank-you or credit links, or about their having "nofollow" attributes, or about their ineffectiveness, I suspect (actually, I *assert*) that they still count for something.
So, my approach is to purposely include them, but to make them highly discrete. I used to put them in bold and with title text, but nowadays, my only care is that they're *present*. Let's take a look at a typical one, with some specific design suggestions for web dev agencies. Keep in mind that we're going to zoom way in here. The context is a much larger web site, with the entire focus of a site up top. So, "above the fold", the footer area isn't even in view:
A given web site has a million things going on, and no one really looks at the footer / copyright area much anyway. But, once a visitor (or Google) gets all the way to the bottom, there's usually a place for some standard copyright info. Here's a fictional mock-up:
As you can see, what I'm suggesting is a very discrete link-back. You'll notice a few characteristics of the link I've included:
- The type size is smaller than the other text;
- It's set in a darker color -- still visible, but not as bright as the rest;
- Finally, although it's an active hyperlink, it is not underlined.
So, there you have it, long-winded as it was. :-)