Foolish Footers

Footer – the foundation of a building

The footers we are talking about here are those defined by Google as follows: Text printed in the bottom margin of each page in a word processing document. Although as you will find later, that other foundation definition is worth thinking about. Here in particular, we are talking about the online versions on which by coincidence the knowledgeable Ann Smarty has recently offered the following advice: handle your site footers wisely. In summary she concludes:

  • make your website footer relevant and useful;
  • don’t add too many elements to the footer – it should be clean and concise;
  • focus on people (SEO value of the footer is too insignificant anyway);
  • follow the common fashion: people want to see common elements at these common places.

As a general rule, that seems eminently sensible advice. However I noticed that two very successful bloggers, Darren Rowse and John Chow adopted a somewhat different approach. Go to either of their blogs and scroll down to the bottom of the webpage. What do you find? In both cases there is a full screen of footer information. That got me thinking.

So often our approach to online web pages is conditioned by our much longer association with the printed page. That is where the word footer comes from. It suggests minimal content. However consider the way in which many people arrive at a web page. Either they are going there for content since someone gave them a link or they did a keyword search and ended up at that page, again looking for content. Most of them are not interested in any information about the blog owner or the rest of the blog as they arrive.

Of course the blog owner may wish them to look at advertisements which help to monetize the blog and ensure its survival. If those advertisements are from Google, then Google is working very hard to provide advertisements that will be of interest to visitors to the web page. If so there is every incentive to ensure that both content and advertisements appear ‘above the fold’, in other words on the initial screen that is viewed.

If anyone wants more information on other items in the blog or the blog author, they are certainly motivated to wander around a little and find what they are looking for. This suggests such information can be ‘below the fold’ since visitors may naturally scroll down to find such information. In consequence this blog now has an extended footer giving even more information than those of Darren Rowse and John Chow. By clicking on the link to Full Blog Info, your screen will show the footer, which is about a screenful on a 1024 x 768 resolution monitor. I believe it is a very logical approach, even though it seems to go against standard practice.

It may not appeal to everyone since it is somewhat unusual. However I don’t believe it’s foolish and I am most interested in visitors’ reactions. Why not add your thoughts on how this different approach works for you.

11 thoughts on “Foolish Footers”

  1. Best practice must always be what is best for site visitors with a clear accent upon accessibility. Sitewide footer links that exist primarily to repeat keywords for SEO puposes do nothing for site users and should be ignored by search engines. Convention is also important – the footer is where most people will look for copyright information – and some might say it is also conventional to provide a basic, text based site navigation system from the footer. But this is really only justifiable for accessibility if the main site navigation is image based.

  2. I agree almost entirely with what you are saying, Sonic. This approach was motivated by a wish to give a clearer spatial arrangement for human visitors to the website. It is likely to be neutral or very slightly negative with respect to search engines, since the new footer content was all in the sidebar prior to this.

    I also agree that convention is important, which is why the footer includes all the information of a conventional footer. Clearly it does represent a significant change but I believe it is for the better for a high proportion of visitors. Others may feel more comfortable with a traditional footer. I look forward to seeing how opinion splits on this.

  3. Hi Barry, I don’t think, as you, that a footer is only useful for some company information. Main reason for this is that visitors are probably only interested in those links after reading your article. Furthermore they are interested in links to other posts, other information from you, if your article was outstanding, and categories. Some WordPress templates use those big footers for some years now as you know.

    From an SEO viewpoint and with ref. to the article of Ann Smarty, Stephan Spencer shows us definitely one (greyhat…?) of the best modules to insert in any footer: Tag Cloud. I made several tests during the years with keywords in the footer (as only text, as linked text with same page, as linked text with other page…). In a way those will influence the position of a page in the SERPs. People who never tested it, should have a very close look at this.

  4. Hi Barry, Sometime the people looking at the side bar for more info..

    But sometimes in the footer.. Anyway.. this article help me to find something to do with my blog.

  5. I’m hoping that I will change habits for those few people who want to know more about the blog, Nas. If most people know that many websites have a lot of info tucked away down below, then it will become a habit. I’ve also put a very visible button so that people are pointed in that direction.

  6. If you don’t have anything glaring to put in your footer then don’t worry about filling it. I simply have my RSS links, nothing more to say down there, as the post says “(SEO value of the footer is too insignificant anyway”.

  7. What you said makes perfect sense.

    First, content at footer is like a ‘p/s’ line in your e-mail – they simply get noticed more often than the paragraphs in the middle.

    Secondly, I suspect by placing valuable content at footer will actually increase the SEO value of your links – it simply leveled up the footer division with the sidebar section.

  8. You know, you really got me thinking now. Except for writing the website title and the copyright information I usually don’t use my footers at all. But I went and had a look at Darren’s blog and you are right.

    What struck me was the fact that by leaving his “about” section on the footer, everything above the fold would be more relevant anyway and perhaps animate readers to browse more.

  9. Another comment to make on footers is : if you repeat your main navigation in the footer area (this is common) use rel=”nofollow” tags for these links since the “link juice” is already flowing from the same links at the top of the page.

  10. I think you are right to consider the online nature of a footer differently than the physical page. So many people stay stuck with the small footer – which I think is a hangover from paper. For some designs it might well make sense to have a minimal footer. But for those that don’t have a design reason, it makes sense to think of putting much more on the footer than is common.

Comments are closed.