I was intrigued when these showed up on Twitter this weekend:
1: So a little quick research: Trump digital director Brad Parscale owns a small web design firm in Texas. Seems successful. But def …
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) August 21, 2016
Paid Parscales company $8m+. Seems like that’s self dealing but very standard way campaign work. Digital or ad guy is on campaign but …
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) August 21, 2016
Folks in biz, pls share. But having non political web design firm handle email lists, data work, ads for nat campaign seems most unwise. — Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) August 21, 2016
Trump’s web guy has made $12.5M from Trump, guess that’s why he doesn’t need his hidden link on Trump’s homepage now https://t.co/7o7q75amKS — Jennifer Slegg (@jenstar) August 21, 2016
I couldn’t resist doing a little digging on this guy. First, here’s an example – courtesy of Archive.org – of the hidden link on Trump’s site to Parscale’s with the anchor text = “San Antonio Web Design” from May 2015. For you non-SEO reader types, these links should help Parscale rank well for “San Antonio Web Design” & related queries:
Web developers have been pulling this scam since the dawn of SEO, but it’s particularly prevalent on SMB sites who don’t know better. Kind of awesome to see someone try to pull this off on a YUGE domain like Trump’s.
And if you look at Parscale’s backlink profile, you can see that this has been part of his stock in trade for a while:
All of these domains have a link to Parscale’s site in the footer. Not all of them are hidden, so it’s possible that he has the site-owner’s consent to do this. Perhaps his clients, including Trump, even consented to the hidden links.
But it’s clear this guy likes his exact match anchor text:
Now many of these might be legit, but he is definitely trying to diversify his anchor text with keyword variants:
So does this kind of link scheme still work in 2016?
According to SearchMetrics, Parscale.com’s rankings have been cranking ever since Trump announced his candidacy (which is starting to look like the biggest linkbait campaign in history) in June 2015. I haven’t been able to find supporting data but I wouldn’t be surprised if the link to Parscale’s site went up in February 2015 when his rankings started to rise.
According to our 2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors study, backlinks are critical to local rankings, so it’s not surprising that Parscale is aggressively pursuing these links. But these links are risky, for both Parscale and his clients, as they are obviously intended to game Parscale’s site’s search engine rankings.
In fact it looks like Google may have penalized Parscale’s site sometime in October – there was an unconfirmed update around then – as Parscale’s rankings started to tank:
And you can see in Archive.org that during the first week of November 2015, the anchor text to Parscale’s site from Trump’s site was changed, probably in attempt to reduce the exact match targeting on “San Antonio” keywords or throw Google off or something:
As you can see above, in January 2016 Parscale’s rankings recovered.
I am not surprised that Trump’s well-oiled campaign has a SEO scam-artist (or SEO genius – you be the judge) on the payroll. I am also not surprised that Google has not really nailed Parscale yet.
Seems to me if Google wants to really drive home that these kind of link schemes are not “good for users”, they would make a very public example of this. But then there’s this:
Sometimes it seems like Google SEO is PAY-TO-PLAY! Sad!
— ((Andrew Shotland)) (@localseoguide) August 21, 2016
12 Response Comments
I hate this practice with a passion. Most website owners are not even aware why this link is placed there. Parasites…
Me too Dennis!
This is something I never do. No website that I’ve built ever has a link back to my site. When a new client comes to me for SEO services the first thing I do is remove that link from their site.
As long as link schemes continue to work people will keep using them. Google’s got to find a way to identify them.
This one shouldn’t be that hard to find. And per my post, they may have already identified it.
It’s why web designers think they are great SEO’s 🙂
We may have to start building more websites around here…
Gage should be upset with the SEO lol – no link —> “Photos by Gage Skidmore” 😉
Maybe we should ask him how he feels about it — https://twitter.com/gageskidmore
Call me old school, but I hate the practice of outting SEOs and I thought that died a long time ago. I think the links he dropped were dumb and something I’d never do, but the practice of outting questionable SEO techniques that don’t have any legal implications has been frowned upon in this industry for as long as I can remember. Just because it is associated with Trump doesn’t make it ok.
Hey Old School, if you are screwing around with a candidate for president’s website for your personal gain, you deserve to be outed.
And if you are a web designer inserting links on unsuspecting clients’ sites for your personal gain, you deserve to be outed.
As long-time readers know I am not the holier-than-thou type and I don’t consider Google the law. Do what you can do to get ranked and understand the risks. But this guy deserved to be outed.
Yeah, I think i’m with Andrew on this one. If someone is doing something questionable (like HIDDEN LINKS on a client website), they should have known the risk. When someone catches someone in the act, why not say something if you want? Good case study for others of what not to do.
If it’s working and the web designer is benefiting because of the shady tactic, then I don’t think he would feel too bad someone called him out. If he’s doing things like this, he’s probably in it for the potential of making big money. If he’s making good money, then I doubt he cares what other people think.
If you want to do shady things and accept the risk, then don’t be surprised if you get caught. People call out big brands all the time when they do something iffy, why should small agencies get a pass? What’s the difference?