Yes they sure did, but they got busted! The world’s largest home improvement specialty retailer recently was caught trying to solicit links from their network of nearly 2,000 service providers. However, this wasn’t another typical paid link situation like the JCPenney and Overstock cases. Home Depot deliberately provided false information to their vendors and demanded links from their sites.
Home Depot sent out an email to their vendors who they recommend for installation projects. The email, written by a Home Depot Representative, suggested that the service partner place a link to a particular page with specific anchor text in order to “support” the Home Depot Company. Of course as the email spread, it was picked up by a few SEO experts such as Bill Hartzer and thanks to him, we have the email.
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
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.
*Create the link using the following format:
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:
Below is an example of the HTML Code necessary in order for the link to appear properly on your web page:
<a href="http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/catalog/servlet/ContentView?pn=SV_HS_Home_Insulation%3Chttp://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ContentView%3fpn=SV_HS_Home_Insulation%22%3ecarpet%3E">Carpet installation</a>
*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 xxxxxx at [email protected] once you have implemented the link on the appropriate page that includes the URL.
“On this mutually beneficial marketing endeavor,” yeah, I don’t think so. As you can see in the letter, Home Depot requires their vendors to place a link on their page that leads back to the Home Depot site. The company makes their vendors believe it is to their benefit by stating that they are making an effort to increase the Page Authority of all their vendors’ sites. As we know, it doesn’t work that way! If anything, Home Depot’s Page Authority would go up, not theirs. And then to say that the link doesn’t necessarily have to be visible…oh, here is where the Black Hat SEO occurs. Sneaky, sneaky!
After hearing of the situation, Google began investigating Home Depot and here’s what Google had to say…
“It’s simply untrue to tell vendors that linking to a specific page will automatically increase the vendors’ page authority. Likewise, encouraging websites to make hidden links to a website can lead to violations of our quality guidelines that result in demotion or removal of pages from our index. We will be monitoring this situation closely and taking appropriate action.”
Experts aren’t completely sure if Google will ban Home Depot from their indexes. It actually depends on whether or not the vendors implemented the links in the way Home Depot had requested. Google penalizes for hidden links, but Home Depot claims to have spoken with Google to rectify the situation and ensures that a follow-up email will be sent out to those service providers to correct the errors from the previous email. As you can see, you don’t want to try to pull a fast one on Google because sooner or later, they’ll find out. Stick to proper SEO tactics and if you want to make sure your site follows Google Webmaster Guidelines and never gets banned, hire a trustworthy search marketing firm.