The Colophon Resurrection

This is something that has been concerning me for some time. What and how is the best method of adding a website design/ developer author footer link to the websites we build? Commonly this takes the form of a link to the designer or agency website who made the thing. You know, something like “website designed by blank” or “design and code by blank”. These links are also know as “tramp stamps” and unwanted advertising for the owner of the website.

The controversy comes from, independent designers, developers and often website design agencies not informing the client of implementation of  “design by …” links or stamps. Often the link is added to the footer as part of the design process, in most cases I’ve read about the client is unaware that this little link can be removed on request. The designer or agency may not inform the client that they can opt out of the having the “design by…” footer link, or in some cases they have to pay extra to have it removed.

I’m guilty of this, I used to add “website lovingly crafted by Southwood Studio” then a link directly to my sites home page. The reasons for doing this is of course me wanting a passive method of referral. My name and link is there in the hope that a potential fan of the sites design, will scoot to the footer and use the link to my site, then bingo, I have a new customer. In the olden days, this method would also help with performance/ SEO… Today we all know that this is not the case.

Bad practice

Whether you still use the “design by..” footer link or not, in my opinion it’s not a good idea, having my name at the footer of a website I’ve made for somebody just feels a bit wrong. The finished website at the end of the day belongs to the person who commissioned it, my name should only be associated with the site passively and mutually, not exclusively or verbosely.

The potential damage

Without the use of a rel=”nofollow” attribute to the <a> tag a link in the footer to the maker of a websites home page will damage will likely violate Googles guidelines, negatively effect PageRank and strangle that all important link juice. Google announced waaaay back in 2012 that adding footer links with aggressive anchor text was not a good idea. So, potentially those footer links can damage ranking for both parties: the client and agency. Let’s face it, when it comes to links, context and the associated or neighboring copy informs the importance of that links search ranking – that’s just good SEO.

Should an agency also host the site on the their own server, then it would appear as a link bank and ‘hell have no fury like a search engine scorned’.

Best intentions

Just Googling this topic appears to me that it’s all ‘pitchfork and touches’. High ranking SEO gurus flap about in their high chairs about footer links by designers. Self confessed designers and developers are also turning their back on these links and joining the angry mob. Yeah, it’s been a few years since we’ve known that these type of footer links are not a good idea, but they’re not all intended as spammy or shadow DOM practices. Independent and small business website designers rely on these links as referrals. I scoot to the footer of a sites that I love the design of to see who the designer was and track them down, poorly designed sites too… ‘Come on you all do it’. I used to add a “designed by…” footer link to the sites I built because, well, I’m proud of what I’ve created and I want peers and yes potential clients to know this. Arguments for footer links have been explained using analogies such as architect name plates on buildings, rolling credits in films, an artists signature on a work of art… and they go on.

What’s a colophon?

Right, so colophons [kol-uh-fon, -fuh n] have been around for ages, as far back as 1471, they were pages used at the end of printed publications and transcripts that presented emblems by the published and/ or author as well as the date and place of publication. Colophons on websites are a hangover from the the whole print-to-web translation during the battle for Web Standards in the mid to late 90’s early 2000’s. Colophons were widely used during the whole web standards movement and this one is a great example, it even refers Andy Clark (how cool is that?). So, where did colophons go, well it’s apparent to me that as web standards evolved so did useability, colophons gave way to direct designer referral links because of the SEO benefits (at the time), they were easy to implement (name. link. done.) and just seeing the name and logo at times was enough for local users and business to recognise a design agency as known quantity. A colophon on a website is essentially another web page with detailed information about the website, the build tools, the host, the CMS and so on… Not necessarily important, relative or interesting to a potential client but to other designers and developers, yes. A client who likes a site wants to know who made it and where they can get one too. So bye bye colophon page, hello small advertisement, and they’ve been around ever since.

Embrace the colophon

Designing the colophon section of a Web page - by John Shipman in 1995

It’s funny how things come back around. I believe it’s now the time to resurrect the colophon page, by adding a “nofollow” text link something like “website colophon” to a page on the site that presents the link to the designer or agency, in my opinion is much better practice than just linking to the designers site. First off, the name of the maker will only appear in one place and not on every page.

The colophon page should also talk briefly about the construction of the website in a ‘chatty’ tone as not to alienate a potential client. The people involved should be mentioned, along with methods, techniques and standards used along with that all important referral link. The page might also involve a bit of embellishment, the agency company logo perhaps or an image of the designer (if that’s your thing), but most important of all the page must be left out of all parts of navigation, archive and site map. The colophon needs to stay passive. Let’s not forget the benefits of a link amongst relevant copy, having a link from a bakers website to your agency holds no relationship value, however if that link is within an article context relevant to your business (website design/ development) then the type of site it’s on should not damage your ranking… Maybe even improve it (?).

Conclusion

So, I feel it’s time to exhume and resurrect the colophon on websites. Gone are the days when a designer needs to have their name splashed all over the sites footer. Having a link in the footer like “website colophon”, looking much like what we have now with “designed by…” but linking to a separate page will act the same and not disrupt the viewers expectancy to see a link there. Having a colophon should not explain too much about the site, the server and CMS info might aid hack attacks or unwanted spam, so leave that out. But a short, honest and unique article about the design and build of the site is what should be implemented. I’m proud of the sites I create so a separate, passive page to celebrate and articulate this is as important as movie credits, artists signatures and certificates of authenticity… But most important of all, the client needs to be aware of the use of a colophon and agree to it being there.