TheOptimizationIdiot - 11:27 pm on Mar 18, 2013 (gmt 0)
however, I have seen the opposite many times over.
I hear what you're saying, and I would actually guess we over-simplify things many times over, especially since "often" and "many" are subjective.
I think most everyone did back in the day as it sped up the process of showing up
I would guess most of it comes down to "algorithmic interpretation" meaning if a site scores in the upper 95% of sites without the links counted (or something to that effect) they're discounted, but if it scores 80% and has "other spammy factors" that could be added together with the footer type links, then there could be a penalty or severe discounting in overall score.
One thing about links is I have a site that outranks major brands with one "non-scraper link" I can find that's from a Twitter account I don't tweet from, so it's basically an absolute nothing link, but yet the site still ranks.
If I didn't have that site and know it ranks over some major brands which are not only in the niche specifically, but some are major brands in general, I would likely think links are more of a factor than I see them as.
I'm sure I'm rambling a bit and likely not 100% making sense, because some of this stuff is very difficult to even try to explain, but the bottom line is I think I would go with: It's all relative, including links and the more "things fit" in an "algorithmically natural" way, the less likelihood there is for a penalty and the better chance there is to rank overall for the terms targeted.
So, I think what I'm trying to say is: "algorithmically well matched" sites may rank with spam footer links while others may be discounted or penalized for exactly the same thing, or even for not having them, and it's all relative, so it would depend on what's "normal" for a site/page to have within a niche and not so much on "what's normal" for the web as a whole.