If you do any kind of sponsored work or affiliate work on your blog then it's so important that you understand the difference between follow and nofollow links!

Everything Bloggers Need to Know About Nofollow Links | Food Bloggers of Canada

Nofollow links are important.

No, really, they are!

Ok, I know they don't sound very glamorous or exciting but, if you're not familiar with nofollow links I promise you'll be happy you spent the time reading this article.

So, as I was saying, nofollow links are important. How important? Like, Google-can-remove-you-from-their-search-results important.

Do I have your attention now? Read on!

What Is A Nofollow Link?

Nofollow links are outbound hyperlinks (meaning they go to a website that's not your own) that have been marked with a special attribute (we'll get to how you do that in a minute)  which tells Google not to pass PageRank on to that website.

Ok. What is PageRank?

Here is an easy-to-understand explanation from Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land:

“In a nutshell, [Google] considers links to be like votes. In addition, it considers that some votes are more important than others. PageRank is Google’s system of counting link votes and determining which pages are most important based on them. These scores are then used along with many other things to determine if a page will rank well in a search.”

Got it. So When Should I Use a Nofollow Link?

You should add the nofollow attribute to any link that you have been paid to post (this includes affiliate links) or links to websites that you do not trust.

Remember that "payment" includes being given money OR product (or both) in exchange for a link.

Here are some examples of when you need to use a nofollow link.

1. A brand has paid you to write a sponsored post on your website and has asked you to link to their company website as part of the post content. Any links back to the brand's website must be nofollow links.

2. You're an affiliate for a friend or colleague's on-line course and you promote it on your website. Those links should all be nofollow links.  This is the same for any other affiliate programs you promote on your website.

3. You've directly sold a third party ad to a company on your website (this does not include ad networks). These should also be nofollow links.

4. You are quoting or referring to a website whose content you don't trust - ie. somebody making nutritional claims or providing health information that has no credible scientific sources

Why Does it Matter If I Pass PageRank To Someone Who Paid Me?

Let’s pretend that you were writing a sponsored post for a company called Bread. They pay you to write a post about their products, and provide you with a link to their website. When you insert Bread’s website link into your post, you are basically telling Google that you are voting for this website. Now when people click the link, it will help boost the PageRank for Bread’s website. Google sees this as cheating, because you were paid to post the link instead of posting it organically.

Selling links that pass PageRank is a violation of Google’s quality guidelines - they refer to it as a link scheme. If Google takes action against your blog, this will have a negative effect on your PageRank. In extreme cases, Google will remove your website from their search engine results altogether.

There have been instances recently where some well know brands have had to reach out to bloggers requesting they change their links to nofollow links because that brand has been penalized by google for having paid follow links.

Yikes! What Is a Link Scheme?

This might surprise you, but according to Google’s Content Guidelines a link scheme could include “exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link”

But… How Will Google Find Out If I Participate in A Link Scheme?

First of all, Google has its own algorithms that search for link schemes. More importantly though, Google (and Ad Standards and the FTC) actually requires you to disclose if your post has been sponsored, which makes it very easy for them to find paid links that are passing PageRank.

How do I make a link nofollow?

To manually change a link, you need to add the rel=”nofollow” attribute to the <a> tag in your hyperlinks.

Here is an example:

<a href="http://www.yourwebsite.com/" rel="nofollow">Your Website</a>

Nofollow Links In WordPress

If you’re using WordPress, some premium WordPress themes will automatically display a checkbox when you insert a link, asking you if you would like to make it a nofollow link.  If your theme doesn't give you that ability, there are several free and paid plug-ins that can help you out. We found that many of the current free options are either no longer available or have not been updated or tested with the last few versions of WordPress so exercise caution when choosing a free plug-in.  WP Link Status Pro (paid) is a more robust plug-in that also lets you scan your site for broken links and other useful link tasks - this may be overkill for some sites but the plug-in does appear to be updated regularly.

There are other WordPress plugins that automatically make every link on your blog nofollow, but I would avoid using these because you want Google to index your internal links (for example, when you link to an older post on your blog).

Nofollow Links in Squarespace

Squarespace has been gaining popularity in recent years as a blogging platform and it does make so many tasks easier for those who don't love the technical side of blogging.  Having said that, creating nofollow links in Squarespace does not appear to be one of those tasks.  We did find a great nofollow link tutorial that will help you out if you're on the Squarespace platform from Black Coffee Beautiful!

Nofollow Links in Blogger

Blogger has an easy built-in feature that you can use.  When you click “Link” you will see a box that allows you to add information like the text to display and the hyperlink URL. On the bottom of the box there is a checkbox that says add ‘rel=nofollow’ attribute. Just click that and you’re good to go.

RELATED:  Recipe Development 101: 5 Fundamental Keys to Creating Your Own Original Recipes

What If A Sponsor Doesn’t Want Me To Use Nofollow Links?

This is actually a very common issue. In some cases brands genuinely don’t understand how PageRank works. In other instances they do but are willing to risk the consequences in the short term.

If a sponsor requests a follow link, your best course of action is education.  If they are concerned that Google will list their website as untrustworthy, or as spam, tell them not to worry. Nofollow links won’t hurt website rankings, they just don’t help raise rankings. You may also need to explain to them how having paid follow links can harm their online presence if google chooses to penalize them or remove them from search results.

If they still insist on a paid follow link, you need decline the opportunity to work with them and protect your own search rankings. If you're unsure how to respond, we have an email template for this exact scenario in our package of 22 Email Templates For Food Bloggers .

I haven’t been using nofollow links in my sponsored posts… what should I do?

Don’t panic. If you haven’t received an email from Google, then they haven’t noticed yet. The email would say something like:

"Google has detected a pattern of artificial or unnatural links on this site. Selling links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. As a result of unnatural links from your site, Google has applied a manual spam action to your website."

Once you change all of your paid links to nofollow links, you shouldn’t have a problem.

If you have already received a warning, you have to fix all of your links and then submit a reconsideration request to Google. More information about this process can be found here.

Are My Sidebar Ads Nofollow?

In an email interview Clinton Kabler, COO of Riot New Media Group, said “for display ads, ad servers handle the rel=nofollow argument. The link routes through the ad server which automatically applies the rel=nofollow attribute.”

So basically, if you are with a trustworthy advertising network, you probably don’t have to worry about adding nofollow attributes to your ads.

However, Clinton does warn bloggers against using affiliate “buttons” (small ads, usually in the sidebars). He says that while these are a popular advertising method, many of the links do not have the nofollow attribute in the code.

It is important for bloggers to add the code themselves, since these ads aren’t (usually) routing through an ad server. The same logic follows if you are manually placing ads in your sidebar or in your blog posts.

What About Affiliate Links, like Amazon Associates? Should they be nofollow too?

Google’s head of their Webspam team, Matt Cutts, has said that Google handles the large affiliate networks on their end, but he also warned that if you’re worried about backlash from these links you should go ahead and make them nofollow links.

What About Links In Comments?

This one is a bit tricky in general, but I can tell you that WordPress automatically turns links in comments into nofollow links.

I wasn’t sure at first, but when I looked at the source code for my blog I confirmed that the links people have left my comments are nofollow links.

Everything Bloggers Need to Know About Nofollow links | www.foodbloggersofcanada.com
Click on the image to view a larger version

This is a bit controversial because some people believe that links from people you trust shouldn’t be nofollow. There are plugins that you can install which allow you to change comment links to dofollow, if that’s something you’re interested in.

If you have the Comment Luv plugin installed, and you don’t moderate your comments manually, chances are you have a lot of spam links in your comments. If you want to make these links nofollow so you aren’t passing PageRank to them, you need to change a setting in the plugin. For example, you can select that only registered members get dofollow links or nobody does.

Everything Bloggers Need to Know about Nofollow Links | www.foodbloggersofcanada.com

I actually prefer to let everyone have follow links because I moderate my comments. It’s nice to pass the link “juice” to honest people who have good quality links. Decide what works best for you!

Using DoFollow Links

Don't be stingy with Dofollow outbound links on your site. In recent years a lot of bloggers have been limiting the number of outbound links they have on their pages in favour of internal links to their own content.  The truth is you need both! Good quality internal links and good quality outbound external links to content that is not your own both play a role in your own page ranking scores.

Linking to good quality, relevant content elsewhere on the internet helps search engines learn more about your site. It can also help boost your reputation with the search engines within your content niche. And good quality external links also add to your readers' experience on your site if you provide content that lets them easily diver deeper into a topic.

Key things to remember when linking to an external source:

  • make sure it's a good quality link
  • make sure it's relevant to the topic you're covering
  • make sure it opens in a new tab or window

For more information on nofollow links, check out the Google Webmasters channel on YouTube. Matt Cutts has several information videos there, but these are particularly useful in regards to nofollow: Two Questions About Nofollow and Can Nofollow Links Hurt My Site's Ranking?

More Reading:


Everything Bloggers Need to Know About Nofollow Links was written by Shareba Abdul.  Shareba is a food blogger from the GTA. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Applied Arts in Media Studies, a Diploma in Journalism, and has a passion for writing, photography, and blogging. You can check out her yummy discoveries at InSearchOfYummyness.com or connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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40 Comments

Stephanie
Reply

Interesting! I was just wondering about this the other day. I have some spam comments that I know have snuck through and I’ll make a point of deleting them and also adding so nofollow to sponsored links.

Nice clear article! 🙂

Michelle
Reply

Thank you! This is a really good article, and clears up many issues… there is so much information floating around that its hard to get a handle on what you need to do versus what not to do.

erin
Reply

This was a really handy article, I was really unaware of how this all worked. I’d like to add that I have downloaded the unfollowr plugin and it’s really easy to use. Thanks again.

Kriss MacDonald
Reply

Really useful article as it’s important to know about no follow links for Google. I’ve also noticed that only a few ‘linky party’ badges are no follow while most are do follow.

Jessica Moorhouse
Reply

Great, simple explanation of no-follow links. It was until my first year of blogging that I discovered the importance of attributing no-follow links to certain sources.

Caitland
Reply

Awesome! There are so many things to learn with blogging…everywhere you turn! Thanks for laying out the details, I needed it 🙂

Karen Goodman
Reply

I pinned this a while ago but just read it again when it popped up in my Pinterest stream. I just added the WordPress plugin you recommend to my blog and went through all of my old sponsored posts and changed all of the links to the sponsors to no follow.

Do you know if you have to add the no follow attribute to affiliate links too?

Nuccia
Reply

Hi! I don’t really do any sponsored posts however I do quite a bit of reviews on makeup and fashion and especially posts on Victoria’s Secret. I always add links to the clothing i’m talking about and add the link on where they can find it…for example if I’m reviewing a VS swimsuit or dress i’ll add the hyperlink to VS…should I not be doing this??? Wow…I hope not…no one has ever approached me on this.
Also, on the link I add ‘open in a new window’ as I don’t want the reader to exit my blog…
Let me know if I’m not following the proper guidelines…
Great post!
Thanks!

Melissa (FBC Admin)
Reply

no that’s fine to link to products that you’re writing about. But if you are being PAID, either for the post or if the link is an affiliate link, you should add the nofollow tag.

Alicia
Reply

Thank for this explanation, Melissa! I am just getting my photography blog (www.aliciahaskewphotography.com/blog) really going, instead of a simple portfolio website, so the info about paid posts and affiliate links was really eye opening! I didn’t realize that Google considered that against the policy. I’ll be sure to check for nofollow links (or better yet, just install the app you recommended) for these posts in the future!
Thanks so much!

El
Reply

Great article! How about past posts? I have many many sponsored posts (paid with product, not money) that I did not make “no follow” links to the company website. Do I need to go back and change every single one of those??

Shareba Abdul
Reply

I went back and changed all of my old sponsored posts, just to be safe. I’m not sure if Google cares when the content was published, but I wouldn’t want them penalizing me on old content. The NoFollowr plugin makes it easy to change the links quickly.

El
Reply

Ok, thanks for replying! I’ll have to take some time and do this little by little. I heard that it can also help my page rank by changing them and perhaps get me more views??

Shareba Abdul
Reply

Hmmm I’m not sure that making your links nofollow would help your page rank or pageviews… It’s mostly to avoid getting penalized.

Amy
Reply

Slightly confused so if it’s something I have purchased myself or are recommending as a purchase do I have to worry about no follow? For example I’m a make up artist so if I link to a bronzer I recommend buying?

Shareba Abdul
Reply

If you bought the bronzer yourself, with your own money, then you do not need to make the link nofollow. If a company sends you a voucher for the bronzer, gifts you the bronzer or pays you to talk about the bronzer then you should make the link nofollow because you have been compensated/influenced to talk about the product. Does that help?

Jhanis
Reply

All my paid posts are already nofollow but I have not checked my sidebar links! I just copy and paste the codes, better check on them now. Thank you for sharing. I’m getting a bit frustrated because I have been blogging for 2 years, domain 1+ year and moved registrar in between. I was told Google has not updated pageranks since 2013, is this true?

Shareba Abdul
Reply

The codes from reputable ad networks tend to be nofollow, but it’s always a good idea to check with them if you’re not sure. Any links you’re putting in yourself should be nofollow if you’re being paid or compensated to put them there. I’m not sure about your pagerank question, sorry.

Gina Marie
Reply

Thanks for this article. I heard to always use no followlinks somewhere so I just do. But I just had a company approached me to do a post referring to them but not for pay. I went ahead and did it because I wanted to create a post that when I do have my blog numbers up enough to start creating sponsored post, I can refer to the free one as my style. They asked me to do a no follow after I posted it. At first I was not happy but after reading your article I have a better understanding as to how to handle this. You made it all so plain and clear. Looking forward to reading more on your site to see what else I can learn.

Mary
Reply

Thanks so much for clearing up my confusion on no-follow links. I now know exactly what it means, why it’s important, and what to do about it. Thanks again!

Pearls
Reply

Thank you for taking the time to write such an informative post on No Follow links. Other posts I have seen are a lot more confusing than this!

jaime
Reply

Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day. It will always be exciting to read through articles from other writers and use something from their web sites.

Mia
Reply

The problem with testing it is that you need nofollows from great sites – Wikipedia is just one example – and you can’t really get those without earning follow links as well. Still, my guess is that a link from a Wikipedia article will boost rankings.

Elizabeth
Reply

Great article thank you!

I notice you mention that all outbound links should open up in a new tab – is this essential? I can see why it’s good practise from a marketing point of view, but will we be penalised if our links open in the same tab? (I just have a lot of links in my post and would like to avoid having to go through and change them ALL to opening in new tabs if possible!)

Thanks 🙂

Melissa (FBC Admin)
Reply

Hi Elizabeth,

No, it’s unlikely you’d be penalized. It’s considered a better user experience for outbound links to a new site to open in a new tab (marketing is a secondary reason). It might be something you want to do going forward though.

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