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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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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.