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Lately, I have noticed many discussions and confusion around when to use nofollow links on your blog or website. It can be confusing and different people are comfortable with different levels of risk. It is important to understand what the guidelines are in this area, so you can work out for yourself what practise to follow. In this article, I will discuss Nofollow links and how to use them as well as Google’s guidelines.
You will learn:
- What a nofollow link is
- Why you should care about using nofollow links
- When you should use nofollow links to keep Google happy
- How to create nofollow links
What is a nofollow link?
To understand what a nofollow link is, you also need to understand what a follow link is. Basically, one of the main metrics Google uses to rank a site in their search results is how many other sites link to that site and to that page. Basically, a link to a site is like giving it a vote of confidence.
Sometimes, however, we may want to link to a site and not give it a vote. For example, maybe we are writing a guide to the worst sites on the internet. In this case, we do not want to give those sites a vote. The way to tell Google that we don’t want to give this site a vote of confidence is to mark the link as nofollow. Google sees this nofollow and it’s crawlers do not follow the link and that site basically does not benefit from the link you have given them.
This is a generalisation. There has been shown to be some benefit from nofollow links, especially ones from powerful sites such as wikipedia, but generally, follow links are what a site wants to improve their search rankings.
Should you care about nofollow links?
This question should really be, do you care about your Google search rankings? If you do not, then you can do whatever you want with your links. However, if you do care about Google, then it is important to understand nofollow links and use them appropriately. If not, you risk a penalty. A penalty is when Google removes your site from its index which means you stop appearing in search results.
I have heard many bloggers say that you don’t need to worry as a small site. This is simply not true. Google de-indexes smaller sites all the time. It could happen to you. In just the last week, I have heard from two bloggers that have had their sites de-indexed due to their linking and are struggling to get the penalty removed. Unfortunately, it still happens to people who follow these guidelines, but following them should ensure that it is less likely.
When should you use nofollow links?
There are two general cases where you should use nofollow links:
- When you don’t want to give the site you are linking to a vote of confidence, like the example of the worst websites on the internet.
- When you have any type of paid relationship with the site you are linking to. This includes affiliates, sponsored reviews, paid links, etc.
1. Use nofollow when you don’t want to give the site a vote of confidence
By linking to a site, you are showing Google that you trust this site, basically that you vouch for them. If you link to spammy, untrustworthy sites without marking the link as nofollow, then you can actually hurt your own rankings with Google. For this reason, it is worth your while to mark links as nofollow if you are unsure of the quality of the site.
This is why marking all links in comments as nofollow is popular. You often do not know the sites people are linking to with their comments, so it makes sense to not vouch for them.
2. Use nofollow when you have any type of paid relationship
Google obviously wants their search results to be as relevant and as good quality as possible. This means that they discourage and penalise people who pay for links as this can create search results that don’t display the best quality websites. They want you to tell them when links are paid by marking them as nofollow.
This does not just mean links that are paid for directly, ie when someone says they will pay you $100 if you add a link, but also affiliate links, where you are linking for commercial reasons.
Where there can be some misunderstanding is when linking to products or hotels that you have been asked to review but did not receive monetary compensation. If you received any compensation (and this includes the product itself or a free night’s accommodation), then to follow Google’s guidelines you should be marking this as nofollow.
I have had several discussions about this in groups lately and I have been surprised how many people are happy to put a disclaimer on these types of posts, but do not mark the link as nofollow. I personally feel like this is waving a big red flag. It is not always easy to determine when a link is paid for, but when you mark it as such in a disclaimer or have a page showing everyone you have worked with, it makes it quite simple for Google, your readers and your competitors to see you are not following Google’s guidelines.
It is worth remembering that it is not just Google calculating that you have a unnatural link profile or your site coming up for manual review with Google that you have to worry about. Other people can also report your site easily to Google for not following guidelines. It only takes one competitor to file a report and you could be in trouble.
How do I mark a link as nofollow?
This step is very very easy. I hear people talking about plugins, but I recommend you just do it yourself. If you are in WordPress, click over to text view and find the link. You then just need to add rel=”nofollow” to the anchor tag.
For example: <a href=”http://amazon.com” rel=”nofollow”>Amazon</a>
It really is that simple.
If you care about your Google rankings, you need to care about nofollow links. They really are very simple. If you want to follow Google guidelines, simply add the rel=”nofollow” tag to any links to sites that you do not recommend as quality sites or that you have any commercial relationship whether that involves money or other services.
You can also read what Google has to say on the topic in their content guidelines.
Any questions? Do you use nofollow links?