Why Nofollow Links Are Good For Your Blog

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If there’s anyone’s good side you want to be on with your blog, the list probably goes (from least to most important):

3. Your college creative writing professor
2. Your mom
1. Google

Google, you see, is the Master of the Internets and can truly make or break things for you as a blogger. Mom and that old prof? They’ll love you no matter what.

But Google isn’t just a search engine that looks for keywords and checks on that SEO you’re so diligently working on with your Yoast plugin (I see you working hard on that.) Google is a computer that looks for many different elements on your blog and makes sure you’re following their rules.

That’s right. Just like mom (and the college prof, probably), Google has rules and if you want to live under their roof, er, Internet, you gotta play by them.

There are, of course, the quality guidelines like don’t throw in irrelevant keywords for no reason and don’t just copy of a bunch of other people’s stuff onto your own site (because that’s stealing), but there are other less obvious rules Google wants you to know about.

Wait, though. Before you click that link above just hang out for a second so you can learn about the most recent and incredibly important one. We’re diving into nofollow links and why you need them on your blog.

What is a nofollow link?

First of all, what the heck is a nofollow link?

The SITSGirls give us a simple, real-person answer:

It really is a straight-forward concept. “Nofollow” provides a way for bloggers to tell search engines “Don’t follow links on this page” or “Don’t follow this specific link.”

CoolCoolCoooool. Yes. So….. why would I want that?

Well, I’m not sure if you noticed but the world is chock full of product placement and bloggers being given products for free in exchange for blog posts with links back to the product and all kinds of other incentivized blog posting. Raise your hand if you’ve participated in those on your blog (:raises own hand:).

Okay. So we know nofollow links mean that Google won’t trace the fact that you sent someone from your blog to another site, and we know we send people to other sites via links on our blogs all the time. So why does Google care?

Ya know how people called Abraham Lincoln “Honest Abe”? Think of Google as the modern Honest Abe. Google wants to give preference to content and pages that perform really well on their own, not whoever can give the most products away for free to bloggers who will link back to their site.

Nofollow links have long been used for paid products, but Google is counting free products in the mix now too. Let’s be honest, as Alison Kramer said on The Unpodcast, “Getting something for free is essentially getting paid.”

Google wants us all playing a fair game so recently they added to their blogger guidelines:

no follow links on Google
Ah. Got it. And look at that. Google even gives us bloggers a tip at the end there. “The most successful blogs offer their visitors a compelling reason to come back. If you're a blogger you might try to become the go-to source of information in your topic area, cover a useful niche that few others are looking at, or provide exclusive content that only you can create due to your unique expertise or resources.” Thanks, G!

How do you use nofollow links?

I’m so glad you asked (or the rest of this article wouldn’t make much sense).

Nofollow links have been around since 2005 (whaaaat? It’s true) but Google is just now making them part of their guidelines so it’s time to take them seriously. And I should note here that you don’t have to go back and change every link for all eternity. Just clean up your act from here on out. Ready? Here’s how:

Add the simple nofollow code after the URL you link to inside your post. It looks like this:

rel=”nofollow”

Or even more specifically:

<a href=”http://www.thatcoolcompany.com/” rel=”nofollow”>That Cool Company</a>

Okay! I’ll do it. But… can you help me not hate it so much?

Sure!

Why linking to other sites is good for your blog

Links (of any kind) do a lot for a brand and for you as the blogger.

Adding links to other products and services establishes you as an authority. Want to become known as the go-to resource for easy after-school crafts for kids? Linking to products and other resources on your blog establishes you as the first place to look when a busy momma is trying to entertain her littles. She knows you’ll have everything she needs with your fancy in-line links and she probably even tells the other moms in her neighborhood all about you.

Links give you a reason to reach out to others. Web strategist and all around smart dude Andy Crestodina recently reported joint research that shows that 75% of articles have zero external links. Let’s get that number up! We’re constantly talking about how to increase your audience and an easy way to do just that is to link to others and then let them know you did.

For instance, we recently published a post featuring a number of call to action buttons. By linking to each site, we were then able to reach out on social and tell those bloggers we gave them some love:

linking in your blog gives you a reason to reach out to other authority sites

And we’ll do the same for this post too. It’s a long-term strategy, but building relationships this way gets you on the radar of others.

How does that work with nofollow links? Let’s say Fossil gives you a free wallet to review on your fashion blog. You’re a good little blogger so you use a nofollow link and then take to social media to let Fossil know the post is live. You give that a few shares over the next several days and, lo and behold, Michael Kors brand follows Fossil and sees your post. So Michael Kors reaches out and strikes a deal with you about reviewing their products. And so the cycle continues again. Sound impossible? It’s real life, friend. Nicole Kohler made it to the front page of a little publication called The Huffington Post using this very nofollow link strategy.

Finally, nofollow links are still trackable. Using a link-shortening tool like bit.ly or goo.gl for your link will give you the ability to track clicks from your site to the external site. This information is invaluable to bloggers who take on a lot of product reviews – with this data you can prove the amount of traffic that’s sent from your site to another site and make the most of new opportunities.

Let’s take that Fossil example again. If you plugged the URL of the wallet on the Fossil site into your bit.ly account and created a shortlink, you might end up with something like: http://bit.ly/1rsE0p9 (that’s a fake link, btw, just setting up the example here)

Then for your nofollow link you’ll use:

<a href=”http://bit.ly/1rsE0p9” rel=”nofollow”>That Fossil Wallet</a>

and track all of the clicks inside your bit.ly account. Neat, huh?!

One more question: do I need to use nofollow on social media or embedded images?

Yes and no. It’s up to you.

Google isn’t looking at links you add to Instagram or Twitter (at least not yet) and the best practice for images is, of course, a nofollow link. But the guidelines aren’t explicit there. Also, I’m not Google (obviously) but I’d venture to say that if you want to really get on their good side, stick to those nofollow links on embedded images too.

Got it. I’m ready. Thanks!

You’re welcome! Be sure to let us know any questions you have and we’ll do our very best to help you navigate those Google guidelines and make the most of your ranking online.

Val Geisler

Val is a yogi, mom, military wife, and avid podcast fan. She is ridiculously obsessed with sharing and creating content that actually makes a difference in the world, connecting with her fellow bloggers, and doing more with less effort. Val is based on Columbus, Ohio (O-H!) and can often be found oversharing on Instagram at @lovevalgeisler.

  • I’m not sure this properly explained when to use nofollow links. Are you saying use nofollow all the time? I don’t think that is appropriate. If we were suppose to use nofollow all the time it would be a universal default, right?

    I do agree that you should always use nofollow when getting paid (or free stuff, and yes Allison is amazing and totally spot on) and that bloggers are not following those guidelines accordingly.

    When you create compelling, unique content, you are expecting people to link back to your content (with follow), and when I link to other amazing great articles, I am telling Google that those articles should rank well for whatever my anchor text term is. I didn’t get paid, I simply endorsed that I read and liked another piece of content and didn’t write about it myself – probably because it falls out of my area of expertise but is still relevant to my blog post.

    • Fab article Val; to clarify what Derric said….. If I genuinely want to shout about someone just for no other reason than their content is perfect for my audience then surely that can be a follow link? There’s no money etc involved and it was my independent choice to talk about them and link to them….. So follow or no follow? That is the question!!!

      • @derrichaynie:disqus @CustardAndBear:disqus absolutely. Using nofollow links is just for when money is involved. If you’re adding a link to your blog and you either received or will receive a product for free or will be paid for promoting that product, that’s when nofollow links should be used. If you’re endorsing something simply because you like and believe in it, that can be a regular old follow link! Make sense?

        • Perfect!!

        • Selena

          Now it’s clear. Thank you Val!

        • Interesting stuff, thanks, Val! What if I’m endorsing it simply because I like and believe in it—and also happen to have an affiliate link for said product? Seems like there’s a lot of gray area here…

          • @disqus_m6WOL8Q71i:disqus from what I can understand (and I’m not Google so I’m not the final say here but I’ll try…) if you’re getting paid in any way, including affiliate links, it should be nofollow.

          • Got it, thanks! 🙂

  • Very nice article, thank you!??

  • So how does google makes a differentiation between an endorsed link and an affiliate link. Affiliate Sites/blogs work on the principle of clicking these links and being redirected to shopping page?

    • Great question, @lucidaki:disqus. I’m not Google, of course, but what I’ve read tells me that Google is now saying there’s no difference between endorsed (paid or free products given in exchange for the link) and affiliates (also being paid to have the link on your site). You’ll want to use nofollow links in both cases.

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