There’s always a lot of confusion around the subject of follow links vs. no follow links. To understand it clearly, you need to understand how SEO and search engines work. I have a post explaining that here, which I recommend reading but the next section will give you an overview.
How Search Engines + PageRank work? What is a Follow Link?
Search Engines like Google crawl your blog. As well as looking at your content, they also look at the links on your site. A natural link is known as a Follow or DoFollow Link. By linking to a site using a DoFollow link you are recommending and endorsing it, telling the search engine to follow it. Kind of like giving it a thumbs up or a vote. DoFollow links pass SEO Link Juice and boost the PageRank of the linked-to site. This helps them go higher on the SERP (Search Engine Result Pages).
If a website links to your blog, the Search Engine will follow that link to see what content is being shared. They’ll take note of it and monitor how many sites link to your blog and the quality of those links. The more reputable the site is that is linking to you, the more the link is worth. If a lot of people are linking to the same site, it has a lot of recommendations or “votes”. Search engines see the “votes” and know that it must be a popular site with good content so they’ll display it more on the SERP.
PageRank is an authority score of 1-10 that Google gives to each site. It indicates how influential the site it. It is Googles system of measuring and calculating the “votes” or recommendations. PageRank is one of the things that determine if a site will rank well in the SERP.
What is a NoFollow Link?
NoFollow Links were introduced by Matt Cutts and Jason Shellen in 2005 to combat spam and improve the quality of the SERP. NoFollow Links don’t look any different to Follow Links to your readers, they just have an extra attribute in the HTML that lets Search Engines know how to treat the link. It tells Search Engines not to follow the link and that it shouldn’t influence the SERP. Therefore NoFollow Links do not pass PageRank onto the linked-to site. As mentioned when you link to another site you are giving it a vote of recommendation. When you do this a small percentage of your PageRank is passed on to the linked-to site and you boost their presence in search results. By using NoFollow Links you are essentially stopping this vote of recommendation, saying you cannot vouch for the content.
Why use a NoFollow Link?
Search Results pages are typically made up of organic results and ads. The highest organic results are from popular and trusted sites. Search Engines don’t want these to be influenced by who can pay the most for links. They want those results to be quality content. If I got paid to link to a website using a Follow Link. This tells Search Engines that I recommend this website and if many of my readers visit this site it would boost the sites PageRank. This boost is because they paid for the link, not because I truly recommend them so if it appeared highly ranked in the search results, it wouldn’t be because it was a great website. That’s why it’s important to make it a NoFollow Link.
How to make a link NoFollow?
As shown in my post on Creating Text + Images Links, a normal link looks like this
<a href="http://www.websitename.com">Follow Link</a>
A NoFollow link is very similar to a normal link but uses the NoFollow tag.
<a href="http://www.websitename.com" rel="nofollow">NoFollow Link</a>
On Blogger, when you click to add a link in compose mode in post editor, you can choose “Add ‘rel=nofollow’ attribute” which will add it for you. There are plugins for WordPress, however I recommend adding them manually incase the plugin is ever removed or deleted.
When to use NoFollow links?
It is recommend that you use NoFollow Links on any links that have any kind financial gain behind them. Google detail the guidelines on the Link Schemes page which says that the following all violate their guidelines –
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. Excessive link exchanges. Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links. Using automated programs or services to create links to your site. Text advertisements that pass PageRank. Advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank. Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature.
That means that –
For paid links – links in posts, links in your sidebar, banner ads, affiliate products, advertising/sponsored links and any other links that you were paid or compensated for.
For product reviews – this is a grey area because people have mixed opinions on what compensation is but according to what Google say above, it should be NoFollow. You can decide what you think is the best approach.
For links appearing multiple times – any links that appear on each post or page of your blog, such as the blog roll or blog buttons in the sidebar. When a Search Engine indexes your site, they’ll end up linking to that site each time which looks like spam. An alternative if you do want to pass on link juice is to move them to a separate page.
For comments – it’s kind of personal preference but it can discourage spammers from targeting your site and it will protect you from passing page rank to untrusted content or sites.
Untrusted content – adding infographics, videos, images or content from sites that you do not fully support or trust. Linking to forums and guestbooks where the content is constantly changing. If you’re not willing to vouch 100% for the content on the site then those links should also be NoFollow.
Paid links that pass PageRank is a violation of Googles guidelines. This includes receiving money for a link, receiving money for a post contain a link, exchanging products or services for a link and receiving a free product for a link.
Sometimes you may be asked to use DoFollow Links for sponsored content. While it is not illegal to accept sponsored posts or paid DoFollow links, you could be penalised for doing so. Google has its own algorithms that search for paid links. If you are caught violating the guidelines, it could have negative effects for your site, such as your site could be removed from search engines for a specific topic or altogether and you could lose PageRank. These would result in a huge loss of traffic.
Regardless of the link you choose to use, remember that there are laws and regulations that state you are required to disclose paid links which means saying if you have receieved payment or compensation.
Where to focus?
You want a balance of DoFollow and NoFollow backlinks. How to increase the amount of DoFollow links? It always comes down to creating original high qaulity content, that will get shared and linked to naturally because people enjoy it!
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