Hearing about “no-follow” links and “do-follow” links and totally confused? Maybe someone offered to pay you to put a link on your site, or an article with link(s) in it, and you heard somewhere that this whole “follow/don’t follow” business with links is something you need to worry about.
So is it? Is it something you need to worry about? Yes. As a blogger you definitely need to understand the basics of do-follow vs no-follow links. So is it hard or complicated or require fancy coding? No, once you wrap your head around the basic concept it’s very simple.
No-follow links vs Do-follow links, in a nutshell
Google regularly sends little electronic ‘spiders’ to crawl your website, and when they get to a link they follow it to the end and the give the website on the other side a little extra search engine mojo (the idea being if a website is linking to it, it must be a good page, right?). That’s why inbound links from other websites are so desirable. Google uses this system as one way to decide what pages are high-quality and should be shown in search results. The system only works though if the links happen naturally. If websites can buy those valuable incoming links, with bribes like free product or commissions or even cash for a sponsored post, then suddenly Google’s algorithm is ruled by money, not quality. The answer? A little snippet of code on these types of links that tells the spider “don’t follow this link. Ignore it.” No-follow links tell the google bots to just crawl right by, and not give out extra search rank points to those types of links.
It’s important to note that no-follow links look and work exactly the same as do-follow links to readers. ‘No-follow’ is a hidden message just for search bots. You can click both types of links and they work the same. So no-follow links can still be valuable when people actual click thru, they just aren’t valuable in terms of increasing search engine ranking on the back end. So there’s nothing wrong with sponsored posts and affiliate links and getting free product, google just wants to know not to give those links the same extra credit they give naturally occurring, completely voluntary link-backs.
Google makes the rules
It’s important to note that these do-follow vs no-follow rules are not a legal thing, they’re a Google thing (and, presumably, other search engines as well) and part of a good SEO strategy. So choose to ignore them and you’re basically risking all of your SEO efforts, because while Google may never find out if you misuse do-follow and no-follow links (it’s often hard to tell), if they do the punishment of choice is to de-index your site. Which means no more showing up in search results for you! Is it worth the risk? I wouldn’t think so.
But… on the other hand don’t stress about it too much if you’re not sure or may have incorrectly used a few links in the past. Google doesn’t seem to police this very heavily, but increases risk with ongoing patterns of inappropriate linking behavior, and for very large sites that have a significant online footprint. An innocent error or oversight here or there is not likely to cause you any problems.
What Types of Links Should Be No-Follow?
Anything you were paid or compensated or incentivized for in any way should be no-follow. This includes:
- Sponsored posts
- Affiliate links
- Links related to products received free or at a discount
- Paid links/paid posts containing links
What Types of Links Should Be Do-Follow?
Any page or product that you link to without any financial or material compensation (ie just because you want to). This includes:
- Products you recommend but are not professionally associated with
- Links to resources, expert references, and other pages of value that you link to strictly for the benefit of your readers
- Any links or links in guest posts that you were not paid to post (ie you posted them for free) or that you paid them to post (ie you hired a writer or paid another blogger to guest post on your site).
Changing No-Follow and Do-Follow Settings
The default for links on most blogs is do-follow, which means you’ll either need a plugin (I use All in One SEO but there are many others) or to go in manually and change the code on links that should be no-follow. With a plugin it’s usually a simple check-box situation to mark links in certain posts as no-follow, or there’s some good information here if you’re interested in going the manual route.
Look out for yourself
Get confident and comfortable with how and when to use to do-follow and no-follow links, because as a blogger if you haven’t already at some point in the future you will be offered money in exchange for do-follow links. I’ve even seen it happen on sponsored post networks! In these situations it seems like it must be okay and “legit” because of the context, but it’s not. It’s just people playing the SEO game a little on the shady side, betting that Google won’t catch on and you’ll be none-the-wiser. Just be clear that professional collaborations always include no-follow links, and if they don’t agree to those terms move on.
I hope that helps clear up the whole do-follow/no-follow mystery! Did I miss anything or do you have questions? Leave them in the comments here and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.