Apr 22, 2016

No Follow Vs. Do Follow Links: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Follow vs no follow links
If you have been blogging for any length of time, especially if you have done any sort of sponsored content or affiliate marketing, you probably have heard of “No Follow Links.”   You may even have a pretty good understanding of what they are and how they work, but there are still probably a few things about follow and no follow links you may not have heard about, especially when it comes to the long term SEO impact they have on your site.

And even if you are using no follow links whenever brands and networks ask you to, and anywhere you are earning revenue, you still may not realize just how frequently you should be using no follow links when it comes to other content.  There are many many many black hat SEO companies out there who rely on site owners not realizing when and where they should be using no follow links.  They are able to sneak backlinks onto hundreds (if not thousands) of sites in order to suck up Google juice from naive bloggers the way a hungry leach sucks blood from unsuspecting hosts.

So today I thought I’d give a pretty in depth overview of exactly WHAT a no-follow link is, WHO should be using them, WHEN you should be using them, WHY you should be using them and HOW to use them correctly. I also will give you some quick advice on what to tell brands and marketers who insist that a follow link is no big deal and those shady folks who try to sneak them onto your blog in the form of comments, guest content, and advertising.

5267464508 391254fbcd o
image source

So what exactly is a no follow link?

To understand how a no follow link works, you first have to understand what a follow (or "do follow”) link is, and how it is viewed when it comes to search engines.

Google takes into account all incoming and outgoing links from a site when it ranks it in the search result listings. The algorithm assumes that the more people link to a page, the better quality it must be (since nobody wants to send their readers to a page full of crappy content.)  And or course, when someone is searching for content, Google wants to give searchers pages that are the highest quality, which also happen to be the pages with the most inbound links.  

For example:  
If Site A has a page that is all about Apple Pie and it has 100 incoming links, and Site B has the EXACT SAME page about apple pie, but it has no incoming links, Site A will always rank higher.

Google is really just one big popularity contest and the site with the most incoming links wins.
(Well, sort of...)

The difference between a follow and a no follow link is:  when Google is counting incoming and outgoing links it only counts the do follow ones.. Google ignores no follow links.  

And now you are thinking "Wait! What? Why would you use a link that Google ignores?”  Well.. there is a good reason.
Do not enter

How does a no follow link work?

Google developed the no follow tag attribute in 2005 to deal with the problem of page rank manipulation.  It turns out that once website owners realized they could inflate their pages’ search engine rankings by soliciting incoming links, search results began to be filled with spam.  It didn't matter who was providing inbound links to a site or why they did it, as long as a page had lots of inbound links it could increase it’s ranking in search results.

At that time, webmasters did anything and everything they could to get as many links as they could. They would pay people to add links, or put links in comments, links on forums, they would even create hundreds of fake sites and just link to the pages they wanted to rank.  Anywhere they could solicit a link, they did.. and Google quickly realized that they needed to make an adjustment.

In order to separate authentic organic and meaningful inbound links, from spammy fraudulent ones, Google asked website owners to add a simple tag to their URLs to indicate to search engines which of the links were truly important and which were not.  Those links looked and acted like any other link to a user, but for the purposes of search engines, they were invisible.

Google also started ranking websites on their overall quality. They based this rank on a LOT of factors: How many incoming links a site had, how much traffic they received, how long people stayed on the site, how many times the content was selected when shown in search results.  (Google used to call this metric "Page Rank" but they have since decommissioned that term. Many people now use Moz's term "Domain Authority” to express how highly search engines rank a site.) 

The result of these changes was that high quality pages with authentic inbound links from other high quality pages ranked higher and higher, and the fake links on fake websites and forums and chatrooms were ignored.

Google still bases how much authority a page has, not only on the NUMBER of inbound inks, but also on the QUALITY of those inbound links. A link from a well known site with a ton of traffic and excellent content is worth more than a link on some brand new, no-name site that gets no traffic and is filled with nothing by scraped content and spammy ads.

Let’s look at the apple pie example again:
Site A has 100 incoming links to their apple pie page, but they are all from low ranking, hardly trafficked sites where the owners have inserted dozens of follow links to anyone that will give them a few dollars to do so.  Site B has the EXACT SAME CONTENT and only 30 incoming links, but they are from highly respected recipe and food blogs and highly trafficked online cookbooks.  Site B will rank higher, even with less inbound links. They are more authoritative. 

The quality of those incoming links and how you earned them (did you buy them or is your content just so good that people want to reference it?) is exremely important.  Which is why as a site owner you want to make sure you are not sending out nor receiving links that are not authentic and/or quality content.  This is where the no follow links come in.
when shoudl I use follow link

When exactly should I use a no follow link? 

You want to use no follow links anytime you have been paid for a link and/or can earn money from a link (since those are not organic links, you wouldn’t have included them otherwise.) This includes links to sponsor websites in sponsored posts, affiliate links, display ads, text ads, links which could result in a referral bonus (money, free credits, etc) Links when referring to a product you received from a company (product reviews, gifts from brands) and links/tags placed in content in hopes of reciprocity and/or social media sharing. (You used X peanut butter in your non-sponsored recipe post and you link to the brand in hopes they share your recipe.)

You also want to use no follow anytime you don’t think a site deserves Google juice.  For example, if you are writing a negative review about something and you link to it, or if you are linking to a site that is sharing content that is not their own (you want Google to rank the original source more highly than the reposted source.)

You also want to use a no follow link anytime a link is on your site that you cannot vouch for, that you would not have linked to on your own or any link that is put up in exchange for a backlink (for example: guest posts, content shared from another site that contains back-links, contextual advertising, press releases, blog button exchanges, blog rolls etc.)

Using follow links in any of those situations is considered fraudulent link building, (or a link building scheme.)  If Google thinks that is what you are doing, you can kiss your page rank goodbye.

Sure, technically you CAN insert all the paid follow links you want, there is no law against it, but chances are that Google has already identified sites that are using paid link insertion and anyone linking to them will be downranked. Is it worth having ALL of your content penalized over a few hundred dollars worth of spammy outgoing links?  Only you can decide that.

If you aren’t sure if your link should be no follow, here are some additional examples and definitions.

When should I NOT use a no follow link?

What you SHOULD NOT be doing is adding nofollow links ALL THE TIME.  This is almost as bad as never adding them.  I said at the start of this article that search engines are looking at incoming AND outgoing links.  It turns out that the Golden Rule (“Do unto others”) also applies in the world of SEO.   Sites which do nothing but suck up Google Juice without outbound links to authoritative sites are actually downranked in the algorithm.  You don’t want to be a Google Juice vampire.

If you are linking to another blogger, or to sites like Pinterest or Wikipedia.. those should ALWAYS be follow links. They are legitimate sites that you trust and provide good quality content.  Pretty much any site you would organically link to (magazine sites, round up sites, social media sites, forums etc) should be follow links.  If you have contributors on your site and they link back to their own content (even if they are compensated for the article) they can use follow links.  (Exception: if a contributor is sharing paid or affiliate links they should be no follow.)

Even commercial sites sponsored by brands (such as business blogs or educational sites related to their products) can be follow links (unless of course a brand has paid you to link to them.)  If you trust a site enough to link to them, chances are they deserve to be ranked by search engines.  There is no need to be stingy with follow links. 

On the other hand, if a site is spammy, features questionable content (scraper sites, sites that promote illegal behavior etc), or breaks Google’s Terms of Service (gamblingpornography) you probably don’t want to vouch for them by sending any Google juice their way. Technically those sites can be ranked by Google, but the chances of it helping YOUR SEO unless you are also writing about similar content is slim to none.

How do I make sure my link is a no follow link? 

Now you know when you should be using no follow links.. How do you do it?  The coding is super simple.


No follow links are a built in option in the composition window.
Just make sure the “Add ‘rel=nofollow’ attribute” box is checked for links you want to make no follow.
No follow
You can also add the attribute to linked images.  Click on the image, click on the “link” button, add the URL and click the no follow box.  That is how blog buttons, graphics and images which direct you to a new URL can be no follow.

Don’t worry if after you save your post and reopen the link that the box is unchecked. Once you have added it, you need to manually delete it to remove it.  You can confirm it is there by checking the HTML code.


You can manually change the URL or there are plugins available to help manage no follow links.

The Ultimate No Follow plug in is the one that comes most highly recommended. It adds a check box to the link popup box which results in one click no follow ink tagging.   It is free. Untitled


The code you need to add to the URL HTML is:   rel=“nofollow"
So a text link would look like:
<a href=”http://www. website.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Link Text</a>
This attribute can be used for text links or even links associated with images (so if you were creating a blog button and you wanted it to be no follow, you would add the no follow tag to the same place.)

What are red flags that someone is trying to get me to insert a follow link when I really shouldn’t?

You know all those pitches you get in your inbox about companies that can “improve your SEO” and “get your website seen”?  Those are basically just companies that optimize your SEO by putting YOUR LINKS on websites to drive up your inbound link count.  And you know whose sites they want to use?  YOURS.  Yes.  Those same “SEO Optimization Experts” are the ones leaving spammy comments and emailing with you all those guest posting and advertising opportunities.

Here is how the hustle works:


They may leave comments on your blog with hyperlinked text (usually a keyword having to do with their page) and they may even manipulate the comment so it looks like a legitimate one.

For example:  “What a great post on kitchen cabinets.  I installed lovely GRANITE COUNTERTOPS in my house and they would look great in your kitchen”  (Where granite countertops is a link that leads back to site which sells them).  

They may have a signature at the end of their comment which is hyperlinked keywords.

Example:   “Great post! I’ll be back tomorrow to read you next one!   
Signed, Black Hat Betty   
*ALL THE BEST AUTO PARTS* “   (where this text is a link to an auto parts store) 

Now keep in mind, some bloggers don’t know better and will leave their URL at the end of a comment.  I am pretty sure most of the time this is not a way to manipulate page rank, but just something they are doing to let you know who they are.  I personally don’t allow any URLs in my comments (I use Disqus and you can set it automatically require moderation of comments with links) but those types of outgoing links are okay so you don’t have to remove them.

Spam 964521 640


Because commenting systems often generate no follow links automatically, another way people try to acquire Google Juice is by getting their links into your content.   Often website owners/SEO companies will email bloggers with emails disguised as guest posting pitches and/or sponsored post or link placement.

Some will even come right out and ask for links. These are real emails I've received:

I am a big fan of your blog and have been a reader for quite a while. Are you currently accepting guest posts? If so, I would be happy to write one for you want - The choice is yours! (The only thing I ask for in return is just one or two do-follow links back to my website). I am professional writer with a lot of blogging experience, so you can count on me to produce quality content. As soon as you reply with a topic, I will get started right away.

I saw that you featured some guest posts in the past and I thought the piece was an excellent fit for your site and your readers. Let me know if you’d be interested in reading and possibly hosting and article, I’m excited about the possibility of working with you.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. Either way, keep up the good work!

Best wishes,
Spammy McSpamALot (name changed to protect the guilty)

My name is Google Juice Sucker Upper and I'm a home improvement blogger.  I have a 
wealth of blogging experience and have written a lot of informative and 
helpful posts about home improvement.

I came across this page http://www.thekimsixfix.com/2012/07/guest-post-back-to-school-shopping-on.html 
which says you accept guest posts and I would like to submit one for your 

I will write a high quality article that is-

- 100% original
- Well written
- SEO/Link building orientated or related to your specific niche
- Relevant to your audience
- Exclusive to you

Feel free to also include internal links to related articles across 
your site to help keep your readers engaged with other content on your 

All I ask in return is a dofollow link or two in the article body 
that will be relevant to your audience and the article.

Please let me know if your interested and I will send over some title 
suggestions unless there is a particular topic you would like me to cover on your 

Kind Regards,
Google Juice Sucker Upper

The difference between these “guest posts” and “sponsored posts” and legitimate ones, is that they don’t really care about anything but manipulating SEO.  The goal isn’t to get your readers to visit their site.. it is to get their site to rank higher on Google.

How do you know the difference? 

The letters often seem like form letters with your url and blog topic filled in.  They may claim to be a fellow blogger or even a regular reader.  Often they are clunky and don’t completely make sense.

Typically they will ask to share specific content (either a link, graphic, press release or full article) on your site, usually in the form of educational or guest posts filled with keywords.  They don’t want a you to create the post since they need the anchor text and link to be very specific. They may even want to buy “ad space” on your site. (A linked image in the sidebar)

They try to make it sound like they are doing you a favor and are overly complimentary. They will explain just how perfectly their content will be for your site.   They may make promises to ‘feature you’ or ‘share your post’ etc which make it seems like a legit sponsored post opportunity.

Often they will ask what your page rank or domain authority is (or will already know it.) If someone is genuinely interested in traffic or exposure, they shouldn't be overly concerned with a site’s rank. Page views, readership, engagement rates? Sure.  Page rank?  Not so much.  The only reason someone would want to know you page rank is if they are looking for Google Juice, since that is the only place it matters.  (It could also be an indication of site quality, but there are other parameters that indicate quality more accurately that page rank/domain authority.)

I get dozens of letters like this every week.  Here is another example so you can see what I’m talking about:
Hello Kim - 
Having cake decorating skills can save oodles of money and allow family and friends to give a personal touch to that special occasion, but getting started can be a little daunting.
For example: Did you know that there are 17 different ways to make an icing leaf?
We teamed up with REDACTED to create a step by step do it yourself guide to cake decorating. This graphic is a great resource for learning all of the most popular frosting techniques:
Just read your post, "Pumpkin Monkey Bread Recipe." Yum! I absolutely love monkey bread. I have never had it with pumpkin, but I bet it is even better!!
Would you be interested in using the graphic on your site?
There is an embed code at the bottom of the post for easy sharing, or you can grab it REDACTED.
As a thank you for using the graphic, we can include your site in our social promotion for this piece. Just let me know when your post is live and I can set it up.
Blah Blah Blah 
at Blah Blah Blah Media   

The graphic was actually an image with follow link directly back to a kitchen supply company.  It would have basically been free advertising on my site and it was a Google juice sucker.

Needless to say.. I didn’t reply to their generous offer.

Money 163502 640


If there is one time you will probably be tempted to use follow links when you shouldn’t.. it is paid link insertion or advertising.  It is EXPLICIT in Google’s policies that anytime you receive money or other compensation (free products, gift cards etc) you must use a no follow link.  But many of these "advertisers" are only willing to pay you if your link is a do follow.

Here is an example pitch I received.  When I followed up and told them I would use no follow links on any advertising on my site, they were no longer willing to insert the ads.

Hope you're doing fine.

I have come across your details as being the person responsible for site thekimsixfix.com and I represent a client in the Home Improvement, Travel and Tech, Fashion and Kitchen Industry, we are currently looking for a select few high quality sites that are prepared to provide content based advertising. If you would like to find out more about this opportunity or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

I look forward to hearing from you.
 Google Rule Breaker 
The #1 giveaway that someone is looking to manipulate page rank by inserting follow links on your blog is:  WHEN YOU TELL THEM YOU ONLY USE NO FOLLOW LINKS FOR THAT TYPE OF CONTENT, THEY ARE NO LONGER INTERESTED. 

When in doubt.. just ask.

If a marketer comes back to you and says that they really need the link to be do follow and without it they aren’t interested, you can share this article that explains the power behind no follow links and why they are better for brands than they may realize.  (Granted, many of them aren’t interested in actual customer relationships, but you may just get lucky!  I have had experience where a brand didn’t understand what a no follow link was and was worried it would somehow impact click through.  It does not.)

Legitimate brands don’t need to manipulate you into using follow links.  They care more about your voice as influencer than your Google Juice. No follow links are typically required by big marketing networks and companies that are on the up-and-up when it comes to online influencer marketing. They don’t want to be penalized for fraudulent link building any more than you do.  (In fact, some brands will be upset if you don’t use a no follow link because they don’t want to risk a Google penalty.)

You can make money working with brands, even with no follow links, don’t be fooled into thinking that content without follow links is worthless.  It isn’t.

Making it work: 

 I hope I have shined a new light on the use of follow and no follow links.  They are actually a great resource for bloggers and when used correctly allow freedom to link to sites and content that would typically result in negative SEO. The key is to find balance.  Make sure you are using follow links when you should be (and the way you would want someone to use follow links when linking to you) and don’t be manipulated or fooled into giving your Google Juice to sites that don’t deserve it.
Long term, as your site is filled with more and more links, the importance of correctly categorizing them grows.  One or two low quality outgoing links from a post 3 years ago may not be a big deal, but a repeated history of spammy outbound links is a recipe for SEO disaster.   Making sure you understand the why and how behind no follow and do follow links guarantees that you won’t fall victim to link building schemes and the possible negative SEO effects they can have.

For more information, you can see Google’s own no follow content guidelines to get additional information, straight from the horse’s mouth!

(This post contains 100% do follow links.)


  1. Interesting; I had no idea what all this gobbledygook was all about, and still don't have much. I've been doing "Link Logs" as a regular feature--almost all (except my own affiliate links, which are to products I sincerely recommend) to blogs and news sites, almost none to commercial sites. Readers seem to like them and I've no plan to discontinue doing them, but now I'm wondering whether it's worth bothering to add the "nofollow" thingy--especially to some news sites, like NYTimes and TheBlaze, that often post good news content but have features that may annoy or even block some readers (depending on their devices).

    1. Big media sites like the NYT or The Blaze are actually really great to link to. They are authoritative and not spam and you clearly aren't being paid to promote them.. leaving them as follow links is fine. The fact they may not be the most user friendly sites wouldn't be enough for me to no follow them..

  2. Really informative!!! Thanks for sharing!