Note: this post might be a bit technical and behind the scenes. It assumes you’re a blogger and you know something about search rankings and linking methods.
Lately, I have noticed that some blogs have begun tagging all of their links with the ‘nofollow’ parameter. And this kind of grinds my gears. If you do this, you need to stop doing it. It’s bad.
But let me step back and give a bit of background.
As you may be aware, links on the internet work a bit like votes. Search engines count all these votes and use these to determine which pages are important enough to be shown on search results pages (this among many other factors).
The nofollow parameter was created for site owners to tell Google to ignore certain links. And this is super useful in some cases! For example, it allows us to make links in comments not count as ‘votes’, which helps dramatically cut down on comment spam.
More recently, Google has updated its guidelines for using this tag. It now says that if a link was purchased or sponsored, it should also be tagged as nofollow. Google sees these as unnatural links, essentially as a way of ‘buying votes’, and so it doesn’t like them. This is fair enough, and you should probably follow that guideline.
But… apparently many site owners don’t quite understand these guidelines, or maybe they’re afraid or confused. I’ve seen some discussions in travel blogger circles where people are totally misinterpreting these guidelines. And now increasingly, I see sites just tagging every single link with nofollow, not just ones in comments or ones that were paid for.
This is simply terrible for everyone involved. It removes any fairness in how blogs link to each other, and worse, these sites actually shoot themselves in the foot. Here’s why:
If you nofollow, I won’t want to link to you
I liberally link to other blogs. For example, when I see an awesome post about Thailand, I add a link to it on my Thailand page. That’s because I want my readers to know about useful stuff around the web! And yes, these links are do-follow. After all, no money changed hands; these are organic, natural links. This is the stuff the web is made of.
But… if all other blogs start to ‘nofollow’ any links they have, whether to me or to other sites, it suddenly feels unfair. These blogs would benefit from my linking to them (and they do benefit a lot, as Indie Traveller has a high domain authority), but myself or others wouldn’t ever benefit from any links coming back to me. That doesn’t seem right.
If I see something cool on your blog but it has nofollows all over, I would probably hesitate. I mean, maybe I’ll still link it, but maybe not? This is not the way I want to be thinking about linking to each other! I don’t want to check every time whether a site is playing by different rules than everyone else. Linking to another site shouldn’t be so calculating—this is the open web and if something deserves to be linked, I should be able to link it without wondering if I’m being duped on some level.
If you nofollow, I won’t give you free content
Every now and then other blogs, or content marketing managers from companies, ask me if I want to contribute something to a blog post. This might be a Top 10 post or some kind of collection of travel stories. Everyone writes a part of it, and this is usually in exchange for a link back to your site. It’s a nice way of collaborating and cross-promoting. I do it sometimes because it’s fun and, hey, it gives me a bit of SEO benefit too.
So recently I wrote up a little story for a collaborative post that a number of other travel bloggers also participated in. This was for a medium-size site belonging to a major travel brand. I was told I’d get a link back, which seems like a fair exchange, but then it turned out that all the links are nofollow.
I was told that ‘All external links on our site (other than those within our own family of brands) have the “nofollow” code as a matter of [big top-tier travel company] policy.’
Well, then I won’t link to that story anymore, nor promote it on social media, as there’s little in it for me.
(And no, you generally don’t do these posts for ‘exposure’. You typically get only a handful of clicks from a link embedded in a collaborative post.)
Is it the end of the world? It clearly isn’t, and I’m just being slightly dramatic. That little piece didn’t take long to write, and it’s possible I’d still get some vague tertiary benefit from it. Maybe someone out there will recognize my name or something.
But it’s part of a bigger trend, one that basically removes the main point of doing collaborative posts. You’d expect at least a little tit-for-tat.
But… maybe the most compelling reason you should do-follow is that it’s actually in your own self-interest.
If you nofollow, it hurts your own rankings
If your page links to other sites’ pages that are relevant and good and useful, it actually helps you in the search engine rankings. While there has been some debate about how much of a ranking factor this is exactly, many SEO experts do believe that outbound links are a ranking factor.
In other words: sites that link to other sites in a way that is helpful to their readers will be rewarded with higher search ranking themselves.
So if you’re going to use nofollow, it’s important to understand when this is appropriate. Sure, tag your paid-for links with nofollow, but making your entire site nofollow is essentially a selfish act… you stop participating in the open web, instead retreating to an island that doesn’t invite itself to be linked by others.
Remember that links are a form of content and provide value. I link openly and freely to other blogs, and I’d like to continue doing this without other people misusing the nofollow tag.
Okay, whew, that got a bit ranty… do you agree or disagree? Feel free to leave a comment below.