4Ps Marketing

To Follow or Not to Follow: A Guide to Links for Bloggers

In the wake of Google’s recent crackdown on linking to brands, there are a lot of unanswered questions floating around the blogosphere. Whether you’re left wondering how to protect your blog visibility while continuing to work with brands, or the very idea of follow links is new to you, there’s no need to panic! Part 4 of our guide focuses entirely on the differences between follow and no-follow links, when to use them, and how to approach any difficult conversations that might crop up.

What is a no-follow link?

Broadly speaking, there are two types of links you can make directly to a page elsewhere on another site – follow links and no-follow links. When you enter a hyperlink into most CMS platforms, it will automatically register as a follow link, so you can just think of these as ‘natural’ links. Each follow link not only allows your readers to click through to the other site’s page, but is considered by Google when measuring that page’s importance. Think of each follow link as an ‘upvote’ for the site you’re linking to: every time you use one, you’re telling Google the page you’re linking to is worth checking out!

On the other hand, a no-follow link allows you to still link your readers directly to the other site, but Google doesn’t receive as large a signal from you that that site is important. In turn, this means Google won’t rank the page more significantly based on that link when it comes to running searches. A no-follow link isn’t a ‘downvote’ for the page; it’s simply a ‘no-vote’.

Creating a no-follow link is easy. You just need to add the text “rel=nofollow” to the HTML code of your link as in the example below:

<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.4psmarketing.com">4Ps</a>

That’s all great, but what does it have to do with me?

Earlier this year, Google published a blog post announcing that any bloggers providing follow links back to brands in return for ‘goods or services’ would be penalised. In layman’s terms, this means that any linked posts you’re providing for brands in return for free products (e.g. clothing) or for trials of services (e.g. driving lessons) need to include no-follow links. If you include follow links, Google will look to impose a penalty on you or the brand. For example, your blog may rank less highly for a key term such as ‘fashion blog’ within user search results for a set period, or it may be dropped from Google search completely. These penalties may also be imposed on the brand you’re working with. The same holds true if the brand is directly paying you to write the post.

If you’re linking to a brand and haven’t received anything of monetary value, you can (and in most cases, should) use a follow link. For example, if you have attended a workshop run by the brand, or received interesting news or research from their PR team, using a follow link in your blog post is a good way to let Google know that the brand has authority in that topic.

What happens if a brand requests a certain type of link in my post?

Brands and agencies may request that you put links to certain pages within your post. While this is a common practice and they are within their rights to do so, they should not be specifically requesting a follow link, particularly if you’re being paid for the post in any way or given free products or services in return for writing.

If you’re asked to include a certain type of link and you’re not comfortable doing so, you can use the guidelines above to explain this to the brand or agency. While the changes to Google’s view on gifting are relatively recent, most marketers would never ask you to contravene Google guidelines, or put something on your blog you’re unhappy with. If the conversation does get at all awkward, just remember that you are right to uphold the integrity of your blog – and that Google agrees with you!

More of “A Content Marketer’s Guide For Bloggers”
Part 1 – How Content Marketers Choose Blogs
Part 2 – SEO Basics For Bloggers
Part 3 – Common SEO Mistakes That Bloggers Make
Part 4 – To Follow or Not to Follow: A Guide to Links for Bloggers
Part 5 – coming soon