The web is made up of links, strategically placed or not.
This is how it's always been, way before Google came on the scene even. By it's very definition, the web is nothing more than a collection of interlinked files:
"The World Wide Web (abbreviated as WWW or W3, commonly known as the web) is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet. With a web browser, one can view web pages that may contain text, images, videos, and other multimedia and navigate between them via hyperlinks." -Wikipedia
Consider the way you surf the web, and also the way you use it. I would guess that you rarely get online for one thing and then leave. You read something, which takes you to something else, which introduces you to yet something else. You follow links.
You probably share things you find too. Linking to resources in emails, saving them to your public bookmarks, sharing them with your social connections, or even blogging about them or sharing resources (links) on your favorite forums.
And why wouldn't you? This is how the web works. Way before Google, way before Yahoo was a search engine even, this is how we found cool new stuff to check out.
Fast forward two decades and linking has become a complicated topic.
Actually, thanks spammers. Right? But even legitimate business owners and bloggers are now caught up in the linking commotion. And it just gets more and more complicated by the year.
Just this week it was asked in my private group whether the "no-follow link attribute" should be used on outbound links in guest posts. This is of course on the heels of (yet another) uproar caused by an announcement from Google's Matt Cutts.
I recommend you read Matt Cutts Declares Guest Blogging “Done” … Are We All Screwed? at Copyblogger. Be sure to read the comments too.
To Follow or No Follow?
There are different opinions on this topic. Some say affiliate links and other types of outgoing links (in guest posts, etc) should contain the no follow attribute.
I personally don't use it myself.
Whether or not it actually "works" has stirred up a lot of controversy, and interesting "test results" have been shared. I've kept an eye on it, and I'm a bit wary about the whole scheme. First, it's a Google link attribute. Much like PageRank, it is not adopted by other search engines. Second, the attribute has been used in the past to "sculpt PageRank" (spammy? black hat? a potential indicator?).
Then there's the fact that Google does actually follow the link, so the term "no follow" is misleading. What the attribute is meant to do is not pass PageRank (or "votes") from the one page to the other - but all search engines still "follow" the link. PageRank being questionable itself, and even more so at this point in the game.
All that said, my rule of thumb is:
If I am only doing this for SEO and not because it makes sense for my readers or my business, I probably shouldn't do it at all.
As one example, years ago (many, lol) I installed the Do-Follow Plugin on my blog so that all comments would have a do-follow attribute on the link (actually, it just removed the no-follow attribute). That only resulted in tons of spam comments. I ultimately removed the plugin. In hindsight it was stupid to install the plugin in the first place (duh), but this was a good decade ago.
And of course I was just blindly taking advice without really considering the objective. Which is common. Don't do that.
Getting back to the question, I believe the general consensus is yes - use a no follow attribute on most outgoing links such as affiliate links, guest post links, etc. But I don't. And it leaves me wondering which links you should edit and which you shouldn't edit, and where you draw the line.
It's one of those "SEO trends" I've simply decided to ignore, for better or worse. Of course, sometimes sponsors or advertisers require the no-follow link attribute on outgoing links to their site, which I respect. But other than that, unless specifically requested, I don't bother with it.
Going a step further than the no-follow link attribute, Google now gives you the option to Disavow Links pointing to your website. And they don't just give you that option, they give anyone with a blog or website that same option - including sites/blogs you may be linking to from your own.
This is just getting to the point of ridiculous in my opinion.
I've been working online since way before Google came on the scene. Since before Yahoo was even a search engine, for that matter.
I haven't really changed the way I do things, and I certainly haven't followed every little SEO trend or strategy or tactic along the way. Thank goodness - because that kept me out of the "Google Zoo" (pandas, penguins, blah blah blah).
You have two choices: You can get sucked into the SEO rabbit hole and become a professional student (which equals an awful lot of "chasing your tail").
Or you can JUST RUN YOUR BUSINESS.
That's not to say that I don't optimize my content and enjoy great search traffic, because I do. But I've gotten to the point of not using the term "SEO" at all anymore.
I call my method Keyword Targeting instead, and it encompasses SO much more than just "Google." Fortunately Google seems to favor the way I run my business: organic, natural, real marketing.
By the way, I checked in at Facebook before I sat down to finish this post and I noticed Rae Hoffman was discussing a similar topic on her own blog: "Google Propaganda, SEO and Why Marketers Need to Wake Up" which I recommend you read. Rae is a search expert, so it's her business to know the ins and outs of SEO and Google algorithms - and she shares what she knows in a way that anyone can easily understand. With some colorful language and A LOT of personality to boot.
I'll share a few snippets from her post, but first - consider how many outgoing links you've seen as you read this post already. I didn't apply the no-follow link attribute to any of them. I just freely shared links as they were relevant to the discussion, as a resource to you if you wanted to learn more about that particular topic.
Again, that's the way the web works. By it's very definition.
How rude would it be for me to NOT include those reference links?!?
I didn't include them for SEO purposes. I didn't "disclude" or no follow or disavow them for SEO purposes. I simply included them for your sake, because I thought you might find them helpful. Which is nice of me -and the way we should blog. IMHO.
In Rae's post, the link I shared with you above, this point really stood out to me:
"Because this shit is way too complicated at this point for anyone who doesn’t live and breathe SEO to navigate – especially where false positives are concerned." -Rae Hoffman, Sugarrae.com
I couldn't agree more. And not only that, but it takes you away from your business - and from serving your market - which is a total waste of your time in my personal opinion. It's not like you can learn it all once and be set for life. It's a constantly evolving rabbit hole that spirals downward continuously, sucking you in and taking over your whole life. Or at least your business.
Rae also said:
"From here on out, a marketing plan that consists of (and even more importantly, relies on) “rank well in Google” is a bullshit plan. Because Google doesn’t care about you, or your website or your business. They care about theirs.
From here on out, you work on generating traffic. From here on out, you work on generating branding. From here on out, you work on obtaining customers. From here on out, you work on making your product or service or “value provide” (for bloggers) fucking epic. Not just epic – FUCKING EPIC.
I’m not saying the new SEO is not to do SEO. I’m saying that you need to do things in the most search optimized way as possible, but never losing site of the fact that what you’re supposed to be doing is building a business and not merely building search engine rankings.
By doing so, you’re doing the most defensible thing you can for your business. And, you’ll end up doing the very thing that Google is looking to reward in their algorithm. Google doesn’t want to make websites popular, they want to rank popular websites. If you don’t understand the difference, you’re in for one hell of an uphill climb." -Rae Hoffman, Sugarrae.com
Hear! Hear! THUMBS UP!
I was nodding along in agreement as I read this part of Rae's "rant" earlier today. I've been saying for years: Market your business like Google doesn't exist. Why? Because I've been marketing my own business since before they did.
I like how she says it's "the most defensible thing you can for your business". I discuss this in my Social Marketing Results course, and explain how to foolproof your business by building a readership and a solid (exponential) social reach.
Further down on the page, past the post, Rae said this in one of her comments:
"I think it’s good if site owners begin to try and target traffic outside of Google. In the end, if the algo works how it’s “supposed to” then sites doing well outside of Google should do well within it. In 2014, the goal of many marketers should be to have more than one gigantic pie slice showing in their analytics pie.
So... to follow or no follow? Your thoughts?
As for me and my blog, I'm just going to blog on.
p.s. If you want to build a solid online business with long-term profit potential, check out my Niche Success Blueprint. There's no hype, no trendy tactics that will crash your business, no outdated information. Just a simple step-by-step blueprint for creating an awesome online business - from start to profit.