We’ve already written quite extensively about the issue of follow versus no-follow on the Tots100, and there’s also a great post by Tasha over at WAHM-BAM that’s worth a read. But we know there are lots of questions – our follow/no-follow session at BlogCamp last week was one of the busiest of the day!
For those who want to review what was talked about, or couldn’t make it on the day, below is a summary of the discussion with lots of great info and advice for bloggers who are concerned or just curious.
Short on time? Here’s the 20 second version:
If you get paid for a link on your blog, Google wants you to use a no-follow link. If you didn’t get paid, Google doesn’t mind. But Google isn’t the law – so if you’re not bothered about appearing in Google, this is a non-issue for you.
Got a bit more time? Here’s the full lowdown from BlogCamp:
What you Need to Know
What’s this whole issue all about, anyway?
Page Rank is a measure that Google gives websites scoring them from 0-10 according to how authoritative they are. Established blogs are typically PR 3-5. You can check your Page Rank at http://prchecker.info
Sites with higher PR scores will typically be able to charge more for advertising on their sites, and they will often appear higher in Google’s search results.
When you link to another website from yours using a normal link (sometimes called follow or do-follow) you share a little bit of your Page Rank with them. Using a no-follow link prevents this from happening.
What has this got to do with bloggers?
Many bloggers earn money from paid text links on their sites, and from sponsored posts.
Google says this is okay, BUT these links should be ‘no follow’ links, which means they don’t share their Page Rank with the site being linked to – and that site won’t get a boost in the search results as a consequence.
It makes sense if you think about it – Google is trying to stop companies buying their way to the top of their search results. And, of course, if companies can’t do that, they’re more likely to buy advertising from Google.
What’s a no-follow link?
A no-follow link looks like this:
<a href=http://www.mysite.com rel=“nofollow”>
To create a no-follow link, when you compose a post on your blog, look at it in the HTML view, and use the example above as a model. There are more complex examples in the Tots100 Making Money from Blogging eBook – which you can download using the link in the sidebar.
Why is this just now a big deal?
To be honest, none of this is new. Google has had the same terms and conditions around sponsored content and paid links for many years. There’s a great blog post from one of the Google team about the issue here, written in 2009.
What has changed is that Google has started to take the issue a LOT more seriously in recent months, penalizing some very big private blog networks in the US that involved thousands of blogs selling links to network members. This has meant a lot of brands and reputable SEO agencies all over the world have started to worry about whether they might get caught out by Google, too.
What this means for Parent Blogs
What does this mean for me if I write sponsored posts?
If you are paid to write a post or include a link within a post, then Google wants you to use a no-follow link. It really is as simple as that. If you’ve previously written a post like this and NOT used a no-follow link, Google would like you to go back and change those links to no-follow links.
What does this mean for me if I host advertising?
Google is very clear about banner ads on websites. They should also be no-follow. So if an advertiser wants to place an ad on your site, you should always ASK “Will this be a follow or no-follow link?” so you know what you’re getting into.
What does this mean for me if I post reviews and competitions?
The rules on competitions and reviews are, unfortunately, far less clear.
Some SEO experts will tell you that if you receive a product to review, then it is payment in kind, and you should therefore behave as though the post is paid for – and use a no-follow link.
Other SEO experts disagree and say that reviews are independent editorial and since the company providing the product isn’t specifying a link to its own website, the content can include regular ‘follow’ links.
SEO experts are annoyingly like accountants – none of them will ever agree on what’s the ONE right answer. And until Google provides more specific advice, bloggers are really left weighing up the issue for themselves, and making their own judgement.
Our view is to consider each post on its merits – if you’re being asked to include specific links and anchor text, it’s probably a sponsored post in disguise. If a brand is genuinely happy for you to include whatever links and words you choose, then you’ll probably be okay.
Is Google really going to know if I break its rules?
Google uses a combination of automatic and manual checks to look for suspicious links across the Internet. SEO experts have LOTS of theories about how these checks work and what the chances are of being caught out but the only people who know for sure are Google.
Now, there are millions of blogs on the Internet and the chances of being caught out are pretty small – but it can happen. We know of three Tots100 bloggers who have lost their Page Rank in the past two weeks, two of them specifically because of sponsored posts that used ‘follow’ links. So it does happen. It’s about weighing up the risk to YOU, and making the choice that’s right for YOUR blog. There’s no one wrong or right way to do this stuff.
What are the risks?
What might happen if I don’t use no-follow links on paid content?
Remember, Google isn’t the law. It can tell you about what it wants to share on its site, but it can’t tell you what you should do on your site. That’s up to you. That said, if Google finds what it calls suspicious links on a website it can:
- Decrease your site’s Page Rank (or remove it entirely)
- Demote or remove your site from Google’s own search results
The best advice is to think realistically about your blog. How important is Google to your traffic? Do you run a lot sponsored links and posts? Do you have the time to go back and edit past links if you’ve been blogging for a long time? Can you afford not to take sponsored links at the moment? What seems right for YOUR blog?
Is this just about paid content?
No. Google can also remove Page Rank for other reasons. For example if your site has lots of spam comments, or duplicate content, Google might consider it a spam blog. Sites infected with malware can also be removed from Google, to help keep other customers safe.
What can I do if I lose my Page Rank?
If you find your site has lost its Page Rank or isn’t appearing in search results, DON’T PANIC. First, ask yourself if it matters. If your traffic hasn’t changed, and you are still getting what you want from your blog – there’s no real need to worry.
However, if you are worried, you can register with Google Webmaster tools and if there’s a problem, Google will send you a message letting you know why it isn’t listing and ranking your blog.
All you need to do at this point is fix the links that Google has identified as suspicious, resubmit your blog to Google, and wait around 90 days. If you’re lucky, your site will be back on form much faster than that.
Don’t forget disclosure!
Google isn’t the law and whether you choose to follow Google’s guidelines or not is entirely a matter of personal choice. We suggest reading up on the issue, thinking about what’s right for you and your blog, and then making an informed choice that works for you.
But it’s important to remember blogs and Tweets are covered by laws and regulations, including rules set by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Office of Fair Trading. This means as bloggers we must disclose if we’ve been paid to write about something, or have received a product in exchange for writing a post. Anyone asking you not to do these things is not someone with your blog’s best interests at heart.
Things you might hear
Lots of SEO professionals charge their clients for ‘link building’ services and their business relies on blogs accepting paid links. So these people may well try and tell you that you don’t understand Google’s guidelines. Things we’ve heard link builders say in recent weeks include:
- If you’re paid to place a follow link and don’t disclose the payment, Google won’t know it was paid for (maybe true, maybe not, but do you want to break the rules on disclosure and mislead your readers?)
- You won’t get penalised for follow links to sites that rank highly in Google (this is untrue)
- If you use an image that says ‘sponsored’ rather than the words, Google won’t see the disclosure (this may be true for Google’s automated checks, but a manual check would soon catch you out. And it’s possible that Google looks at patterns of links appearing on the Internet – so it’s the link that raises the red flag, rather than the image or the word ‘sponsored’)
- Google is only interested in ‘spam’ links not ‘sponsored links’ (again, untrue, and not reflected in the experience of Tots100 members)
If I don’t agree to use follow links, can I still make money on my blog?
There are lots of brands and PR agencies who want to work with blogs because of your great blog, and your audience – and will support bloggers who choose to use no-follow links on paid content. The Tots100 works with some of the UK’s biggest PR agencies and the vast majority of our clients say they are horrified by what’s happening in SEO circles. One PR agency founder stood up in this session and apologised on behalf of the PR industry to anyone who’s been pressured by someone NOT to disclose a paid-for post.
Remember, too, there are always other ways to monetize your blog apart from sponsored links – just download the Tots100 Guide to Making Money for loads of tips and suggestions.
Thanks again to all our BlogCamp speakers and bloggers – we hope you find their input useful. This workshop is based on input from Ruth, Lee and Rosie, and based on notes compiled by Jen – thanks all!
Next up, we’ll be sharing tips on e-courses and SEO from BlogCamp.