To be or not to be, to follow or not follow, that is the question. As a B2B marketer, it’s easy to understand that a link back to your organization’s website provides benefits. But, did you know that links can be further classified into “follow” or “no-follow”? Now, I’m not trying to complicate your job here, just clarify the SEO impact of each so you’re prepared to report on either in case a link expert comes calling.
How to find a follow or no-follow link
In the case of follow/no-follow links, you need to first establish how the link you’re looking into is coded. If you’re working in Chrome, visit the navigation bar > View > Developer > View Source. In other browsers, you can Right-Click>View Page Source.
From there, pull up Edit>Find function and search for “no-follow” or “follow” and all instances of the tag will be highlighted. Let’s dive into what each classification means.
Let’s say you’re reading a MarketingProfs article about the latest marketing trends and the article refers to Lindsey Groepper, President of BLASTmedia as an expert source (shameless plug). When the article links to BLASTmedia’s website and is categorized as a follow link, the BLASTmedia website page linked to gets boosted in terms of SEO. If you think of links in terms of points, the more links from reputable sites, the more points; and more points means the higher that page ranks in Google’s search results. Because, if many people are linking to the page, it must have good information and it should be given preference over other pages on similar topics to easily provide top-notch information for Google users.
Now, let’s also suggest an article on Marketing Land links to BLASTmedia’s site, that link counts as a greater impact towards SEO than say, MarketingProfs because Marketing Land is a higher authority on the subject of marketing. So, the more reputable and knowledgeable the site is on a certain topic, the bigger the positive SEO impact on follow links.
So, how do you get follow links, then? Well, first, a word of caution. Practices to increase links to your site AKA “link juice” can quickly turn unethical, turning your hard work on your website into nothing more than spam.
However, ethical strategies like earned PR placements, contributed posts for credible outlets and creating owned resources like eBooks and Whitepapers that people find valuable and want to share are at the top of our list for follow link generation.
At its simplest, a no-follow link is used as a “hint” for Google which may or may not be used for crawling, indexing or search rankings. That definition is clear as mud, so let’s take a step back to the history of no-follow links to better understand what they mean today.
No-follow links were historically coded as such so Google would not crawl or index the link and the link would not be used for ranking in search. Using the example above, let’s say Marketing Land linked to BLASTmedia, but coded it as rel=”no-follow” link. That was the site’s way of saying, “Do not make a relationship between our site and BLASTmedia.” Meaning, BLASTmedia’s site didn’t get any “link juice” from Marketing Land. This helped publishers protect themselves from comment spam and potentially shady links from user-generated content (UGC).
According to Moz, Google introduced the no-follow tag in 2005 to combat comment spam. In 2009 and in 2013, there were also updates made to combat page rank sculpting and paid links, respectively. Ultimately, Google wants to reward earned links vs. those earned in bad practice.
In September of 2019, Google announced big changes to the way it reads no-follow links. No-follow attributes are, “for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.” Google will now use link attributes (follow, no-follow, UGC and sponsored) as hints to holistically analyze with other signals to help improve search. By moving to the “hint” model, Google won’t lose valuable information about no-follow links to improve search and site publishers are empowered to indicate some links shouldn’t have the weight of a first-party endorsement.
Back to our example. Marketing Land links to BLASTmedia.com, but codes the link as no-follow. While the link may not have a direct SEO value if Google chooses not to crawl it, it still can send qualified traffic to BLASTmedia.com for those readers that decide to click through. More traffic equals more leads and more respect from Google. Plus, these types of links, which can be garnered through the same methods as follow links, help diversify your link profile and against potential Google penalties.
Both follow and no-follow link generation are ideal outcomes of a holistic PR strategy and program. If you’d like to discuss how PR can support your SEO strategy, contact Lindsey Groepper.