Author: Mary Ambrose, CPA/MBA
If you are a new blogger, you’ve probably heard about the terms “nofollow” tags or “dofollow” links. However, you may not have mastered the intricacies of these search engine back-end attributes, yet.
Most small online business owners including bloggers serve as their own webmasters, i.e., they have to know at least some HTML coding basics and how to maneuver around the blog posts creation side of the business.
This article will answer most, if not all, of your questions related to “nofollow” and “dofollow” links and how to master them for your site.
Since the vast majority of blogs today are built off of the WordPress platform, that’s what we’ll be focusing on here in this article.
What does “nofollow” mean?
Essentially, “nofollow” is the tag within the link HTML code that tells search engines to ignore that particular tagged link when determining “page rank” for the post.
To give you a more visual understanding of it, here is a screenshot of the HTML code surrounding the external link to a CNBC report on my blog post about wrong mentalities stopping you from financial success:
See the “rel=”nofollow…..” on the second row above that’s associated with the URL for the CNBC statistical report I linked to? That’s me telling search engines to not give page ranking benefit to this external URL in their ranking algorithms.
On the other hand, when you do not add the “rel=nofollow” tag to a link, you’re telling search engines to follow that link and factor it in the page ranking calculations. This is what people refer to as the “dofollow” or “follow” links.
Why is “nofollow” so important?
And now you may be wondering why on earth should we care about if Google or other search engines “follow” links or not?
Well, it matters a lot in Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”).
While there are numerous ranking factors in search engines’ rank brains, two overarching determining factors stand out when it comes to domain authority and page authority:
- Content quality including depth and breadth
- Quality and numbers of external and internal linking structure
In general, the more quality external links point to your blog, the better. Reason for that is because these external links signal social proof of your site amongst relevant websites’ owners, and search engines use that as one of the key factors in the algorithm to determine the “position” a particular web page should appear in the Search Engine Results Page (“SERP”).
For instance, a position 20 blog post (the 20th place in SERP) in Google will probably never be read by most online visitors for that topic.
On the other hand, if your post is good enough to be ranked within the top 10 search results or “page 1 result”, then you’ll have tons of traffic to your site just from organic searches conducted by people typing in the relevant keywords in search bar!
This is the kind of free organic traffic that every blogger craves for.
However, if the external links pointing to your site have “nofollow” tags on them, then search engines will not be counting these links in determining the number of inbound links your site has.
See the impact here?
You have the power to give or withhold ranking juice to other sites by choosing to add “nofollow” tags or not.
By the same token, other webmasters have the same “power” over you.
When should “nofollow” be used?
So, what’s the best practice when it comes to “nofollow” tags?
Well, it really depends and you have to use your judgment as each case may be different.
Here is the general rule-of-thumb about when “nofollow” tags should be added:
1. All affiliate links and other sponsored content
Because the merchants you’re affiliated with as well as the sponsoring companies are already paying for the referral traffic through the links you included on your site, you should definitely apply “nofollow” tag so that search engines know the nature of these external links.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to monetize your blog and this is also a great learning experience for you to master the skills of internet marketing before you launch your own digital or physical products and services online.
As a side note but definitely a related topic, if you’re just starting out on your blogging journey and have been having some difficulty getting accepted into some of your dream affiliate programs, don’t worry!
Just sign up here to receive my secrets to get accepted into affiliate networks and programs with 100% success rate or fill out the form below to get it.
For my subscribers, if you still run into difficulty in the process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me by filling out the contact form. I’ll help to answer your questions in the emails.
But I only give my subscribers this treatment. ? So join the Queens Domania community today!
2. Links in blog comments
This one is a no-brainer, isn’t it?
By now, you’ve probably noticed yourself that there are always spammy comments for your blog posts on a regular basis. And guess what, most of these comments are generated by software, not humans, attempting to automatically leave spammy links on websites comments sections to build “backlinks” or just to lead people to their destination sites.
This is just one of the annoyances we have to manage on a daily basis to keep our blogs healthy and spam-free.
There are various reasons why you want to ward off these harmful blog comments:
- A site littered with these types of spammy links looks messy and not well maintained. As a result, they will turn off your readers.
- If you leave these bad comments in public view, search engines’ algorithms are smart enough to know these are spams and will not consider your site a preferred safe source of information for online users. Consequently, your page ranking in SERPs will suffer.
Now that we’re crystal clear we must manage and prevent these spammy blog comments, let’s explore our options:
Use a WordPress plugin
When you log into your WordPress dashboard for the first time, one of the only two pre-installed plugins is the “Akismet” anti-spam plugin.
It’s a widely-used and effective plugin to ward off these spams automatically. I mentioned this point as well in “how to create and monetize a blog”.
But I’m a minimalist and prefer to have as few must-have plugins installed on my blog as possible.
Besides, more plugins will slow down your site and invite more potential harmful attacks.
That’s why I chose to use the next option, which is to
Manually approve blog comments before posting
Spam or no spam, you want to see what other people try to post in your own blog before the whole world sees it anyways.
From my observation, most bloggers manually approve comments and that’s why we don’t see our comments on other sites right away after we hit the “submit” button.
Although this mechanism is not ideal, I believe its pros outweigh the cons for reasons mentioned above.
You can enable this manual approval process by checking the box under “Discussion” tab of your WordPress Settings:
3. Selection of other external links
Although search engine algorithms change constantly, it’s a commonly known fact that a site will rank higher if there are more quality external URLs pointing to the site than the link juices given out to external sites.
The logic is simple, if more sites refer to your blog, then your domain authority is considered higher than newer blogs that have no or very limited inbound “dofollow” links.
As a result, you’ll want to be extra careful when deciding whether to add “nofollow” tags or not to outbound links.
On one hand, it should be one of your goals to keep the ratio of inbound/outbound links at a healthy level for your new blog.
On the other hand, if you’re too stingy when giving out “dofollow” links, search engines may view your site as heavily loaded with “nofollow” low quality links that might lead to your site being “penalized” with low positions in SERPs.
On top of that, the kind of websites you link to speak volumes about your own site. Google’s viewpoint on this is that similar level of sites link to each other and ‘hang out’ together.
The following diagram may be helpful in painting the picture here. Essentially, you want to have good linkage with reputable and authority sites in green, but stay far away from and “nofollow” all links associated with the sites in black below.
In other words, use “nofollow” tags for majority of external sites, except for the following:
- Reputable sites
- Guest blogs that you want to build relationship with
- Other external sites that will be good to build connections with
Furthermore, you should always “follow” your internal links in your own blog.
Good internal linking structure will help boost your SEO game. But you can only benefit from that if your internal links are “dofollow”.
Getting back to the first example screenshot in this article about the CNBC report, this is the kind of reputable external link that I should link to and therefore the “nofollow” tag should be removed.
Read more for how to do just that.
How to add or remove “nofollow” links in your WordPress blog
Because of the sheer number of links on a blog, it’s not practical to manually alter the HTML code of each link as it relates to the “nofollow” attribute.
This is when you have to install the most effective but light-weight WordPress plugin to manage “nofollow” links automatically on your behalf.
Based on some recommendations I found from certain “experienced” bloggers when I first started blogging, I installed the “Ultimate Nofollow” plugin for this purpose and thought all is well and good.
Until one day, when I unintentionally checked the actual HTML coding of some of my links, I was shocked to find out that some affiliate links on my site are “dofollow” while some internal links to my own blog posts have “nofollow” tags!
Don’t get me wrong here, I remember very specifically that I followed the instructions to check the boxes for each link whether to add “nofollow” or open the link in a new page. It’s not like I was too sloppy because I never was!
So long story short, I immediately stopped using the “Ultimate Nofollow” plugin and did a search myself in WordPress plugins search bar for a potentially good alternative solution.
I’ve been using the free “Nofollow for external link” plugin ever since and I’m still pretty happy with it to this day for the following reasons:
- It automatically appends the “nofollow” tag to ALL external links, so no manual intervention here. With the previous plugin, you do have to manually select the checkbox for each link whether you want to add the “nofollow” tag or not.
- Because all links in comments sections are external links, this plugin will automatically add “nofollow” to these links within comments so there’s one less maintenance concern to think about.
I do have to manually take away the “nofollow” tag from some trusted external links that I want to give link juice to, but at least I have full control over it.
Lesson learned: we should always test drive and thoroughly check the results instead of relying fully on what others recommended.
Once you’ve installed the “Nofollow for external link” plugin, the “NoFollow ExtLink” menu option will show up under WordPress Settings.
Click on the “NoFollow ExtLink” in the menu option as shown in the screenshot above, you’ll get the next screen below:
As you can see, the checkbox for applying “rel=”nofollow” to external links is selected by default. I’d recommend keeping this default setting, otherwise you defeat the whole purpose of installing this plugin.
Another cool feature is to input the external domains that you want to be excluded from this automatic “nofollow”. For instance, if you’re running some other blogs or you intentionally want to give “dofollow” links to certain sites, then definitely input them in the “Exclude Domains” box.
For the CNBC report referred to above, I can simply input the URL to CNBC domain in the “Exclude Domains” box and the “nofollow” tag will be gone from the HTML code automatically.
To check if this change did take effect, you can use one of two ways:
A. Right click on the text next to the hyperlink in your post that you want to check, select “View page source”, or simply do a “Ctrl + U” on your keyboard.
You’ll then see a new page popping up with all the HTML code of your post in a new tab. Do a “Ctrl + F” to search for the link you’re working on, and see if the “nofollow” tag has been removed properly.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the “rel=nofollow” reference is no longer there for the CNBC link. That means search engine will be following this link from your site. Woohoo!
B. Another way to remove or add “nofollow” attribute and to check the HTML code is to manually change the code in the “Taxt” tab of your WordPress post editing screens.
Depending on what you want to do, you can check if the “rel=nofollow” is there for this link in the actual code within “Text” tab.
Messing around with HTML code yourself isn’t always the best choice, especially if you’re new to this.
In the early stage of my blogging journey, on a few different occasions, I did accidentally click on the wrong buttons or delete the wrong code, and my entire site was down!
Luckily, my web hosting plan is SiteGround GrowBig Plan ($5.96 per month), which enables me to do system restores all by myself for FREE because SiteGround servers automatically back up the site every day and save restoration points for me to restore back to if I choose to do so.
I’ve heard stories from fellow bloggers that the basic hosting plan that SiteGround offers (3.95/month) and certain other low-cost hosting companies do not have the free restore feature and you’ll have to pay a one-time fee every time you need your site recovered.
That’s why I strongly recommend not cutting corners when selecting the best hosting plans. Pay $2 more per month and get peace of mind through the GrowBig Plan and get free system backup/restoration at your fingertips. Refer to the “complete guide to create a blog” for more detailed discussion and recommendations on the right web hosting plan for your blog.
Should links open in new page & how to control that?
Another bonus tip on best practices for links on your blog is about whether or not you should let the links open in a new page.
The general rule-of-thumb is simple on this one:
- It’s better to open external links in a new tab
If links open in the same tab, your blog readers will lose sight of your original blog post and may be attracted by the new external page that they’ll forget to hit the “back” button to go back to your page.
This is especially tricky when majority of internet users nowadays actually use their mobile devices to get online.
With smaller mobile screens, make it easier for your readers to maneuver and switch between different sites by opening other domains in a new tab.
- All internal links can open in the same tab
One of the key Google ranking factors is “dwell time” of visitors on your site. That means the longer each visitor spends on your blog, the more engaged and interested they are in your content.
That is a signal to search engines that your site with relatively longer “dwell time”, “page views” and “sessions” should be ranked higher in SERPs. That way, folks can more easily find your page that readers have been interested in based on this metric.
When you open links to other posts on your blog in the same tab, readers are still on your site, still devouring the awesome content that you’re providing them. This contributes to more page views and sessions for your blog. Good SEO boost!
If you check most authority sites, you can see that they all have their internal links open in the same tab. There are a few exceptions to this recommendation. You be the judge on this one.
Now the question is how to have full control over this in a WordPress blog?
With the “NoFollow ExtLink” plugin mentioned earlier, all external links will automatically open in a new tab. This is another reason you need to install this free plugin.
By default, links open in the same tab in WordPress.
Because the “NoFollow ExtLink” plugin is smart enough to identify your internal links, any non-external links will open in the same tab by default and you don’t have to lift a finger for it.
However, for whatever reason you want to make an internal link open in a new tab, or external link in the same tab, you can always achieve that manually by following the steps below:
1. Click on the link in question, and then click on the pencil button below:
2. Next, you want to click on link options button
3. Then, you can choose to either check or uncheck the box for “Open link in a new tab”, and don’t forget to hit the “Update” button after you’re done.
4. Check the HTML code in the “Text” tab of the WordPress post editing platform, as mentioned earlier in this post, to make sure the Rel=”noopenner” tab is properly tagged.
Rel=”noopenner” means the link will open in a new tab.
If you don’t see this tag, then the link will open in the same tab.
Here’s the HTML code of our favorite CNBC report link referred to earlier that is now being “followed” but opens in a new tab.
How to follow or “nofollow” links on your blog is something you should be applying systematically and thoughtfully with SEO in mind.
Hopefully the detailed analyses and instructions provided in this article will help you to master best practices of “nofollow” links for your WordPress blog in no time!
Leave a comment below to let me know your thoughts or share your experiences and valuable insights with everyone here.
I do manually approve blog comments before posting to ward off spammers. Please check the boxes below to receive follow-up comments and new posts in email so that you don’t miss the responses to your questions or comments!
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