[This post is part of a series on Exploring Affiliate Marketing.]
While learning how to be an effective affiliate marketer, you might read about how Google penalizes your blog’s PageRank if you don’t “nofollow” paid links. Since search engine traffic is key for getting commissions from your affiliate links, you can’t afford a hit to your blog’s ability to be found by search engines.
I had to wade through a lot of confusing information about nofollowing affiliate links. Here’s a break down of the issue so you don’t have do all the slogging I did.
What is nofollow?
I’ll let Wikipedia tell you:
nofollow is a value that can be assigned to the rel attribute of an HTML a element to instruct some search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index.
So when you create a nofollow link to a site, you’re telling search engines not to use that link as a factor in figuring out the site’s rank in their search results.
Google devised the nofollow value to fight comment spam on blogs. The idea was that if links in comments couldn’t affect PageRank, there would be less incentive for spammers to post comments.
Why Google doesn’t like paid links
Paid links are links that appear on a blog because someone paid you to put them there.
Because a site’s search rank is partly based on the sites that link to it, Google doesn’t want paid links affecting its ranking. Makes sense right? Otherwise, websites with huge budgets would dominate search results.
Instead, Google wants a site to rank high because other bloggers linking to it believe its content is relevant and useful to their readers. Google allows bloggers to be paid for links as long as bloggers use the nofollow value in the paid links. If they don’t, Google will lower the bloggers’ rank in its search results.
The problem for Google is that they have a hard time detecting paid links. If I gave you money to put a link to my blog on yours, Google can’t distinguish it from a link selflessly posted because it was valuable to your readers. This is why they want to you to nofollow paid links: to help them know when a link exists for monetary purposes.
Google also asks people to report sites that try to increase PageRank using paid links.
How does nofollow apply to affiliate links and banners?
Does Google consider affiliate links and banners paid links? In a word, yes.
In an interview with Eric Enge, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team said of affiliate links:
“…the link is essentially driving people for money, so we usually would not count those as an endorsement.”
Later in the interview, Cutts specifically says that Google doesn’t “want advertisements to affect search engine rankings.”
In other words, Google feels affiliate links benefit the site owner more than its readers, so they don’t want those links influencing your blog’s search results.
Will Google penalize your blog if you don’t nofollow affiliate links?
Probably not. Matt Cutts has said that because of the way affiliate links work (redirection, affiliate IDs in the URL), “Google does a pretty good job of detecting and handling things like affiliate links or banner ads.” So they’ll automatically remove those links from their PageRank algorithm without penalizing your site.
However, if you stuff your site full of affiliate links and they’re not relevant to high quality content, then your PageRank will suffer.
How to make your affiliate links nofollow
If you typically use WordPress’s visual editor, switch to the HTML editor by clicking on the HTML tag.
Find the anchor tag (it starts with
<a), and inside the closing angle bracket insert this text:
This might become tedious if you use affiliate links often. When my next post in the affiliate marketing series talks about link cloaking, I’ll show you a more convenient way to make sure that search engines don’t follow your affiliate links.
To ensure you don’t hurt your blog’s search engine results, you should nofollow all your affiliate links and banners. It’s really a no-brainer. After all, your merchants don’t need the boost in PageRank. You’re already giving them what they really want: their products promoted on your blog.