Part of me knew that this day would come. While I’m much more familiar with blogging now than I was when I started in 2012/2013, I don’t know everything, and there are so many small ways you can mess up, so it was only a matter of time before I made a mistake. And oh, what a mistake I’ve made. In fact, it’s a mistake that has dramatically screwed up my blog traffic. What did I do? I haven’t used nofollow links, and now Google says that I’m in violation of their Webmaster Guidelines, so they may not show my blog in search engine results.
Part of the reason why I didn’t use them for a while was because it was so difficult to include them when I was on Blogger. Okay, maybe not difficult, but it was definitely cumbersome. By the time I switched to WordPress last year, there was so many other things I had to do to make the blog look good and run well and then grad school started and it has been so much more difficult to find the time to blog, let alone blog according to my standards or go back through my over 600 blog posts and change the links in my sponsored posts to nofollow links! But enough of my complaining or trying to justifying my screw-up. Let’s talk about how you can prevent this from happening to you.
First things first, what are nofollow links? These are links with the attribute “nofollow” in the HTML. These instruct search engines to not follow the links when crawling, aka that they shouldn’t count the link towards the destination’s search engine ranking. Basically, Google wants to make sure that companies are not artificially inflating their search engine ranking by paying people (like bloggers) to have them on their page.
When do you need to use nofollow links? This is where I made my error. I knew that Google had this policy, but I thought that it only applied if someone wanted to pay to be included in a post. I didn’t think it applied if a company hired you to write a sponsored post about a product or whatever and you included a disclosure. For example, if a company pays you to write a post about them in any capacity, you need to use nofollow links. As another example, let’s say that a restaurant provides you a free meal in exchange for a blog post review. In that post, even though they looking for getting people to go to their restaurant and not necessarily to raise their search engine ranking, you need to use nofollow links. I know that the second example applies because Google identified several posts with “suspicious” links where I received a product in exchange for a review.
Okay, but if you don’t use them and Google stops showing your blog in search engine results, will it really make a huge difference? It really depends on the blog, but the short version is yes. Between January 1 and April 1, 9.55% of my sessions came from search engines. In that time period, I had 1.77 pages per session, which works out to around 4,545 pageviews from search engines. That was 9.5% of my pageviews from that time. But in the past week – from when Google decided I was in violation of their Webmaster Guidelines – my pageviews have decreased by 26%. Yup – twenty-six. I think this is probably due to several things. 1) Fewer people are finding my posts on search engines like Google. 2) Then there are fewer people going through my blog and reading more than 1 page. 3) Then there are fewer people sharing my posts, whether that is on social media or other ways. So if search engines provide you with more than 5% of your blogging traffic, you could be affected significantly like I have been.
How can I include nofollow links? If you’re on WordPress, get the WordPress Nofollow plugin. When you go to add links in posts, after you’ve clicked the link button, click the gear button for link settings. All you have to do is click the box for nofollow link and it adds attribute to all links in the post! If you’re not on WordPress or prefer to work with HTML, you need to add it manually. Here’s what the HTML looks like for all links: <a href=”linkgoeshere.com”>text</a>. To make add the nofollow attribute, it looks like this: <a href=”linkgoeshere.com” rel=”nofollow”>text</a>.