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Follow vs. No Follow Links

The difference between follow and no follow links

When I started this blog I was completely mystified by the difference between follow and no follow links. Here is an explanation of what they are, and when you should use each.

What is a Follow Link?

Follow links are your bog standard, normal links. You create them in the usual way:


They tell the world that you like and trust the link, and aren't ashamed who knows it!

What is a No Follow Link?

No Follow links, as a concept, date back to 2005 when Matt Cutts of Google and Jason Shellen of Blogger joined forces to combat spam in blog comments. Blogger has a tick box to make a link no follow, or you can use the rel attribute like so:

no follow link

No Follow links suggest to the world that you're not quite sure about the link. You're happy to send your readers there, but you're not happy for all the little search engine bots to connect the two of you - your page ranking won't have any impact on the ranking of the website you're linking to.

Think of it kind of like accepting a friend request on Facebook, but then altering your privacy settings so they can't see all of your posts. On the face of it you're best buddies, but scratch the surface and it's clear you're not happy to share everything them.

You can make all the links in a post no follow by using this html:

no follow html

When Should You Use a No Follow Link?

Originally, making a link no follow was a way of reducing spam - Wordpress, for example, automatically makes all links in comments no follow. By 2010 however the no follow attribute was being repurposed as a way of marking a link as paid for, the idea being that you shouldn't be able to pay to increase your page rank.

Google has recently issued guidance for bloggers which states that any links which come about because of sponsored posts, or items sent in exchange for review should be no follow because 'these links didn’t come about organically (i.e., the links wouldn’t exist if the company hadn’t offered to provide a free good or service in exchange for a link).'

When should I use a no follow link?
I had a great question in the comments about linky / blog party badges - general consensus is that they should be 'no follow' but, again, it raises questions. No money is changing hands, and you've chosen to join in with the linky.

The question marks represent instances where the decision comes down to your own judgement - would you have included this link off your own back? Google's own position can often be contradictory; you should add value to your article and link to relevant sites, but you shouldn't link to anything which might benefit you, irrespective of whether or not those sites are the same. In fact, Google's various websites have often fallen foul of their own no follow policies, although unsurprisingly it made little or no impact on their page ranking or position in search results...

Whatever you do, don't make all your outbound links no follow. You'll be penalised for that too!

What Happens If I Refuse to No Follow?

Making a paid link no follow is a guideline not a law - you're not going to find the police banging on your door because you haven't done it. Instead Google will sanction you if they discover you haven't followed their advice. This can happen to big companies - Interflora were removed from Google search results in 2013 after sending bloggers flowers in return for follow links - and small bloggers too.

The penalty placed on your website can last anywhere from 30 days to forever if you make no attempt to clean up your links. If you do go through and sort out your outbound links, and submit a reconsideration request, you can be back to normal in a matter of weeks. Check out this article from hobo-web for more on Google penalties.

Why Would I Follow Anyway?

If somebody contacts you and wants a link for PR (public relations) purposes, they're likely to be happy with it being no follow. The follow link would be a risk to them too (remember the Interflora example), and they're mostly interested in increasing their brand recognition and using your recommendation to encourage people to visit their website.

If they want the link for SEO (search engine optimisation) purposes, they're unlikely to settle for a no follow link. No follow won't give their site any benefit in terms of page rank or search engine results.

In this case, you really need to weigh up how big of a threat a Google penalty is to your blog. Where does your traffic come from? If the bulk of it comes from Google, the risk of a penalty is big. If your traffic comes from elsewhere, it doesn't matter as much. Similarly, it depends what you're being offered in return for the follow link - follow links usually mean bigger payments, so if you need money that may well override any consideration of how Google will view the transaction.


  1. Hi , I'm a new blogger and found this super helpful. I didn't even know this was a thing and am thankful for your insight!


  2. Great tips here. I've never seen this discussed anywhere else so thanks for sharing it here.

  3. Really interesting reading, thanks. It can be such a minefield!... #truthabout

    1. I know - it always seems to be changing too!

  4. Very well written post about a very complex subject. #truthabout

  5. Interesting and thanks for sharing as honestly I didn't have a clue about what a no follow link was! Xx

    1. The first time I heard it I was just like 'a what????' Lol. x

  6. Interesting and thanks for sharing as honestly I didn't have a clue about what a no follow link was! Xx

  7. OMG I didn't even know this was a thing??! Soooooo much to learn #BloggerClubUK

  8. I wish I'd had this information about a year ago! The whole thing really confused me but you've explained it nice and clearly here. I will bear all this in mind if I ever decide to do anything brand-related again (not a priority of mine right now). Thanks for linking up to #thetruthabout again Jess X

    1. Thank you - I'm so glad it reads clearly (I tested it on my mum!). x

  9. Okay, this finally explains everything to me, thank you so much. Sharing the hell out of this.

    1. :D So pleased to hear it's doing the trick - so many of the articles I read on it were about as clear as mud!

  10. This has always confused me and your article helped a lot. What about if you have a post you've submitted to a blog hop and you mention the blog hop host in your post, with a link to their post. Should that be Follow or No Follow? Or is that one of those questionable ones?

    1. Great question! Everything I've read around it suggests they should be no follow, but there is still a question mark over them because you have chosen to join in, and a link to all those similar posts is obviously relevant. It's one of those you can go either way on. x

  11. Ive been doing this for a year and have been completely confused by it until now. Thank you for making more sense of it. I think I will be going through all my links while on mat leave and updating them! Will be pinning this too. Thank you for joining us at #BloggerClubUK hope to see you again next week x

    1. So glad it was useful! There are so many things to keep in mind when blogging - it's been such a steep learning curve for me! x

  12. Wonderful, simple explanation, and the graphic sums everything up beautifully! Sharing this on twitter!

  13. Really useful - thank you so much! I am new to all of this!!


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