How Nofollow Links Work
Nearly all affiliate networks use links to track conversions. When a user clicks your link and completes the merchant’s conversion process, the affiliate network will credit your account with a commission.
While you can start earning commissions immediately by copying and publishing an affiliate link on various channels, many affiliate marketers modify their links beforehand using the nofollow tag.
Also known as the nofollow attribute, it instructs search engines to disregard the link for ranking purposes.
From an internet user’s perspective, nofollow links work the same as all other links by redirecting to the target website when clicked.
The nofollow tag doesn’t interfere with the link’s functionality, nor does it prevent affiliate networks from tracking conversions.
Instead, it tells search engines not to use the link as a direct ranking signal.
Nofollow Tag Origins
You may consider using nofollow attributes on some user-generated content or paid links to avoid an outbound penalty, but ‘nofollowing’ an entire page doesn’t make a lot of sense.Patrick Stox
Google created the specifications for the nofollow tag in 2005 to fight user-generated content (UGC) spam on blogs.
Before its development, spammers used software to generate and submit thousands of blog comments, most of which contained links pointing back to the spammer’s website.
By affixing the nofollow tag to these UGC links, however, bloggers were able to discourage spammers from targeting their blogs with otherwise worthless comments.
The inception of the nofollow tag didn’t necessarily stop spammers from targeting blogs with a sea of worthless comments; it eliminated the efficacy of this manipulative search engine optimization (SEO) process.
With the nofollow tag attached to them, links in blog comments no longer benefited the search rankings of spammers’ websites.
Although the nofollow tag fights blog spam, its use has since expanded into other linking applications.
Search engines generally recommend using it anytime that a webmaster doesn’t want his or her website to be associated with the linked site.
The Nofollow tag works with Paid ads, sponsored content, and affiliate links.
Why Affiliate Marketers Use Nofollow Links
Many affiliate marketers use nofollow links to preserve their website’s search rankings.
Affiliate links, of course, are considered outbound links because they point to a different domain.
If you publish an affiliate link on your website or blog, it will redirect users to a different domain when clicked.
Not all outbound links are bad for SEO.
On the contrary, some can help websites secure higher rankings. A study conducted by the U.K. digital marketing agency Reboot found that sites with a high number of authoritative outbound links ranked higher on Google than those with fewer and less-authoritative outbound links.
Unfortunately, most affiliate links aren’t very authoritative.
They often consist of a generic tracking domain that redirects to the merchant’s website. Therefore, publishing affiliate links on your website or blog won’t lead to higher rankings.
It may prove counterproductive to your SEO strategy by creating a direct connection between your website and one or more domains with less than desirable domain authority.
Another reason affiliate marketers use nofollow links is to compel search engines to crawl more of their website’s pages.
For single-page affiliate marketing websites and blogs, crawling shouldn’t be a concern.
If a website or blog has hundreds of pages, search engines may not crawl completely.
Nofollow links may help affiliate marketers get more of their website or blog’s pages crawled by search engines.
Search engines crawl standard links by following them and analyzing the content of a linked website.
When one of Google’s bots encounters a standard link, they’ll follow it to the target website.
As a result, Google will spend time and fewer resources crawling the original site where the standard link was published.
In regards to crawling, search engines treat nofollow links a little differently than standard web links.
Google and Bing use the nofollow tag as a hint to determine which websites they should crawl. If they stumble upon a nofollow link, the search engines may or may not crawl it.
And if Google or Bing doesn’t crawl a nofollow link, they’ll stay on the original website or blog where they can crawl more of its pages.
Use the Sponsored Tag for Affiliate Links
Rather than using the nofollow tag for your affiliate links, consider using the sponsored tag.
Google now supports the nofollow, UGC, and sponsored tags for links. What is the sponsored tag exactly?
It’s an alternative link attribute explicitly designed for links associated with ads or sponsored content.
On Sept. 10, 2019, Google revealed the specifications for a couple of new link attributes, including the UGC tag and the sponsored tag.
The UGC tag is for links created by a website’s visitors, whereas the sponsored tag is for paid or sponsored links.
While affiliate networks don’t pay you for publishing them — they pay you for driving conversions — affiliate links are considered sponsored links.
After all, you have a financial incentive to publish and promote them.
Google doesn’t want sponsored links such as affiliate links to pass authority, so it advises webmasters to use the sponsored tag.
The sponsored tag works like the nofollow tag by minimizing a link’s SEO value.
An incentivized link, when used, will be given little to no weight by the search engine.
Shortly after releasing the new link attributes, Google’s John Mueller tweeted that affiliate marketers should use the sponsored tag for their links.
According to Mueller, affiliate links are perceived as bad by Google.
Nonetheless, the search trends analyst recommends affiliate marketers use the sponsored tag for their links.
You can still use the nofollow tag on your affiliate links. If your affiliate links already feature the nofollow tag, you can add the sponsored tag to them.
Alternatively, you can replace the nofollow tag with the sponsored tag.
Just remember to use at least one of these tags so that search engines will recognize your affiliate links for what they are: sponsored links.