Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on June 16th, 2010

To Follow or Not To Follow...

That is the question I get from (too) many people who want to build backlinks from their website to other sites. “Should I add a ‘rel=”no follow” attribute to the HTML anchor tag or should I leave it out and, thus, follow it?”

This is certainly a decision you need to able to make when building links to your site. There are several different scenarios that can play out, so let’s take a look at the decision from the perspective of the search engines and how it can potentially affect your site’s rankings.

Follow Link with Scammy Site

If you link to a website from your site, and you use a ‘follow’ link, you are basically submitting a vote of confidence for said site. You are vouching for the legitimacy of the site. If the site you linked to with a ‘no follow’ turns out to be scammy or abusive, your own site’s credibility is at risk in the eyes of the search engines. Guilty by association is very prevalent on the Web, and if you aren’t careful you could seeing some rankings jail time.

Follow Link with Quality Site

On the other side of the dime, if you link out with a ‘follow’ tag to quality sites that are relevant to the subject matter of the page you are linking from, this will benefit you. Search engines will acknowledge that you are submitting a vote of confidence for the site and give your site another notch of credibility as a result.

No Follow Link with Quality Site

If you build no-follow links to quality sites and pages that have relevant and engaging content, you are basically sticking your nose up in the air. The search engines see this move as “I’m not going to take the time to check this site out but I will link to it anyway”. This is not an encouraging sign to search engines, quite snobbish actually, and their confidence in you and your site just dipped like Lindsay Lohan’s career.

No Follow Link with Scammy Site

Congratulations, you just made a great decision! You just avoided THAT guy. If you are at all uncertain whether a site is legitimate or spammy, use a no follow link. Or, better yet, don’t link to them! But how do you know if the website is relevant and not spammy? Let’s work on spotting signs of a spammy site.

How to Judge the Quality of a Site

First impressions are a wonderful way to gage a site’s quality. Do you feel confident about the site upon landing there? Does it look like the web masters take their jobs seriously, or are they slapping up bedazzled graphics, spammy content, keyword-stuffed copy, and irrelevant images? Are there obvious grammatical errors, layman mistakes with page layout, and horrendous site navigation? Did you throw up a little bit in your mouth?!

Check out what other sites are linking to it. Are they quality sites or spammy? Just follow a small sample of links to see if they link to relevant content or not and you can learn a lot about the site’s quality. Search engine link juice can flow down the link chain quite far, so you can be indirectly affected by these sites as well.

If your overall impression is positive, build a backlink with a ‘follow’ tag. If impression is negative, consider a backlink with a ‘no follow’ tag, or not linking at all.

Building backlinks to other sites shouldn’t take you too much time. Once you have assessed a few sites, you will be able to judge the quality and relevance of a site in a matter of moments. While the decision is pretty basic, it can come back to haunt you if your site is linking with the wrong crowd.

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