When your organization is obsessed with organic search, the natural tendency is to devalue rel=nofollow links, since they don’t pass “link juice” (my least favorite phrase in all of marketing – can’t we come up with a better term for passing page rank?). Someone even wrote a blog post (that still shows up in page 1 of Google’s search results for the term “rel=nofollow”) entitled: “13 Reasons Why NoFollow Tags Suck.” This is a huge mistake, for two very important reasons.
The first is that there is significant traffic to be gained via nofollow referrals. I’ve seen this repeatedly. I’ll share two examples:
- I contribute frequently to a website that allows outside contributions. In a recent contribution, I added a link to video content related to the post. That link drew a 25% click-through rate. I haven’t been terrifically disciplined about including links in posts on this particular site, and my posts have drawn north of 10,000 unique page views. Had I included external links more often, I could have generated a lot of awareness just by contributing in this forum. And that’s just one opportunity. Multiply times the entire internet and the conclusion is inescapable: there’s a lot of traffic to be had out there from referrals. Traffic is traffic – who cares if it passes page rank?
- In a past job, one member of my team was tasked with driving social links from sites like Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers, both of which tag all their links rel=nofollow. When I’d review weekly traffic reports, these links were driving thousands of unique visits per week – a fraction of organic search, but still very meaningful, especially when organic search suffered downturns due to changes in how Google classified certain searches related to the site in question.
This doesn’t even include social media links. Social media has the potential to create virality, which can drive even more traffic.
The other reason rel=nofollow links are valuable is because they very well may indirectly affect organic rankings. There are at least three ways they may do this:
- The more people see your content, the more likely it is that someone will cite your page somewhere else, employing a standard link in the process. Boom: you just got some page rank.
- If you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of traffic, you don’t have much of an indication of how good your content really is. The better the quality of your pages, the more likely they are to rank, so just getting some traffic to a page and seeing how users engage with your content gives you feedback. Feedback is golden, because all marketing is a dialogue.
- Social links expose the quality of your content directly to Google. This is a pet theory of mine, and one I’ll share in a separate blog post.
What do I take away from this?
- Ignore a linking opportunity simply because it’s rel=nofollow. There’s traffic in them thar links.
- Don’t spam. Be respectful when participating off-site. Don’t include a link just to include a link. Add value. It’s the responsible thing to do and promotes your brand.
- Participate in any and all forums relevant to your site.
- Include links to relevant content that promotes your web presence. Maybe it’s a social presence (good). Maybe it’s your website.
- Pay attention to the quality metrics on traffic from these links: bounce rate, time on page. If you believe that a read of the page is a reasonable action, create an event in analytics so that spending a certain amount of time or scrolling down the page results in an interaction with your site.
- Track the conversion from this traffic, but don’t get too obsessed with it. The goal is awareness and quality signals – if you get too aggressive pushing conversion, you’ll get more and more spammy over time. If you point people to a social presence, look for people who start following you after clicking. If you point people to your website, look for people who convert, perhaps to a newsletter sign-up.