This year at the Search Marketing Expo (SMX Advanced), Danny Sullivan asked Google’s Matt Cutts about affiliate links and whether or not webmasters should be flagging them as nofollow. Matt responded that Google does indeed have a system in place to handle most affiliate links, provided the affiliate network is large enough to be noticed by Google. The “Distinguished Engineer” from Google went on to say that if webmasters are earning money from affiliate links, they should nofollow them just to be safe.
In the video, Matt responds to Danny’s question, stating:
We handle the vast majority of affiliate stuff correctly because if it is a large enough affiliate network, we know about it and we already handle it on our side. But, even though we handle, I believe, the vast majority of affiliate links appropriately, if you’re at all worried about it, I would go ahead and just add the nofollow because you might be earning money from that.
So Google’s algorithm does identify some (or most, according to Cutts) of these links, and discounts them when determining the rankings. This is good news if you’re a member of a large affiliate network and currently have dofollow affiliate links on your site, as it’s not likely that Google is going to penalize you for these links. However, when it comes to your money, a “better safe than sorry” approach is always recommended. It is much easier to nofollow a few links than it is to recover your site’s rankings after a Google penalization.
The Google Webmaster forums are rife with threads from disconcerted webmasters who have seen their sites’ rankings drop considerably due to Google penalties. If you participate in an affiliate program, have affiliate links on your site, and Google is one of your main traffic sources, it would probably be a good idea to follow Matt’s advice and flag those links as nofollow, to avoid any possible Google penalties, and save you some headache down the road.
So, in short – a nofollow a day keeps the Google penalties at bay.
Courtney is an online marketing and communications specialist at ineedhits - a leading search engine marketing firm with over 16 years experience. Courtney has been living and breathing online marketing for over 5 years. She specializes in web and communication marketing, while providing news and opinion to online marketing communities.