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Confused about whether to use rel="nofollow" on reciprocal links

 6:36 pm on Jul 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

I suspect I have been penalized by penguin. I have a partnership with a new site. I display 3 news links on all my pages and they display 3 forum links to relevant discussions on all their pages. This is white hat, legit and a value to our users. My question is should I be setting all the links to nofollow? I am confused because it appears to me that nofollow has a negative connotation to is. I trust my partners links. They are no paid. They have value. But could google be seeing it different? Should I set them to nofollow?




 9:47 pm on Jul 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Yes. Set them to nofollow (in my humble opinion).

I think Matt Cutts confused EVERYBODY in that video where he said that you should use nofollow on links you can't vouch for or can't trust (I'm paraphrasing here).

Really, the whole point of nofollow is NOT to slap a scarlet letter on the destination URL.

It is simply to prevent flowing page rank to the destination site and avoid a visit from The Big Penguinsky.

You can remove the nofollow from freely given links, but if you have a partnership, they are not freely given, are they?


 10:37 pm on Jul 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Planet, thanks for the reply. The problem is that is news site is an authority (<10k alexa). I can vouch for the links. They are quality.

What I can see as a problem is that they are auto generated. So technically I don't by hand review and post, but again, it's like having a scientific american news feed on your site. Should you no follow that?


 10:44 pm on Jul 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

but if you have a partnership, they are not freely given, are they?

Nofollow is supposed to be about tagging links on your own site where you are not 100% sure if the target page/site can be trusted. Presumably you and your link partner think the links are relevant and from sites of acceptable quality so why would you need to use nofollow.

If I take the time and trouble to vet every link for its value to my readers before I include it on my site, then nofollow should never be a consideration. I like the link, otherwise it would not end up on the page. That applies to reciprocal links just as much as any other other.

Yet that logic seems to fly out the window when it comes to links to affilaite partners and advertisers. Suddenly the links are to be nofollowed. That has nothing to do with trust and everything to do with passing of PR.... which is probably why this topic is confusing a whole bunch of people.


 10:53 pm on Jul 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Why don't you ask Google whether you should do it or not?

If Google expects us to follow their rules, then they should tell us what their rules are.

Robert Charlton

 10:58 pm on Jul 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

Nofollow is supposed to be about tagging links on your own site where you are not 100% sure if the target page/site can be trusted.

Nofollow was once-upon-a-time only about trusting the targeted page. It's been clearly stated by Google any number of times since that it is now, and has been for a while, a way of preventing flow of PageRank where the links have not been freely given.

It's also pretty obvious that Google would consider these exchanged links as not freely given. The regularity and symmetry of the exchange leave no room for doubt. I would nofollow them in both directions.


 11:25 pm on Jul 25, 2013 (gmt 0)

@ Robert Charlton:

Thanks for joining the conversation.

I hope you will not think me pedantic if I ask your trusted opinion on this (knowing that you have no crystal ball nor secret teleport into the mind of Matt Cutts, et al.,):

In your opinion, as used by Matt Cutts, are "Link spam," "spammy links," and "unnatural links" one and the same? In essence, do they not refer to "links intended to manipulate page rank"?


"I can vouch for the links. They are quality. "

I don't have the stats in front of me, but I am pretty sure that Matt Cutts almost always uses the words "freely given" whenever he mentions "quality links."

Wasn't there something recently about some high "quality" news sites that were hated on by google because they were flowing page rank via links? Wasn't it a site like the BBC? Is the site that you are in partnership higher in quality than the BBC?

I am sorry, I am not trying to get into a fight with anyone. Just since I was hit by Penguin, I have been reading and watching as many musings of Cutts and company as possible. And I think that as best as I can tell, they only care if the link manipulates page rank.

And for anyone who cares, I would kindly suggest that you might be able to glean more insight by watching John Mueller's videos than you would from Matt Cutts. Mr. Mueller seems to have a hard time repressing his Germanic matter-of-factness, and probably despite his best efforts, seems to actually give clearer answers than Matt Cutts.


and no matter what you decide to do, I hope you get out of the Penguin / penalty situation pronto.


 12:42 am on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

Would you give the link if there were no pagerank considerations, no ranking considerations, no carefully chosen anchor text and no reciprocity? Really and truly? Then it's a natural link. Would they give it under the same circumstances to you? No? Then it's probably unnatural in Google's eyes.

Honestly, I think you're overthinking it, but if you are really worried (and positive what you're suffering from is *Penguin*), you can nofollow them and not worry about it.

I like to test thing, so I'd probably leave at least one followed to see what happened, but ... that's me.


 1:49 am on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

@nutmeg We've had the content sharing partnership for 8 years and never did it for the pagerank. We're both authoritative sites. The links are auto generated off the article/thread titles. I'm basically describing a news feed. I know we are quality and our visitors value the share, but it doesn't matter what we think. It's what Google thinks and god only knows what Google thinks.

The problem is I don't know what I got hit with. How does anyone really? I only have a slow death curve, no big spikes down other than holidays.

I really don't mind to nofollow them, but it just the principal of it. I think nofollow is a really murky and unhelpful scheme. It's far too broad and obviously no one is exactly on the same page.

I read google's own guidelines here

My content sharing partnership is trusted, not paid for and should have normal crawling priority. So what the #*$! heck google!? I can't comprehend why this whole process is so confusing and ambiguous.


 6:33 am on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

Would you give the link if there were no pagerank considerations, no ranking considerations, no carefully chosen anchor text and no reciprocity? Really and truly?

Yes, and yes again....absolutely. Despite a healthy degree of self confidence in my ability to create a well written page, I acknowledge that other sources are able to add things to the subject over and above what I can contribute. So I link to those resources without a moment's hesitation because it benefits my visitor.

I can't recall when I last checked Page Rank.... it used to be the flavour of the month but got replaced by something called "quality" which in turn got replaced by something called "authority" which will in turn get replaced by something else.

Sorry... we are starting to drift away from the nofollow question.

Robert Charlton

 8:20 am on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

In your opinion, as used by Matt Cutts, are "Link spam," "spammy links," and "unnatural links" one and the same? In essence, do they not refer to "links intended to manipulate page rank"?

Planet13 - Sounds like a trick question to me. ;)

Essentially, I'd say yes, though Matt and Google may have different flavors, degrees, and types of manipulation in mind when they use various adjectives. As I think about the words, there's something more diminutive about "spammy", eg, than about "spam". "Spammy" strikes me as maybe an occasional link drop. "Spam" feels like it describes a more blatant or large scale kind of thing. "Unnatural" has a special meaning mentioned in Google's Link schemes quoted below. They do all come down to manipulating PageRank.

dethfire, when I think about the crosslinking as you describe it, it sounds to me like massive amount of interlinking between sites. I would suspect that link relevance between the sites is iffy at best.

Since your site is apparently a forum, imagine that every page of WebmasterWorld had three links to a news site, and every page of the news site had three links to this forum. Such links, if they transmit PageRank, would distort Google's evaluation of page popularity. So it's likely that Google has a different view of your linking than you do.

I read google's own guidelines here

I suggest you also read the article linked to in the Paid Links section of the above document... More information on Google's stance on paid links [support.google.com]...

Link schemes

Here are several sections that jump out at me as fitting the kind of interlinking you describe...

- Excessive link exchanges ("Link to me and I'll link to you") or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links

My emphasis added...
Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.

Google is certainly aware of your setup, and it doesn't sound to me as if they'd like it.

That said, you don't describe a traditional Penguin or Panda drop on a known date. It's possible that you're seeing the effects of gradual discounting of your backlinks. It's not clear what your overall link profile looks like (links from places beyond the news site), what the news site's overall link profile looks like, what the sources of your traffic are, etc. These are things you should try to consider.

While our forum's monthly update reference is currently under maintenance, it could still be helpful to you in identifying patterns up until Panda 2.0....

Monthly Reference - Google Updates and SERP Changes
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/3801699.htm [webmasterworld.com]

More recently patterns (as Google's updates have become more continuous), are less clear than they used to be. From the very incomplete view I have of your situation, though, I think I would nofollow the links, assuming... as you say... that you don't need them for ranking. IMO, there's more chance that they're hurting you than helping.

I can't say whether they're the only problem you have. I'm thinking you need to analyze visitor interaction with your site and where your traffic is coming from much more than you suggest you're doing. You don't mention any use of anything but Google, eg, to drive traffic.


 11:50 am on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

The reciprocal links its self consider as spammy, don't go further activity on this. If you are sharing your link with your partner website and return back too this activity called two way back-links. Please use rel="nofollow" for outbound links it will safe your website from present and future algorithm updates. You may also get inbound link with do-follow backlinks will helps to boost your ranking in search engine page results.


 1:14 pm on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

@Robert thanks for your links and comments! I will look deeper into them very soon!

@rvkumarweb it's almost a philosophical question at this point. What is so wrong with two quality authoritative sites linking to each other. If two quality sites agree each side is quality enough to link to, why is that not a good thing? At this point, how do people get follow links these days. Everyone is so freaked out that either they aren't linking at all or it's always nofollow even when it should be follow. Personally I'm going to start nofollowing absolutely everything. Just to make sure. Is that what google wants? Is that fair to those sites who may deserve a follow link? When I check my backlinks I see all kinds of links to my site with nofollow that I think should be follow.


 1:40 pm on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

"At this point, how do people get follow links these days."

There is a recent interview of Matt Cutts on link building by Eric Enge, and it is debated upon in this thread:


In that thread you will also see a link to the article itself. I encourage you to read that article, and then come back and read the debate about that article in the web master world thread that I linked to.

But to give you the readers digest version:

Build great content and then "market" it to the right eyeballs.

There are lots of ways mentioned to "market" your content, but the Etic Enge interview seems to focus on things such as guest blogging and various forms of social media.


 2:10 pm on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

I link out all over the place. Most of my sites have at least 500 outbound followed links (if not more) I'm not the only one by a longshot.

But I'm very very picky; I only link to authoritative or trusted sites (whether big or small - many are government sites of some type or other) and I don't ask for links back. My *only* criteria is "will this link be useful to my users" and if it's yes, then I link out and if it's no, then I don't.

And funny thing, a lot of those places link back, without our ever even having a conversation. It still happens, even in 2013.

And as far as attracting links, I try to provide good content, but even more I try to make sure I'm useful - i.e. I'm providing information that people actually really want and in a fashion that makes it easy for them to get it, no matter where they are or what device they have or which social network they prefer. People link to useful even more than they link to great content.


 3:46 pm on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

+1 netmeg


 5:52 pm on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)


Ruh roh, methinks somebody's gonna' get an earful ;-)


 5:54 pm on Jul 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm used to it.


 4:21 pm on Jul 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

The reciprocal links its self consider as spammy, don't go further activity on this.

This is not even remotely true, I don't see why would you spread such misinformation? I personally know of a website that ranks very high in a VERY competitive niche based ONLY on reciprocal links. I have also exchanged many links without any ill effects, although I find it too slow for my liking. Even Cutts mentioned recently that link exchanges are not to be written off.

In addition - a lot of the people giving "advice" here (Planet13, RCharlton, etc.) I believe do not do link exchanges and simply state their opinions based on theory not practice. Why I say this? Because, again, I myself exchange links, know of others who do the same, with no issues. If you have a problem is not about link exchange, but with whom you did a link exchange.

In addition - nofollowing link exchanges will get you nowhere, since only an idiot would exchange links with you.


 5:38 pm on Jul 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

@atlrus I agree. In fact two quality sites exchanging links should be a good verification. If I'm a quality site, I'm not going to do a link exchange with some crappy wordpress blog. What I link to is a reflection on myself. So if a quality site links to another and vice versa, it's a quality verification handshake.


 6:33 pm on Jul 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'll share my experience. I never nofollowed anything because I operated along the adage "make your websites for human users" so my site structure includes lots of links between my companion sites and other sites with related "information" so people more easily find the stuff they're looking for and to link up related type "information."

Then last year I got hit by something in Google and after months of just doing my thing, thinking it would all work itself out, I went to the google forums and asked for some advice about what google sees that's bringing me down.

The advice I got was - you link back and forth and all over and don't nofollow anything!

So I was convinced I was hit by Penguin for all my links and nofollowed every outgoing link, waiting for a Penguin update which I was convinced would help me recover.

Ironically, it was netmeg who gave me the same advice she's giving you - she links, doesn't nofollow and doesn't think that was my problem if my links were truly done to be natural and not for pagerank considerations.

She was right. The Penguin update came and went and no recovery. So I was like, whatever, and removed all my nofollows, continuing to do what I do and resigned to the fact that I would never know and that was that.

I saw recovery in this last soft panda update (and still have no idea why). Bottom line is that I still just link as I think it will be helpful for my human visitors and I still do not nofollow anything.


 7:31 pm on Jul 27, 2013 (gmt 0)

"In addition - a lot of the people giving "advice" here (Planet13, RCharlton, etc.) I believe do not do link exchanges and simply state their opinions based on theory not practice."

Not entirely accurate.

I USED TO do link exchanges.

I got hit by Penguin 2.0

I am now disavowing and requesting removal of those links back to my site.

Is it conclusive that link exchanges lead to Penguin / Penalties?


But they are above my level of risk tolerance.

And link exchanges are what I would consider an incredibly LAZY way to get links.

And I'm tired of being lazy...

If you like link exchanges... great!

If you don't like link exchanges... great!

Do whatever you think is best.

And while my competitors are busy finding link excahnge partners, I will be busy trying to improve my content.


 3:49 am on Jul 29, 2013 (gmt 0)

@dethfire I agreed with your point, But that thing is recently Mattcutts discuss about the two way links and paid links with "no-follow link attribute between them". BTW let us see the proper article which i go-through. I will get back to you with some strong proof.

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