In the past several weeks, for parent bloggers one issue has dominated all discussions about working with PR firms and brands: no-follow links.
No-follow links are links that have coding (rel="nofollow”) telling some search engines to not follow the link in question or to not follow any links on the relevant post.
It’s big news, particularly where sponsored content is concerned, although no-follow has been around for years. Word swept through the community like wildlife that several bloggers had lost their PageRank due to the lack of no-follow links on sponsored content.
Fears about the repercussions of not adhering to Google’s rules have made people antsy. As a result, bloggers have been spending hours debating the issue and poring over the limited guidance provided by Google. Some have been going through old posts, changing any link to a company or product to “no-follow”, making such content virtually invisible for SEO purposes.
At BritMums, the UK’s largest parent blogging community, we’ve been investigating the issue with SEO experts and agencies. We’ve even added a session on the topic to our annual blogging conference. The overriding opinion seems to be that, yes, Google is cracking down on no-follow links , that the rules are vague and open to interpretation, and that everyone will be sorting out what it means for some time.
One thing is certain for right now: Going forward, bloggers will want to make any brand-oriented content – whether straight-sponsored posts, product reviews or editorial as part of wider brand campaigns – “no follow”.
That will be problematic for some agencies, but you might say it’s good news for better online engagement. BritMums has been working with brands and agencies for some time, creating more innovative tie-ups that go beyond paid-for posts that read like reworked press releases.
This means developing challenges that encourage the wider community to post about editorial topics related to core brand messages. Or incentivising bloggers with great contests and giveaways. Or enlisting enthusiastic blogger ambassadors who make the message their own and pass along true benefits to their own networks. In all these, it’s about creating value for everyone: the bloggers, their readers and the brand.
As the issue of no-follow links evolves, tapping into the power of bloggers will mean finding real engagement on issues that get online users genuinely interested. It will be not about SEO value (or gamed links) but about the social activity and wider organic conversations. That will be something to follow with interest.
Jennifer Howze, the Times' former Alpha Mummy blogger, is a journalist, blogger and co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live!