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Squidoo NoFollows Links to Strangle Spam

Once again, spammers pooping in Squidoo’s sandbox have caused inconvenience for the rest of us. Squidoo has now followed Wikipedia’s example and nofollowed all outbound links.

My opinion: it stings, but on the whole it’s a reasonable move. There are some drawbacks to nofollowing all outbound links. But those drawbacks are outweighed by the benefit: this will discourage those using Squidoo as a place to drop self-serving links, and encourage the use of Squidoo as a place to post actual content. For obvious reasons, Google prefers the latter.

Lakeerieartist concurs, in this succinct post on SquidLog: Spammers Be Gone.

Let me see if I can explain nofollow/dofollow links in plain English for those who don’t understand what this is all about.

Two Purposes for Links (and Two Audiences)

Links do two different things, for two entirely different audiences:

  1. They let human visitors click on them to find other webpages
  2. They tell search engines about other webpages

Search engines have long used #2 to help them decide how to rank webpages.

Back in the nineties, search engines figured out, “Hey, if lots of people are linking to a page, it must be pretty good! So let’s rank it near the top of search results!” Five seconds later, spammers figured out, “Hey, if we can plant lots of links pointing to our webpage, search engines will rank it well, and send us more visitors!”

Ever since then, it’s been an arms race. Search engines try to distinguish self-serving or affiliate links from genuine, “I honestly think this page I’ve linked to is good and relevant to my topic.” (These links are often called “editorial” links.) Websites try to find new ways to plant self-serving “backlinks” that they hope will make their pages rank better on Google and other search engines.

Nofollow Links

When you nofollow a link, it has no impact on purpose #1: human visitors can still see the link, can still click on it, can still visit its destination, and have no clue there’s an invisible code on the link marking it as “nofollow.”

That nofollow code is strictly meant for the search engine audience. Confusingly, they’ll still follow those links— whoops! — to find new pages that they may not have crawled yet. But the nofollow code tells them not to count the link for ranking purposes. That is, when a search engine asks itself, “Is this a good page? Are relevant pages linking to it?” it won’t consider that particular link in its calculations.

So why would we voluntarily nofollow links?

  1. Criticism: You may want to link to something you’re objecting to. You certainly don’t want to boost its ranking in search results!
  2. Paid or affiliate links. Google asks that we nofollow these, because they’re not unbiased links. They’re not, “Hey, here’s a cool thing I found.” We get a financial incentive for putting that link there: sales or commissions or ad revenue. That skews search engine algorithms, because they can’t tell which are editorial recommendations, vs. links the webmaster put there for some self-serving benefit.  In the past couple of years, Google has gotten more and more strict about downranking sites with spammy linking practices, including lots of paid/affiliate links that haven’t been marked as such with nofollows.

Reread #2. That’s the second big reason why Squidoo is doing this. Many Squidoo lensmasters may not be spammers, but they may not be following Google’s guidelines about nofollowing affiliate links. That could hurt Squidoo as a whole. So now Squidoo’s nofollowing all our affiliate links for us.

So How Does Nofollowing Outbound Links Help Squidoo?

To recap:

With outbound links set nofollow, Squidoo is no longer useful as a place to plant backlinks for the purpose of manipulating search rankings, but only as a place to post real content for its own sake. Google does all it can to downrank or penalize the former and reward  the latter, so this may help convince Google to send Squidoo more traffic.

And again, since Google is cracking down more and more on sites that don’t clearly disclose affiliate/paid links with a nofollow tag, we need to make sure all our affiliate links are nofollowed. This takes care of that.

So How Does Nofollowing Outbound Links Harm Squidoo?

Obviously, this harms lensmasters who were using Squidoo partly as a place to put backlinks promoting their blogs, stores, websites, etc. Some may be less inclined to link to Squidoo without that benefit, or less inclined to post content on Squidoo as opposed to sites like Wizzley and Zujava that leave our links alone.

There’s one other problem with nofollowing outbound links. Search engines are trying their best to determine what a page is about, and how expert it is on that topic. If a page on topic X links to good pages on Topic X, that suggests the source page’s author knows what he/she is talking about. So linking to good, relevant content may actually help a page rank better in searches related to Topic X.

But if the link is nofollowed, then search engines ignore it for ranking purposes. Fooey. (Thanks a lot, spammers.)

SquidHQ’s post said that they hoped to find some way to evaluate trusted lensmasters and allow links on their lenses to be dofollow.  This, by the way, is exactly what Matt Cutts of Google recommends doing on Google’s guide to nofollow links. Here’s his video, describing a situation very comparable to Squidoo’s. Skip ahead to about 2:00:

So if Squidoo can figure out a rational way to allow trusted outbound links to be dofollow, that would be ideal. But even if it can’t, I think this imperfect solution is a step forward in restoring Squidoo’s reputation as a place for real content rather than spam.

Authorship Links

There are two kinds of links that I was concerned about when I saw HQ’s announcement.

Authorship links are a way to tell Google, “Hey, I’m the author of all these pages.” If Google decides your content is good and that you’re an authority in a particular niche, it may reward you by putting your author icon in search results next to your articles with a “More by [your name] link” to some of your other pages. That author icon makes your pages stand out in Google search results. It draws the eye and draws clicks.

To set up authorship in a way that Google recognizes, you must link your Squidoo profile out to your Google profile (here’s how). I was afraid that if Squidoo nofollowed the link to the Google profile, it might screw up authorship. However, after I read Google’s guide to nofollow links more closely, I saw at the bottom of that page that nofollow links still work for authorship.

So this change won’t impact authorship for our Squidoo lenses.

Internal Links (Cross-links)

There’s one last concern: links between different lenses or different parts of Squidoo.

When I studied the impact of the Panda Algorithm on Squidoo and Hubpages back in 2011 — and boy howdy do I need to update that lens! — I found that the sites were set up almost the same way, yet Hubpages took a tremendous Panda traffic dip, and Squidoo was untouched. What happened? How could such similar sites fare so differently?

I soon discovered that while Squidoo has lots of cross-links — links between lenses and other parts of Squidoo — through the tags and “Related lenses” in the sidebar, Hubpages did not. ANY sidebar or “related articles” links on any hub were nofollowed and/or hidden from search engines.

So Hubpages had the structure of an upside-down tree balancing on its branch-tips, with individual “leaves” giving no support to other “leaves.” Whereas Squidoo had the internal structure of a fishing net or honeycomb mattress, with cross-links reinforcing and connecting relevant content.

The cross-links on Squidoo aren’t perfect. People can tag spam and try to get unrelated content to show up on tags pages, category pages, or the “related lenses” sidebar. But by and large, this means that when you create a new page on Squidoo, it instantly, automatically gets links to and from related content, just by being plugged into Squidoo’s tags and categories.

Google rewards pages that link to and from good, related content. Squidoo has a built-in system to help lenses get such links. That’s why posting an article on Squidoo may cause it to rank better than if you posted it on your own website.

Therefore I’m relieved to see that SquidHQ has chosen to nofollow only external links, not internal ones.

What’s the advantage of linking out, if it doesn’t boost search rankings anymore?

If you’re just planting a link in the hopes of making a page rank better on Google, that’s the wrong reason to be linking anyway. That’s what Google defines as “webspam,” and it’s always looking for ways to detect and neutralize those kinds of links.

On the other hand, if you’re linking to good, useful, relevant, interesting content that your visitors like, then the outbound link gives something valuable to your visitors. This is why Squidoo’s lensrank algorithm rewards visitor clickouts on outbound links.

Also, if you create great pages on Squidoo that attract visitors, then those visitors may click on your links to check out your blog, store, business, or website. Who cares that the link doesn’t help with search engine rankings! It can still send human visitors, even if it’s nofollowed. But in order to pass on those human visitors, your Squidoo lens has to attract human visitors and impress those visitors.

In short, Squidoo can still be used to send traffic to your websites. But now it’s not a one-way freebie. You have to put good content on Squidoo that attracts visitors, first.



  1. So good to see a page that explains the no follow links pros and cons to squidoo lensmasters.

    Why don’t HQ just link to your posts as soon as they release their monthly changes, as everyone in the forums end up using your posts to explain the effects to each other anyway – lol!

    You are the informal PR person for HQ to put it all in perspective and help newbies make sense of the changes that keep happening.

    Thanks again!

    1. Greekgeek says:

      I’m also an informal gadfly when I think they’re shooting themselves in the foot. :D

      (I don’t rabblerouse just on behalf of my own sweet self, however. Squidoo is a coop, so the quality of the content that we post, the traffic we draw and the ad revenue we accumulate impacts all of us: we rise or fall together. But more importantly, I really do want the system to be fair and to reward good work — not just my own, because success based on a random and arbitrary system is unsatisfying– but everybody’s, because I want to see people who create great content succeed.)

  2. Paula Atwell says:

    I knew that you would say it more detailed than I did. Excellent post and easy to understand for people without the technical knowledge.

  3. Fitzcharming says:

    I have been so confused by this concept for years. I’ve read articles over and over and went away scratching my head. THIS I understand! Thank you so much. I’m bookmarking it, sometimes I need to learn something 2 or 3 times before it sticks. ;-)

    1. Greekgeek says:

      Oh good. Glad my longwindedness is good for something :D

  4. Lynne says:

    Thank you for clarifying this sometimes confusing topic. This makes so much more sense now

  5. Nathalie says:

    I was expecting this post when I woke up this morning (I wonder why?).

    I am glad this squuidoo decision to no follow all outbound link won’t affect our Google+ authorship, that was the thing that worried me the most.

    Otherwise, I am little annoy at loosing the backlinks for my stamp collecting pages, for the rest, I am cool.

    The SEO experts and IM will flock away from squidoo predicting its doom and we, the ones who know better, will laugh our way to the bank (ok maybe not but we can dream no?)

  6. ologsinquito says:

    Ellen and Paula,

    I have a question. Will no follow links to another site affect that sites’s SEO quality? I have nine Squidoo lenses and I was wondering if I should just remove all my links to my other sites.

    Thank you in advance for your advice.

    1. Greekgeek says:

      Those links just don’t count at all for SEO now, good or bad. So you can leave ‘em be and not worry about it.

      (Especially since HQ does honestly want to figure out some way to let trusted links be DoFollow… I have a feeling it may end up as an earned perk of some sort, something one has to apply for.)

  7. Douglas says:

    I did not Know we needed to make Affiliate links “NoFollow”! Just exactly where do I put them? Just before the .whatever or what? I do not know? Here is one ( http://xxxxxx.impulsehq.hop.clickbank/rel=“nofollow”.net ) or where? I do not what to be seen as a spammer! Thanks Doug

    1. Greekgeek says:

      Douglas: As long as Squidoo’s nofollowing our links, you don’t have to do a thing!

      But if you’re posting them on your own blog, or if Squidoo ever sets up some system to approve certain lensmasters for “dofollow” links, then, to add a “nofollow” attribute to affiliate links, do this:

      <a href=” http://xxxxxx.impulsehq.hop.clickbank” rel=”nofollow”>

      1. Douglas says:

        Thanks Needed that copy it to NOTES!

  8. ologsinquito says:

    Hi Ellen,

    Thank you for the information. Have a wonderful weekend.

  9. Carolan Ross says:

    Thanks SO much for this very detailed explanation about ‘no follow links’. I have never seen it explained it a more comprehensive and complete manner.
    While I understood parts of it, it wasn’t until I read this article that the big picture about ‘no follow links’ begins to make sense. Best to you!

  10. LisaAuch says:

    Hi GG
    Great to see you post on this, Thanks to AJ for pointing me to it, I always appreciate your view on this sort of thing. And know you have the finger on the button :)


  11. Keithppc says:

    Great post that explains backlinking in detail. I have couple sites linking out from some of my lenses, but it’s not my intention to skew my Google ranking. I have no problem with Squidoo’s decision to make outside linking nofollow, perhaps it will stop some of the spammers. Many thanks for sharing.


  12. Vikk Simmons says:

    Okay, then. First, for once I sorta kinda understand what you are saying and that’s a good thing. I, too, haven’t read anything as concise or easy to understand as what you wrote above.

    I now have a question more about the affiliate no follow rule. I normally use the html codes that Amazon provides for my book selections either through the text link or the image. I thought that was all I had to do. Am I wrong?

    If I’m wrong, does that mean I better go back into all those pages and change everything? (Really hope that’s not true.)

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Greekgeek says:

      Don’t worry about the Amazon links. You’re fine. You don’t have to do a thing! Squidoo will automatically add nofollow to the codes that Amazon gives us, as long as you’re posting Amazon links on Squidoo.

      On your own websites, well… I try to remember to add nofollow to Amazon affiliate links, but I don’t always remember to do so. It’s not a big deal. And it probably doesn’t matter .Here’s why.

      Google has said in its guidelines that we should nofollow all paid advertising links.

      What Google has never made clear — and there have been VAST debates in the SEO industry — is whether that means we should also nofollow affiliate links such as Amazon links, since we get paid for them. But Matt Cutts of Google says that it can generally figure out affiliate links. Google must recognize Amazon associate links, as they’re about the most common kind of affiliate link on the web, so it know what they are and can bally well nofollow them if it thinks that’s important.

      So based on what Cutts says, I think that Google’s going to handle Amazon links just fine, whether or not you nofollow them.

  13. Astro Gremlin says:

    Glad I don’t have to do anything. My Squidoo lens rankings are going through the floor.

  14. I think you may agree with me on this one, but I think that authors should be able to earn the ability to remove the “no follow” attribute on their outbound links. This will thus encourage authors to submit high quality content to Squidoo which then links to their blogs, but also discourage spammers from using Squidoo just to get backlinks.

    Either way, I’m not a fan of a blanket addition of no-follow on all outbound links.

    1. Greekgeek says:

      I absolutely agree. I thought they might add that to Giant perks, although they’ve lowered the qualifications and standards for the Giant program so much that it would have to be for Giant 50 or higher.

  15. Kymberly says:

    While I agree with the policy of no-following all outbound links, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the locking of lenses with ‘too many suspicious inbound links’.

    1. E. Brundige says:

      My idleness on this blog and Squidoo shows how pleased I am about the direction the site has gone over the last year or so. “If one can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” ;) I’ve been having decent luck on Hubpages, however!

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