Google won’t penalize affiliate links. Here’s why.

Google won't penalize affiliate links

To penalize or not to penalize, that was the question Google asked and answered recently. It was common knowledge among affiliate circles that Google punished affiliate sites with excessive paid links. However, this year, Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller dismissed this as a mere myth stating that websites won’t receive a manual penalty for using affiliate links without markups. So, how does this affect your affiliate website? We will examine what affiliate nofollow affiliate links are and whether you should use them. 

What are affiliate link attributes?

Affiliate link attributes are also called nofollow affiliate links or tags. Nofollow tags inform search engines to ignore that link.

These nofollow tags don’t increase PageRank and don’t affect search engine rankings. It’s like having a sign on your link that says, “don’t count this, search engine, this doesn’t matter!” Likewise, nofollow links ensure your link doesn’t get any love or attention. 

They’re created using the “nofollow” link HTML tag: 

rel=”nofollow”>Link Text

Not sure if your link is a nofollow? Highlight and right-click on the link in question, then select Inspect on your browser. Inspect reveals the HTML source code. If you see a nofollow attribute listed, then it’s a nofollow link. Otherwise, it’s a dofollow link. Dofollow links are the exact opposite of nofollow attributes as they allow search bots to follow the link. In addition, dofollow links enable search engines to give authority to the link.

So, why the nofollow attribute? 

Google created Nofollow tags to fight against blog comment spamming.

In the early 2000s, blog popularity increased as did comment spam. Along with general junk responses, spammers would also litter the comments section with links back to their site. 

There were two problems associated with this:

  1. Spam sites began to rank high in Google, pushing high-quality sites right out of search results and into the place sites go to die, the second page of Google.
  2. The tactic worked too well, so well that blog comment spam became unmanageable. 

As a result, Google developed the nofollow tag in 2005, incorporating it into their algorithm. Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines quickly adopted which can positively affect this HTML attribute.

Any link with the nofollow tag is a nofollow link. Generally, these sources tend to be nofollow:

  • Blog comments 
  • Social media posts (links in Facebook or video descriptions on Youtube or Vimeo)
  • Links in forum posts 
  • News sites
  • Widget links
  • Press release links

Popular websites that use the rel=” nofollow” tag for outbound links:

  • Reddit
  • Wikipedia
  • Quora
  • YouTube
  • Twitch
  • Medium

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. It was common knowledge that affiliate links should be nofollow. 

Here’s why:

It was thought that search engines punish websites with many links because they register as spam. Too many links give the search engine crawlers the appearance that you’re trying to boost your SEO (search engine optimization). Affiliates added the nofollow tag to all affiliate links to combat these search engine crawlers from penalizing websites. The tags tell the bot “please don’t punish me for I haven’t committed any SEO violations!”

  • The Google algorithm emphasized the # of links to your page to determine your rank in a search.
  •  If many pages link back to your page, Google assumed it must be a great source of information. So Google crawlers followed these link spider webs to determine the best resource for a search query. 
  • But then, individuals realized they could game the algorithm through spamming links to improve their ranking without having helpful content. That caused the algorithm to shift, and Google started to penalize sites with too many links that appeared “spammy.”
  • To combat this, Google advised no-follow links.

Recently, Google revised its statement, saying it doesn’t penalize affiliate links for not having the nofollow tag.

Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller set the record straight during an office-hours Google hangout recorded on December 10, 2021. Someone submitted a question asking if websites will be penalized for not marking up affiliate links with the rel=” sponsored” or rel=” nofollow” attributes. In short, Mueller said, “Probably not.” 

You can watch the video of the hangout here: 

Mueller states: 

“So, from our point of view, affiliate links fall into that category of something financial attached to the links, so we really strongly recommend using this setup [nofollow tags].

But, for the most part, if it doesn’t come across as you selling links, then it’s not going to be the case that we would manually penalize a website for having affiliate links and not marking them up.”

It’s a Pascal’s Wager situation. In other words, it’s not possible to prove or disprove that affiliate links without a nofollow tag penalize your website. Therefore, it’s better to bet that they punish your website so you should use nofollow tags anyway. 

In fact, Google even recommends it. Mueller continued,

“But it is a best practice [adding nofollow tags], and I strongly recommend doing that, but it’s not something where I’d say we will go off and manually take action on these sites.”

Mueller says Google won’t issue a manual penalty for lack of nofollow tags, but it’s still a best practice to do so.

Whenever there’s financial compensation associated with links, the link must reflect a nofollow attribute.

Using affiliate link attributes prevents your website from passing link equity to another site, in other words, giving other websites credit and traffic. Never pass link equity to the website incentivizing you to link to their website.  

If you aren’t receiving compensation for backlinking or if you’re linking to a page that provides valuable information to your website visitors, then it’s not necessary to mark these links. 

You can also link to products and services without using a nofollow tag, as long as you’re providing an honest recommendation. 

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Easily manage your affiliates and their payouts. 

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Increased traffic

Sure, the nofollow links don’t count towards your backlinking profile, but this traffic matters. Nofollow links still drive traffic to your website. Users can interact with your website and may feel inspired to click around your website, browse your product catalog or service features. More traffic to your page can lead to better rankings, more leads, more conversions. And the longer these users linger on your site, Google receives a positive signal about your page relevance which increases your search engine rankings. 

Brand recognition

The more web traffic moves through your website, the more your brand spreads around the ethers of the internet. When building your affiliate program, you want users to not only find you but know who you are and what you have to offer. Nofollow can help your business grow by building this crucial awareness.

Even if an affiliate authority uses a nofollow tag linking to your site, the tag still drives traffic to your website. As a result of this traffic, you’ll attract valuable prospects and potential customers. And those leads may eventually link your content with a dofollow link, further establishing your website’s authority.

Domain authority

The domain authority score doesn’t directly affect your ranking in search results but reveals where you may rank in your industry. Domain authority is a search engine ranking score that predicts how likely a website will rank in SERPs (search engine result pages). The scores range from 1 to 100. Higher scores indicate higher ranking potential. 

Again, nofollow tags don’t add to the authority, but they attract traffic to your website, valuable traffic that increases your site’s credibility, indirectly affecting domain authority. 

Benefits SEO (Maybe?)

We say maybe because we really don’t know the magic spice in the SEO recipe. Google is notoriously vague about what affects search engine rankings. Still, one theory asserts that nofollow links help improve trust in your site, which can positively affect your rankings. 

Now that we’ve reviewed the whats and whys, we will review the hows. If you haven’t yet set up affiliate links or you’re just starting to build your program, this next section will help you create affiliate links and turn them into nofollows.

LeadDyno tracks visits, leads, and sales with referral links and sometimes, affiliate coupons and codes.  Affiliate links are URLs containing the affiliate’s ID or username. This link records traffic sent from your affiliate to your website and is the backbone of an affiliate program. Generate links for each affiliate or let affiliates change the URL within a link to send traffic to somewhere other than your homepage. 

Your affiliates can copy and paste their affiliate link and put it on their own website, social media channels, and in any email communications. They receive credit anytime a user clicks that link.

To learn more about how to set up an affiliate link, watch this video: 

You can set up:

We offer a 30-day free trial, so try away and if you’re not satisfied, that’s okay!

Now that you know what affiliate links are, let’s teach you how to add nofollow tags to your links.

In HTML, this is what your links looks like:“>Google won’t penalize affiliate links. Here’s why.

To add a nofollow tag, add the attribute nofollow to your link. It’ll look like this: 

Google won’t penalize affiliate links. Here’s why.

If you use WordPress or another blogging platform, edit the HTML and add rel=nofollow in front of your links.

Do you need to add nofollow tags to a lot of content? No problem. There’s a plugin for that (if you have WordPress!)!


wordpress nofollow plugins

These plugins automatically add nofollow links in blog comments and other links. We don’t recommend any specific plugin as each offers different features. Search nofollow and pick the plugin that best aligns with your brand’s needs! 

Frequently Asked Questions about No-follow links (FAQs)

Can no-follow links hurt you?

Yes and no. It depends on what you’re doing. In a Google Webmaster Help Youtube channel, Google’s Matt Cutts said, “Typically, links that are nofollowed can’t hurt your rankings in Google. While most cases are that links that have the nofollow attribute on them will not negatively impact your rankings in Google.” He went on to say that if you’re mass spamming, Google will take manual action on your links to discourage your spamming, despite the links being nofollow. So if you’re going to use nofollow tags, don’t spam.

Are affiliate links actually bad for SEO?

Affiliate links don’t necessarily help or hurt SEO as they aren’t organic links. Google wants SERPs influenced by genuine connections, not paid links. 

Do nofollow links pass link juice?

No. The nofollow tag doesn’t pass link juice, but you can’t use it to increase link equity passed between links on the page.

How do I prevent my affiliate links from being indexed?

Sometimes, Google won’t know how to index links with a rel=”noindex” tag. Ensure your affiliate links aren’t indexed by adding noindex to the HTTP response headers. 

How do I install LeadDyno on my website?

All you need to do is add our javascript to each of your website’s pages to enable tracking. Then, set up purchase tracking! We offer a 30-day free trial to try our services, so try it out, risk-free!

How can I change the affiliate link?

Change the affiliate link on the settings page in the Site URL field. View our guide to affiliate links for more information.

Can I use discount codes to track affiliates?

Yes. For specific integrations, we allow discount code tracking.

Can I track recurring purchases with LeadDyno?

With some payment integrations, you can track recurring payments and subscriptions. For a complete list, view our integration capabilities.

Do you support multiple / cross-domain tracking?

LeadDyno tries to offer cross-domain navigation, but it is not guaranteed. We try to track across domains, but many factors can break it; therefore, we cannot provide support when it does not work. However, we do provide support for sub-domains.


Google won’t penalize you for using affiliate links on your website, but we still recommend using nofollow tags when you do just in case. Nofollow tags can increase traffic, build brand recognition, establish domain authority, and offer other benefits. Whatever you do, don’t spam the comments section. Your SEO will thank you.

Get started with affiliates today

Easily manage your affiliates and their payouts. 

Hassle-free setup. Try Free for 30 Days

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