Google won’t manually penalize a website for publishing affiliate links without the recommended link attributes.
Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller says websites will not receive a manual penalty for using affiliate links without the recommended markup.
This is stated during the Google Search Central SEO office-hours hangout recorded on December 10.
A question is submitted asking if a website will be penalized for not marking up affiliate links with the rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” attributes.
In short, Mueller says: “Probably not.”
For his full answer continue reading the section below.
Google’s John Mueller On Manual Penalties For Affiliate Links
To be sure, it’s a strongly recommended best practice to use either the rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” attributes on affiliate links.
However,there’s no reason to lose sleep if there are affiliate links on your site without the recommended markup.
“So, from our point of view, affiliate links fall into that category of something financial attached to the links, so we really strongly recommend to use this setup.
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.”
If that sounds confusing — the key takeaway here is that you should use either the rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” attributes when publishing affiliate links.
Google recommends it, so you can’t go wrong by following that advice.
What Mueller is saying here is Google won’t go as far as to issue a manual penalty if this best practice isn’t followed.
Mueller says as much in his next statement:
“But it is a best practice 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.”
This is generally in line with the guidance Google has provided in the past with regard to affiliate links.
When there’s financial compensation associated with a link, whether it’s linking to an advertiser or linking to a product from which you earn a commission, the link should be declared with an attribute.
Google recommends using the sponsored attribute in these cases, but the nofollow attribute is acceptable as well.
Why Is It Important To Use These Attributes?
Marking up affiliate links prevents your site from passing link equity to the other site.
That’s an important SEO best practice, as you should never pass link equity to sites that are incentivizing you to link to them.
If you’re linking to a page because you believe it provides value to your visitors, and you’re not receiving anything in return, then it’s not necessary to declare them with markup.
You can even link to products and services without using an attribute as long as you’re providing a genuine recommendation.
It’s never acceptable to sell links, however, regardless of the attributes attached to them.
For more on when you should and shouldn’t use link attributes, see this explainer:
To hear Mueller’s full response, see the video below: