While it’s always been frowned upon, Google now officially says that you can’t require a followed link in any kind of terms of service or contract.
You can learn more about Google’s thoughts on this at this post on Search Engine Roundtable.
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Back in 2005, Google unveiled the “nofollow” attribute for links. This allowed sites to link to other sites, but nofollow them to tell Google not to count that in their rankings.
While it was originally intended primarily to fight spam, it’s also something that should be used if you’re being paid to link somewhere, for things such as ads and affiliate programs.
Google has now come out and said specifically that you can’t require someone to link to you without using the nofollow attribute.
Specifically, as part of Google’s “Link Schemes” guidelines, they say: “Requiring a link as part of a Terms of Service, contract, or similar arrangement without allowing a third-party content owner the choice of using nofollow or other method of blocking PageRank, should they wish.”
It sounds a little weird, but may apply to many of you. Google has long said that if you put links in the footer of your pages, such as a “designed by” link in sites that you build, those should be nofollowed (though we never put those kinds of links in anyhow, for a variety of reasons).
I know some agencies and freelancers that mention that “designed by” link in their contract. Some include it in all contracts, some include it for a slight discount on the price of the site. Either way, Google says you need to at least offer the option of that being a nofollowed link, and you’d be wise to do it. Either way, that kind of link will hurt your client’s rankings a little bit, and is best omitted.
If you own a site that still has some other company’s “designed by” link in the footer, remove it (or ask them to remove it). If you build sites for others, pay close attention to Google’s policies on this so you avoid the risk of getting your site and the client’s site into some trouble.