Categories: Crawling, indexing & ranking :

Legitimate site-wide links from widgets... To follow or no-follow?

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Legitimate site-wide links from widgets... To follow or no-follow? TomHalasy 11/18/13 12:50 AM
I've read the FAQs and searched the help center. 

Hi Everyone,

A few years back in the more peaceful days of Google, I created a WordPress widget that displays an interactive guitar chord finder on the site of whoever uses it.
Naturally, to get credit for my time and effort:
  • I added a "Powered by" link to the widget.
  • The link is do-follow. 
  • The link's anchor text is my site URL,, so it's not a keyword.
The widget got installed on a hundreds of topically relevant guitar/music sites, and since the widget is installed sitewide, it results in tens of thousands of links. 
I do get traffic from the links, not much, but it is still natural referral traffic.

You can see the widget in action with the link on this page in the sidebar (scroll down a bit).

So my question is with all the algorithmic changes happening, should I modify the "Powered by" link to no-follow?
I know Google's stance on sitewide links, they think it's a link scheme and don't like them:

Links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites

But this is just silly in this case, since:
  • The widget is used on relevant sites, so the link is on relevant pages.
  • The link can be removed by the webmaster with 1 click.
  • The guitar chord images are even served by my server to keep load minimal for the webmaster who installs it, so of course I would like to receive credit.
  • I am the author of a useful widget used by many, and the link anchor text is my site domain. Why should I even have to care about whether the backlink is nofollow or not? Google authorship links don't need nofollows either, and those are sitewide lots of times as well.
The reason I'm asking all this is because my site traffic dropped by 50% back on May 22 when Penguin 2.0 was released, and it hasn't recovered since.
I didn't receive any unnatural link warnings, but I'm thinking maybe these links might be causing the drop in rankings?

I've been reading other posts on sitewide links, but all of them seem a bit shady, unlike my case.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!
Re: Legitimate site-wide links from widgets... To follow or no-follow? black belt 11/18/13 1:09 AM
Tom - I can see you've thought out the issue and are knowledgeable regarding dofollow vs. nofollow. I can understand where you're coming from but the issue regarding a widget are as follows:

1. I think that backlinks are supposed to be a statement that something is authoritative in an editorial context. An article may cite another website regarding expertise on a matter, e.g. "the pentatonic scale is popular and a great example is given by Joe Satch (link to page). While opinions vary, I might go so far as to say a short list of authoritative sites on a subject might do as well. But regarding a widget, it doesn't say anything about your site, just that someone wants to use that widget. You can have nothing on your site and 5,000 widget installs - why should that provide authority? In essence, it's you placing up an ad on your own widget.

-- Edit - One other thought. A widget isn't a backlink. It is a sidebar/footer placement that creates a backlink on every page of someone else's website. So while you don't intend to create too many self-endorsements, the widget is doing just that.

2. No warning means no manual action. However, that doesn't mean that the algorithm may not take those backlinks into account and do something undesirable. Yes, there could very well be a correlation with this widget and your Penguin problem.

63,000 dofollow backlinks (approximately) from 218 domains - yes, this could very well be the problem. You had over 70,000 just a short while ago.

If you follow what goes on here, software publishers were hit very hard with the Powered By issue you describe. You may do well by created a widget update that also includes dofollow powered by notices. While I'm sorry to tell you all of this, I am glad to report that at least 2 other extreme cases worse than yours nofollowed their powered by links and they made a significant recovery towards their traffic. 

Hope this helps and best of luck to you.
Re: Legitimate site-wide links from widgets... To follow or no-follow? TomHalasy 11/18/13 1:44 AM
Thanks Michael, I am starting to understand your reasoning I guess. I can't find those other posts you mentioned at the end of your comment, but it's comforting to know that they made a recovery. 

I'll add the nofollow tag as well I guess, let's see what happens. 
Just hope my rankings don't fall out more due to Google finding those links nofollowed all the sudden after I release the widget update.
Re: Legitimate site-wide links from widgets... To follow or no-follow? TomHalasy 11/18/13 1:49 AM
Just one more thought, since losing all those links seems daunting, what do you think would happen if I change the code to have the dofollow only on their homepage, and all the other internal pages would be nofollowed?

Or does it start getting shady at that point?
Re: Legitimate site-wide links from widgets... To follow or no-follow? black belt 11/18/13 2:05 AM
1. You can search for "powered by" and I'm sure you'll see a bunch. Some of those topics are very long so you can spot those easily by the post count. Sifting through them might be time consuming but I was part of those topics. They both reported a positive impact after changing the powered by backlinks to nofollow.

2. Regarding the mod to the widget - I can't say what might happen.. No question it would reduce the impact of what is currently the situation now. But by definition, it would appear to be an ad/promotion with a dofollow link, even if it is just one on the home page. Whether Google picks up on this is impossible to say. My guess is that others may have tried this before and that Google may piece the two together as the link will not be in a place that is editorial in nature or what they may consider a natural backlink. If you've got, e.g. 1,000 of these, you might be higher on the radar.  I'm sympathetic to how you feel and hopefully the value of the content of your site will stand out. Let us know how you fare.
Re: Legitimate site-wide links from widgets... To follow or no-follow? TomHalasy 11/18/13 4:25 AM
Ok, I found a similar case by a software provider which you commented on Michael, it looks like he had the same issue and recovered in a few months.

So I just updated the WP repository with the rel="nofollow" tag, today is November 18, 2013.
It'll take a while for people to update the plugin and for google to index those changes, so lets see what happens when.

I'll update this post with anything interesting, hopefully soon :-)