How to Link to Content Without Promoting It

Barbed tape behind a chain link fence

Links (i.e., URLs) are what makes the web great. We love them, use them regularly, and depend on them for all sorts of things. But once in a while, we run into problems with our use of links. There are two problems associated with sharing a link to a site you do not wish to promote on your blog or social media accounts (e.g., Twitter, Facebook), both of which are solvable with a little effort:

  1. Sharing the link will drive traffic to the site (i.e., when someone reading your content clicks the link, it will take them to the site and boost the site's traffic).
  2. Sharing the link will give the site a boost in search engine rankings.

You know that homeopathy website you like to mock? Each time you share a link to it on Twitter, you are contributing to its search engine rank. And you know that awful creationist site you like to use as an example of how evangelical fundamentalist Christianity can rot the mind? When you link to it on Facebook, you are giving it a boost in the search engines. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be this way.

On Your Blog

Bloggers already have an ingenious way around the second of these problems in the form of the NOFOLLOW attribute. Links containing this tag will not contribute to the site's search engine ranking. However, even links using this tag will drive visitors to the site (problem #1). In many cases, this is fine. We are perfectly willing to send people to the site if they want to go; we just don't want to give them a Google bump while doing so.

For those few times when you really don't want to send traffic to a particular site, a service like Freezepage might be worth considering. Freezepage and similar services let you save a web page so you can then link to the saved version on Freezepage instead of the actual page. This solves both our problems in that the site from where the content originated does not benefit in any way. It can also be handy if you want to save the page because you think the owner is likely to change it in some way.

Social Media Accounts

When you share links via Twitter or Facebook, you run into the same problems noted above. For #1, services like Freezepage remain worthwhile. But since NOFOLLOW tags are not viable here, we need an alternative solution for #2. And yes, all those links to FtB you have been sharing on your Twitter account are contributing to their search engine rankings.

Tim Farley (Skeptical Software Tools) brings news of a tool that sounds like it will be extremely useful for anyone who shares links to sources they do not want to promote on social media: Donotlink.com. Those of you who want to tweet links to blogs or websites you do not wish to promote now have a way to do so without contributing to their search engine rank (although it will still drive traffic to the site in question).

Thanks, Tim! Donotlink.com sounds like a great option, and I will certainly give it a try the next time I find myself tempted to link to someone I'd rather not support via social media.

Update: As of 2016, it appears that Donotlink.com is dead. The website is blank, and the author is no longer on Twitter. It appears that we'll have to keep looking for a solution to this particular problem.