Sidebars on WordPress can be easily overloaded with large amounts of links: outbound links, ads links, affiliates links, social media icons, links pointing to content elsewhere on the site and navigation bars. WordPress SEO guru, Joost de Valk, refers to this point exactly in his Definitive Guide To Higher Rankings For WordPress Sites:

“Do you really need to link out to all your buddies in your blogroll site wide? Or is it perhaps wiser to just do that on your front page? Google and other search engines these days heavily discount site wide links, so you’re not really doing your friends any more favor by giving them that site wide link, nor are you helping yourself: you’re allowing your visitors to get out of your site everywhere, when you actually want them to browse around a bit.”

Google’s View on Linking Out

A recent post on Google Webmasters official blog (written by Maile Ohye) provides some insightful guidelines regarding the good and bad of linking out:
  • Relevant outbound links can help your visitors.
  • Thoughtful outbound links can help your credibility.
However, there are downsides for using links all over your website:
  • Including too many links on a single page may confuse visitors and therefore hamper your page visibility on search results.
  • Undiscovered, paid for links may reduce your site’s credibility and authority.
  • Helps to increase the amount of comment spam, which in turn may connect your site to bad neighborhood sites.

Links on Sidebars: The Do’s and Don’ts

Here are the best practices to make your sidebars contribute to your SEO rather than damage it:
  • Link out in context with user benefit in mind. Customize your sidebars to have the exact widgets that support your content, calls to action and enhance the ability to easily find related content. you may do so with filtered related posts and custom navigation bars.
  • Google handles linking out and internal linking differently. The above restrictions apply to linking out. Interconnecting your different pages on your sites wisely will support your SEO efforts and contribute to the varioius parameters of user engagement such as low bounce rate, time on site and number of pages visited. We will handle these practices in a future post.
  • While its a viable and legitimate practice to use and benefit from various affiliate programs, and , you should maintain your credibility with your users. Post a disclosure for readers so that they know some of your links are paid for.
  • As for search engines, you can use rel=”nofollow” for specific links placed in text widgets and affiliate widgets, especially when you have too many links all at once or if you place paid for links. For example: if you are linking to Power Widgets product page, place the following in the html:
     <a href="" rel="nofollow">Power Widgets</a>
  • While we love using Power Widgets to customize the various sidebars, sometimes the best thing is to have a full width page template without any widgets.