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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


When is a backlink worth nothing to your website’s search engine ranking?

February 2nd, 2009

When is a link worthless from a search engine perspective? I was recently working on checking how many backlinks one of my clients had, and we found some surprising results. He’s a therapist in Seattle, and thought he had backlinks from several major online therapy directories that would contribute to his search engine ranking. What we found surprised him and just might surprise you.

My therapist client thought he had backlinks from three prominent therapy directories: Psychology Today, the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT), and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

In general, when you can get your website listed in a directory that’s full of content that’s related to your targeted keywords, it’s a good thing. But when I used a backlink checker tool, I didn’t see any of these links coming in to his website. So I did some checking and here’s what I found:

1. Redirects – Psychology Today has a big directory of therapists and if you pay them some money they will list you too. They’ll give you your own page with your picture information about your practice and a link that’s entitled “Visit My Website”. When you click on it, you go to the therapist’s website. So it’s a link right? Sort of. If you hover your mouse over the link, you’ll actually see it looks like this:

It’s not really a link to your website. It’s a link to Psychology Today’s subdomain “” and it’s building a redirect command based on your profile id. While clicking on the link takes you to your website, this kind of link does not pass any authority or “link juice”. It does nothing in terms of your search engine rankings.

2. Only Accesible via a Form – The AAMFT actually uses a service called – but when you try to search, you first have to click on an “I accept” link that then takes you to a form. In order to access the page, you have to fill out the form and click a button. Search engines can’t do this. They can only find their way to webpages by crawling around links. Therefore while a human might find your practice, a search engine will never find your page on The ABCT has the same setup – you must fill out a form to get to the therapist’s page, a search engine roadblock.

3. Whoops, There Is No Link – On the ABCT website I tried to location my client’s page, and found it, but whoops, there was no link to his website. So if you think you have a link to your website somewhere, just double check it to make sure.

4. NoFollow – Another type of search engine roadblock, are links that have the “nofollow” attribute attached to the anchor tag. You have to view the source code of the page (which is really easy, just click “view source” in your browser) and see if the link code has this attribute. This is an instruction for a search engine bot not to follow the link, therefore, you don’t get any link juice. I didn’t find this in any of the examples for this client, but I have seen them before on other directories for other clients.

So in summary, backlinks (links from other websites to your website) are really important to search engine ranking. They are like a vote for your website and pass some authority or “link juice”. But just because you think your website is listed in a directory, doesn’t mean that it’s helping your search engine ranking:

First make sure the link to your website is actually there.

Next, make sure you can get to your website’s link by clicking on other links, and not by filling out a form.

Once you get to your website’s link, make sure it’s a real link directly to your website URL and not a fancy redirect.

And if it’s a real link, make sure it doesn’t have a “nofollow” attribute attached.

If it passes these tests, it’s a really good link and will help your search engine ranking. If not, it might still help humans find your website, as many people do use these type of professional directories to search.

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

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