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My company's website is quite well positioned in google. We have thousands of customers and we're thinking of providing links to the customers' websites from our company's website.

We cannot guarantee the quality of the websites we will be linking to though.

If we put the links up, do you think we would take a big risk with respect to our own ranking?

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This is exactly what the nofollow attribute is used for:

http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=96569

So as long as you include this attribute on outgoing links, you're fine. Without it you would indeed experience a penalty, as was the case with WordPress MU:

http://www.seomoz.org/blog/how-wpmuorg-recovered-from-the-penguin-update

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Even if you'd use "nofollow" links, it is thought that you would probably still leak some link-juice, although in small amount. Not sure if you would get a penalty (I doubt so), but in the case of WPMU the problem was incoming links, not outgoing. –  milo5b Jul 24 '12 at 9:25
    
Please provide evidence if you claim that nofollow links might not work as intended. The case of WPMU still illustrates the point. –  Zachary Schuessler Jul 24 '12 at 13:09
    
In the WPMU case is the opposite: they were getting links from templates/widgets from low quality websites to their own. This doesn't give any hint on whether linking externally would hurt or not, it just "proves" that low quality backlinks with over-optimised anchor text are going to hurt. There is no exhaustive proof to my knowledge that "nofollow" links do or do not leak link-juice. However, from empirical experience, I could notice that "nofollow" links can give link-juice (although you'd need many more links compared to equivalent "dofollow" to obtain a similar amount of link-juice) –  milo5b Jul 24 '12 at 13:39
    
(continued) Given that juice can leak to pages linked with "nofollow" links (just think about what spammers do with nofollow links), I suppose it would also leak out of it. Although we are talking about such a small amount that we can not count it anyway. However, the only guys able to prove/disprove this, are the guys at Mountain View. –  milo5b Jul 24 '12 at 13:43
    
Thanks for the response. I won't comment on speculation, so I'll skip the nofollow benefit argument. Linking to a 'bad neighborhood' can land you in the 'This site is dangerous' pool. So Google is obviously tracking where you are linking to and assessing it. My original argument with WPMU was that 'nofollow' essentially disables value of a link, which is necessary if you can't vouch for a URL you aren't familiar with. It's still relevant to the scenario. Cheers. –  Zachary Schuessler Jul 24 '12 at 15:01
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