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I work for an Australian startup and our platform is similar to major business directories, currently we are just starting to sign up businesses.

Many of our established competitors are not even providing no-follow links from the profile pages of the service providers to the service providers websites, rather they are redirecting.

We currently providing follow links and we may keep those for our early signups, however we are worried that there must be a reason the other sites use redirects. Will google think our site is a link farm if we grow to 10,000's of profiles and have an external link on many of the pages.

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Directory sites is not consider as link farm unless you can't moderate it very well. To make your directory site high quality, allowed only trusted website to make their profile, for example dmoz does.

If your directory sites maintained very well, then I will say don't use nofollow links also don't use redirection (Which is blocked under robots.txt, for example domain.com/recom/some-website/ redirect to some-website.com, and your competitor might block /recom/ direcory in robots.txt, so no juicyrank is pass to them, but you will also not get that juicyrank, it will be wasted ).

The directory sites are ranking because of outbound links. There are so many patterns(this and this, also many more which I can't find right now) say that, actually natural outbound links help in ranking. When you use nofollow links into it, Google will simply avoid them while calculating any link metrics value, because it is made for spam prevention.

Just search on Google "thesauri reference" and you will see dmoz is ranking on top 3 position. It is because the listed website in dmoz article is actually trusted, and high quality. Here dmoz does very fantastic job, because they allowed to add only high quality website, and those website is consider as high quality because many of website also links to them. But if they allowed to add all kind of website on their directory, then Google will consider them as link farm.

So, It's all about whom you link them. If you link to good, you will actually get benefits, if you link to bad, you will get penalty. But if you don't have to time to consider which is good and which is bad, then simply use nofollow link or redirection link which is blocked under robots.txt. Both will help you to prevent link spam. And both will do same job.

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  • We are reviewing each profile and ensuring every website is genuine (i.e not selling shoes when supposed to be a landscape gardener) and does not redirect. I doubt most of these sites will have many links so we are more likely to be of benefit to them than they to us. Perhaps worthy of another question but we have noticed a number just linking to their company facebook page (independent gardeners and such often don't even have websites), what are your thoughts on allowing those? – Darren Feb 6 '17 at 9:57
  • I will use nofollow tag on fb pages, because sometimes Google can crawl fb pages and sometimes can't, because fb show them captcha if they request more in order to save some bandwidth. I will generally link all social media sites normally(without nofollow), if the site is also crawlable like mine, for example twitter profiles :) – Goyllo Feb 6 '17 at 11:34
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Many of our established competitors are not even providing no-follow links from the profile pages of the service providers to the service providers websites, rather they are redirecting.

There's not necessarily any difference (SEO-wise) between an ordinary link and a redirect. But we would need more information in order to determine this.

However, it is common to block the redirect script itself from robots (eg. in robots.txt) which then effectively makes the redirect "no-follow".

a reason the other sites use redirects.

Using a redirect script, rather than a direct link, can make server-side tracking easier / more reliable. Also, a rel="nofollow" link can still be crawled by search engine bots, it's just that the link does not count towards the targets ranking. However, a redirect script that is blocked by robots.txt should (in theory) not be crawled at all, providing it is a "good bot" that honours robots.txt.

Will google think our site is a link farm if we grow to 10,000's of profiles and have an external link on many of the pages.

If the contents of the link is user-supplied and particularly if users are paying for your service then the link should be "no-follow". Just to clarify, "no-follow" isn't just about using the rel="nofollow" attribute. A non-crawlable link is also effectively "no-follow".

Also, it's not in your clients interests to be associated with a "link farm" (directory-like) site either. So, from your client's perspective it should probably be a "no-follow" link as well. If Google perceives your site as a "directory" site then the profile links might simply be discounted from it's ranking algorithm. I would say that the profile link is primarily to drive real users and probably does not have much of an SEO benefit for the client.

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  • Sorry I should have said in the question that we are reviewing each profile and ensuring every website is genuine and does not redirect, as such I am marking the other answer as correct, although it's something that is surely debatable. – Darren Feb 6 '17 at 9:53

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