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What are Nofollow Links? & How do they Impact your SEO?

It’s important to note that the Nofollow Links tag was originally created by Google to combat blog comment spam. But, as the popularity of blogging sites grew, so did SEO spam hack. And more specifically, spammers would leave links back to their site in the comments.

In the end, this caused two major problems on the web. First, spammy sites started to rank really well in Google. And as a result, this pushed high-quality sites out of the search results. Eventually, because the tactic worked so well, blog comment spam quickly spun out of control.

What are Nofollow Links?

In 2005, Google helped develop the nofollow links tag and then rolled it into their algorithm. Ultimately, the tag was adopted by other search engines too (like Bing and Yahoo).

Related Topic: Akismet | The No #1 Spam Protection Plugin for WordPress

In other words, always remember that if your link profile looks unnatural, you’re at risk for a Google Penalty. And as it turns out, nofollow links are a big part of a natural link profile. For example, look at YouTube.

According to Ahrefs, 8% of their links are nofollow. But, that’s not to say that you need 8% of your links to be nofollow. It just goes to show that natural link profiles have some nofollow links.

What are Nofollow Links?

Basically, Nofollow Links are the site links with a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag applied to them. The nofollow tag tells search engines to ignore that link. And because nofollow links do not pass PageRank they likely don’t impact search engine rankings.

But, as a site user, it’s impossible to note a nofollow and a dofollow link. And in such a case, you can click on, copy, and use a nofollow link like any other link on the web. However, when it comes to search engine optimization, there’s a big difference between nofollow and dofollow links.

Well, the difference is that dofollow links help your search engine rankings. While nofollow links don’t.

Related Topic: What are Dofollow Links? & How to Build Quality Backlinks

Allow me to explain in bits. You see, Google and other search engines use links as a key ranking signal. But, they only count dofollow links in their algorithm. In fact, according to Google, nofollow links don’t pass any PageRank.

Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web.

And if the link doesn’t send PageRank (aka “link juice”) your way, it’s not going to help your Google rankings. That’s why, when it comes to link building, you want to get dofollow links whenever possible.

Which are the Key Types of Nofollow Links with Examples?

Any link that has the nofollow tag is technically a nofollow link. But in general, inbound links from these sources tend to be nofollow. Such as blog comments, social media (for example, links in Facebook posts), and links in forum posts or other forms of user-generated content.

You’ll also find them in certain blogs and news sites (like the Huffington Post), links from “widgets” as well as links in press releases. More often also, popular websites do use the rel=”nofollow” tag on all of their outbound links.

Related Topic: How SEO Ranking in SERPs is Done for Sites to Rank High

Such sites include Quora, YouTube, Wikipedia, Reddit, Twitch, Medium, etc. And there’s one more category of links that should be nofollow. And this category is the Paid links.

Below is an Advertorial and Native Advertising video from Google. You can watch it to learn more before you proceed or even skip it if you’ll best feel my detailed guide is enough.

This video is brought to you by Matt Cutts. I hope you enjoyed watching it. But, if not, please, let’s continue.

According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, any links that you pay for should be a nofollowed link. Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed that all paid links should have the nofollow link attribute applied. Why?

Simply, because Google wants all of your links to be organically earned. For example, if you pay for a banner ad on a website, Google requires the link in the banner to be nofollowed. Otherwise, your site could get penalized by the Big search engine Google.

How do Nofollow Links Impact my Site SEO?

Well, the answer to this is still two-sided. Whereby, some people say that they have ZERO impact on SEO. While others claim that they aren’t as powerful as dofollow links. But, they still help. So, what’s the truth? Let’s find out!

First of all, what does Google say about nofollow links? “In general, we don’t follow them.” Wait a minute! “In general”? Truly, this implies that they DO follow them in certain cases. Hmmm!

Secondly, let’s look at a really interesting case study. For example, jmexclusives wanted to rank his blog for the keyword “backlink SEO”. What did we do? We bought a bunch of nofollowed links from a high-quality site in the SEO space.

Related Topic: Backlinks | What are they & How do you implement them?

And all of those links had “backlink SEO” as the anchor text. So, what happened? Our ranking shot up from #19 to #1 in Google for this target keyword.

Next on, let’s check out another cool little experiment. This time, the head of SEO at SurveyMonkey decided to answer the following question: “Does Google actually follow nofollow links.”

Surprisingly, to find out, he added a nofollow link to one of SurveyMonkey’s 404 pages. And in return, the link led to a page that wasn’t indexed yet as shown in the image below.

SurveyMonkey Nofollow Links

As a rule of thumb, in theory, Google should ignore that link. But, that’s NOT what happened. Instead, Google followed the link and then indexed it within 48 hours.

Finally, let’s check out the results of an industry study. Ahrefs recently analyzed 51 of the most competitive Google search results anchor text on the planet.

Related Topic: Guest Posting | Why your Site Backlinks Counts on SEO

In that case, they looked at keywords search like “insurance” and “NYC lawyer.” And in reality, they discovered that dofollow and nofollow backlinks have the same impact on rankings.

So, the bottom line is that nofollow links seem to have some SEO value. Especially, if those links are from related sites. Then additionally, Google may also use anchor text from nofollow links in their algorithm.

Why are the Nofollow Links Important in SEO?

Obviously, the main reason you’ve read this article to this point is to know the benefits of these type of links. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of their benefits in the following summary:

In the first lace, nofollow links can directly help with your SEO. And as you just saw, experiments and industry studies have found that they can lead to higher rankings in Google.

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Next on, in return, using them can hugely bring you traffic. So, don’t forget that only by using the right ones can bring you lots of targeted traffic.

For instance, one great example is when you share a short message along with your Facebook post. Below is a great example of such a Facebook post with a nofollow link to our website:

A Facebook post with a nofollow link

But, will this type of link help with my SEO? Well, the simple answer is probably not. Not to mention, this post sent us about 500 site visitors through the underlined link.

As such, the same approach applies to leaving helpful blog comments on other sites. And even though they’re nofollow, comment links can send you a decent chunk of targeted traffic. Especially if you’re one of the first people to comment on these blog articles and posts.

Related Topic: How to Increase your Site Domain Authority in Simple Steps

For example, when we first started our blog, I personally left helpful comments on other SEO and marketing blogs. And as a result, these comments in return brought us a handful of targeted visitors. But, can nofollow links be = dofollow links.

Well, as you know, most big sites (like YouTube and Facebook) nofollow all of their outbound links. Unfortunately, what you might not know is that a nofollow from a popular site can lead to dozens of dofollow links. So, are such links totally worthy?

Hell Yeah! Sometimes, if not always, you’ll get a boatload of referral traffic from such posts. But, more important than that, lots and lots of people that find you from such posts end up linking back to you. Not only that, but dofollow links help in SERPs rankings too.

What is the Difference Between Nofollow and Noindex?

When we talk about these two terms, the noindex directive is a metatag that you add to certain pages on your website. This tag tells search engines to not add a specific page to their index.

On the other hand, nofollow links tell search engines to not follow a particular link. So if you don’t want a page indexed, a nofollow link isn’t going to work. Use the noindex tag instead. But, how do I use nofollow links on my site?

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Well, the short answer is that it depends on the technology your site runs on. For example, let’s say your site uses WordPress. This means that all your blog comment links automatically have the nofollow attribute.

There are also external link WordPress plugins that can make all of your links nofollow. Otherwise, it’s a matter of working with your site developer if you’ll get stuck. In order to manually or automatically add the rel=”nofollow” tag to your external links.

How to balance site links profile

Before we get into the specifics of how to detect nofollow links, I’d first like to take a moment to make sure you know about balanced link profiles. When Google debuted nofollow, it was a way to combat spammers fishing for links on sites that were generally unrelated or would not want to associate with their sites.

Spammers in ages past would be able to set a bot to post their link in a generic comment on blog posts around the web. They could rack up thousands of backlinks in the course of a few hours. And in doing so, their site would suddenly have thousands of links pointing to them, giving them SEO benefit.

Related Topic: How to Improve Your Site Ranking in 5 Simple Methods

The same would happen for any user-submitted content site, including web forums with free registration or guest posting. The other common way of fishing for backlinks is from guest contributions. You can still see old blog posts with lengthy lists of blogs with high PageRank.

Making them valuable targets for earning backlinks. And as such nofollow throws a wrench into that plan. These days, Google can tell if you’re trying to build links artificially or if you’re building them naturally. If you’re only looking for link juice, you’re going to be seeking out links from followed sites.

And then you’re going to want to ignore nofollowed sites because they don’t pass link juice. However, Google can see pretty clearly that you have 95% of one kind of link and can infer that you care more about your ranking than your audience or your content.

How to find whether a site is nofollowed or not

A balanced link profile will include plenty of nofollowed links as well. It’s a sort of trust factor; it’s not directly related to ranking, because giving nofollowed links ranking power defeats the purpose of the tag in the first place. That said, nofollowed links do still have power.

They don’t pass link juice, but they do pass traffic, and the anchor text can match your article title or brand name, spreading your name and information around the web. These are “implied links” and are starting to be more valuable as Google downplays the mechanical relevance of links. There are a lot of different tricks you can use to find whether a site is nofollowed or not.

1. The Manual Method

The manual method is simple, but it involves using some features of a web browser you might not normally encounter. If you’re not a developer and you’re not used to looking at code, this method might be a little obtuse. The first thing you want to do is load a page on the target site.

Which page you load depends on your purpose with the site. Are you trying to guest post there? Find a guest post written by someone else and load that post. Are you trying to do a moving man link building outreach or something of the sort? Load any generic blog post with links similar to what you might be targeting.

Next, you want to scroll down to the bottom of the post. The reason I recommend you do this is to fully load in everything on the page. A lot of sites these days lazy to load content, so you want to make sure as much of the site is loaded in as possible. Close any overlays, exit intent pops, or lightboxes that get in your way.

1.1. links attribution

Now you need to find a link on the page that accurately represents the kind of link you would be getting. Don’t test a sidebar link if you’re looking for in-content links, and don’t test a comments link if you’re not targeting comments.

Now you need to right-click on the link and inspect the element. In Chrome by default “inspect element” is a context menu item. In Firefox the same is true, and other browsers generally have either a web developer console or a “view source” option.

If you can’t inspect an element directly, you can view the source code of the entire page and search through it to find the specific link with specific anchor text you’re trying to locate. A link will start with “<a” and will have a few different possible parameters. The “href” is the hyperlink reference and is the destination of the link.

But, if there’s a “target” parameter, it is specifying whether the link should open in a new window or in the same window. And if there’s a “class” it’s a flag for CSS identification. What you’re looking for, though, is “rel”.

1.2. rel = parameter 

The “rel = parameter” is the “relationship” between your page and the page being linked. This can show up in a link to a CSS file for the page. But, the only parameter you actually care about is “nofollow”. If it says “rel=”nofollow” it means the link is not followed.

If no such tag exists, or if one of the other possible parameters exists, the link is likely followed. However, this is not 100% true! There’s one more place to check. But, before that, it’s important to note that if the site uses “dofollow”, you can sit back and laugh at them a little bit if you want.

There’s no such thing as a “dofollow” parameter for links. Links being followed is the default state; you don’t need to specify that a given link is supposed to be followed. It’s just meaningless extra code that doesn’t parse as anything.

1.3. source code

The other place to check will require you to scroll all the way up in the source code. You’re looking for the <head> tag at the top of the HMTL document. This will often be full of all sorts of code you don’t need to pay attention to if you don’t want to. You’re looking for one specific line of code.

This code is <meta name=” robots”>.  And this is a meta directive pointed specifically at search robots, like Google’s search spiders and web crawlers, or those for other search engines. What you might see in this entry is content=”nofollow”. If you see this, it’s the site owner telling the robots that every link on their site is meant to be nofollowed.

Without them having to plug in the nofollow attribute on every link they make. You’ll often see this on individual pages full of links of low quality, used as a defense against link spam penalties. It doesn’t always work, but it’s there. It’s also going to show up more often on older sites and sites that don’t care about link juice.

Rather than modern sites, which will take links on a case by case basis.

1.4. meta directive

As a side note, you might also see “noindex” added to the meta directive up at the top. If so, the page you’re on won’t be indexed in Google, so any links in it are automatically ignored. It’s as if that page isn’t actually published on the web.

But this is very rare, though, and generally exists for strange duplicates, old versions of sites cohabitating on the domain, or test pages.

2. The Automated Method

The second method is a more automated method you can try out. It involves adding a browser extension to your web browser, which will lay data over the top of the pages you read.

Depending on the plugin, it may have more data than you care about, or it may just show you the status of links. For example, if you want a plugin with more information, I highly recommend the MozBar toolbar from Moz. It’s only available for Chrome, and you can find it here.

This toolbar will show you a ton of useful data for pages you visit. Including the Moz ranks for Page and Domain Authorities, the spam score, the number of linking domains, and the analysis of individual links.

Here are a few other possible toolbars:
  • NoDoFollow for Firefox – This is a simple and highly ranked extension for Firefox that automatically highlights links on any page you’re viewing. You can toggle this on or off with the right-click menu, by unchecking the “NoDoFollow” item.
  • NoFollow for Chrome – This is a slightly more robust plugin for Chrome rather than for Firefox. You can customize it to show information about the follow and index tags. As well as changing where the infobox for links will display in your browser. You can make it conditional if you like, and you can have it show you data about specific search engines. Rather than just generic information if such specific information exists.
  • NoFollow for Opera – This is the same plugin by the same developer as the Chrome extension above, just made for the Opera browser instead.
  • NoFollow for Safari – This is the homepage for the extension above, with links to it for Chrome, Opera, and Safari.

Having said that, now it’s your turn! And I’d like to hear some thoughts from you in the comments section. Especially, regarding your experience with these types of backlinks? Or maybe you have a personal question about something.

Either way, you can Contact Us and let us know how we can help. All in all, don’t forget that you too can donate in order to support the good work we do.

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