Building backlinks is an essential step in optimizing a website or web page for higher organic search rankings. Each link pointing to your website shows Google that your website is valuable and, therefore, should be ranked higher than websites with fewer, lower-quality links. Not all links are the same, however. Some have the nofollow attribute, which may lower their search engine optimization (SEO) value.

What Is a Nofollow Link?

A nofollow link is any type of link that has the nofollow HTML attribute. This attribute specifies that search engines should not follow the link when crawling the page on which it’s published, nor should they should factor it into their ranking algorithm.

Unbeknownst to most internet users, search engines are constantly visiting websites while searching for keyword usage, links and other ranking signals. Using this information, search engines can calculate an appropriate ranking for the website. When a search engine discovers a link, it typically does two things:

  • Follows the link to the linked URL
  • Factors the link in its search ranking algorithm

If a link has the nofollow attribute, though, it may not perform these functions. Pioneered by Google in 2005, nofollow tells search engines not to follow the linked URL. When they encounter a nofollow link, search engines may index the linked URL, but they generally won’t follow it. As part of your website’s SEO checklist, you should focus on acquiring standard backlinks without this attribute.

How to Identify Nofollow Links

For the average internet user, nofollow links look and function the same as standard links. This is because the nofollow attribute is intended for use by search engines, not humans. When you click a nofollow link, it will take you to the hyperlinked URL just like any other link. To determine whether a link has this attribute, you’ll need to further investigate.

You can see if a link is nofollow in one of several ways:

  • Read the website’s terms and conditions page to see if it mentions whether links are nofollow.
  • View the page’s source code from within your web browser and look for the link’s nofollow attribute prefix.
  • Right-click on the link from within your web browser and select “inspect element.” If it’s nofollow, you’ll see this attribute attached.
  • Download and install a link-checking plugin for your web browser, such as NoFollow for Chrome or Strike Out Nofollow Links for Firefox.

Do Nofollow Links Carry SEO Value?

Here’s the million-dollar question: Are nofollow links useful for SEO? Because search engines don’t follow them, many webmasters assume that nofollow links offer little or no SEO value. However, this isn’t necessarily true.

The fundamental purpose of the nofollow attribute when it was created was to prevent PageRank from passing to URLs that don’t deserve it. Prior to its invention, any link would receive PageRank — Google’s former primary ranking signal — from the page on which it was published. If a link was given the nofollow attribute, though, it would not receive PageRank. Google no longer uses PageRank in its algorithm, but it still treats nofollow links the same. It neither follows nor factors nofollow links into its algorithm.

Upon hearing this, you might feel inclined to avoid building nofollow backlinks for your website. While most SEO professionals agree that nofollow links lack the SEO value of standard links, they may still help your website succeed.

Creating nofollow links may offer the following benefits:

  • More direct traffic to your website
  • Increased sales and conversions
  • More online mentions of your website
  • Encourages other webmasters to link to your site, which may not have the nofollow attribute

Perhaps the greatest benefit of nofollow links is their ability to attract other links. Whenever a website links to your site, it creates a new portal through which users can find and visit your website. This means increased traffic and visibility, which may lead to additional backlinks.

What Google Says About Nofollow Links

To provide webmasters with increased transparency into its ranking algorithm, Google published an article in which it discussed nofollow links and how it treats them. According to Matt Cutts, former team leader of Google’s anti-spam department, the search engine giant ignores nofollow links in its algorithm.

As a webmaster, you should heed this information by focusing your backlink portfolio on standard links. However, you may want to use this attribute on certain links placed directly on your site. If you link to a questionable or low-quality website and fail to include the nofollow attribute, the linked URL will siphon some of your own website’s SEO authority.

Here are some circumstances in which you should create nofollow links on your website:

  • Links in visitor comments
  • Links in user profiles
  • Links to your site’s terms and conditions page and privacy policy page
  • Links in paid advertisements
  • Links in forum posts
  • Links in press releases, especially if they have keyword-rich anchor text
  • Links in any type of user-generated content
  • Any link to an untrusted website

The general idea is to use the nofollow attribute on links that a webmaster can’t or hasn’t vetted for quality. All links used in Wikipedia’s citations, for example, are nofollow because any user can create them. Wikipedia doesn’t have the manpower or resources to vet each link before they are published. Even if it did, reviewing links would bog down the site and, subsequently, prevent revisions from being made in a timely manner. Therefore, it automatically attaches the nofollow attribute to all links in user-created citations.

What About Bing and Yahoo?

In 2009, Bing shared its thoughts on the nofollow attribute in an article published on its blog. The Microsoft-owned search engine said, like Google, that it doesn’t follow them but may index the linked URL. Being that Yahoo Search is now powered by Bing, it also handles nofollow links the same.

Best Practices for Creating Nofollow Backlinks

When creating nofollow backlinks for your website, use anchor text that compels users to click and visit your site. Since search engines won’t follow the link, you need human visitors to follow it. Otherwise, it won’t help your SEO efforts. Using anchor text like “click here to learn more” entices users to click the link, thus improving its value.

Don’t go overboard when creating nofollow backlinks. If your website’s backlink portfolio contains 80 percent nofollow backlinks and only 20 percent traditional backlinks, search engines may view this as unnatural link building and lower your site’s rankings as a result.

Another idea is to contact the webmaster of which your backlink is published and ask them to remove the nofollow attribute. Many websites use a content management system (CMS) that automatically attaches the nofollow attribute to user-generated content. This is an anti-spam measure to prevent malicious or other low-quality websites from receiving SEO value from those links. Assuming you publish a valuable comment, article or any other piece of content on another website, though, that website may remove the nofollow attribute. It only takes a few minutes to send the webmaster an email, and the worst that can happen is he or she says no.

Here are some other tips for creating valuable nofollow backlinks:

  • Don’t use the same anchor text for all your nofollow backlinks. Use multiple variations so that your links look natural.
  • Create nofollow backlinks on websites and page’s that are relevant to your own website’s content.
  • Only create nofollow backlinks on authority websites with a Domain Authority (DA) of 50 or higher.
  • Don’t create nofollow backlinks to a single page. Rather, create them for multiple pages of your site, including the homepage and subpages.
  • Publish high-quality content on the pages to which you create nofollow backlinks.
  • Build nofollow backlinks slowly.
  • Avoid creating nofollow backlinks on sites consisting of inferior content.
  • Monitor your website’s search rankings to determine how exactly nofollow links affect it.

The Bottom Line on Nofollow Links

You shouldn’t discount nofollow links just because Google doesn’t follow them. They can still drive direct traffic to your website and encourage other webmasters to create backlinks to your site. For the best results, combine both nofollow and standard links in your website’s SEO strategy. Your website will benefit more from the latter, but nofollow links can compliment your off-page optimization efforts, thereby paving the way for search ranking success.

If you’re struggling to acquire backlinks that don’t have the nofollow attribute, you should partner with a reputable SEO agency. They have the tools, experience and skills to create a portfolio of high-quality backlinks that drives results for your website. In addition to building backlinks, other SEO services offered by a professional agency may include On page SEO including title tag creation, site speed optimisation, image optimisation, target keyword analysis and rank tracking.