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The nofollow attribute may have been launched in 2005, but it’s still a source of confusion in the SEO industry. The nofollow tag is a simple way for content publishers and webmasters to tell search engines like Google not to give credit or “points” to links. There are many excellent reasons to do this; for example, it can help you avoid penalties from Google for unacceptable SEO practices. Here’s what you need to know about no follow tags, including how and when to use them and whether you should bother trying to get no follow links from other websites.
Why Links Matter for SEO
When a website gets an inbound link from another site or a link that points to its page, the page receives a minor SEO boost. These links work a bit like points. The more points the webpage gets from links and other sources, the higher it ranks on search engine results.
Google checks how many inbound links each page has and from which sites the links have come, as these links are a valuable metric to measure the popularity of a webpage.
Google even has a specific metric called PageRank that calculates link “points,” commonly called “link juice” or Google juice. This link juice can flow from one webpage to another through links. More reputable websites pass along a more significant boost of Google juice through links to other sites. Therefore links from established and reputable websites such as major news organisations, government websites, and educational websites, for example, offer a more significant benefit than links from new or unknown sites.
What Is a Follow Link?
Once you understand the value of inbound hyperlinks, you can better understand how follow, and nofollow tags work. A follow link is essentially a link that counts for “link points” or link juice. These links offer an SEO benefit and boost the PageRank of the website they link to in a way that no follow links do not.
A follow link is just a regular hyperlink that does not have the nofollow attribute. Here’s what a follow link looks like:
A nofollow tag or attribute is a simple piece of HTML that is used to append a hyperlink. It can be used to control whether the search engine will follow the link or not. When a nofollow attribute is added to a link, the hyperlink won’t count as a link point in the website’s favour, it won’t help the page place better on search engine results, and it won’t boost the page’s PageRank. You can think of a no follow tag as a sign for search engines that says “ignore this link.”
Here’s what a no follow attribute looks like in a hyperlink:
[a href=”http://www.google.com/”” rel=”nofollow”]Google[/a]
By including this tag, search engines like Google are told not to visit the site or give it credit that improves its ranking.
When Should I Use No Follow Tags?
Nofollow tags are very useful in many situations. Their primary purpose is combating spam as it discourages spam comments and self-promotional content from people who try to trick search engines and inflate their website’s rankings. For this reason, Wikipedia automatically assigns no follow attributes to links in its reference section and WordPress automatically adds the attribute to user-submitted links.
Here are some of the most crucial cases in which to use no follow links on your website:
- Forum links. All user-generated content should have a no follow tag by default. Even if you carefully moderate a forum, failing to use nofollow attributes can quickly allow spam to get out of control.
- Comments on blogs and pages. Using nofollow links here discourages spammers from making your website a target. You still have the option of manually removing the nofollow tag on links from users who regularly contribute valuable content.
- Paid links on your website. Any link that you pay for or that you charge for should have a nofollow tag, including sponsored links, image and text ads, sponsored content or guest posts, directory submissions, and reviews.
- Any content that involves “untrusted content” according to Google, meaning if you can’t or don’t want to vouch for the content of a website to which you are linking.
- Prioritise search engine crawling. By making certain links nofollow, such as “sign in” links, you can enable the Google bot to crawl pages you would prefer to be listed on Google’s index.
- Links to competitors. You probably won’t link to competitors very often, but there may be cases in which you want to, such as to show off what you believe is a significant advantage you offer. In these cases, you will still want to use nofollow links to avoid giving your competitors an SEO advantage.
Why Paid and Affiliate Links Should Be No Follow
Affiliate links, advertising, and other paid content deserve extra attention when it comes to the nofollow attribute. These links should always be nofollow. If Google finds out you have helped pass PageRank to another website from a paid link, it will be considered spam. You can even get your site banned from Google’s database. To be on the safe side, always use no follow for any links for which you have been paid outright or receive a commission for any sales someone earns by following the link.
No Follow Tags for Infographics, Widgets, and Embeds
Google has recently recommended that websites that produce infographics and widgets that are embedded on other websites use nofollow tags for links to their website. The concern is that infographics and widgets are easy ways for sites to generate backlinks and they can be easily abused, especially considering embeds may have links that don’t describe the source content.
Whether you request that webmasters make these links no follow is up to you, however. There is a strong debate that the creators of infographics and widgets deserve credit for their work. When no money has been paid for the link, there is no commercial relationship at all that can violate Google’s terms.
When Should I Use Follow Links?
There are many cases when it’s a good idea to use do-follow links on your website. Here are three examples.
- Guest author bylines. When a guest post author has been vetted, has a website you trust, and has written content for your site before, it’s okay to allow the author a single link in their byline that’s do-follow. In these cases, ensure you are careful. Only give authors one link with their name or company name as the anchor text.
- Links to an interview subject. If you interview someone for content for your website, it’s perfectly fine to link to their site. As with guest post authors, you should use their name or company name as anchor text. Just be careful with this practice if you frequently interview people, interview people who are unknown, or their website has suspicious link practices as these should be nofollow links.
- Editorial links. Don’t be afraid to use follow links in editorial content. In doing so, you are citing a website as a source, you have given an uncompensated and honest review, or you mention an association you have with someone’s site. All of these cases deserve credit for the link. With reviews, you will want to exercise good judgment, however. Use a nofollow tag if you write a lot of reviews, receive anything in exchange for the review (including a free product), or the review isn’t fair and does not compare the product with other products.
How to Check if a Tag is Follow or Nofollow
It’s easy to check if a link is follow or no follow. If you’re using Firefox, right click on the page and select “View Page Source.” With Chrome, click “View” on the navigation bar and select Developer>View Source or right-click and choose “Inspect Element.”
Next, use the “Find” shortcut and search for “nofollow.” All nofollow tags on the page will be highlighted. You can also check for a content=”nofollow” attribute in the page’s [head] tag. By default, this will make all links on the page no follow.
If you’re going to search more than occasionally, you can add an extension to Firefox or Chrome that automatically highlights whether links are follow or nofollow on every page you visit. The most popular extension for Chrome is NoFollow Simple. For Firefox, try SEO Quake or SearchStatus.
Is it Worthwhile to Get No Follow Links?
It may sound like no follow links aren’t worth your time if you’re trying to build a link profile as part of your SEO campaign. While nofollow links may not pass on link juice or increase your PageRank and search engine rankings, they still have value. Here are the biggest reasons to pursue quality no follow links.
Traffic Is Traffic
Nofollow links can still generate substantial traffic for your website. After all, the entire purpose of your SEO efforts and marketing campaign is directing traffic to your site, engaging an audience, and increasing sales. Plus, even follow links become less valuable as you receive more backlinks.
A quality nofollow link endorsement from a referral page with real content can be more valuable in the long run than a more SEO-worthy follow link that doesn’t reach your target audience. Sometimes all it takes is a single well-placed comment on a relevant forum or blog, whether it’s follow or no follow, to deliver a substantial amount of traffic to your website that can be funnelled into conversions or leads.
Consider that many major websites like CNN and the New York Times by default add a nofollow tag to all outbound links. While these links don’t pass on PageRank, they have a very high value due to the size and quality of the site’s user base.
From the perspective of generating traffic, it doesn’t matter if a link is follow or nofollow if it gets someone to visit your website.
Social Score Matters
Links on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will all be nofollow links, but they certainly play an essential role in SEO and contribute to other areas of digital marketing like consumer engagement. Social media presence also improves your SEO thanks to social scores that are increasingly valuable for search engine rankings, website authority, and online reputation.
No Follow Links Allow You to Buy Links
Google may penalise your website if you have too many links that seem unnatural, including links from guest posts, press releases, directories, and link exchanges. Paying for links is also a big problem unless it’s done carefully, which means using a nofollow tag to avoid passing on link juice and PageRank. Nofollow links can also help you pay for links or advertisements on websites that you think will deliver great traffic to your site without risking being penalised by search engines.
Links Can Lead to New Links
Sometimes no follow links even get your website noticed by trusted and established websites, eventually earning you a high-quality follow link and link juice from a reputable site. All links have the opportunity to lead to new links which can boost your website’s rankings. Nofollow links on high traffic websites have a very good chance of being linked to on sites as do follow links that pass on link juice.
PageRank Isn’t Everything
Remember that search engines consider much more than PageRank and link juice when it comes to search engine rankings. Don’t underestimate the value of nofollow links, both in building a link profile for your website and on your website itself. It’s still worth pursuing many nofollow links, such as Wikipedia links and links on relevant niche sites.
As a general rule, aim for a reasonable balance of follow and nofollow backlinks to build a healthy and strong link profile and support your marketing strategy.
The History of the No Follow Attribute
Before no follow attributes were used for individual links, webmasters had to go through detailed steps to stop search engine robots from following hyperlinks. Doing so often involved redirecting links to URLs that were blocked in robots.txt.
The nofollow attribute was created through a cooperation between Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google and major blogging platforms like WordPress in January 2005. Prior to this, there was a large explosion of spam, usually in the form of nonsense and self-promotional comments on blogs thanks to the rising popularity of blogging. Because people understood that links were an essential ranking signal for search engines, many decided to get links for their website through spam comments.
Pressure built on search engines, especially Google, to create a solution for this problem. The solution was the nofollow attribute which stopped links in comments from passing credit or link juice to the target website. Unfortunately, the nofollow tag didn’t do much to prevent spam comments as low-cost labour and automated programs continued.
When the nofollow tag was launched, there was no mention of using the attribute to stop passing credit to paid links. Websites that sold links but didn’t want to get penalties from Google, which has rules against selling links, asked for yet another solution. In September 2005, Matt Cutts of Google recommended using nofollow attributes to avoid passing credit through paid ads. He recommended using the nofollow tag when websites want to buy links to build a buzz, support a website, or increase visitor traffic. He called it a “safe way to buy links” as the tag can be read by a bot to specify that the link should be ignored.