Follow vs Nofollow Links: What You Should Know

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If you’re new to link building, digital PR or technical SEO, you may have heard a lot about nofollow vs follow/ dofollow link attributes and how they can be used to build links.

Since 2005, the nofollow link attribute has been used to keep spammers at bay and give SEOs the chance to clean up their website’s backlink profile. But since then, how types of links should be used and how they’re perceived by Google has changed. A lot.

In our latest blog, we explain the difference between dofollow vs nofollow links, when you should use nofollows, and how they affect your SEO strategy.

What is a follow link?

A follow link is any link as normal from your website, also known as a backlink.

When another website links to your site with a standard link, it can directly affect your search engine rankings. The more credibility the linking site’s profile has, the more credibility is delivered with a backlink boosting your site’s “E-A-T” as a result.

Backlinks are how search engine bots crawl the web to find decide which web pages deserve higher search engine ranking and which don’t. They register who is linking to who in areas such as blog comments, blog posts, social media and other forms of user-generated content. This interlinking passes “link juice” from one site to another, telling search engines which websites have the most credibility from their peers.

For example, say an authoritative site with high PageRank links to you, also known as an inbound link. Google will then see your site as more reputable and may increase your PageRank. This can improve your ranking in the search engine results, meaning more traffic, not just from the backlink, but from search engine users, as well.

(Learn about link building and why it’s important here.)

What is a nofollow link?

A nofollow link attribute is a backlink with a rel= “nofollow” tag. Adding this tag means that the links don’t influence search engine rankings, and Google doesn’t crawl them.

Nofollow tags tell Google Bots “don’t count this” or “I don’t vouch for this link”. This is used to protect your backlink profile and prevent potentially spammy practices, such as comment spam sections with links, link schemes, and even things like adding your link to irrelevant Wikipedia pages.

With the introduction of the nofollow tag, these practices haven’t stopped, but they have decreased substantially.

How do you check if a link is a nofollow?

Nofollow and followed links look the exact same to your web users, the difference is only clear when you look into the HTML code.

For example, a dofollow link would look like this:

<a href=””>TSCA</a>

While nofollow links appear like this:

<a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>TSCA</a>

As you can see, the HTML is identical except for the addition of the rel=”nofollow” tag.

You can “nofollow” all links on a webpage at once by putting a robots meta tag with the value “nofollow” in the header. However, the link-specific nofollow attribute tag is more common, as it allows you to nofollow only some links on a page and leave the rest followed.

Are nofollow links worth it?

While a nofollow tag means a Googlebot won’t crawl that link, it doesn’t mean that the page can’t still be found by Google’s algorithm, for example by a followed link or inbound link from somewhere else.

In the past, SEOs would use nofollow links to sculpt their PageRank, following only the most authoritative links and cutting ties to those they didn’t want to be counted, to manipulate how PageRank flowed through their site.

As of March 2020, Google announced that nofollow tags would be used as a hint rather than a directive, meaning they would make their own decisions about whether to trust a website or not.

Essentially, a site with 9 follow links and 1 nofollow link has 10 backlinks in Google’s eyes.

While trying to manipulate your PageRank with nofollow tags might seem tempting, with the changes to how Google interprets them, it’s just not worth it. A much better practice is just to focus on creating link-worthy, high-quality content and creating outbound links to the most relevant sources.

What types of links should be nofollow?

When determining if a link is a nofollow, there are cases where it’s necessary to include them for a natural backlink profile.

For example, advertising, sponsored blog posts, text link ads, and other links that result from paid relationships should use the nofollow sponsored attribute. This helps make it clear to Google that you’re not trying to manipulate PageRank with a link scheme.

If your site is host to user-generated content, such as forums, blogs with comments, a nofollow UGC tag should be added.

Any links from the following types of content are usually nofollow links:

  • Social media
  • Sponsored content
  • Blog comments
  • Forums
  • Press releases
  • Widgets

What’s next?

Once you understand the basics of dofollow and nofollow links, you’ll be ready to put your knowledge into action.

If you use nofollow links in an unnatural way or use them to try to sculpt PageRank, you’ll want to review your backlink profile. Poor use of the nofollow attribute may lead to consequences or Google penalties for your SEO and hurt your domain ranking. It may be useful to review how nofollows are used on you and decide if it’s time to remove them and move to a meta robots noindex.

Google updates its algorithm throughout the year, and they’re constantly making small tweaks that can affect your SEO. If you need help cleaning up your backlink profile, improving your search rankings, or simply need a link building consultant, get in touch with us to see how our SEO services can help.

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