A nofollow link is a website owner’s way of telling search engines to ignore a link, as a result no authority is passed on from their website to a third party destination page. As this type of link doesn’t share any equity (link juice) from the linking website, it raises the question – are nofollow links good for SEO?
In 1998, Google launched the first prototype of their then new algorithm – PageRank. It counted the number and quality of links to a website, to determine how important the website was and therefore how high it would appear in search rankings. Their assumption was that websites with lots of links from other websites were likely to be more important to the user.
And for a while, it worked. Until people found a way to cheat the system that is…
By the early 2000s blogging culture was booming, and the black-hat-wearing bad guys of SEO started targeting the comment section of blogs, with spammy unsolicited links to their websites.
The more links they created, the higher their PageRank scores were, and pretty quickly their websites climbed to the top of the SERP (search engine results page).
This was painful for both search engine users and blog owners alike, as their websites were filled with spam.
To combat this, in 2005 with support from MSN and Yahoo!, Google introduced the nofollow attribute, allowing website owners the option to remove any equity passed on to the spammer’s websites.
What’s the difference between a follow and a nofollow link?
There are two main types of backlink you can acquire for your website – follow (sometimes referred to as dofollow) and nofollow.
Follow links are normal backlinks that haven’t been tampered with. They carry the most SEO value by passing on authority to your website.
Nofollow links have been tampered with, and they have the HTML attribute (rel=”nofollow”)applied in the website code. Website owners can apply this attribute in their CMS (content management system), and website viewers can find the code by using inspect mode in their browser:
To the website viewer, there is no difference and a nofollow link looks exactly the same as a follow link. If your brand is mentioned in a news article for example, the anchor text is still clickable, will direct users to your site, and looks exactly as it would if it were a follow link.
Examples of nofollow links
Whilst any backlink can be tagged as nofollow, links from these platforms always tend to be nofollow as standard:
Social Media (e.g. links in tweets, links in Instagram bios)
Top tier publications like; Buzzfeed, Forbes, Huffington Post
Are nofollow links worth anything?
The internet has changed dramatically since nofollow was introduced way back in 2005, and in 2019 Google announced the evolution of nofollow links. They stated that although Google would not count any nofollow link as a signal in their algorithm when the attribute was first introduced, times had changed and now nofollow links would be treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude in Search.
Many newspapers and publications will use the nofollow attribute to protect themselves from looking spammy to search engines. They publish an extremely high volume of content, and using this attribute is standard practice. As part of growing a natural backlink profile, nofollow links from these established, authoritative publications are highly valuable.
Traffic & Brand Awareness
You’ll still get the same traffic from your link as you would if it were a follow link, and if your brand is mentioned in the anchor text then you’ll benefit from a bit of brand awareness too. This is particularly strong if the link you’ve gained was from a relevant publication that your audience is actively reading.
Links from social media platforms tend to be nofollow too, but receiving links from social posts and page bios sends positive signals to search engines. The more your brand is shared, and engaged with on social media, the better. Google uses social signals to decide how popular your website is, which can have a positive impact on your position in the SERP.
Do nofollow links help rankings?
It’s no secret that follow links carry more SEO value, however nofollow links play an important role in creating a natural backlink profile, it’s highly unlikely that every single link you earn will be a dofollow, and having a mix of both is a good thing. The linking pages have still chosen to link to your website and as mentioned earlier, Google now uses this as a hint to consider if your link will count as a signal in their algorithm.
Remember lots of leading publications have a nofollow link policy to avoid looking spammy, and It would be silly to ignore these publications and leave them out of your media lists when building your digital PR strategies. It’s even been suggested that Google values nofollow links from high authority websites over follow links from low authority sites.
Then there’s the domino effect, the more links you have out there, the higher the chance of other people finding your content and giving you a new backlink. Your nofollow link may actually end up landing you a follow link from a higher authority website in the long run.
If you need support building your own natural backlink profile, and are interested in finding out more about our digital PR services, then get in touch with us today.