The Curious Case of Nofollow Links

Ogno The Curious Case of Nofollow Links

Those new to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) might be wondering what the fuss around nofollow vs. follow links is all about. And that is a great question.

Indeed there has been quite some discussion over the years on the topic of nofollow links’ impact on SEO and their importance for link building strategy. After all, what exactly are nofollow links? Is it worth spending your time and resources on building them?

If you care about your website’s performance in search engines, make sure to stick around. Knowing when and when not to use nofollow links is not only advised nowadays – it is a must.

What Does Nofollow Mean?

In order to answer this question, we’ll take a step back and take a look at how most links work in regards to SEO. In a nutshell, each backlink (a link on another site signaling towards your site) gets you a small SEO boost. You could think of it as points. More links = more points.

Google keeps track of these points through a metric called PageRank. Depending on how many link points (SEOs often call it link juice), your page is receiving and from which sites they come from, your site will seem more reputable in the eyes of Google. The bottom line of this is that your webpage will get the search engine’s preference over your competitors. Aka, you will rank higher in the SERP.

Links that “count as points” and push link juice towards linked-to sites are known as follow links. This type of links influences SEO directly, boosting your page rank and domain authority.

“But wait – then what is a nofollow link?” As you might have guessed at this point, a nofollow link is the type of link that does not work in the page’s favor in the same way a follow link would. No points, link juice, or higher rank in the SERP.

That being said, this does not mean that as users we can tell the difference between nofollow and follow links. You can click, copy and use nofollow links just as you would with any other link. The only technical difference between them is the rel=”nofollow” HTML tag. This little piece of code tells search engines to essentially ignore that link. But more on that later.

Why Did Search Engines Create Nofollow Links?

The year was 2005. The blogosphere was starting to gain traction as the increasing number of blogs revolved around 14 million blogs, growing at a rate of 80,000 per day. (Fun fact: this number has increased to 600 million as of 2020!).

With the considerable growth in blog popularity, the competitiveness for ranking first on the SERP also grew. This also gave rise to an increase in comment spam. More specifically, spammers who would leave links back to their sites in blogs’ comment sections and successfully cheat the system by having their content ranked first as a result.

Example of a spam comment in on a video's comment section

This caused two big problems for search engines:

  1. Spammy sites started to rank really well – pushing high quality sites out of the search results.
  2. Because this tactic worked so well, blog comment spam quickly spun out of control.

And as a response, the tag rel=”nofollow” was created.

What Types of Links Are Nofollow?

In a nutshell, any link with the nofollow tag is technically a nofollow link. However, there are specific sources known for only employing nofollow links such as blog comment sections and Social Media (for instance links on Facebook or Instagram posts). In addition to those, popular websites such as Quora, YouTube, Wikipedia, Reddit, and Medium are also all nofollows.

According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, any links you have to pay for are also expected to contain the nofollow tag. This goes from a banner ad on a website to affiliate links – essentially any type of purchasable links. Why? Well, Google expects link juice to be earned.

Do Nofollow Links Have Any SEO Value?

Some people say “nofollow links have absolutely no impact on SEO”. Others say “they are not as powerful as follow links – but they still help”. Google says “In general, we don’t follow them” . So… What should you believe?

While it is true that nofollow links might not be the best way to improve your search ranking, there are still benefits to them. According to Ahref’s study on the correlation between Google rankings and various backlink attributes, “there could be an indication that Google values some nofollow links from strong pages more than follow links from weak pages” (Tim Soulo, CMO Ahrefs).

Alongside that, here are the facts: a nofollow link in the right website with a high exposure could bring you lots of targeted traffic. The same principle applies to leaving helpful blog comments and adding value through Social Media based communities. These might not help your SEO directly – but indirectly they can be extremely powerful!

It might be also worth considering that nofollow links in big sites lead to exposure. And exposure could lead to numerous follow links from other site owners who came in contact with your content and decided to quote it. Sending you lots of link juice.

Last but not least, having some nofollow links signals to Google that there’s nothing “fishy” about your site. Not only do they help bring your site traffic and (potential) follow links, but they help diversify your link profile.

To Follow or No(to)follow?

All puns aside, building follow links to your site should be your priority when it comes to creating an Off-page SEO strategy. But this does not mean nofollow links shouldn’t be included. In fact, they are a necessary part of growing an online presence.

Bottom line is: the debate of whether Google actually follows some nofollow links or not is still ongoing. Make sure to stick to the facts. When building your backlink strategy, focus on getting links from reputable sites and (if possible) stick to follow links.

If a follow link is out of the question, stay calm. Nofollows are not all that bad. And #whoknows you might be surprised by what the right nofollow link could achieve for your business!

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