Are nofollow links good for SEO?
Building backlinks is hard work. Especially when your organic strategy is just getting off the ground, it’s important to weigh up the effort vs reward of going after certain links.
Maybe you’ve spotted an opportunity to get featured in a popular, industry-relevant publication, but then you find out that the only link they will offer you is “nofollow”. What does that mean? Will it benefit your rankings? Will the time spent securing that link be worth the effort?
There’s a lot of misinformation about nofollow links out there. In this article, we clear up some of the common misconceptions and talk about how nofollow links can benefit your organic strategy – and your overall bottom line.
What is a nofollow link?
In short, nofollow links are those which have a rel=“nofollow” attribute applied to them. As the name suggests, this tells search engines that they shouldn’t follow the link in question.
At a glance, this would suggest that Google does not crawl or pass PageRank (sometimes referred to as “link authority” or “link juice”) to nofollow links. We’ll explore that further in a bit.
How to tell if a link is nofollow?
As a user viewing a page, there’s nothing to indicate whether you’re looking at a nofollow link. If you want to check, you’ll need to review the HTML code (you can do this by inspecting the link in your browser).
A “dofollow” link (which is just a regular link; “dofollow” doesn’t technically exist as an attribute) will look like this:
<a href=”https://www.bluearray.co.uk/”>Blue Array SEO</a>
Meanwhile, a nofollow link will look like this:
<a href=”https://www.bluearray.co.uk/” rel=nofollow”>Blue Array SEO</a>
There are also browser extensions which you can use, such as NoFollow for Chrome, which allow you to quickly view any nofollow links on a page.
When/why are nofollow links used?
The nofollow link attribute should be used when you’d rather your site wasn’t associated with the page that you’re linking to. Some examples where this might be the case:
- Social media (e.g. links in Facebook posts are all nofollow as standard)
- A footer link to the person/company who designed your site
There are also some alternative link attributes for specific scenarios – rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc” – which we’ll cover later.
In this article, we’re focusing on nofollow links in the context of backlinks. However, it’s important to understand how and why nofollow links are used, and to ensure that you’re using them correctly on your own website too!
Do nofollow links help rankings?
Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where Google’s own advice can be more confusing than helpful. Over the years, their statements and treatment towards nofollow links have shifted quite a bit, which has led to some confusion in the SEO community.
Way back in 2005, when the nofollow attribute was first introduced, Google stated that nofollow links wouldn’t be given any credit from a search perspective. They released the feature specifically to counteract spammy blog comments to ensure that spammers would get no benefit from posting their websites in public spaces.
Over the following years, this point was repeatedly reinforced; it seemed clear that nofollow links would not pass PageRank.
As part of the 2020 Algorithm Update, Google made an interesting move. They announced that “For crawling and indexing purposes, Nofollow will become a hint as of March 1, 2020.”
What does that mean? Previously, Google would not crawl or pass any kind of authority to nofollow links. Now, they’re taking ‘nofollow’ as a hint – which technically means they may choose to ignore it. Further clarification from Google employees has told us the following:
- Nofollow links may be used for ‘discovery’ – i.e. finding content which is related to your own. (Source: Martin Splitt, 2020);
- While nofollow links may be considered, they won’t carry as much weight as a first-party endorsement (i.e. a regular link). (Source: Danny Sullivan, 2022)
In summary: Google’s advice continues to be helpfully vague. In some cases, we know that Google may choose to ignore the “nofollow” attribute for crawling and indexing purposes.
In the next section, we’ll look beyond rankings and explore some of the other ways that nofollow links can benefit your SEO and wider brand strategy.
Benefits of nofollow links
They drive referral traffic
Search engines might not follow the link, but users will! People reading the article can easily follow the link to your site, which can ultimately lead to an increase in valuable traffic.
If you could choose between a nofollow link from a high-traffic, industry relevant page, and a regular link from a low-visibility, less relevant page – which is more likely to impact your bottom line?
In a similar vein, getting your brand mentioned in more publications will ultimately build awareness. If you’re operating in a competitive industry, it’s crucial to cut through the noise and get your brand out there. After all, how are people going to search for you if they haven’t even heard of you?
They can generate “dofollow” links
People viewing your content via a nofollow link may be inclined to share this content further, if they find it interesting. This can lead to an increase in backlinks from other relevant sources, which will impact your rankings.
Brand-building & trust
If your business has been featured on an authoritative and widely followed website, this is excellent for building credibility with both search engines and users.. As Google places more and more emphasis on Experience, Expertise, Authority & Trust (E-E-A-T), links from trustworthy publications become ever more important. Plus, the type of link doesn’t make a difference in the readers’ eyes.
Diversifying your backlink profile
A natural backlink profile should include some nofollow links. If you have zero nofollow links, Google may see this as suspicious.
Furthermore, the most important thing is that a link is relevant. Whether it’s a regular or nofollow link, it’s only likely to offer any value if the content is related to your product, brand or service. Securing a variety of relevant links from a mix of websites in your niche is key to a strong backlink profile.
rel=“sponsored” and rel=“ugc”
We can’t have a blog post about rel=”nofollow” without briefly mentioning its baby siblings: rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc”.
Back in 2019, Google announced these new link attributes as a way to help give search engines additional context about any given link.
So, when should each of these be used?
- rel=”sponsored”: this attribute is used for links that were created as part of ads, sponsorships or other compensation agreements. In other words, links where money has exchanged hands.
- rel=”ugc”: this attribute should be used for links within user generated content, such as comments and forum posts.
- rel=”nofollow”: for when you want to link to a page, but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement or give the page ranking credit. But, as we’ve mentioned earlier, Google will see this as a hint rather than a directive!
In fact, the key takeaway here is that all of the link attributes above are treated as hints. Don’t worry, it’s unlikely that Google is about to start paying attention to the clearly spammy comments on your latest blog post – but it may look at all of the above link types to build a better picture of your website and brand.
Should I prioritise the building of “dofollow” (regular) links in my link-building strategy?
We would always prioritise the quality and relevancy of a backlink above all else. We asked Jodie Harris, Head of Digital PR at Blue Array, for her opinion:
“ “Dofollow” links are great, we know this. But where Google continues to move away from the crude metrics of ‘is a link good or not?’ and moving closer to the bigger picture of relevancy and authority, we should be doing the same with our Digital PR efforts. In the same vein, Google judges if content is great content if it’s useful for the customer, it’s an area the brand holds knowledge in and looks and feels authentic. This is the exact same case for building links or even coverage. Search engines’ ability to detect if a brand (link or non-linked, follow or no-follow) will be relevant information for them to consider. “
To sum up: do nofollow links help SEO?
In summary, nofollow backlinks come with a variety of benefits that can indirectly impact your organic performance and revenue. While they may not be a confirmed ranking factor, they play an important role in your link-building and Digital PR strategy.
Want to learn more about Digital PR for SEO? Get in touch with our expert team today.