When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (2024)

Nofollow was introduced back in 2005 and came about as a reaction to blog spam comments.

Believe it or not, SEO professionals used to try and manipulate Google’s PageRank on their sites just as they try to manipulate… well, everything.

Nofollow basically tells Google (or any other search engine that supports this attribute) to not vouch for the target link.

Whereas it was previously used in the page-level meta tag (<meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow” />), it’s much more common to see it used on a per-link basis now.

What Does Nofollow Mean?

Nofollow is a rel attribute <rel=”nofollow”>.

A rel attribute specifies the relationship between the page where the link is and the page that the link points to.

Here’s an example of a basic nofollowed link:

I use <a href=”https://www.example.com/product” rel=”nofollow”>this</a> type of product.

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines currently state that:

“Links marked with these rel attributes will generally not be followed.”

However, those targets can be found through other means (like a followed link from somewhere else) so nofollowing a link is not a guarantee that Google won’t find that page.

Just four years later in 2009, Matt Cutts, formerly of Google, announced that trying to sculpt PageRank using nofollow would no longer work as it had in the past.

Previously PageRank was divided between the number of outbound followed links.

This change meant that it would be divided between the total number of links regardless of whether or not they were nofollowed.

To further explain, here’s a quote from Cutts’ blog:

“So what happens when you have a page with “ten PageRank points” and ten outgoing links, and five of those links are nofollowed? Let’s leave aside the decay factor to focus on the core part of the question. Originally, the five links without nofollow would have flowed two points of PageRank each (in essence, the nofollowed links didn’t count toward the denominator when dividing PageRank by the outdegree of the page). More than a year ago, Google changed how the PageRank flows so that the five links without nofollow would flow one point of PageRank each.”

Nofollow Becomes a Hint

Fast forward to March 2020 and Google announced that they now see the nofollow attribute as a hint rather than a directive.

Many SEO professionals had suspected this was the case but this was confirmation.

(Interestingly, Bing announced that they’d always treated nofollow as a hint.)When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (1)

In addition to this announcement, Google added 2 more rel attributesfor identifying the intent of links.

rel=”sponsored”

This attribute is used to identify paid content or paid links, for example:

I was paid to write about <a href=”https://www.example.com/product” rel=”sponsored nofollow”>this</a> type of product. (Sponsored post)

rel=“ugc”

This attribute is used to identify user-generated content like forum posts or blog comments, for example:

I have used <a href=“https://www.example.com/product” rel=“ugc nofollow”>this</a> type of product. (Comment or forum)

Both new attributes can be used with the nofollow attribute, which I have included in the above example.

If your links don’t fall into either new category but you still want to tell Google that you aren’t vouching for them, just use nofollow.

When Should I Use NoFollow?

Let’s examine what Google says about qualifying your outbound links: When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (2)

Whereas nofollow was previously used as a general catchall for links that you didn’t want to pass PageRank, now it’s supposed to be used when the other two rel attributes (sponsored and UGC) aren’t relevant and you don’t want the link to pass PageRank.

What Is Considered a Paid Link?

Just a quick bit here about paid links: many people have conflicting opinions on exactly what a paid link is.

However, Google describes paid links as including these types of links:

“…exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.”

I do think that there is some confusion here because some oversimplify and think that if they didn’t pay a webmaster to post a link, even if they paid the webmaster to post their content that contains a link, it’s not a paid link.

In Google’s eyes, it’s still a paid link.

Link Schemes

Here is a synopsis of the current list of what constitutes a link scheme:

  • Buying or selling followed links to manipulate PageRank: This includes links where you’ve offered the webmaster money to place the link, where you have sent a product so the webmaster writes about it, and where you have exchanged a service for a link.
  • Mass-scale link exchanges.
  • Mass-scale guest posts or articles that use keyword-rich anchors.
  • Links that are auto-generated from various services.
  • Links that are given because they are required by the owner of a product or service that you are using.
  • Text ads that pass PageRank.
  • Press releases with optimized anchor text.
  • Bookmark sites.
  • Low quality directories.
  • Widgets.
  • Footers and template links.
  • Forum comments.

I dug into the Wayback Machine in order to look at what Google wrote about link schemes in previously years.

A lot is the same, but there’s a particularly interesting bit from 2013 that I think should still be in there today as it really tells you how not to build links:

“Links that are inserted into articles with little coherence, for example:
most people sleep at night. you can buy cheap blankets at shops. a blanket keeps you warm at night. you can also buy a wholesale heater. It produces more warmth and you can just turn it off in summer when you are going on france vacation.

Sadly, that is still a common thing to do.

When You Shouldn’t Use a Nofollow

If you are giving someone a link because you want to, you think it’s a good resource, and you haven’t been given anything or paid for it, you don’t need to nofollow it.

If you don’t see that it in any way can be considered a link that is designed to manipulate PageRank, you don’t need to nofollow it.

Some webmasters have become so afraid of being penalized that they nofollow all outbound links.

In my opinion, this is unnecessary unless your site only exists to sell links.

What About Dofollow?

It doesn’t exist.

If a link isn’t nofollowed, it’s automatically followed.

(Unless… it’s nofollowed through a meta robots tag on a page level. Read Google’s help doc on the topic for more information)

What Value Does a Nofollowed Link Bring?

A nofollowed link may not help you rank higher – but with the decision to treat it as a hint instead of a directive, it still could.

Nofollowed links are also part of a natural link profile and a site with no nofollowed links looks odd.

The best thing about nofollowed links is that they are good for traffic and can send you much more traffic than many followed links.

If the New York Times ran a story and gave you a nofollowed link, wouldn’t you still be happy with it?

I know I would.

How Can I See How Many Nofollowed Links I Have?

All major tools will tell you how many nofollowed and followed links you have.

Here are a few examples of what that looks like.

Ahrefs

When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (3)

Majestic

When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (4)

SEMrush

When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (5)

How Do I Tell If a Link Is Nofollowed

I don’t like to use a lot of plugins so I tend to head straight for the code.

I look to see if nofollow is in the code for my link.

Below is an example from this post.

<a href="https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">Screaming Frog</a></li><li><a href="https://www.semrush.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">SEMrush</a></li><li><a href="https://ahrefs.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">Ahrefs</a></li><li><a href="https://majestic.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">Majestic</a></li>

However, there are some plugins that can highlight nofollows:

Detailed SEO extension

When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (6)

Ahrefs Chrome plugin

When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (7)

Igoreware Nofollow extension

When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (8)

To Nofollow or Not to Nofollow?

Follow:

  • If you are linking out to a source and you trust the source.
  • Guest post – unless they’re posting on a large scale. This is for a true guest post where you are not paying for the post.
  • Link to social media profiles.

Nofollow:

  • If you sold a link.
  • If someone paid you to post their content.
  • If you are in any way nervous that you might be penalized for the link.
  • Sitewide link to person who designed your site – although many people will follow links to company names.
  • Widgets.

Nofollow in the Real World

Let’s face it. We don’t always stick to the rules as SEO pros.

We manipulate anything that works well and it gradually becomes useless or dangerous.

So are people using nofollow, UGC, and sponsored values as Google intends?

Time will tell.

More Resources:

  • 10 Bad Links That Can Get You Penalized by Google
  • Link Building for SEO: A Complete Guide

Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, October 2020

Category SEO Link Building

When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To (2024)

FAQs

When should I use nofollow links? ›

It would be best to use nofollow links when you do not wish to pass on the ranking power, i.e., link juice to the website. In simple words, the nofollow tag will prevent the credit from being passed to other websites linked to your website. You can also read this extensive guide from Semrush on NoFollow links.

Should all links be nofollow? ›

If your link profile looks unnatural, you're at risk for a Google penalty. As it turns out, nofollow links are an important part of a natural link profile. For example, look at YouTube.

Are nofollow links bad for SEO? ›

To conclude, nofollow links are still valuable for SEO – and will be so for the foreseeable future. In essence, you should implement them as part of your link-building strategy. That is, even if you're not actively reaching out to get nofollow links, you should not turn down contextual links marked with “rel=nofollow”.

Should I use no follow? ›

Using nofollow on all outbound links is just a ridiculous practice built out of fear of linking out. Using nofollow at a page level may end up hurting your own website. I recommend you not do it. Be careful not to use noindex and nofollow together in all situations just because you think they should be used together.

Do follow backlinks vs nofollow? ›

"The difference between a Dofollow and a Nofollow link is that a Dofollow link passes PageRank signals (some refer to this as SEO or link juice), and a Nofollow link doesn't," said Paul Ronto, CMO of RunRepeat. In other words, the distinction lies in how the Google algorithm treats each link.

Do follow vs no follow backlinks? ›

Dofollow backlinks and nofollow backlinks are two ways of identifying a link and telling Google how to associate the website you are linking to your website. Dofollow links are a way to pass on authority to a website, while a nofollow link does not pass on link juice.

Do nofollow backlinks help SEO? ›

Nofollow links don't have a direct SEO benefit. However, they still send you referral traffic. So even a nofollow backlink on a high-traffic site is still priceless.

Does Google crawl nofollow links? ›

At its most basic, nofollow is a hyperlink attribute that tells Google to not pass PageRank so Google doesn't even crawl nofollowed links. You can control the nofollowing of any links on your site (whether those are to external sites or internal pages) with the simple addition of the nofollow attribute.

Is rel nofollow necessary? ›

When a link exists on your site primarily for profit, it should be assigned a rel="nofollow" attribute. Simply put: If you publish paid advertisements on your site — banner ads, text links, sponsored content, affiliate links, etc. — the links going to your advertisers' sites should be rel=”nofollow” links.

Are Facebook links nofollow? ›

Facebook is pretty locked down when it comes to external DoFollow links. There are studies out there that suggest Shares and Likes on content helps with search rankings, however it looks like pretty much all external links on Facebook are NoFollow.

Why do we need to have no follow for links that are pointing from your websites to other websites? ›

The nofollow attribute was created so that webmasters can tell search engines not to follow specific links. Thus, links that are nofollow do not pass any link juice or PageRank to the target website.

Where on your site is best to add the nofollow attribute? ›

By adding a nofollow attribute to a link on your website or blog, you are telling search engines that you don't want them to follow the link. In its simplest form, a nofollow link uses the rel="nofollow" attribute inside the <a> anchor element that represents a link in the HTML language.

What is the purpose of nofollow? ›

A nofollow tag is a basic piece of HTML. Appended to a hyperlink, it allows webmasters to control whether search engines follow a link or not.

Do follow links in SEO? ›

What is a dofollow link?
  • <a> is a link tag that contains the link itself, its anchor text, and all instructions meant for it.
  • href is a link attribute that specifies the URL.
  • rel is a link attribute that characterizes the relationship between the source page and the linked page.
30 Aug 2021

Which of the following backlinks is the best for SEO? ›

These eight backlinks help you make your link-building plans for acquiring top-notch links that will benefit your SEO.
  • Backlinks From Guest Blogging. ...
  • Backlinks in Business Profiles. ...
  • Backlinks from Webinars. ...
  • Free-Tool Backlinks. ...
  • Acknowledgment Backlinks. ...
  • Guest Post Bio Links. ...
  • Badge Backlinks. ...
  • Comment Backlinks.
2 Sept 2022

What is on page vs Off page SEO? ›

On-page SEO refers to SEO factors and techniques focused on optimizing aspects of your website that are under your control. Off-page SEO refers to SEO factors and strategies focused on promoting your site or brand around the web.

How do I know if a website is da pa? ›

How can I check my site's Domain Authority? You can find out the Domain Authority of any website using Moz's Link Explorer, the MozBar (Moz's free SEO toolbar), or in the SERP Analysis section of Keyword Explorer.

How do backlinks help SEO? ›

Backlinks are important for SEO because they signal to Google that another resource finds your content valuable enough to link to it within their own content. As a website earns additional backlinks, search engines infer that the website possesses valuable content worth ranking well on the SERPs.

What is the most important factor of off page SEO? ›

Perhaps the most important off page SEO factor is the number—and quality—of inbound links your site receives. Search engines need a way to determine your credibility, and if you have a lot of other sites linking out to you, that's a pretty good sign you know what you are talking about.

How do you fix duplicate content? ›

There are four methods of solving the problem, in order of preference:
  1. Not creating duplicate content.
  2. Redirecting duplicate content to the canonical URL.
  3. Adding a canonical link element to the duplicate page.
  4. Adding an HTML link from the duplicate page to the canonical page.
13 Dec 2021

Do sponsored links help SEO? ›

Should You Use Sponsored Links to Boost Brand Visibility? Link building is an integral part of any comprehensive SEO strategy, as links are essential for ensuring your site shows up on relevant SERPs.

What is the best image file for SEO? ›

Choose The Right Format

PNG: Produces better quality images, but comes with a larger file size. JPEG: You may lose image quality, but you can adjust the quality level to find a good balance. WebP: Choose lossless or lossy compression using this, the only image format supported by both Chrome and Firefox.

What does no index no follow mean? ›

You will use NoIndex when instructing a search engine not to store your web page for display in search results while you will use NoFollow when you are instructing search engine crawlers not to follow the links that are on your page.

How many robots txt Can a website have? ›

Your site can have only one robots.txt file.

Does Google crawl nofollow links? ›

At its most basic, nofollow is a hyperlink attribute that tells Google to not pass PageRank so Google doesn't even crawl nofollowed links. You can control the nofollowing of any links on your site (whether those are to external sites or internal pages) with the simple addition of the nofollow attribute.

Where on your site is best to add the nofollow attribute? ›

By adding a nofollow attribute to a link on your website or blog, you are telling search engines that you don't want them to follow the link. In its simplest form, a nofollow link uses the rel="nofollow" attribute inside the <a> anchor element that represents a link in the HTML language.

What does a nofollow link mean? ›

A no follow link is a link that does not count as a point in the page's favor, does not boost PageRank, and doesn't help a page's placement in the SERPs.

What is the most important factor of off page SEO? ›

Perhaps the most important off page SEO factor is the number—and quality—of inbound links your site receives. Search engines need a way to determine your credibility, and if you have a lot of other sites linking out to you, that's a pretty good sign you know what you are talking about.

Are sponsored links good for SEO? ›

Sponsored links are the same thing as paid links. You can learn more about Google's stance on paid links in their webmaster guidelines on link schemes, but essentially, Google doesn't want you buying or selling the type of links that could help your search engine rankings. Those should be earned.

What is the best image file for SEO? ›

Choose The Right Format

PNG: Produces better quality images, but comes with a larger file size. JPEG: You may lose image quality, but you can adjust the quality level to find a good balance. WebP: Choose lossless or lossy compression using this, the only image format supported by both Chrome and Firefox.

What does no index no follow mean? ›

You will use NoIndex when instructing a search engine not to store your web page for display in search results while you will use NoFollow when you are instructing search engine crawlers not to follow the links that are on your page.

Why do we need to have no follow for links that are pointing from your websites to other websites? ›

The nofollow attribute was created so that webmasters can tell search engines not to follow specific links. Thus, links that are nofollow do not pass any link juice or PageRank to the target website.

What does nofollow mean in web design? ›

Google introduced nofollow links in 2005 to combat web spam. An HTML nofollow link attribute prevents a paid link from influencing Google Pagerank. Google tells you to use rel=”sponsored” or rel=”nofollow” link for paid links and rel=”ugc” or rel=”nofollow” for user-generated content links.

What is do follow and nofollow links? ›

From the technical point of view, the only difference between a nofollow link and a standard “dofollow” link is the presence of the rel=”nofollow” tag. The practical difference is that nofollow links do not pass the link equity (also known as “link juice”).

Is rel nofollow necessary? ›

When a link exists on your site primarily for profit, it should be assigned a rel="nofollow" attribute. Simply put: If you publish paid advertisements on your site — banner ads, text links, sponsored content, affiliate links, etc. — the links going to your advertisers' sites should be rel=”nofollow” links.

Which SEO techniques should be avoided? ›

Which SEO Techniques Should Be Avoided?
  • Keyword Stuffing. SEO basics are to make sure your site has relevant content that people are searching for. ...
  • Hidden Text. ...
  • Paid Links. ...
  • Cloaking. ...
  • Open Site Explorer. ...
  • Noindex Banners. ...
  • Keyword Density Keywords. ...
  • Flash Movies.
1 Mar 2022

What are the best techniques for off-page SEO? ›

Off-page SEO techniques – Five steps to increase your domain...
  • Creating valuable backlinks. Creating backlinks is at the core of off-site SEO and is a technique that is crucial for any site with the aspiration of ranking on page one. ...
  • Social Media Marketing. ...
  • Guest Content. ...
  • Forum Posting. ...
  • Local Listings.

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