Nofollow links are a website owners way of telling search engines that they are not to use a link they are creating to influence the ranking of the website being linked to. It is basically like a “vote” and while you may want or need to link to the website – you do not necessarily “vote” for them to be considered important.
It is important to note that there are 2 different scenarios regarding this topic:
Outbound links from your website to others and then Inbound links to you from other websites.
For this article we are ONLY talking about outbound links.
The HTML structure
When you insert a link into a website, the HTML by default will be a dofollow. There is no specific “dofollow” value – it is the default.
This link sample is considered a dofollow link.
<a href=”https://www.2dogsdesign.com/” >2 Dogs Design</a>
If a dofollow link could talk it would tell the the search engines “Hey, we really like this site and it is really useful to our readers – we did not get paid or enticed to see this, we just think you should give them credit for just being awesome”.
This link sample is a nofollow link.
<a href=”https://www.2dogsdesign.com/” rel=”nofollow”>2 Dogs Design</a>
If a nofollow link could talk it would tell the search engines “Hey, we are linking to this website because they paid us to or sent us a product to talk about them or we are exchanging links to each other -so they are not necessarily that great – but we have to link them because we were kind of bribed to.”
So, because links cannot really tell Google what they think, because you know, they cannot talk – so Google uses the nofollow as a secret hint as to what they think about the site they are linking to. Cool right?
In 2017 links will be even more important than ever for website owners – internal links, external links and backlinks to your website will all have a large impact on the success – or demise of your website. It is important to know how to best utilize each of these.
First let’s differentiate between these types of links.
Internal Links – these are the links that are within your own website that help visitors find content they are interested in. When you write a page or post and within that content link to another page or post on your own website, that is an internal link.
External (Outbound) Links – these are links that come from your website and link out to other websites as references, sponsors, advertisers etc.
Backlinks – these are the links that come from other websites to your website. So when anyone on the web talks about you or your brand online and link to your website, that is a backlink.
The combination of these 3 link types are crucial to your success!
When adding links to your website, ask your self these questions to determine whether a link should be a NOFOLLOW
- Am I being paid for this link? NOFOLLOW
- Am I receiving a product for this link? NOFOLLOW
- Am I doing a review in return for something? NOFOLLOW
- Is it an affiliate link so you can earn a commission? NO FOLLOW
- Is the site an unreliable site or have poor content? NO FOLLOW
- Does your link go to a page on your website that you rather not have Google worry about (privacy, login, cart etc)? NOFOLLOW
- Are you offering a widget or image others can embed on their websites that links back to your website? NOFOLLOW
- Is the post a guest post written by a guest author with a link to their website? Use your discretion on this one. This is one topic that is widely disputed and many top SEO’s. As an SEO we personally would nofollow these links to remain safe.
- Am I linking to another page on my own website? DO FOLLOW
- Am I writing a review or post on my own accord with no monetary or financial gain? DO FOLLOW
- Is what I am linking to something I would recommend or suggest to my friends and family and I am linking to it without any type of compensation? DO FOLLOW
- Am I linking to a website because I want to give some one or something a shout out just because? DO FOLLOW
- Do I want to thank someone in a post for something they did? DO FOLLOW
- If you post is truly editorial in nature. DO FOLLOW
Google of course has provided a guide for using nofollow, but we wanted to try and make it more clear.
Some of these may have room for discussion – others are 100% clear. You may talk to 3 different people and get 3 different answers.
But, – in over 10 years of doing SEO both for personal websites and for client, we have never had any Google penalty – EVER. We have never had a website removed from any search engine and have manage to help our clients grow by using ONLY white hat techniques.
Google is about trust – if you are being smart and balanced in your link building – both internal and external, you will be fine!
Other Link Situations
On occasion you may have an outbound link that may not necessarily fit the above scenarios.
The specific discussion I was involved in that prompted this post was a question about a charity linking out to a website that was sponsoring some animals for them. They were not required to link back to the sponsor but they wanted to because they were helping.
We advised that dofollow is fine in this instance, they are not receiving payment for the link they are not receiving goods for the link – they just want to do something nice for the group.
Others felt it should absolutely be a nofollow. We disagree.
The sponsor is technically “donating” to a charity. They want to thank them – you are not getting paid for the link, they are not asking for the link and you are helping them in return. This is not what Google is cracking down on.
Now, if you are taking in hundreds of dollars a month from different groups and giving out dofollow links to all of them – then you might get smacked eventually.
But if you are doing a genuine post about a group who is helping you – a dofollow is just fine.
Why Did This Get So Complicated?
Basically because backlinks used to be the primary way to get your website on page 1 of the search engines (as we all know it is not that simple anymore!) – so it became all too common for website owners to buy thousands of links and then find themselves on page 1.
Sadly, there are SEO’s (I use that term loosely) – that still use this practice to unknowing website owners who hire them.
The search engines knew they had to do something because there were just so many bad websites ranking well but offering no value. This is why the Google Penguin algorithm was developed back in 2012.
When Google released this algorithm to combat spammy link techniques it hit a lot of website owners hard. It now is a core part of the algorithm with real time updates, so it is always monitoring what is going on around the web for link farms and unethical link strategies.
This is one of the biggest issues we see around the web! Do NOT overthink whether a link should be dofollow or nofollow. Google is not going to come down on a website that has a couple of links that maybe should be nofollow – they are looking for websites that are using backlinks as a tool to “game the system”.
A lot of bloggers were hit hard by Penguin when it came out and even when updates to the algorithm were pushed out – so we understand the concerns. We had written a post about fixing outbound link penalties and getting back into Google’s good graces and helped some bloggers with this process.
Most of these bloggers had been blogging for a few years – had clearly never nofollowed links that were blatantly paid or affiliate links, that is why they got hit so hard. We have seen very few websites be penalized for external links being do follow. But the paranoia surrounding this issue is overwhelming.
But because Penguin is now a stable part of the Google algorithm (it used to just be a release they did a couple of times a year) – it is important that you use caution with your links, but not be paranoid!
Nofollow Links Effect On Rank
There is still some uncertainty in the SEO world whether nofollow links truly do nothing for rank. Our PERSONAL experience is that some nofollow links can impact your rank.
Wikipedia for example has nofollow on all of their citation links – but we recently had a client gain 2 backlinks from Wikipedia and there was an immediate jump in their rank across the board. We have seen this with other clients as well with backlinks from authority websites – so personally, we are not convinced nofollow links are not having some affect on website rank.
Our belief is that larger more trustworthy websites that do offer nofollow links are seen by Google as quality links because a trustworthy website would not link out to a crappy or spammy website.
Again, this is our own theory based on our personal experiences.
There was also a small test done on this theory by Rand Fish, the owner of Moz which kind of alludes that nofollow links just might have some value.
We have one really big final thought.
Do not be overly obsessed about your external links!
Unless you are trying to “trick” the system or doing things that are absolutely against their policies on a consistent basis, external links are not going to get you “smacked” so to speak.
If you are nofollowing all external links that are clearly paid or reviews that you received product for you will be OK.
If you have a link issue you would like some feedback on – just bark at us and we will do our best to help!
Awesome post! Definitely No-follow for paid or sponsored links. But I’m very curious. How does Google exactly know when a link is paid or sponsored?
No one knows for sure with 100% certainty how they know — but there are several thoughts running around in the SEO community including an algorithm that specifically targets patterns that blogger or website owners leave that indicate they are a “review” blog – or manual reviews done by Google personnel. Remember, Google could probably tell you more about your website than you could based on the imprint you leave on the web! 🙂
Interesting. Thanks Jill! 🙂
Excellent Post – thanks for this. I develop software and for each product I have a seperate site on a seperate domain. I am considering creating a blog (on a separate domain) to blog about software development in general (but obviously with some links to my software product sites when it makes sense to do so) and an overarching “brand” site (which would feature all the products with links to the product sites). I had been worried about what this may do to my rankings, but I think I finally have an answer if I understand your post correctly. Simply make all the outbound links to the product and blog site nofollow. However, one element is still unclear – I was going to show the blog feeds from the product sites (product updates etc.) in the brand site – will that have a negative impact given I can’t (at least I don’t think I can) put no follow on an RSS feed?
Hi Maxine, thanks for the kind words. It seems you have a lot going on so I do not want to give too much in terms of advice because there are a lot of variables going on here. But honestly — not sure why you have separate sites for each product — you are then diluting your brand. It would be much more beneficial to build ONE site with all of your brands — then have the existing domains link to the pages on the site with that specific product. That would help you much more from an SEO and branding perspective. Assuming these software products are all under one brand name. If you do it the way you noted above – then YES no follow would be best on the posts to your websites…..as far as the RSS feed, we are not sure on that one, but that is something we should probably look into! 🙂
Thanks Jill, I’ll take some time and give this some more thought.
Remember I do not know your business — but for clients in the past who had multiple websites for whatever reasons, we consolidated them and it worked wonders for their authority and rank — and of course maintenance on those websites! 🙂
Thanks for sharing this write up on dofollow and nofollow. Its a very important point. But I am still confused. I want the search engines to follow the links of my website, but which links I should keep no follow because I dont want to give dofollow backlink to other users. What should I do?
Any external links to other websites you can make nofollow. Internal links stay dofollow.
The problem with testing it is that you need nofollows from great sites – Wikipedia is just one example 👍 – and you can’t really get those without earning follow links as well. Still, my guess is that a link from a Wikipedia article will boost rankings.