NoFollow Links could be affecting your SEO in a very bad way.
You might have heard the rumors from the dark masters of SEO. That you should, or should not be using these fun things called no follow links. But until now, you kinda ignored the whole no follow tag thing.
I wouldn’t blame you. SEO is something most people don’t care for, and the technical parts of it are even less sexy!
No Follow Links Can Help You Or Bite You In The Ass
No Follow tags/links are important to understand for a couple of reasons:
- You need to understand and control the links that are on your website
- When you get links to your website (for that juicy boost in Google) you need to know if they are worth the effort.
So, although this SEO linking stuff is kinda boring, it can have a huge impact on your Google rankings and your blog or business. So, let’s take a deeper look at what this NoFollow stuff is all about….
What Are NoFollow Links/Tags?
According to Wikipedia, just over a decade ago:
Google announced in early 2005 that hyperlinks with rel=”nofollow” would not influence the link target’s PageRank. In addition, the Yahoo and Bing search engines also respect this attribute value.
Sounds Chinese to most of you, I know.
But what it means is this: In 2005 Google and Co gave birth to the nofollow link to stop spammy links.
They did this because links (aka backlinks) were the main way that they used to decide on how to rank a web page in their results.
More links = higher ranking (it’s more complex than this, but that is the main idea)
Another way to look at it:
Links are the web’s voting system.
So, when you link to someone (or them to you) it is a vote helping a website/page rise in search engine rankings.
Note: If you want to learn more about how links work on Google, read Andy’s Crestodina’s detailed post on the topic.
People were (obviously) abusing this idea, and it would be better if some links on websites could actually be ignored. However, the owners of these websites had no way to inform the search engines of this.
They needed a switch, or red flag, they could wave to Google and Co. to show which links were not important (or potentially spammy).
NoFollow links solved this problem.
If you apply the nofollow attribute to a link (more on how to do this below), search engines take this as a signal that you do not consider this link worthy of your website’s vote.
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You can also download other browser extensions here that highlight nofollow links.
When Are NoFollow Links Used?
According to Wikipedia, nofollow was originally suggested as a way of stopping comment spam and all the links people were putting in comments on blogs.
Of course, this is still a huge problem now! Ironic.
NoFollow Paid Links
As more and more links were being paid for, and the number of ads on websites increased, Google also started suggesting that all paid links be nofollow as well.
This of course makes sense because these links were not “earned”, and are certainly not a vote of confidence by the website owner, so who wouldn’t agree.
Other Examples Of When NoFollow Is Used
Because the main idea is to stop spammy content and links, nofollow is commonly used within links in any kind of user generated content:
- blog comments
- other open contribution pages
This list is not complete, but you get the idea.
When Should YOU Use A NoFollow Link?
There is a lot of debate (and paranoia) about using nofollow links everywhere on your website in order to “protect” yourself (more on that at the end of this post). Yes, kind of like a big website suit of armour!
For now, I just want to keep this simple and clear.
I want you to understand where you should use them, and why. Then, you can make your own decisions on using nofollow links , or not.
As you have now learnt, nofollow links are a way of saying you do not want Google and Co. to give any value to a link. Said in another way: that you do not endorse the content on that site/page.
So, with that in mind, I believe you should nofollow these kinds of links:
- Affiliate Links (Google does not like them, and they are like Ads)
- Websites you do not know, or like the looks of (but need to link to)
- Any links to Ads or Paid product placements on your blog/website
- Links in comments (unless you allow them after you trust someone)
On the opposite side, these kinds of links you should not just nofollow out of laziness or spite:
- All links in guests posts (more on this further down, but just check that the site is ok for each link)
- All low importance pages on your site (people used to do this to play with rankings - like a contact page, or about page)
- All products that you refer to (come on, they deserve links too if the product is reputable)
Watch Out For Others Using NoFollow Links
If you are working your butt off trying to get links to your website, to raise your rankings on Google, then this section is for you.
Maybe you are looking for guest blogging opportunities. In which case I recommend you take a good look at the blogs you want to post on before you waste your time.
Of course, you want to be sure that the blog is
- relevant (ie. the same or similar niche as you)
- has authority
- has an audience (on comments and social media)
However, if you care about rankings, then you also want to check if they only use dofollow or nofollow links too.
Because if it’s all nofollow, there is little to no chance that it is going to have the SEO impact you had hoped for.
Sure, some nofollow links are part of a good, mixed link profile. But not when you wrote the post of your life! And spent 3 days on it.
How Can You Check For NoFollow Links?
The simplest way to check no follow and do follow links is to install a browser extension such as on Chrome. This will then show you visually whether a link is no follow.
This is how to check a no follow or do follow links:
- Install this Chrome Add on called No Follow Simple
- Go to the website you want to check for no follow or do follow links
- Check each link visually - if it is no follow there will be red dotted lines
This is what a no follow link looks like on my site:
Notice all the links are highlighted with a red outline.
Checking No Follow Links The Tech Way
You can also do a code inspection if you want to get all geeky (grab your mouse, right click on the link, go to Inspect). Then look for the rel="nofollow" attribute on links on their blog posts.
Here is what one looks like on my website:
Why I Check More Than One Link When Checking A Site
Jeep in mind that just checking one link is often not enough. Some sites only no follow "foreign" links from sites they don't know and trust. Or, just sites they do not own (if they own more than one). So, if you want to be sure, you have to be very thorough!
It can be confusing and annoying. So go grab the extension and make your SEO life easier.
And, if you leave the extension turned on like I do, you will also be surprised where, and who is "nofollowing" all their links!
How Can You Make A NoFollow Link
Adding nofollow is actually pretty simple. And if you use a content management system like WordPress, it is often just the click of a checkbox.
However, first let’s see how it looks in the flesh:
Links and NoFollow Links:
This is what a simple link looks like in HTML
When you add nofollow this is what it becomes:
<a href="http://website.com" rel="nofollow">Website</a>
It is the simple addition of rel="nofollow" which tells search engines to ignore the link.
It is important to understand that any link that does not have nofollow, will be counted by the search engines.
So, with a content management system like WordPress, all links on your blog (unless you have a special plugin) are DoFollow by default.
How do you make a nofollow link in WordPress?
By default, there is no “simple” way to do this in the WordPress editor. You can either jump into the “text” tab and edit the link (as I showed above) OR you can try one of the following plugins which will add a checkbox to the link window like so:
Below are two of the most popular plugins for this:
Can No Follow Links Help SEO?
There is no definite answer to this, but here is what some of the best minds in SEO are saying about no follow links.
- Google has changed the way they treat no follow links over the years (because of abuse) so they could be helpful to SEO (but no one is sure).
- Any link from an authoritative site is good whether it is do follow or no follow. It can help your brand, send referral traffic and gives Google good signals about your site regardless.
- Stop worrying about whether a link is Do Follow or No Follow and just try to get links from high authority sites in your niche.
So, although none of the SEO gurus are sure whether it helps there is some evidence and reasoning that it does. The main thing is to get great links from great sites that are relevant. And, avoid spammy low quality links.
The no follow links will help you in a variety of ways in any case.
The Confusion Of NoFollow And DoFollow On Some Big Sites
Many big websites out there use a lot of external contributors. As such, they often nofollow all their links by default. Whether they should or not is often a huge debate, but here are a few interesting cases:
By default links on Reddit are nofollow. However, if you do the right things, they can become “dofollow”. Kinda like magic!
Reddit is quite a powerful site, so this is something people are always looking into. There are even blog posts dedicated to the cause.
Even Wikipedia has famously added nofollow (back in 2007) to all external links because of their spam issues. And that has yet to be revoked for anyone.
It would be great though, right?
After all, a link from one of the most powerful pages on the internet is very useful indeed!
What About Blog Comment DoFollow Links?
There are even constant debates in the blogosphere about whether to allow dofollow links in your blog comments.
With the likes of CommentLuv for WordPress which does allow dofollow links after certain trust is earned, it is certainly still common.
However, even this is heavily abused. Just Google the following:
DoFollow CommentLuv Blogs
There are lists of where you can get such links. Of course, no one tells you they are next to worthless for SEO purposes.
Yes, because they have been spammed so much Google pays them little to no attention.
Google Paranoia And NoFollow Overuse
After seeing that some of the bigger sites (including many blogs, if you go looking) nofollow all of their links you might be wondering if you should nofollow all your links too?
Wikipedia and other user-generated sites have a reason to be worried.
Some of the bigger blogs have similar concerns, because they don’t (or can’t) control all their content. In the end, they are all concerned about Google penalising them for spammy links on their sites.
I understand this because some sites have a large amount of “unknown” guest posters and cannot control all of their content.
However, for the average website or blog owner the answer is simple:
If you allow guest posts or content, check all the links. It only takes 5 minutes.
It should simply be part of your editorial process. You are checking the posts you allow on your websites, right?
I know I am, because some of the posts I get are far from ready to go live when I get them.
So, if you do not have the time to control the links in the guest posts on to your site, then do no allow guest posts.
Linking To Other Sites Is Natural, And Good SEO
Linking out to relevant content while you are creating an amazing piece of content (aka blog post) is entirely natural and very useful to your readers.
So, you should be doing it. And, it is even a subtle SEO ranking factor (ie. search engines support it, even if they won’t admit it).
Your content does not have all the answers, and linking to places that can help is super helpful to people.
And, if you are going to link out, make sure you take a quick look at the page to ensure that it is useful and reputable.
Then allowing the link to be a dofollow is fine!
Not only that, but the author of that content deserves the link too.
All About Links
SEO is still all about links, so understanding what nofollow is, how it affects your site and guest post links is super important.
Don’t go overboard on your site with nofollow. Just use it where appropriate.
And if you are link building (via guest posts and the like) then check the sites you want to write for first.
SEO is not that hard, right?