What Is a Nofollow Link? Here’s A Simple Plain English Answer

What Is a Nofollow Link? Here's A Simple Plain English Answer

In this post I’m going to break down EVERYTHING you need to know about nofollow links.

What they are.

Why they’re important.

And whether or not they help with SEO.

Let’s dive right in.

What Are Nofollow Links?

Nofollow links are links with a rel=”nofollow” HTML tag applied to them. The nofollow tag tells search engines to ignore that link. Because nofollow links do not pass PageRank they likely don’t impact search engine rankings.

Nofollow vs. Dofollow Links — What’s the Difference?

The only technical difference between the two is that a nofollow link has a nofollow tag.

Nofollow link – Technical

As a user, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a nofollow and dofollow link. You can click on, copy and use a nofollow link like any other link on the web.

However, when it comes to search engine optimization, there’s a BIG difference between nofollow and dofollow links.

That difference is this:

Dofollow links help your search engine rankings. Nofollow links don’t.

I’ll explain…

You see, Google and other search engines use links as a key ranking signal.

Links are a key ranking signal

However, they ONLY count dofollow links in their algorithm. In fact, according to Google, nofollow links don’t pass any PageRank.

Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web.

And if the link doesn’t send PageRank (aka “link juice”) your way, it’s not going to help your Google rankings.

(That said, there might be some exceptions to this rule. More on that later)

That’s why, when it comes to link building, you want to get dofollow links whenever possible.

Let’s quickly look at a real life example…

Here are two backlinks pointing to my site:

Ahrefs backlink

and

LocationRebel – Backlink

The first link is from homepage of an authority website (Ahrefs.com).

But when you look at the HTML of that page, you can see that the link is nofollow:

Ahrefs backlink – Nofollow

Which means that link isn’t going to help with my SEO. Bummer.

The second link is from a blog post on a site that doesn’t have nearly as much authority.

However, the link is dofollow:

LocationRebel backlink – Dofollow

Which means: that link WILL boost my Google rankings.

With that, it’s time to find learn…

How Do You Check If a Link is Nofollow?

Here’s how to check it a link is nofollow:

  1. Right click on your browser and click “View page source”.
    View page source
  2. Next, look for the link in the HTML of the page.
    Find link in page's HTML
  3. If you see a rel=”nofollow” attribute, that link is nofollowed. Otherwise, the link is dofollow.
    Dofollow links

You can also use the “Strike Out Nofollow Links” Chrome extension.

Strike Out Nofollow Links

This handy tool automatically puts a line through any nofollow links on a page:

Strike Out Nofollow Links in action

(That way, you don’t need to manually check the HTML)

Why Did Search Engines Create the Nofollow Tag?

The nofollow tag was originally created by Google to combat blog comment spam.

As the popularity of blogs grew, so did comment spam. Specifically, spammers would leave links back to their site in the comments:

Spammy comment example

This caused two major problems:

  1. First, spammy sites started to rank really well in Google. This pushed high quality sites out of the search results.
  2. Because the tactic worked so well, blog comment spam quickly spun out of control.

In 2005, Google helped develop the nofollow tag… and rolled it into their algorithm.

The tag was ultimately adopted by other search engines (like Bing and Yahoo).

What Types of Links Are Nofollow?

Any link that has the nofollow tag is technically a nofollow link.

But in general, inbound links from these sources tend to be nofollow:

  • Blog comments
  • Social media (for example, links in Facebook posts)
  • Links in forum posts or other forms of user generated content
  • Certain blogs and news sites (like the Huffington Post)
  • Links from “widgets
  • Links in press releases

And these popular websites use the rel=”nofollow” tag on all of their outbound links:

  • Quora
  • YouTube
  • Wikipedia
  • Reddit
  • Twitch
  • Medium

And there’s one more category of links that should be nofollow:

Paid links.

According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, any links that you pay for should be nofollowed.

Google Webmaster Guidelines – Paid links should be nofollowed

Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed that all paid links should have the nofollow link attribute applied.

(Why? Google wants all of your links to be earned.).

For example, if you pay for a banner ad on a website, Google requires the link in the banner to be nofollowed.

Google banner ads – Nofollow

Otherwise, your site could get penalized by Big G.

Google penalty

Do Nofollow Links Help With SEO?

Some people say: “Nofollow links have ZERO impact on SEO”.

And others claim: “Nofollow links aren’t as powerful as dofollow links… but they still help.”

What’s the truth?

Let’s find out…

First, what does Google say about nofollow links?

“In general, we don’t follow them.”

“In general”?

That implies that they DO follow them in certain cases.

Hmmmm.

Next, let’s look at a really interesting case study.

Adam White wanted to rank his blog for the keyword “backlink software”.

What did he do?

He bought a bunch of nofollowed links from a high-quality site in the SEO space.

And all of those links had “backlink software” as their anchor text.

Backlink software – Anchor text

So: what happened?

His ranking shot up from #19…to #1 in Google for his target keyword.

Number 1 ranking for target keyword

Third, let’s check out another cool little experiment.

This time, the head of SEO at SurveyMonkey decided to answer the question: “Does Google actually follow nofollow links”.

SurveyMonkey – Does Google follow Nofollow links?

To find out, he added a nofollow link to one of SurveyMonkey’s 404 pages.

SurveyMonkey – 404 page with link

That link led to a page that wasn’t indexed yet.

In theory, Google should ignore that link.

But that’s NOT what happened.

Instead, Google followed the link… and indexed the page within 48 hours.

Finally, let’s check out the results from an industry study.

Ahrefs recently analyzed 51 of the most competitive Google search results on the planet.

(They looked at keywords like “insurance” and “NYC lawyer”)

Ahrefs search results study

And they discovered that dofollow and nofollow backlinks have the same impact on rankings.

Ahrefs study – Nofollow and Follow have the same impact on rankings

Bottom Line? Nofollow links seem to have some SEO value… especially if those links are from related sites. Google may also use anchor text from nofollow links in their algorithm.

What Are the Benefits of Nofollow Links?

Let’s take a look:

1. Nofollow links can DIRECTLY help with your SEO.

As you just saw, experiments and industry studies have found that nofollow links can lead to higher rankings in Google.

2. Nofollow links can bring you TRAFFIC.

Don’t forget:

The right nofollow link can bring you LOTS of targeted traffic.

For example, I recently posted this to Facebook:

Brian Facebook post

As you can see, it has a nofollow link to my site.

Brian Facebook post – Nofollow link

Will this type of nofollow link help with my SEO?

Probably not.

That said, the link sent me 2,745 visitors:

Brian Facebook post – Visitors

The same approach applies to leaving helpful blog comments.

Even though they’re nofollow, comment links can send you a decent chunk of targeted traffic.

(Especially if you’re one of the first people to comment on the post).

For example, when I first started my blog, I left helpful comments on SEO and marketing blogs.

Brian site comment

And these comments brought me a handful of targeted visitors.

Brian site comment – Visitors

3. Nofollow links can = dofollow links.

As you know, most big sites (like YouTube and Facebook) nofollow all of their outbound links.

But what you might not know is:

A nofollow from a popular site can lead to DOZENS of dofollow links.

I’ll explain with an example…

A while back I wrote a guest post for Noah Kagan’s blog.

Brian OKDork guest post

I’m not 100% sure why, but Noah nofollows all of his outbound links…

….including the link back to my site.

Brian OKDork guest post – Nofollowed backlink

So, that link totally worthless?

Heck no.

I got a boatload of referral traffic from that post.

Backlinko – OKDork guest post – Traffic increase

But more important than that:

LOTS of people that found me from that post ended up linking to me:

Backlinko – OKDork guest post – New links

(With dofollow links)

And those dofollow links DID help my rankings in the SERPs.

Let’s look at one more example…

A while back I published a massive Google ranking factors study.

Backlinko – Google Ranking Factors study

Thanks to a successful PR campaign, my study got mentioned on Forbes.com.

Backlinko – Google Ranking Factors study – Forbes mention

But that link was… nofollow!

Backlinko – Forbes link – Nofollow

Yikes.

Fortunately, lots of people read my study thanks to that nofollow link.

And those people cited my study on their blog… with dofollow links:

Ahrefs – Backlinks to Google Ranking Factors study

4. Nofollow links are part of a natural link profile.

If your link profile looks unnatural, you’re at risk for a Google penalty.

Unnatural link profiles risk Google penalties

As it turns out, nofollow links are a BIG part of a natural link profile.

For example, look at YouTube.

According to Ahrefs, 8% of their links are nofollow.

8% of YouTube's links are Nofollow

That’s not to say that you need 8% of your links to be nofollow.

It just goes to show that natural link profiles have SOME nofollow links.

What’s the Difference Between Nofollow and Noindex?

The noindex directive is a metatag that you add to certain pages on your website. This tag tells search engines to not add a specific page to their index.

Noindex links

On the other hand, nofollow links tell search engines to not follow a particular link. So if you don’t want a page indexed, a nofollow link isn’t going to work. Use the noindex tag instead.

How Do I Use Nofollow Links on My Site?

Short answer: it depends on the technology your site runs on.

For example, if your site uses WordPress, all blog comment links automatically have the nofollow attribute.

Backlinko blog comment – Nofollow

There are also WordPress plugins that can make ALL of your links nofollow.

WordPress plugin – Make all links Nofollow

Otherwise, it’s a matter of working with a developer to manually or automatically add the rel=”nofollow” tag to your external links.

Now It’s Your Turn

Now I’d like to hear from you:

What’s your experience with nofollow backlinks?

Or maybe you have a question about something.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

10 Comments

  1. Thanks – this is a pretty interesting scenario.
    I agree that No Follow links do not pass value. I do, however, agree that they can be seen as an authority single and indirectly increase rankings.

    1. You’re welcome, Mia. I agree. There might be a small direct ranking factor in the algo in certain circumstances that “count” nofollow links. But for the most part they’re more for getting people to go to your site via that link.

  2. Hi Brian, I’m a newbie so please bear with me…would it be logical to just use a plug-in to make all your links No Follow (so you don’t get penalized by “Big G”) and manually go in and change the links you want indexed? Or, is that not necessary? I hope I’m asking this question correctly:)

    1. Hi Darren, I only recommend nofollowing blog comments and other similar links. There’s no need to nofollow legit sites that you link out to.

  3. Awesome Brian! All my life I have been always thinking that nofollow is worthless and I get discouraged every time I get a nofollow link but after reading this I feel relief.

    Thanks a lot for your insights.

    1. You’re welcome, Ricardo. Nofollow links definitely aren’t as powerful as dofollow links. But they have some value for sure.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10 Comments